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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Classics from Abroad: La Dolce Vita & The Earrings of Madame de....

Classic Foreign Films

While I consider myself a cinema aficionado, I realize I have some holes in my resume. I try to keep up with new films, and I've seen a lot of classic American films, but my viewing of world cinema is lacking a bit. I've recently come upon a great website called They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?, which compiles critics lists to list the top 1,000 films of all time and the top 250 films of the 21st century. In looking at the all-time list, I realize that I have a lot of catching up to do on foreign films. So I hope to plug some of those holes this summer. I start with two classics I was glad to catch up with.....

La Dolce Vita (1960)

Federico Fellini's groundbreaking and provocative movie follows Marcello (Marcello Mastroianni) as he travels around a rapidly changing Rome. This episodic film (broken into more or less seven parts) shows the ways that the traditions of the past are being thrown aside for modern hedonism. The movie is lots of fun to watch, but also has an air of emptiness and sadness. It's a long movie, and I must say that I found some episodes more engaging than others. In almost every segment, however, there is a moment of transcendence where Fellini causes the viewer to think about life and culture and how everything is changing. I don't think this is quite as good as 8 1/2 (regularly cited as a 10-best of all time), but it's definitely worth a look.

Grade: A-

The Earrings of Madame de..... (1953)

I had read about this movie and wondered what led to its acclaim, as it plot sounds rather ordinary. It's basically about a spoiled General's wife in France who falls in love with an Italian diplomat, and the usual fallout ensues.

Once I started watching the movie, however, I was absolutely enthralled. Max Ophuls is considered the master of the tracking shot, shots that follow characters for extended time and throughout several locales. Several modern acclaimed tracking shots have been in Goodfellas, Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Children of Men, and Atonement. Almost every shot in this movie is a work of art. The cinematography carries the viewer through the story and lends an air of gracefulness and emotion to every single frame.

The actors in this movie are also remarkable, especially Danielle Darrieux in the title role. She inhabits the soul of a woman falling in love so well that, by the end of the movie, you are so fully entrenched in her struggle that your heart breaks with her. A great film and I hope to see some more movies by Ophuls soon.

Grade: A

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