Gate of Flesh

We love Seijun Suzuki here at Lost in Criterion, and sadly we only have two more of his films to watch before we're all out of them. Well, unless the Criterion adds more before we're done. There's certainly an incredibly good chance of that.

We finish with two of the earliest of his that we've seen (though Youth of the Beast was earlier than either). This week it's Gates of Flesh a story of post-war desperation.

au hasard Balthazar

We get to watch a movie about a donkey!

But the donkey doesn't talk. It's not animated. It's depressing.

I'd call au hasard Balthazar peak Bresson, but I'm betting Robert Bresson will keep surprising me. In any case this is the third and final in a string of films that claims inspiration from Fyodor Dostoevsky, and it certainly fits with the Russians' tone (though perhaps not his religiosity).

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Le notti bianche

We're in the middle of a trilogy of films that claim influence from Dostoevsky with the most straightforward adaptation of the lot in being the only one not loosely inspired by a half-remembered scene from The Idiot. Instead Luchino Visconti, who we last saw with the phenomenal film The Leopard last year, does a fairly faithful take on Dostoevsky's 1948 short story White Nights which turns out to be better representative of my psyche than The Idiot ever really was. My relationship to Dostoevsky's work gets meta this week and I learn some things. Hurray! 

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Crazed Fruit

Imagine if a 20 year old Donald Trump had written a book about how bad the kids are. Or Marine Le Pen. Or Nigel Farage, etc. etc. you get the idea.

Crazed Fruit is based on a book by Shintaro Ishihara, a right wing populist politician with some pretty terrible opinions as well as delusions -- he once said that if he'd continued directing films (and he's only directed one full length) he'd be at least better than Kurosawa. He didn't even direct this movie -- though from certain set stories it seems he wished he had -- an honor that instead fell to Ko Nakahira. Nakahira, with great help from cinematographer Shigeyoshi Mine and first time composer Toru Takemitsu, produces a visually and aurally great film and I regret that we won't see more from him, but it's pretty hard to get beyond the politics of the film, the author behind it, and the cultural movement it kicked off.

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The Browning Version

As of this writing 1951's The Browning Version is our final Anthony Asquith film in the Criterion Collection, and while it is also an adaptation of a play it is a very different film to the others we've watched over the years. The Browning Version is certainly bleaker than Pygmalion and The Importance of Being Earnest, but also perhaps more inspiring, in that it actually hopes to be inspiring.

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The Flowers of St. Francis

Pat and I both come from protestant Christian backgrounds in the Midwest US, though certainly different expressions of even that niche, and more certainly we've landed in very different spots (to where we came from and one another) later in life. Still our divergent ideologies are ever more deeply rooted in humanism, and the Christian-themed films we've watched while Lost in Criterion that we've most loved are those with a humanist touch: Ordet, Winter Light, The Last Temptation of Christ.

Listen to any of those episodes and you'll find that I try to embrace a rather humanist interpretation of Jesus and the Gospels, one focused on the realities of the poor and oppressed in the world today. That is to say, I consider Jesus Christ to be an early humanist hero. But even setting aside Jesus himself, historical expressions of humanism are deeply tied to Christianity and we discuss the life of one of the earlier seeds of that this week with Roberto Rossellini's The Flowers of St. Francis from 1950. Along the way we talk about some of the problems with Francis, or at least his portrayal by Rossellini, and the larger Church, and for some reason discuss Pat's hatred of medieval paintings.

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Unfaithfully Yours

Preston Sturges's most intellectual film, Sullivan's Travels, was an argument that non-intellectual films are ok. People love them! Not everything needs a deeper point! Still, as we mentioned last week with Lubitsch's Heaven Can Wait, Criterion has a tendency to serve us intellectual films, and that makes talking about a movie that doesn't want to say anything an ever unique experience for us.

Of course 1948's Unfaithfully Yours is still a very smart film. It's pitch-perfectly crafted and intensely funny even while maintaining a certain level of suspense. 

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Heaven Can Wait

It's been over two years since we've heard from Ernst Lubistch, despite his being one of the most influential directors in Hollywood. Back then we had the pre-Code Trouble in Paradise and its ridiculously risque writing, but 1942's Heaven Can Wait isn't quite so overtly sexual, in fact despite the plot stemming from the main character's insistence to Satan himself that he is an evil philanderer, we never really see him even approaching cheating on his wife.

It's almost relaxing to have a mid-century Hollywood comedy after a long, long run of films that want to say something, but maybe we're wrong about Lubitsch and Heaven Can Wait. What if this really is a political film? What if we can read a political message into anything?

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The Phantom of Liberty

With The Phantom of Liberty (1974) we have now watched Luis Bunuel's final three films, and there's a very good chance that is the not so distant future I'll find it hard to say which memorable scene belongs to which movie. Phantom is no Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie -- nothing could be -- but it still has some brilliance in it, though it's buried a bit more under some not so great ideas. We've seen other directs throw vignettes at the wall and hope they stick, and thankfully Phantom is more Slacker than Schizopolis, though I'd probably rather watch either of those over doing this again.

Hoop Dreams

We finish up an array of decidedly different documentaries this week with Steve James, Frederick Marx, and Peter Gilbert's Hoop Dreams, the story of Arthur Agee and William Gates, two young men from Chicago with athletic ambitions. Like Burden of Dreams -- though for vastly different reasons -- what was meant to be a short shoot ballooned to four years, and Hoop Dreams arrived as one of the best sports documentaries in history, as well as a lasting indictment on racism and classism in America.

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F for Fake

Before we started our journey of Lost in Criterion I owned two Criterion films: The Third Man and F for Fake. They also happen to be the two movies I most enjoy sharing with other people. I got to make my dear friend Pat watch The Third Man just over four years ago, and now I finally force him to watch F for Fake.
Directed, or perhaps curated, by Orson Welles with footage also directed by François Reichenbach, Oja Kodar, and Gary Graver, F for Fake is a sort of film essay about perceived expertise and fakery. It's a lesson we continue to need.

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Burden of Dreams

In a way Burden of Dreams reminds me of Black Narcissus, or at least Werner Herzog's calling the Amazon "obscene" as a balance against his star Klaus Kinski's insistence that it is "erotic" reminds me of the Archers' argument that India is too weird for westerners to manage living in. Director Les Blank, to his credit, is more sympathetic to the native peoples, even as his film focuses on Herzog's seemingly doomed production of Fitzcarraldo.

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Ashes and Diamonds

We finish up the final chapter of Andrzej Wajda's Three War Films with a film that takes place in the aftermath of armistice. Well, armistice for some. Ashes and Diamonds is a brilliant piece of cinema the contemplates where a country can go after national trauma tears its core. It's also a film that exists in a suddenly more culturally open Poland and it wears its western influences on its sleeve.

A Generation

We start a trip through the early work -- the War Films -- of Polish director Andrzej Wajda this week. We start with his first film, and indeed the first film for many of the on and off screen talent involved: A Generation from 1955. This film, made before the Soviet "thaw" hit Poland, cautiously tells the story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in a way that hopefully won't make too many Poles angry, though mostly not making the Soviets angry. Wadja, to his credit, hoped the film would make people more communist than the Soviets ever wanted to be. It did not.

An editor's note: we've settled on a system where our episode numbers match to the film's Criterion Spine Number, but with boxsets that contain films that do not have their own number that always becomes iffy. As such we're going through the films chronologically and adjusting accordingly.

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Jules and Jim

We return to Francois Truffaut this week, who we haven't seen since we finished the Adventures of Antoine Doinel. In fact this is our first Truffaut film in which Doinel is not a character. Jules and Jim, instead, is a period piece about a trio of friend and lovers whose situation becomes untenable. How Truffaut, and author Henri-Pierre Roche, choose to resolve the untenability is the sticking point of the film for us, particularly because Roche's original novel is "semi-autobiographical" and the ending is one aspect that earns that"semi".

The Sword of Doom

Donovan Hill joins us as our resident Samurai film buff, and that's always fun. If you like hearing Donovan rant, and I know I do, he joins us for non-Samurai films over on the Patreon bonus episodes more often and it's always a treat.

We're talking Kihachi Okamoto's The Sword of Doom from 1966 and boy is it nihilistic. That's something Donovan knows a bit about as well. Good times! But for serious, this is good conversation. It's also long. Clocking in as one of the longest episodes Lost in Criterion has had because of the enlightening exploration of Japanese cultural history that Donovan and Pat provide.

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Young Törless

As evident in our journey through Criterion, Volker Schlöndorff makes interestingly complicated films that press viewers to think about human behavior and how we treat one another. Also ones in which a good chunk of humans, particularly men in the ethnic majority, are sociopathic. These themes, of course, are not uncommon in German cinema of the post-WW2 era.

1966's Young Törless is another variation on that melody, this time emphasizing the ease with which we go along with the oppressive behavior of others in order to fit in. The narrative is not without its own problems, but Schlöndorff manages to remind us how easy it is to help the oppressor, and to slip away convinced you did nothing wrong. It's a lesson much of humanity, again particularly men in the ethnic majority, still needs to learn.

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L'Eclisse

A little over three years ago Lost in Criterion watched the first film in a trilogy of sorts by Michelangelo Antonioni. We were not impressed with L'Avventura, but could it be that by the the last film of the trilogy we'd could get into a Antonioni film? Marginally!

1962's L'Eclisse isn't quite as tedious as I remember L'Avventura being, though I think I'm understanding Antonioni's perspective a bit better now. If there's one thing long time listeners may have noticed, it's that the longer we spend in the Criterion Collection the less Lost we feel -- but that doesn't mean we can't still feel totally Lost at times. Anyway, there's still the fact that I watched L'Eclisse twice and when I sat down to edit this week's episode I couldn't remember a thing about it. Though to be fair to myself I've also watched Groundhog Day 12 times in the intervening 3 weeks, so my brain is a bit fried.

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