January 19, 2021

ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

One_night_in_miamiBarnburner. It speaks volumes that the two best films of 2020 were based on plays (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “One Night In Miami”). Both films directly address the Black experience in America, albeit at different cataclysmic moments in the country’s history.

Kemp Powers’s deep-dive 2013 play of the same title (“One Night In Miami” provides director Regina King with plenty of thematic substance to bring Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) to radiant life. King’s flawless direction is as the precise as the on-point performances of her talented actors.   

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I’m guessing that Regina King spent an extensive rehearsal period with her actors, considering how exquisitely each man fulfills the speech patterns and mannerisms of towering historic figures whose social influence continues to inspire people the world over. I can’t say enough good things about the sublime work that Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. perform in “One Night In Miami.” Truly great acting all around. Kudos to this amazing ensemble.

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The set-up is a fictionalized meeting in 1964 between Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke at Miami’s Hampton House hotel, the only segregated hotel of the Civil Rights era still standing today. The contentious conversations that follow give insight to each pivotal Black leader’s psyche and ways of navigating an openly racist country that treats each man with suspicion. The film’s elegiac tableau hits all the right grace notes, supplied by Sam Cooke. You’ll feel the feeling right down to your toes.

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Rated R. 114 mins.

Five Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

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January 12, 2021

CHRIST STOPPED AT EBOLI — THE CRITERION COLLECTION

1aaFrancesco Rosi’s 1979 filmic adaptation of Turinese political activist Carlo Levi’s popular 1945 memoir, about his year spent in political exile suffering Draconian punishments under Mussolini’s fascist regime, is a fluid masterpiece of social realism.

The film’s evocative title is taken from that of Carlo Levi’s chronicle of exposure to Fascism's harsh effect on a specific group of people.

Although you might suppose from the title that Christ visited the small southern Italian town of Eboli, however the context is something more; Christ never went beyond Eboli, which is to say he never witnessed the tragic condition of the remote village of Aliano — renamed as “Gagliano: in the book and film.

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Levi wrote, “Christ stopped at Eboli where the road and the train abandon the coast and the sea, and venture into the wastelands of Lucania. Christ never came here. Nor did time, the individual soul, or hope, nor did cause and effect, reason or history.”

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In 1929, Carlo Levi — not to be confused with his fellow Turinese anti-fascist peer Primo Levi — co-founded the anti-fascist movement Giustizia e Libertà with Carlo and Nello Rosselli. Although Levi graduated with a degree in medicine in 1924, he was inspired to become an artist. Painting allowed Levi private time to carry on private political discussions with activist friends who would sit as portrait models in his studio. The ruse only worked so well for so long. In 1935, Carlo Levi was arrested and exiled to Aliano, in Italy’s Lucania region. The deprived village relates to a similarly poor remote Spanish settlement in Luis Buñuel’s 1933 bold documentary “Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan” (“Land Without Bread”).

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Aliano presents a “land of disease, poverty, and distrust — from a people abandoned and forgotten by the state.” Clearly, Mussolini’s intent was that Carlo Levi might not survive a year spent in a remote place plagued by malaria and fellow political exiles whose attitudes didn’t necessarily coincide with those of Levi. Rather, Levi was compelled to assist the community up to a point in spite of his less than charitable countenance.

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Francesco Rosi buries significant subtext in situational reality. For example, Levi adopts a stray dog at the beginning of the story only to silently abandon the canine soon thereafter. No mention of the dog ever comes up again. Rose elucidates through silence and absence. Less is more. Rosi’s eye for detail shines as when Levi meets his sister when she comes to visit; the siblings walk in perfectly matching steps together. Their DNA is the same. Rosi's deceptively simple detail speaks volumes about the honest and direct nature of the siblings's relationship, something that is revealed during their private discussions.  

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Rosi’s uncanny ability to incorporate a specific Italian region’s locals (playing themselves) provides a foundation of authenticity that underpins the complex narrative with understatement and grace. Even the film's one flash of anger occurs as a substitute for seduction during a scene where Levi's maid bathes him. To watch "Christ Stopped At Eboli" is to go back in time. Politics be damned, life is where you are. Physical exile is real. Intellectualism suffers; culture suffers.

Francisco Rosi remains criminally neglected it the pantheon of great filmmakers. Rosi is right there with Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti even if Rosi isn't as well known. The dynamic naturalism that Rosi captures and observes under his trained vision is astonishing if you take the time to savor it.  

Criterion treats this film with the respect it deserves. Lovely. If you dig collecting Criterion films, this one is a beauty.

Christstopped

Not Rated. 220 mins. Five Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

January 11, 2021

LOS OLVIDADOS

Los_olvidadosSmack. Luis Buñuel paved the way for a neo-realistic style that would sweep across Europe (and eventually America in the '70s) after Italian Neorealism took hold during World War II. Buñuel’s 1933 doc “Las Hurdes: Tierra Sin Pan (“Land Without Bread") established neorealism’s documentary style, and use of unprofessional actors, to exert an invisible effect of editorial point-making. However, Buñuel had more tricks up his sleeve. Style can be copied; approach and execution cannot. 

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Having spent the post-World War II ‘40s directing popular “charro” films in Mexico, Buñuel was encouraged by his frequent producer Óscar Dancigers to make a film about Mexico City’s impoverished lost children. Co-written by Buñuel and Luis Alcoriza, “Los Olvidados” (“The Young and the Damned”) remains a towering beacon of social realist Cinema, albeit with a strong dose of dreamscape subconsciousness. Made in 1950 (the same year that Hollywood made “All About Eve”), “Los Olvidados” retains the power to shock its audience due to Buñuel’s unflappable ability to inject contextual clarity about society’s implication in dooming its underclass children to lives of abuse and crime.

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Buñuel eschews any sense of politeness, condescension, or patronizing of his characters or of his audience. El Jaibo (Roberto Cobo) is a juvenile delinquent recently escaped from jail who murders the boy he believes ratted on him. Pedro (Alfonso Mejía), a young witness to Jaibo’s crime, is accused of the murder while Jaibo is free to pursue an affair with Pedro’s neglectful mother. Mexico City's impoverished children are exploited by adults at every turn, without exception. 

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You won’t find any pity in “Los Olvidados,” but you will experience the full effect of Buñuel’s unvarnished filmic system of delivering onion layers of social realism. Think for yourself. You want a deep-dive filmic social study relevant to today, you've got it. Dig.

It would take another decade before Luis Buñuel would turn his attentions to only making his own films, with "Viridiana" (1961).

Five Stars

COLE SMITHEY

Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

This website is dedicated to Agnès Varda and to Luis Buñuel.

Get cool rewards when you click on the button to pledge your support through Patreon. Thanks a lot pal!

Cole Smithey on Patreon

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