#245 The Pawnbroker

Watched: November 28 2019

Director: Sidney Lumet

Starring: Rod Steiger, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Brock Peters, Jaime Sánchez, Thelma Oliver

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 56min

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Ready for some holiday cheer? You’ve come to the wrong place. After watching this, we could certainly need some cheering.

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“Falalalala-lala fuck you”

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Sol Nazerman (Steiger) is a holocaust survivor (with a slightly unfortunate name) living in New York. There, he runs a pawnshop while dabbling in whitewashing money for local gangster Rodriguez (Brock). Other than the business, he’s just going through the motions after losing his family, his friends and his will to live in Auschwich.

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No, we’re not able to identify various concentration camps on sight, but we are aware of the not-so-fun-fact that Auschwich was the only camp to use prison number tattoos. And we wish we didn’t have to know this sort of thing.

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Sol’s only employee Jesus (Sánchez) looks up to his boss, but he is also ambitious and has some less-than-savoury contacts. So he’s a bad choice waiting to happen. Meanwhile, Sol has repressed his memories and emotions, and that always ends well. Basically, you’re sitting on tenterhooks for 116 minutes, ready for tragedy.

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Look, we realise that you have nothing left to give to your fellow man, but please be nice to poor old Mr Smith. We love him.

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Ok, while this didn’t exactly get us into the Christmas spirit, The Pawnbroker is a really good movie. Sol, while anti-social and detached, is an intriguing character and we can see why everyone who came into contact with him was drawn to him. Probably mainly due to Steiger’s excellent performance – he’s marvellous.

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“I know you want nothing to do with me or any other human being, but you’re hypnotic and magnetic and I’m dying to be your friend”

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We loved the jazzy soundtrack, the menace of the lawnmower pawners (whose names escapes us), the quick-cut flashbacks with scenes from the camp, Mr Smith, and the contrast of the two sex scenes. It’s heartbreaking and horrible, but oh so good. Watch it, and then take a page out of the book of Penelope Garcia and go stare at pictures of puppies for a good half hour. You’ll need it.

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Alternatively, enjoy this photo of our late, great doggo watching “The Last of Sheila” and trying to figure out who dunnit.

What we learned: Everyone has a breaking point. And pushing people away has consequences…

Next time: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)

#241 Red Desert/Il deserto rosso

Watched: October 16 2019

Director: Michelangelo Antonioni

Starring: Monica Vitti, Richard Harris, Carlo Chionetti

Year: 1964

Runtime: 1h 57min

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Giuliana (Vitti) is not doing too well. After a car accident she has not been herself, according to her husband Ugo (Chionetti). But was it the accident that changed her? Her conversations with her hubby’s business partner Corrado Zeller (Harris) reveal that all may not have been peachy even before the incident.

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“Oh, I’ve never had any ill effect from being the only dab of colour within miles. Never bothered me at all, no way!”

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Whatever the reason might be, she is clearly not completely stable, and Ugo is incapable of helping – or even understanding his wife. Corrado seems more sympathetic but he cannot help her either. Even the prospect of group sex cannot cheer her up, so you know it’s serious!

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Just one pineapple short of being a proper swingers party! (Yeah, this will probably only make sense to people in Molde, Norway. Thanks, Eirik!)

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All around Giuliana, nature is being ruined by industry and she is falling apart with it. She is utterly diconnected from her husband and most other people – even (or perhaps particularly?) her son. The only one she does connect with is Corrado, but it is a relationship which can’t save her.

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You cannot be saved by a man who enthusiastically engages in breaking apart and burning up your sexy, red bedroom cave for momentary warmth and comfort.

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Red Desert is beautiful, fragile and mesmerizing. The bleak environment feels a bit alien in many ways and the film is strangely hypnotic. As often before, we weren’t overly keen to start it (two hours of Italian drama is a lot on a Wednesday night after work) but we were drawn in from the beginning and we really loved it.

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We do enjoy a good fog!

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We loved the music, the long takes, Monica Vitti, and the slow development of the affair. Although we found the sex scene very uncomfortable – we’re still not quite sure this was what she wanted..?

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Her look suggests “trapped animal” more than “sexually aroused woman”, but perhaps we’re reading her wrong…

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Definitely one to rewatch at some point!

What we learned: It’s hard to manoeuvre through life with a broken gyroscope.

Next time: Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964)

#100 Los Olvidados

Watched: April 28 2017

Director: Luis Buñuel

Starring: Alfonso Mejía, Roberto Cobo, Alma Delia Fuentes, Estela Inda, Mário Ramírez

Year: 1950

Runtime: 1h 20min

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Pop the champagne! We’ve reached number 100! And what an uplifting and optimistic film with which to celebrate. Perfect for a night of champagne and revelry, Buñuel’s Los Olvidados follows the depressing lives of a group of children (of various levels of dental hygiene) in the streets of Mexico through minor and major crimes.

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Look! They’re celebrating with us! Happy, happy happy times. Nothing bad will ever happen. La di da di da.

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El Jaibo (Cobo), recently escaped from prison, comes back to his old neighbourhood to take up his rightful place as leader of the local children, who he rallies into helping his criminal path by attempting to rob a blind street musician. Brave. Meanwhile, Ojitos (Ramírez) has been left in the streets by his father who seemingly has no plans of returning to pick up his son. The abandoned child is taken care of by Pedro (Mejía) – a good boy who’s abused at home but wants a different life for himself.

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The entire film is a laugh riot and not at all depressing as f**k…

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Another one of the kids who wants something more from life is Julian, but when Jaibo finds out he has a job and is no longer interested in petty crime he goes into a rage and kills him. Pedro, who witnesses the murder, tries to turn his life around by getting a job, but Jaibo not only screws that up for him, he also literally screws Pedro’s bitch of a mum.

Olvidados, Los (1950)aka The Young and the Damned Directed by Luis BuÒuel
“How dare he aspire to the glamourous life of a blacksmith! I must ruin this for him.”

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As a general rule, if one of the kids finds something worthwhile in their lives, Jaibo is there to tear it down. As many other criminals who recruit children, he has no prospects or ambition of his own and therefore wants to drag everyone down to his level to feel like less of a loser.

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Doesn’t get cooler than robbing a cripple

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Los Olvidados is a sad and depressing insight into lives of poverty with a very Un Chien Andalou-dream sequence (which we loved) and frustratingly little hope in the end. If we thought Ladri di biciclette was depressing, it has nothing on this. At least in De Sica’s film there was a loving family and some semblance of hope in the depression – Buñuel’s depiction is pretty much devoid of hope.

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We can’t even get into all the shit this little girl goes through

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Happy one hundred, people. We need to go look at pictures of puppies.

What we learned: This film shows the real life. It is not optimistic. Also, deprived of affection, children will look for love and approval anywhere.

Next time: Rashômon (1950)

#84 Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves

Watched: February 12 2017

Director: Vittorio De Sica

Starring: Lamberto Maggiorani, Enzo Staiola, Lianella Carell

Year: 1948

Runtime: 1h 29min

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In post-war Rome, Antonio Ricci (Maggiorani) is experiencing the Poverty Catch-22: he is (finally) offered a good job, but the job requires a bicycle which he has pawned to provide for his family and cannot reclaim until his first paycheck. Which he won’t get without his bike. Luckily for Antonio he has a good wife, Maria (Carell), who sells their sheets to retrieve his bicycle. With his mode of transportation back, Antonio is set to start his new job, putting up posters of glamorous stars around the city.

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The job also requires expert balancing skills… Biking around with this gear is seriously impressive!

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As promising as the beginning is – the tale of a man who works his way out of poverty after someone gave a break – we just know that something terrible will happen. And of course, as the title implies, the bicycle is stolen. On Antonio’s first day, no less. He gives chase, but the thief’s cohorts distract him and send him down the wrong path. He reports the theft to the police, but they do not consider this case a priority. All Antonio can do to keep his job and make a living for himself and his family is to go look for the bike himself.

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Finding a bike in a city of millions isn’t made easier by their decision to inspect every possible bike in detail

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He takes his young son Bruno (Staiola) with him to a market to look for his stolen property, whole or in parts, and they spend the entire day roaming around Rome on their quest. The day puts a strain on Antonio’s relationship with his young son, especially as he, in his desperation, makes some bad choices and cannot live up to the heroic view Bruno has had of him up until now.

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The weather does absolutely nothing to lighten the overall mood of the film

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This was a rewatch for (one of) us and not a particularly happy one. Not because we didn’t like the film – it’s amazing, but it is also thoroughly depressing. Antonio and Bruno have a few good moments during their quest such as the restaurant scene (which made us kind of hungry, we must admit), but there is a mood of hopelessness and desperation throughout Bicycle Thieves (the plural noun in the title implies more than we’re prepared to reveal) which stays with you for a while.

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However many mistakes Antonio makes though, his son stays by his side. Bless.

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Antonio is not a bad man, but he is not really a particularly good one either. He is human and desperate and he acts as such. Which is understandable. The film is an interesting (and beautiful) insight into post-war Italy and the effects poverty has on people. While it is sadder and more depressing than anything we’d willingly expose ourselves to (we prefer to live on fluffy clouds), it is not by far the worst one from De Sica in terms of sob factor. Seriously, if anyone tries to make us watch Umberto D. (1952) again, we might have to resort to violence. That shit is brutal.

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We mean it. If you care at all about dogs or old people (and you should! Both!), De Sica’s Umberto D will mess you up.

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What we learned: It always rains on Sundays. Also, there’s a cure for everything except death.

Next time: Oliver Twist (1948)