WORLD CINEMA MARATHON

Written elsewhere in another blog I own, shortly after Holy Week:

For the last three weeks my stack of unviewed dvds has been growing. My interest in Oscar blockbusters has not been engaged much, except for Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”, but since the theme is tragic and depressing I have held off watching it. I’m a bit lucky to have found a couple of friendly sources for my preferred movies, namely foreign language films. The latter are so hard to find. I just never got the time till now (it being Holy Week), to watch them.

I like watching world cinema in their original language with English subtitles. That way I get the full expression of the acting. Dubbing in English disappoints me, especially when the voice does not match the character, or when poor dubbing results in too many lip movements and not enough syllables heard. And, of course, good translation is critical.

The other night I watched an old favorite, Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua Para Chocolate (“Like Water For Chocolate” – 1992). I had read the book before the movie was released, a prime example of Latin magical realism (read: suspend your disbelief at the appropriate plot devices). I hadn’t watched it for years. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, although I still agree with my original opinion that the actor playing Pedro plainly wasn’t compelling enough for Tita to knit miles of bedspread for. Lots of mouth-watering cooking scenes, as family recipes are a recurrent theme in the book. A favorite scene is where the revolutionary captain goes after the middle sister running naked from the burning bathroom, plucking her from the ground and heaving her onto his horse in one amazing fluid motion. It’s the kind of scene that makes people clap in the middle of the movie house because of its supercharged erotic audacity.

Last night I watched Zhang Yimou’s award-winning Da hong deng long gao gao gua (“Raise The Red Lantern” – 1991) for the very first time. I am such a Gong Li fan, you see. She plays Songlian, a former university student married off at 19 to a rich man as his fourth wife (read: concubine) in 1920s China. Songlian, imprisoned in her gilded cage, finds herself thrust in the middle of household intrigues more dire than any Desperate Housewife can handle. Five stars for this! It deserves all its accolades — for plot, direction, cinematography and acting. It affected me. And yes, it bears watching again and again.

To end the evening on a lighter, albeit no less critically acclaimed note, I watched Juzo Itami’s Tampopo (“Dandelion” – 1985). Fondly called “the first Japanese noodle Western!”, this is food porn at its best. Think Clint Eastwood and… er, Shirley MacLaine… only in Japanese. This is a sensual feast of a comedy where a cowboy hat-wearing truck driver helps a widowed single mother open a successful ramen house… together with his cute young sidekick, an ancient noodle sensei, a rich man’s chauffeur, and a thuggish building contractor! Favorite scene #1: Homeless gourmet tells Goro and Tampopo about the fine nuances of flavor between the dregs of three bottles of French wine he scavenged from the rubbish bin of a restaurant. I wish I knew the exact dialogue, but he talked like a professional wine taster! It was dead funny! Favorite scene #2: Well-dressed Humphrey Bogart-ish gangster (who is obsessed with food and cinema) and his girl have sex AND food. This theme certainly came out an entire year before 9 1/2 Weeks and for me was a better, more successful treatment. Check out the part where they kiss, passing a raw egg yolk from mouth to mouth, whereupon the girl is overcome with desire and goes limp. It’s a very romantic side story where every side story is about food, its preparation and its appreciation. But don’t forget it’s a comedy! A very Japanese one. I actually got hungry watching everyone slurp ramen (which occurs with delicious frequency in this film).

In the meantime I am trying to find or download Ang Lee’s Yin shi nan nu (“Eat Drink Man Woman” – 1994).

Yes, I must admit, a lot of the foreign language films I watch seem to feature love, sex, food and death. All good reasons for watching.

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