Film #284: The Devils (1971)

director: Ken Russell
language: English with some Latin
length: 107 minutes
watched on: 19 April 2017

My friend gave me this DVD (along with other recently-reviewed films like Sebastiane and Grey Gardens – the connection with Sebastiane is that Derek Jarman was also the set designer for The Devils). The cover promises something that was very controversial at its time of release, and has been specially restored to a previously-unavailable version.

A bit of digging and research later, (i.e. listening to Mark Kermode’s introduction and looking at the DVD notes) I found that it is actually still missing some key scenes that were in the original uncut movie – ones that were much more explicitly blasphemous such as the infamous “Rape of Christ” scene. The BBFC made some cuts to the original, and the MPAA in America made further cuts – the latter version was available on DVD in both countries, and this DVD is the original BBFC-cut version. It’s a bit confusing!

I’ve never actually seen any of Ken Russell’s other work, but his name precedes him, and I went into this movie not really knowing what the story was about in detail, but hoping for the best. It’s based on a historical story, and set in Medieval France. The two biggest characters are a corrupt priest and a nun with a hunchback and a lot of suppressed sexual desire. The main scene is one where the nuns are consumed with hysteria and dance naked through the halls of the church.

I think the DVD cover built me up to expect something a lot more shocking – the fact that it’s the first time it’s been restored, for example, and that it has an 18 certificate. But I think the most shocking and gory scenes have still not been reinserted into the film. I also reckon I’d be more shocked if I was religious – as it stands, what is in the film doesn’t shock me so much.

The film seems to be in a parallel reality – apparently they wanted to convey that Loudun, the setting of the majority of the movie, was considered a modern city by the standards of the time, so they designed the sets and dressed the characters as if it was modern in the 20th century. Sometimes, anyway. Bits of it look like the Paris Metro in shiny breeze blocks, and other bits are made of stone. The costumes seem to be period-accurate… until you get to the guy wearing purple sunglasses, and the 70s haircuts. I’m quite glad that the characters didn’t put on French accents for the movie, too. Occasionally we’re reminded that if it were real they would be speaking French, and they switch to Latin for some of the Catholic parts, but otherwise they use their normal English accents. I’m reminded of movies like Chocolat where some of the actors use faux-French accents and the others don’t, and the result is incongruous – not so in this film.

It’s generally a well-edited film, and it often does the thing I like that The Fifth Element also does, where it jumps between different sets of characters having the same conversation, and uses this to set up comedic moments. There are quite a lot of comedic moments in general – I liked the cardinal who never walks anywhere, for example, or that the nun is irrationally worried about her hunchback.

The cuts made by the BBFC somtimes jar a bit – it was obvious to me when watching the exorcism scene in the third act that this had been sloppily cut and re-edited. Shots I’d expect in a modern movie were just missing, like cutting to show the result of some violent action, which was deemed too gory back in 1971 but might have been left in if it had been released today. I’ve watched a lot of films, and know the rhythm that they usually take, and the cut scenes obviously didn’t flow as well as the others.

So overall good, I just hope I can see the uncut version someday!


Film #277: Bad Education (2004)

aka: La mala educación
director: Pedro Almodóvar
language: Spanish and a bit of Latin
length: 101 minutes
watched on: 24 March 2017

This was my first Almodóvar film way back when, and still my favourite. It’s probably my fourth time watching it, but the last time was a whopping nine years ago. As such, I could only have given a very simple outline of the plot before watching it. I’d forgotten exactly how the main twist turns out.

There are so many layers to this movie. It starts with a film producer reading a script given to him: the first film within the film, which follows two transgender characters trying to blackmail the Catholic priest principal of their former school. But there’s also a story within the story, as it flashes back to the characters’ childhood – their abuse by the priests, and their own sexual awakening to each other (in a cinema, which is perhaps the only known example of a film within a film within a film within a film?).

It’s many stories rolled into one, but it stays coherent, and has a strong anti-establishment message. It has a compelling mystery at the centre of it that unfolds slowly. It’s super gay, too (although I remember some of my university friends complaining that my tastes were too predictable in this regard – to which I say they had too much internalized homophobia and I hope they’ve changed). And perhaps its greatest appeal is seeing Gael Garcia Bernal in drag – but he basically plays three different characters during the movie too, a very diverse role (and not even in his native accent, apparently).

I hadn’t noticed before that when the film switches to the story within the story, the frame also shortens from the wider cinescope ratio to a smaller frame, signifying when we’re switching from one story to another. It did this similarly to The Grand Budapest Hotel, but not quite to the same degree.

I also talked about stories within stories recently with Magpie Murders, and I think this film is a much higher calibre of such a story, not to diminish that book too much.

So I like this movie a lot. It still has power to shock and amuse almost ten years later, which can’t be said for many movies. How about you? What’s your favourite Almodóvar film?

Film #274: Se7en (1995)

aka: Seven (much more sensible)
director: David Fincher
language: English
length: 127 minutes
watched on: 12 March 2017

I’ve dropped off the radar a bit with this blog – blame sickness. I had some grand plans to go on a cycling trip this month, but I had some kind of nasty throat infection and that looks like it’s not going ahead either. But I’ll have a few days off at least.

But anyway, this post is meant to be about the film I watched. It’s now been one month, and not a lot of Se7en has stuck with me. I had wondered why I waited so long to watch it, but 18-rated films that came out when I was a kid were never really on my radar, that much is obvious.

And the film has that rating for good reason – it’s pretty gruesome. There are a lot of mutilated bodies in it, and we follow two detectives, the old-timer Morgan Freeman and the newbie Brad Pitt, in their search for a serial killer who’s killing people he believes have committed the seven deadly sins.

The film is now over twenty years old and is considered a classic of the crime-thriller genre, so it’s pretty easy to go out there and find information about it. Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed. I did think it was thrilling and exciting, to a degree, and I was interested to see what would happen next and so on. But there’s a major twist near the end that turns Pitt and Freeman’s decisions into a moral quandary, and I just kind of shrugged my shoulders at that point.

The rest of the film is mostly a bit monochrome, like I wished they would add a bit more colour into it.

But I don’t think I’m going to convince anyone to see this film or not by writing this – it’s a pretty old movie – so let’s turn it into a conversation: what do you think? I’d like to hear your comments!