Made in 1964 this collaboration between the Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov, the writer Enrique Pineda Barnet and the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, I Am Cuba is set during the last days of Batista’s government and the Cuban Revolution in 1959. Told through four allegorical vignettes, this is clearly propaganda for Castro but with Raquel Revuetta as the voice of Cuba there is a dreamlike almost hallucinogenic feel to the film as the camera swoops and dives from buildings to sugar fields that makes it as absorbing as it is beautiful.
Opening with tranquil images of fertile land and palm trees we move to the city for the first story about Maria (Luz Maria Collazo), a young women making ends meet by working as a prostitute in one of the many bars. The American businessman who buys her company asks to see where she lives and after the glamour of the casino he finds himself lost and disoriented among the slums of Havana as he tries to make his way back to his hotel.
What an interesting, and thoroughly good, film this was to end the year. Written by Ryuzo Kikushima and directed by Mikio Naruse in 1960, it tells the story of Keiko, a young widow who works as a hostess in a bar in the Ginza district of Tokyo. It’s a contemplative and delicate study of a women facing the financial challenges posed by her family whilst maintaining her dignity.
`Her melodic, sombre voice-over guides us through the streets as everyday she walks up the stairs to the club with a heavy heart and the need for something to change. She could open her own bar, she could marry or easiest of all become the mistress of one of her wealthy customers. Or she could work in an office.
‘Bars in the daytime are like women without make up‘
The postman skips across the lawn of a beautiful house in Milan waving his arms around and heralds the arrival of a visitor. The opening sepia tones become saturated with colour as the visitor, (Terence Stamp) moves in with the family and one by one becomes the object of their desires. In sexually liberating them he soothes their doubts and anxieties while exposing the angst, dissatisfaction and frustration that they feel within themselves and their lives and reveals the sexual tension and disquiet in the household.
Written and directed by Pier Paolo Pasolini in 1968, Theorem uses a combination of fake newsreel interviews, realist drama showing familial tensions and something more fantastical and mythic to show the transformation of the family. It’s spiritual and sensual, physical and metaphysical, serious and jokey as each member of the family (which includes their maid) experiences some sort of revelation or epiphany.
But then as suddenly as he arrived it’s time for him to leave – can the family make sense of their lives without him or will they fall apart? Each of the characters’ reactions is explored individually and each is surprising and spectacular in its own way.
Daisies is a 1966 Czechoslovakian comedy-drama film written and directed by Věra Chytilová. Two young girls, both called Marie, sit in their bikinis like puppets and decide that as the whole world is spoiled and bad they will act as if they are bad too.
In their babydoll dresses, flower crowns and thick black eyeliner, Marie l (Jitka Cerhová) and Marie ll (Ivana Karbanová) look overtly ‘girly’ but as their youthful pranks play havoc on a world gone stale these two giggly girls are taking up space, being irreverent and wild and making a noise – breaking all the conventions of traditional femininity. Their anarchic spirit and rebellious appetite for food and adventure is captured in a surreal, kaleidoscopic swirl that is a crazy satire of bourgeois decadence.
It’s 1953 and 19 year old Esther Greenwood has arrived in New York for a months work on a fashion magazine. One of 12 girls who have won a placement through a writing competition, it’s a month of all expenses paid and ‘piles and piles of free bonuses’, there are successful people to meet, finger bowls to learn how to use and plenty of advice about their complexions. They all live together in a women only hotel with cocktails and parties and Buddy Willard and Doreen lounging about in a peach silk dressing-gown.
‘I was supposed to be having the time of my life’
Of course it’s all just a matter of filling in time before getting married, what a ‘dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s’, thinks Esther who yearns to write and travel.
Paris in 1965 and an elderly lady lives in an attic under the metro counting out coffee beans. She rides the crowded metro carriages to feel the warmth of other bodies and watches hot pancake batter drip from the hands of street sellers. But then, one hot day, when she’s rootling around in a bin for an orange she finds instead a smelly old fox fur and everything changes, ‘a winter fur in summer.’
‘She was breathing the oxygen meant for people who had spent their day working.’
It’s a book about loneliness and trying to find a connection to the rhythms of everyday life and how, in finding something to love (and she finds the humour in it too!) that turns to an acceptance of her situation with her fox fur, her few possessions and her imagination. Not lonely anymore but just alone.
She gives a running commentary as she walks around Paris in her battered hat and shiny green coat, her childhood and past experiences folded into her existence. It’s funny and knowing: ‘After six, the wind in Paris grows stronger and disarranges all our principles.’ but it isn’t sweet or sentimental. In the introduction Deborah Levy says it’s ‘a way of staring at life and making from it a kind of tough poetry.’
What comes first in this 1964 film from the French New Wave director Jacques Demy, the colours or the music?
Genevieve (Catherine Deneuve)is a seventeen year old who works in her widowed mothers umbrella shop and is passionately in love with twenty year old car mechanic Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). Filmed on location in Cherbourg, their romance is marred by gritty reality – an unplanned pregnancy, parental pressure and a two year draft to the Algerian War. But this urban reality is set against the most glorious kaleidoscopic colour palette. Every scene is saturated in supercolour. Continue reading “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”→
Published in 1961 this short novel by Muriel Spark tells the story of a maverick teacher and her favoured group of pupils at Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland.
On the surface Jean Brodie is fun and charismatic. It’s 1930 and under an elm tree in the garden, the ten-year olds are taught that goodness, truth and beauty rather than safety come first! They learn of her travels to Italy and Egypt and of her first love, Hugh, who fell on Flanders’ Field. She thinks of herself as a romantic heroine, in love with love, she is “in her prime” and promises her girls that if they will only listen to her she will “make of them the creme de la creme.”