(Kanopy Streaming, November 2018) I’m not particularly receptive to the kind of downbeat intimate drama that is Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte, but two things in the film kept me from being completely uninterested: The depiction of Milan, resurging from the post-war years in that charming 1960s energy, and Marcello Mastroianni being always cool (as a writer!) even when playing Don Draper’s early inspiration. Jeanne Moreau is also wonderful, even if her character is in the midst of a full-fledged marital crisis with a fairly obvious destination. Otherwise, well, this is the portrait of a marriage in full disintegration, which isn’t the most cheerful of topics. The premise is made even worse by Antonioni’s typically contemplative style: there is only one exit for the characters (divorce) and the viewers (waiting until the end credits) as well. What must have been a breath of fresh air in 1961 compared to the Hollywood Golden Age has been made and remade endless times since then, so modern viewers may not find anything as fresh as then-contemporary audiences. Dull, slow-moving and depressing, La Notte is a very specific kind of film for a very specific kind of viewer.
(On Cable TV, September 2018) Approaching Frederico Fellini’s 8½ comes with a heavy set of expectations: How can you watch something widely lauded as one of the best movies ever made without feeling at least a bit apprehensive? Do I have to turn in my film critic’s card if I don’t like it? Won’t the cool kids at the European arthouse table make fun of me? After all, I’m already not such a big fan of surrealist black-and-white auteur-driven European cinema. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have worried, because I ended up enjoying 8½ a lot more than I expected. Not to the level of an all-time favourite, but well enough to considering it reasonably entertaining. It helps that the film has a lot of hooks to be interesting. It was remade as a big-screen musical in 2010 as the disappointing Nine, giving me an idea of the (disconnected) plot ahead of time. It features a movie director having trouble with his latest science-fiction epic, hitting at least two of my soft spots in one premise. It does have the advantage of a gallery of attractive actresses fawning over the protagonist. (Leading to a hilarious dream sequence in which the protagonist imagines visiting all of his past relationships living under one roof.) It features Marcello Mastroianni, who embodies the coolest of what 1960s Italy had to offer. It partially takes place at a health retreat, the kind of dream resort that wealthy Europeans like to portray on-screen. 8½ does end up being remarkably funny at times, in-between Fellini looking so deep inward that the film ends up feeling like a Klein bottle. Much of the film’s deeper effect is lost on me due to incomplete knowledge: I partially resent how much of 8½ (including its very title) is incomprehensible if you’re not thoroughly up to speed on Fellini and the state of circa-1963 Italian cinema. Wikipedia does help, but movies should not require a reading list prior to viewing. Still, it works well enough even during surface viewing. Though it does feel too long and isn’t as tightly sewn as I would have preferred, 8½ is a remarkable piece of cinema that works on several levels and does offer a playful look at some resonant issues. I won’t put it near the top of my personal pantheon, but I liked it a lot more than I expected. In my mind, my 8½/Nine mashup has gorgeous colour cinematography, an out-of-control Sci-Fi spectacular, snappy musical numbers and Mastroianni dreaming that he’s Daniel Day-Lewis cavorting with Penélope Cruz and Claudia Cardinale.