Slow Film… Films you may have missed.
Brief reviews of films that are subtle and thought provoking – in short, food for thought. All films reviewed are in the Portsmouth Public Library. By Bob Miller.
The Spy Who Came In from the Cold
Directed by: Martin Ritt
Starring: Richard Burton and Claire Bloom
“The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” was Le Carré’s third novel and it brought him international success. The film, directed by Martin Ritt, is every bit as precise and ruthless as the book. Richard Burton is superb as Alec Leamas, whose relationship with the beautiful librarian Nan, played by Claire Bloom, puts his assignment in jeopardy. There are no shoot-’em-up scenes; no breath-taking chase scenes. The movie moves slowly through uncertainty, fear, rage, and anguish. What is breath-taking is the slow downward spiral of Leamas, which leads in the end to a kind of valor.
At the time of the film’s release, audiences were used to James Bond films, and found “The Spy Who Came In from the Cold” confusing and unfocused – a slap in the face to the gimmicky and flashy Bond movies. Set at the height of the Cold War, the film whitewashes no one and no side. Just the kind of political and social consciousness that defined Martin Ritt’s career as a director, making a perfect match of writer and director.
Black and white – 1965.
Along with this film is a companion disc that, among other things, contains a new and wide-ranging interview with the author John Le Carré. This interview is well worth watching.
Here’s another interview with Le Carré on YouTube:
Directed by: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov
Here is another film set in the Cold War. Though “White Nights” is more Hollywood than the “Spy Who Came In from the Cold,” and firmly entrenched in the good vs. bad narrative of the Cold War, it also includes excellent dance performances by both Baryshnikov and Hines – definitely not your typical pairing! The dance routines are well integrated into the storyline (which in spirit bears a resemblance to Baryshnikov’s own escape from the Soviet Union). And though the story may be very predictable, the dancing is not. A brief but very strong performance by Helen Mirren shows how she can transform a small role into a minor masterpiece.
So if dance warms you up, as the bitter cold of winter slowly edges into spring, you might give “White Nights” a viewing.
Directed by: Yasujirō Ozu
and Machiko Kyo
“Floating Weeds” takes place during a hot summer in 1958, in a sleepy seaside village in southern Japan. A troupe of travelling actors, headed by the troupe’s lead actor and owner, Komajuro (played by Ganjiro Nakamura), arrives by ship at the town. The rest of the troupe goes around the town to publicize their kabuki performances.
The plot is elegantly simple: an aging actor returns to a small town with his troupe and reunites with his former lover and illegitimate son, which enrages Sumiko, his current mistress (played by Machiko Kyo). There is no easy resolution in this film – only hardship for all. Ozu includes a number of sub-plots about the supporting members of the troupe attempting to seduce local women, and deftly handles the shifts in tone from the gently comic to the melancholic. The limitations of these beleaguered characters are observed by Ozu with a generosity of spirit, paving the way for Sumiko’s touching gesture of forgiveness.
“Floating Weeds” is richly atmospheric, with its expressive use of color, lyrical cutaways, and masterly interior compositions a feast for lovers of photgraphy.
1959 Japanese film with English subtitles.
Here are links to some reviews of this film:
You can also read about Ozu’s life and work.
Slow Film is a blog series by Bob Miller, assistant librarian at PPL: lover of film, music, fiction and non-fiction. If you have suggestions for something that should be included in a future blog post, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.