Family Affair: The End of Summer (1961)

Kohayagawa Family

“The Kohayagawa family is complicated indeed,” remarks Yamaguchi (Kyû Sazanka), a longtime employee of the sake brewery run by the Kohayagawas, around whom Yasujirô Ozu’s 1961 film The End of Summer revolves. Facing falling profits and heavy competition from larger rivals, their small company seems destined for a merger if it wishes to stay in business at all, but Manbei (Ganjirô Nakamura), the family’s patriarch, is opposed to the idea. He wants the company to remain independent — and it’s clear that he desires similar freedom in his personal life. Of late, he’s been disappearing frequently with little or no explanation. Curiosity eventually gets the better of his employees, so one of them, Roku (Yû Fujiki), follows him and — despite Manbei’s best efforts to deter him — discovers his secret: He’s been visiting Tsune Sasaki (Chieko Naniwa), a woman who used to be his mistress.

Continue reading “Family Affair: The End of Summer (1961)”

The Usual Unknowns: Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)

“Stealing is a serious profession. You need serious people.”

Cosimo Proietti (Memmo Carotenuto) has just received a tip about a job that could make him a fortune and set him up for life. Oh, sure, it’s not exactly a legitimate enterprise — it entails breaking into a pawnshop on Rome’s (fictitious) Via delle Madonne through the empty apartment next door and opening a locked safe — but Cosimo isn’t the sort of man to quibble about legality. In fact, that’s the sole problem with this scheme: He’s already in jail for attempting to steal a car, and he isn’t scheduled to be released for over a year. His only hope is to convince someone else to claim responsibility for his crime, thereby setting him free. Although he offers to pay the scapegoat 100,000 lire, none of his acquaintances are willing to take the rap: Capannelle (Carlo Pisacane) would be facing a life sentence due to his past convictions, Mario (Renato Salvatori) fears upsetting his mother, Michele (Tiberio Murgia) doesn’t want to abandon his closely guarded sister Carmela (Claudia Cardinale) or jeopardize her upcoming marriage, and Tiberio (Marcello Mastroianni) not only has a prior offense but also has to take care of his baby son while his wife (Gina Rovere) serves time for smuggling cigarettes. “Guys, you’ll never get an ex-con for 100,000 lire,” Tiberio tells the others. “You need someone with a clean record.”

Continue reading “The Usual Unknowns: Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958)”

Blind Spot Series: The King and I (1956)

The King and I Title

In 1862, British widow Anna Leonowens (Deborah Kerr) and her son, Louis (Rex Thompson), arrive in Bangkok, where Anna is to teach the children of King Mongkut (Yul Brynner). The king has hired Anna because he wants his many offspring, as well as his many wives, to acquire the best of Western culture and knowledge. In exchange, he’s promised her £20 a month and a house of her own outside the palace walls — but when she arrives, she discovers that she and her son are expected to live inside the palace after all. The strong-willed, independent Anna confronts the king, despite being warned against it, and though he admires her for her lack of fear, he refuses to give her the house. She decides to return to England, only to change her mind after meeting the children. Still, she won’t give up on getting what she wants, and this won’t be her only conflict with the equally strong-willed king.

Continue reading “Blind Spot Series: The King and I (1956)”

Between Two Worlds: The Wild Child (1970)

Victor Forest

On a summer day in 1798, a woman collecting mushrooms in a French forest is startled by what appears to be a large animal moving in the brush, grunting and sending leaves flying into the air. After she runs off, it reveals itself — not as the fearsome beast the woman imagined, but as a boy of eleven or twelve (Jean-Pierre Cargol), naked, long-haired, covered in filth and moving on all fours. Human though he is, he leads the life of a wild animal, and soon he’s captured like one, chased by dogs and smoked out of a hole in the ground by a group of hunters. Dubbed the Wild Boy of Aveyron, he becomes an object of curiosity to the public at large and the medical profession in particular. Because he’s unable to speak and has limited hearing — he turns around when a nut is cracked behind him but doesn’t react when a door slams — the boy is placed in an institution for the deaf, where tourists come to gawk at him and the other children abuse him. Appalled by these conditions, Dr. Jean Itard (François Truffaut) proposes moving the boy to his own home on the outskirts of Paris. There, with the help of his housekeeper, Madame Guérin (Françoise Seigner), he intends to educate him.

Continue reading “Between Two Worlds: The Wild Child (1970)”

The Quintessential Ozu: Late Spring (1949)

Late Spring Noh Play

“I always tell people that I don’t make anything besides tofu, and that is because I am strictly a tofu-dealer,” Yasujirô Ozu said of his work while promoting An Autumn Afternoon, the 1962 film that would turn out to be his swan song. (He died of cancer the following year, on his sixtieth birthday.) By that point, he had been directing for thirty-five years. Although his resume includes college comedies, crime dramas, a period piece (his now-lost debut, Sword of Penitence) and a documentary short on a kabuki dancer, the bulk of his impressive output — fifty-four films in total, despite the fact that his career was interrupted in the late 1930s and again in the early to mid-1940s when he was called up for military service — deals with family relationships in contemporary Japan. Tokyo Story, released in 1953, is probably the best-known example, a tale about an elderly couple traveling to the titular city to visit their children and grandchildren. However, the most representative entry in Ozu’s filmography — his tofu in its purest form, as it were — may be 1949’s Late Spring.

Continue reading “The Quintessential Ozu: Late Spring (1949)”

Blind Spot Series: Il Grido (1957)

Il Grido Title

When an Italian woman named Irma (Alida Valli) learns that her husband has died abroad, Aldo (Steve Cochran) — her lover of seven years and the father of her young daughter, Rosina (Mirna Girardi) — assumes that the two of them will finally marry; Irma has other ideas. Now that she’s free (and, simultaneously, forced) to make a decision, she’s realized that she doesn’t want to spend the rest of her life with Aldo. In fact, she admits that for the past few months there’s been “someone else,” a younger man, and she intends to leave Aldo for him.

Continue reading “Blind Spot Series: Il Grido (1957)”

Composition of a Villain: Amadeus (1984)

Salieri Balcony

“Mozart! Mozart, forgive your assassin! I confess, I killed you!”

On a snowy winter night in Vienna in 1823, over three decades after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s death at age thirty-five, these shouts ring out through an elderly man’s (F. Murray Abraham) house. From outside the locked door of his room, his servants initially try to calm him down by tempting him with pastries, but when his ranting is succeeded by a chilling scream and the sound of something falling on a piano, they grow increasingly concerned. At last, they force their way in. Their master is on the floor, covered in blood; he’s just cut his own throat.

So begins the 1984 film Amadeus, directed by Milos Forman and adapted by Peter Shaffer from his play of the same name. The elderly man is Antonio Salieri — villain and victim.

Continue reading “Composition of a Villain: Amadeus (1984)”

Boy Loses Girl: The Coward (1965)

Karuna Ami

After the taxi in which he’s traveling breaks down at the start of Satyajit Ray’s 1965 film The Coward, Kolkata resident Amitabha Roy (Soumitra Chatterjee) finds himself stranded in the countryside, unable to reach his brother-in-law’s house in the town of Hashimara. There’s no chance of leaving before the next day — the car needs a new ignition coil that the local garage doesn’t have in stock, no other taxis are available, the last train has gone — and the only nearby hotel is reportedly a less than pleasant place to stay.

“What’s your line? Tea or forest?” asks a stranger (Haradhan Bannerjee) who has taken an interest in his troubles; after all, why else would anyone be out in the middle of nowhere like this? The stranger himself, Bimal Gupta by name, owns a tea plantation, and he invites the young man to spend the night at his bungalow. As they drive there, Amitabha explains that he’s a screenwriter seeking local color for his next scenario, a romantic tale. “Boy meets girl, boy loses –” Bimal begins, but Amitabha corrects him: “Boy gets.” “Boy gets girl, boy loses girl. Right?” he says. “Exactly,” his guest replies with a laugh. A simple formula — real life proves a bit more complicated.

Continue reading “Boy Loses Girl: The Coward (1965)”

Blind Spot Series: Little Caesar (1931)

Little Caesar Title

Caesar Enrico Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) — Rico for short — is tired of knocking over gas stations in his small town. He longs to be like the big-time crime bosses he reads about in the newspaper, and not just because of their impressive wealth. “Money’s all right, but it ain’t everything,” he says. “Ah, be somebody. Look hard at a bunch of guys and know that they’ll do anything you tell ’em. Have your own way or nothin’. Be somebody!”

Continue reading “Blind Spot Series: Little Caesar (1931)”