Modern Cinema From Around the World, A Series: A Review of Aleksey Balabnov’s “Brother [Брат]”

Danila: You said the city is a force, and yet everybody is feeble here.
German: The city is an evil force. The strong come and become feeble. The city takes the strength away. And now you’ve fallen.

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*Spoilers ahead*

Directed by Aleksey Balabanov, Brother [Браt] is a gritty cult-film from 1997 that exemplifies Russian gangster life in the 1990s. The film is filled with catchy Russian rock music, both diegetic and not, with a central focus on our calculating main character who is a traditional anti-hero, Danila Bagrov (Sergey Bodrov). What makes Brother [Браt] a special experience is the main character, and the unique take on city life and criminality. Our character is consumed into a criminal lifestyle, but also searches for his own happiness in a pursuit that seems futile at the end of his stay in St. Petersburg. Danil’s savior mentality ends in the realization that his money does not bring the people he tries to save closer to him in his own version of happiness.

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Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972)- A Search Through Our Unknown.

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Note: Throughout this analysis I received guidance from Lewis University’s chair of the film studies department, Dr. Christopher Wielgos, and Creative Writing/Film Studies Professor, Dr. Simone Muench. 

Hello Film Enthusiasts,

My “redone” cinematic syntax continues to be a place for learning, as well as giving my interpretations. I will do film analysis, film reviews, director spotlights, and anything else that comes to mind as I continue as a Jet Fuel Review blog editor. If you or anyone want me to do anything in particular, or find something I say wrong in context with Tarkovsky’s writings, please comment what you find. If no one comments it will always be from what I want and how I present things. This redone cinematic syntax calls for a celebration and that will be through an analysis of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris.

In 2017, I was lucky enough to see both Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979) at the Music-Box Theater in Chicago. In my time watching films, I always have come back to Tarkovsky and felt something more than anything I have seen from any other director.  I found Tarkovsky’s mise en scene, long takes, and unique images to be a particular draw to him as a director. In my current film class we have been specifically focusing on his color choice and I never looked so closely at Tarkovsky’s color before and have always respected Tarkovsky’s beautiful colors, but I never looked at it further than just appreciation.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: Artistic Perception – An Analysis of “Blow-Up”

“I wish I had tons of money…Then I’d be free.”

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Blow-up, Michelangelo Antonioni’s Palme d’Or recipient, subverts one’s desires and expectations while undermining typical narrative conventions. In Blow-up, Antonioni presents a murder that is “caught” by the protagonist’s camera, one which never actually receives its expected resolution. This subversion is well-executed as the audience sees their anticipation wither and torment them as a group of mimes engage in imaginary tennis.

Similarly, in Antonioni’s 1960 film, L’Avventura, it begins with a person’s disappearance — one whose subsequent search is void of resolution. Instead, Antonioni chooses to focus on a character who is weak and trying to cope in extravagant society. Antonioni subverts expectation and tests the audience’s patience, as well as narrative standards, in both films. 

But is this subversion just Antonioni teasing his audience, or does it carry a deeper and more complex significance? In fact, yes, it very much does. Antonioni describes his intention of narration in L’Avventura as him wanting to “achieve the suppression of outward physical action” in the interest of a “greater interior realism.” Meaning, he wants to show the world in a manner that is true to life and realism.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: A Divided Homeland – A Review of “Ashes and Diamonds”

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Is retention of identity and country worth breaching personal morality and happiness?

This is one of the overarching questions found within Andrzej Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds, where Wajda uses Poland, his home country, as a means to explore the post-war struggle for power and identity. The film utilizes one of the most important days in the country’s history, May 8th, 1945, the day when the war in Europe ended with Germany’s surrender. In examining his country, the uncertainty of the future is taken as a key element, although Wajda does not give a definite answer to what will become of his country, examining for the sake of exploration. This uncertainty has an interesting dichotomy, which is in the form of a fear of the unknown and the beauty of faith and hope, which is similar to speculation about death and possible afterlife.

*Spoilers ahead*

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: A “Photographic” Memory – An Analysis of “La Jetée” and the “Left Bank”

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Welcome back Christian’s Cinematic Syntax! Hopefully these entries are leaving those lasting impressions that Chris Marker refers to in the film I’m looking at today, La Jetée!

After taking a brief hiatus…I am back! Back to remind the reader of the power and beauty of cinematic expression. With that said, I am moving forward into the crevasse of cinema to allow for the spirit and essence of the art form to be understood and appreciated. I want the reader to understand cinema’s ability to channel and freeze a perspective into something that connects the viewer to an almost metaphysical level.

In the spirit, I am excited to dissect La Jetée, the 28-minute master-work by Chris Marker, a talent that stretches the title of the conventional filmmaker. Marker has an incredible versatility through the art form, being a documentarian, a photographer, and a multimedia artist. The titles that Marker totes are of importance to not only the context of La Jetée, but also of the film movement he is typically categorized in, known as the “Left Bank.” So, before analyzing a film such as La Jetée, I believe it is necessary to introduce some of my readers to this specific movement in cinema.

What is the “Left Bank?”

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: Faith and “Ordet”

Editor’s Note: Below is an essay written by Film Blogger Christian Mietus, covering the themes of faith within Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1955 film, Ordet. Mietus originally wrote the piece for his Intro to Film Studies class with Jet Fuel Review‘s very own Dr. Simone Muench. Spoilers follow.

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Ordet (or “The Word” in English) is a Danish film that was directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer in 1955. Dreyer is known for directing some of the world’s most praised arthouse films, such as The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), Vampyr (1932), and Day of Wrath (1943).  Although he receives this praise today, his films were never financial successes until Ordet’s release, which could be attributed to a variety of reasons, specifically the film being an incredibly meticulous mastery of the craft by Dreyer and cinematographer Henning Bendtsen.

Dreyer’s body of work has many themes that are represented in many fashions. For example, in a Senses of Cinema article written by Thomas Beltzer, he writes, “In Dreyer’s films … It is always a faith well placed because the spiritual realm is as present and real as the material realm, and both are completely interwoven.” In Ordet, the themes of faith and the fantastical realm are interwoven into the mortal realm through the tragic death of Inger Borgen (Birgitte Federspiel), as well as through the actions of characters including Morten Borgen (Henrik Malberg), Johannes (Preben Lerdorff Rye), and Mikkel Borgen (Emil Hass Christensen) — all emphasized through dialogue, mise en scène, and precise cinematography.

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Christian’s Cinematic Syntax: “Pickpocket”

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“My movie is born first in my head, dies on paper; is resuscitated by the living persons and real objects I use, which are killed on film but, place in a certain order and projected onto a screen, come to life again like flowers in water.”
— Robert Bresson, Notes on the Cinematographer

The 1959 film directed by Robert Bresson, Pickpocket, is a mosaic of human complexity as much as it is a defiance of morality through a character that is uncertain of life. The film is incredibly literary in its executions — being heavily inspired by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment —with a director puppeteering his actors to escape his opinion of superficiality and including a main character that narrates throughout. Relating to my previous post on the auteur theory, Bresson was one of the directors that these theorists actually admired. He has a distinct presentation of his philosophy in his films, making him a quintessential image of an auteur. Pickpocket is no exception.

The Bressonian style emerges with its presentation of  lifestyle, specifically one of a person who identifies with the profession of a pickpocket. The image of this specific pickpocket is what Bresson and his cinematographer, Léonce-Henri Burel, present through exceptional camerawork, which consists of tightly framed close-ups that make the viewer pay witness to these crimes. The camera also places no negative opinion on these crimes, being indifferent to these sequences and allowing the audience to create a positive or negative judgement.

*Spoilers ahead*

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