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MOVIE REVIEWS

 

Marcelino Pan y Vino

 

Why is this the best film I've ever seen?

Is it the music? The music is light and cheerful, like the little boy Marcelino that hops through the movie. But there is a bit of melancholy when Marcelino realizes that he has got no mother.

Is it the light? The light is usually bright, like the sun in the desert Spanish landscape, but dim in the ceiling, when Marcelino stays there near the large Crucifix. The shots of Jesus descending from the Cross to Marcellino, while beams of light play through the dormer-window, are unforgettable.

Is it the simplicity? The foundling boy is brought up by Franciscan friars who eat not much more than bread and wine, and spend the days working and singing peacefully. The staging is simple too: the quiet mimicry and movements of the excellent actors tell a great deal.

Or is it the serene confidence, the trust in God, the faith that we will go to a better land when we die? Yet the friars are sensible and bring up the boy with all earthly care. They stay calm when they are forced to leave the convent.

Be sure that you see the Spanish movie, directed by Ladislao Vajda. I have seen another film with the same name, but that was nothing.

History and script written by Josť Maria Sanchez Silva. Music created by Pablo Sorozabal. Photography by Enrique Guerner. Pablito Calvo plays Marcelino. The movie had ecclesiastical approbation. Production (1955) by Company Chamartin.

 

 

 

Sons of the Desert

 

Why is this the second best film I've ever seen, after the one reviewed above?

Of course it is the acting of Laurel and Hardy in the first place. The mimicry of Laurel, crying most of the time, but sometimes he is courageous like a lion. The mimicry of Hardy, looking into your eyes, desperate for Laurel's stupidity, or looking guiltily into the eyes of his wife. The slips of Laurel's tongue, and yet he can suddenly speak like a scholar. The stumbling and smiting and flinging.

But it is the many fine jokes too (Laurel invented a great deal of them). When the Master of the Brotherhood says that the strong should help the weak, Hardy nods to Laurel to encourage him. Laurel eats an apple of wax with much delight, hardly knowing that the apple is not as usual.

And it is the music and the dancing. The sensual dancing of a group of Hawaii girls, while a delicious song is being sung, is unforgettable.

Yet it is the true description of human nature and human relations that makes this movie really excellent. Laurel and Hardy are neighbours and both married to a careful but masterful wife. Hardy wants to be master in his own home. They devise a ruse to escape from the routine of marriage to a piquant and sensual meeting of the Brotherhood. When the wives find out the truth, Laurel turns out to be more honest than Hardy. He is cuddled and Hardy is punished.

Produced by Hal Roach (1933). Directed by William A Seiter and co-directed by Lloyd French. Mae Busch and Dorothy Christy play the tender wives of Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel. Story by Frank Craven. Continuity Byron Morgan. Photography Kenneth Peach. Film editor Bert Jordan. Music Marvin Hatley and Leroy Shield.

 

 

Doctor Zhivago

 

The book by Boris Pasternak got the 1958 Nobel prize for literature, and the movie got five Oscars. Yet for me this movie comes only third, after the two films described above. One of the defects is that you don't understand the movie before you have seen it three times: there are too many persons that appear in a too little amount of time.

When the film just appeared in the Netherlands, short time after 1965, I went to see it several times. I was then impressed by the shots of nature: snow, wolves and flowers. And the music: Lara's song. But at that time I was too young (16) to understand the psychology of the personalities appearing in the story. And I had too little understanding of the Russian revolution.

Fate plays an important role in the book, and hence in the film too. The main personalities meet each other again and again. You can see them running to each other in great delight, or behind each other in great despair. When this happens in places situated far away from each other in the immense Soviet Union, it seems a little improbable. But this makes clear that things happen to these people by accident and by fate.

Love too is something that happens to Zhivago and his wives by fate, something they didn't seek. Zhivago loves in two distinct ways the two wives that come into his life, answering two distinct sides of his personality. Both love affairs make life more valuable to him, despite the heavy blows of fate.

But the psychology of the personalities is the core of the film to me: the three men who give meaning to life in their distinct ways.
Komarovski is the cynical opportunist. He believes that the chances are the only things that matter, and that ideals are unimportant. He turns round like a leaf in the wind when revolution turns out to be the side that wins.
Antipov, alias Sjtrelnikov, is the revolutionary chief. His idealism is not directed towards the people in his vicinity, but to the far horizon. He kills a lot of people to achieve the goals of revolution.
Finally, Zhivago is the poet and doctor. Love emanates from his person, both love for nature and for people. He gives this love to all the people he happens to meet. In this way he becomes a follower of Jesus, Whom he may not even have known consciously.

Produced by Carlo Ponti, directed by David Lean (1965). Screenplay by Robert Bolt, after the book of Boris Paternak. Photography by Freddie Young, music by Maurice Jarre. Actors: Omar Sharif (Zhivago), Julie Christie (Lara), Geraldine Chaplin (Tonya), Rod Steiger (Komarovski), Tom Courtenay (Sjtrelnikov), Alec Guinness e.a.


Oliver !

 

The best musical film I've ever seen is 'Oliver' (1968). The movie is an adaptation of the well-known novel 'Oliver Twist', written by Charles Dickens.
It is a delightful musical, with lovely songs and ravishing dances. And if anybody thinks that musicals cannot say deep things, then here is the counter-example.

I myself have the opinion that the picture doesn't get real spirits before little Oliver, longing for a bit of love, comes in the house of receiver Fagin and his band of little pickpockets in London. Before that, the movie is very fine too. But you can drink coffee at the same time.
Then comes Nancy, the candid, pretty and vulgar girl friend of burglar Bill Sikes, for a visit. There follows an unforgettable scene with the little boys who play that they are carrying Nancy to her "palace" in a coach, while singing with her the song 'I'd do anything for you'.
Thereafter we get many more songs together, merry or naughty, glad or sad. Large and colourful dancing groups are involved, acting as nineteenth century citizens, tipplers, market women, etcetera. Fagin, Nancy and Oliver each sing a song or two alone.

The deeper moral is, before all other things, contained in the development of the persons, as Dickens described them. It's all about the mysteries of love and evil. It is typical that Bill Sikes, the tragical murderer, is the only principal player who doesn't sing.
Everybody eventually gets his reward or punishment. The treasure that Fagin scraped together, falls in the mud at the end and is lost forever. Nancy brings Oliver away from the danger to a loving family, because she is even more true to her conscience than to her friend Bill Sikes. For me, this is the most important event in the movie. Sikes then murders her, and someone shoots him during a thrilling pursuit over the roofs of London.

Two animals play notable parts as well: Fagin's owl with large blinking eyes that see the hidden things, and the dog of Bill Sikes who in the end cannot follow his beloved boss any more.

Produced by John Woolf (in 1968) after design by John Box. Direction by Carol Reed . Book, music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. Musical supervision and arrangements by John Green. Choreography by Onna White. Photography by Oswald Morris. Screenplay by Vernon Harris.
Major parts played by Ron Moody (Fagin), Shani Wallis (Nancy), Oliver Reed (Sikes), Mark Lester (Oliver), Jack Wild (leading boy of the band of pickpockets), Harry Secombe ("father" of the orphanage).



Winky's horse

 

This is a typical example of an excellent family movie.

Winky Wong and her mother emigrate from China to Holland, where her father is running a Chinese restaurant. Her first school day is a disaster, but she soon knows more about Holland than her father. For her father doesn't even know the difference between Sinterklaas and Santa Claus.
When Winky's mother goes back to China because grandma is ill, Winky finds comfort with the pony of uncle Siem and aunt Cor. She decides to ask Sinterklaas a horse for herself. By a misunderstanding, she thinks Sinterklaas does promise her a real horse.
On the feast day of Sinterklaas, the goodholyman appears in her school and gives her a little teddy bear. She is furious and walks outside, but she finds the white horse of Sinterklaas fastened to a hook next her own little bicycle. So ... did Sinterklaas give her a horse after all? In an exstasy, Winky takes the horse to her own home ....
Of course there is a happy end. At the end, Sinterklaas says Winky can look after his horse during the time he's back home in Spain.

Three things elevate this movie to an outstandingly high level:
First, the fact it's about a Chines family being integrated in Dutch society, and it's a charming Moroccan neighbour boy who explains to Winky that Sinterklaas needs his horse to bring presents to all children.
Secondly, the excellent depiction of the relations between subjective and objective reality, between the world of children and the world of adults.
Thirdly, the lovely representation of a typically Dutch event, with the sea and the dunes and a very fatherlike Sinterklaas.

Produced (in 2005) by Burny Bos and others after a scenario by Tamara Bos.
Directed by
Mischa Kamp .
Major parts played by Ebbie Tam (Winky), Jan Decleir (Sinterklaas), Mamoun Elyounoussi (Samir) and others.



My topten of singers (in alphabetical order)

1. Joan Baez (Farewell Angelina)

2. Harry Belafonte (Long Time Ago In Bethlehem)

3. Wieteke van Dort (Tlaga Biroe)

4. Jo Erens (Limburg allein)

5. Johnny Jordaan (Geef Mij Maar Amsterdam)

6. Corry Konings (Die Tango Met Jou)

7. Jim Reeves (He'll Have To Go)

8. Heintje Simons (O Heerlijk Zonlicht)

9. Rudolf Schock (Rosemarie)

10. Sarah Vaughan (Lullaby Of Birdland)

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