The Mercenary (1968), Worth A Look

Like A Bullet For The General (1966), this is a political spaghetti western that pairs the professional with the revolutionary. The professional is the titular mercenary played by Franco Nero who everyone calls the Polack. The revolutionary is Paco (Tony Musante), a Mexican who has recently broken free from a silver mine. The two meet early in the film and together face numerous foes from bank owners to the mine owners to the evil Curly (Jack Palance). Of course, by face I mean Paco and his men pay the Polack his salary and they become the beneficiaries of his abilities and tactics. Just like in A Bullet For The General, the experience of being with the outside pro corrupts the revolutionary. It’s just not as good as A Bullet For The General. The material is lacking in substance and tries to be fun with a violent edge. The many uses of the machine gun are gratuitous references to Nero’s success in Django. It has it’s moments like when we get a shootout in a bullfighting arena a la The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. There is plenty of comedy that works and there are more violent films. In my book, that makes it a spaghetti western that’s worth a look.

Talk To Her (2002), Recommended, TSPDT #903

Weekend At Almodóvar’s

The film is about two men who share a common bond: the woman they care for is in a coma. Benigno (Javier Cámara) is a nurse who grew up taking care of his mother in every way as if she couldn’t take care of herself. He can see a studio from his apartment window and one of the dancers becomes the object of his obsession. Her father is a psychiatrist and she lives in rooms attached to his office. Benigno makes an appointment with the father and steals a beret hair clip. Shortly afterwards, an accident puts her in a coma and he ends up being one of the nurses assigned to take care of her.

The Dancer

The other man is Marco (Darío Grandinetti), a reporter, who becomes interested in doing a story on a female bullfighter. He has a brief relationship with her, but it was really something for her to do while she was on the outs with another bullfighter she loved. However, she gets mauled by a bull before she can really tell the two men where she stands. She ends up at the same hospital where Benigno works and the two become friends.

The Bullfighter

Marco is drawn, for awhile, into Benigno’s world where he believes he has a real relationship with the dancer, but he never seems to buy into it. Benigno only gets more delusion, even believing that he should marry her. Whereas another film would have demonized Benigno or turned him into a Norman Bates like character, director Pedro Almodóvar portrays him sympathetically. We don’t feel his actions are justified, but we understand them.

The film has the usual Almodóvar signature all over this film, but none of his other films have left me with such an uneasy feeling. I recommend it.

An aside, here are a couple of screenshots that were hilarious. The second screenshot is from a fictional silent movie we see within the film about a man who drinks a concoction his girl made and shrinks.

Fantastic Voyage

Plácido (1961), Recommended, TSPDT #895

If you don’t know Spanish then I can practically guarantee that you will have to watch this film twice. If you do know Spanish you will still probably have to watch this twice. The reason is that this film moves at the pace of a 1940’s screwball comedy and the dialogue at the speed of His Girl Friday. Therefore, if you don’t know Spanish you will be trying to read subtitles faster than you can and need many pauses and playbacks. Now to the film.

The film is about a man named Plácido who has been hired to help with a campaign on Christmas Eve. The campaign consists of bringing in actors to auction off for money and then each family takes a a poor person home for dinner. While all this is going on Plácido needs to pay off a bank note that is due, but keeps having to go somewhere else or do something else.

What director Luis García Berlanga has done is to set up a classic example of Catholic charity and then show how the Spanish really are despite the propaganda. The best scene that illustrates this point is when one of the poor men starts dying. The family finds a doctor, who is actually just a dentist, and there isn’t anything he can do. However, the poor man at the dentist’s house is the neighbor of the dying man. He tells them that they should get in touch with his “wife”. Of course those quotes are there because they aren’t really married. Now the family doesn’t just have an old poor man dying in their home. They have an old poor man who has been living in sin dying in their home. They get a priest, but the old man doesn’t want to be married. So they trick him into saying yes, they marry them, he dies, and now it’s time to get rid of the body.

Funny, but dark stuff. I recommend it.

A Brief Vacation (1973), Highly Recommended

Clara (Florinda Bolkan)

With almost 30 years between the Italy of Bicycle Thieves and the Italy of A Brief Vacation, De Sica and Zavattini revisit the working class hero, but this time the political agenda is left behind for a love story. It begins with our heroine Clara waking up and nearly breaking down before running off to work. She is supporting a family that really doesn’t let her stop to be a human being. One day at work she is so rundown that her coworkers do everything but drag her to the National Health to be examined.

Waiting At The National Health

While waiting to be checked out, she goes to a cafe with a man. It’s very brief, but there is a spark. She gets checked out and they want her to come back. At home she is met with a slap from her husband for being with the man. However, when she goes back to get the results of her checkup, the doctor orders her to a sanitarium in the mountains to heal for a couple of months. It’s at this sanitarium that the woman inside Clara is able to emerge. She even meets the man from the National Health a couple of times. However, she eventually heals physically and must leave.

In the hands of another director the film might be shamelessly sentimental filled with heart warming moments, obvious tragedy, and an even more obvious ending. Luckily, De Sica strips the film of that nonsense leaving only what rings true. Florinda Bolkan is wonderful as Clara without a false note in her performance. I highly recommend it.

Broken Embraces (2009), Recommended

This is a film for cinema fans. If films like Peeping Tom, Magnificent Obsession, The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant, and Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown are on your shelf then you will get a lot out of this film. For those who don’t, this film is a fine introduction to the work of director Pedro Almodóvar. His films are filled with beautifully composed shots, gorgeous color schemes, and wonderfully slick melodrama topped off with enough cinematic references to satiate any lover of movies.

The plot isn’t important. It’s a younger women, older man, younger man, a film, and tragedy that befalls them all. Penelope Cruz is a vision of beauty. If you have never seen here in her native tongue then you have never seen her act.

There are better Almodóvar films, but this one is a fine introduction.

That Obscure Object Of Desire (1977), Approach With Caution, TSPDT #684

Well, this is definitely Bunuel. It doesn’t get more explicit then a story about a man who is constantly lusting after a woman while terrorists like R.A.B.J. (Revolutionary Army of the Baby Jesus) are bombing and killing civilians. The problem is, the movie is rather boring and feels like a retread of Tristana, which wasn’t that great to begin with. Maybe it’s my problem with Bunuel’s 1970’s period, but I say approach this film with caution.