Since we had a Japanese-themed movie marathon, I thought it may be a great idea to have a European one. Initially, I really wanted to squeeze as many great movies from Europe as possible, but finally we just took it easy. Wifey made pizzas to go with them… perfect.

Nights of Cabiria is a 1957 Italian drama film directed by Federico Fellini and starring Giulietta Masina, François Périer, and Amedeo Nazzari. Based on a story by Fellini, the film is about a prostitute in Rome who searches in vain for true love. Besides the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival for Giulietta Masina, Nights of Cabiria won the 1957 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This was the second straight year Italy and Fellini won this Academy Award, having won for 1956’s La Strada, which also starred Giulietta Masina. I love this to bits because of Giulietta Masina’s incredibly naked performance. Yes, she is a prostitute, she lives on the fringes of society, but so what? I love how Masina plays her – a plucky and spunky girl that grabs life by the balls. She is Chaplin and Keaton all rolled into a waif of a girl with aspirations for life. Who says a hooker don’t deserve happiness? Her fallback basic instinct is to search for truth in lies and happiness in sadness. In her you will see a blueprint for living your life – she knows she is a loser, but the difference is she doesn’t want to be one forever. The last scene is heart-achingly beautiful – a teardrop laced with mascara congealed on one eye and the scene plays with perfect juxtaposition and emphatic contrast to the scene of jubilant celebration all around her. Is it a cruel joke, is it her doing a mental system reset? Cabiria conveys a resolute notion that you don’t have to worry about her. I know it’s just a movie, but each time it ends I always say a silent prayer she will eventually find true love. She deserves it. All my life I have met many women, sometimes I find instances of Cabiria in some of them, but there wasn’t any who comes close to a living embodiment of Cabiria (I have a friend who for the longest time was searching for Faye Wong’s character in Chungking Express. I say this because I need to let you know I am not crazy). Forget Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Nights of Cabiria is the best film about a prostitute with a heart of gold.

The Conformist is a 1970 political drama film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, whose screenplay is based on the 1951 novel The Conformist by Alberto Moravia. Bertolucci makes use of the 1930s art and decor associated with the Fascist era: the middle-class drawing rooms and the huge halls of the ruling elite. The film is a case study in the psychology of conformism and fascism: Marcello Clerici is a bureaucrat, cultivated and intellectual but largely dehumanized by an intense need to be ‘normal’ and to belong to whatever is the current dominant socio-political group. He grew up in an upper class, perhaps dysfunctional family, and he suffered a major childhood sexual trauma and gun violence episode in which he long believed that he had killed his chauffeur. More than anything, it is Bertolucci‘s style that engaged me. It’s poetic, rich and so baroque. It plays with light and shadows to sublime effect. There is a scene near the end that happens in the woods – a woman screams and runs through the trees, sunlight streamed down through the canopy, shots ring out, faceless men in trench coats shooting at her. It is a stunning scene – a scene of violence in a sea of nature. 

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie is a 1972 surrealist film directed by Luis Buñuel and written by Jean-Claude Carrière in collaboration with the director. The film was made in France and is mainly in French, with some dialogue in Spanish. The narrative concerns a group of upper middle class people attempting—despite continual interruptions—to dine together. The film received the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and a nomination for Best Original Screenplay. Most people I know who have seen this tend to summarise it as a movie about six people who never got a chance to have their meal. That’s a little too trite – it’s like saying Field of Dreams is about baseball and Star Wars is about good versus evil in space. This is my third time and I still managed to catch some gags I have missed previously. There is no plot, only situations, but what situations they are – the three ladies ordered tea but there isn’t any, they switched to coffee but soon the waiter tells them they have run out of water. Another – they were invited to dinner, they sat down, then curtains were drawn and they realised they are participants in a play and the audience are shouting their disapproval. It’s subversive, it’s outlandish, and so many years later it still works like a charm.

Russian Ark is a 2002 experimental historical drama film directed by Alexander Sokurov. In Russian Ark, an unnamed narrator wanders through the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, and implies that he died in some horrible accident and is a ghost drifting through the palace. In each room, he encounters various real and fictional people from various periods in the city’s 300-year history. He is accompanied by “the European”, who represents the Marquis de Custine, a 19th-century French traveler. The film was recorded entirely in the Winter Palace of the Russian State Hermitage Museum on 23 December 2001 using a one-take single 96-minute Steadicam sequence shot. Russian Ark uses the fourth wall device extensively, but repeatedly broken and re-erected. At times the narrator and the companion interact with the other performers, whilst at other times they pass unnoticed. Forget Birdman and the recent 1917, this is the granddaddy of the one-take movie. This is a cinematic tour de force through 300 years of Russian history, filmed with a cast of thousands, three live orchestras and an army of technicians who all hit their marks at the precise timing. If you want to learn Russian history, immersed yourself with this.

Rome, Open City is a 1945 Italian neorealist drama film directed by Roberto Rossellini. The picture features Aldo Fabrizi, Anna Magnani and Marcello Pagliero, and is set in Rome during the Nazi occupation in 1944. The title refers to Rome being declared an open city after 14 August 1943. The film won several awards at various film festivals, including the most prestigious Cannes Grand Prix and was nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar at the 19th Academy Awards. Rome, 1944. Giorgio Manfredi, one of the leaders of the Resistance, is tracked down by the Nazis. He goes to his friend Francesco’s, and asks Pina, Francesco’s fiancée, for help. Pina must warn a priest, Don Pietro Pellegrini, that Giorgio needs to leave the town as soon as possible … Shot near the end of the liberation of Rome, this is the pioneering film of Italian neorealism. It is a very accomplished war drama film made during a dangerous time. There is little embellishment. It is a film about the essence of tragedy and the facts speak for themselves without a needless romanticised tale. Chances are you may not have seen this but an image of a woman running after her husband-to-be captured by the Nazis and getting mowed down in a hail of bullets will befuddle you – where have I seen that? That’s one of the iconic shots. 

Then we put this Ingrid Bergman’s TV series on and 5 amazing hours went by…

Scenes from a Marriage is a 1973 Swedish Television miniseries written and directed by Ingmar Bergman and starring Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson. The story explores the disintegration of the marriage between Marianne, a family lawyer specializing in divorce, and Johan, spanning a period of 10 years. Bergman’s teleplay draws on his own experiences, including his relationship with Ullmann. After initially airing on Swedish TV in six parts, the miniseries was condensed into a theatrical version and received positive reviews in Sweden and internationally. Scenes from a Marriage was also the subject of controversy for its perceived influence on rising divorce rates in Europe.

Initially, I thought I would have to break up the series for a watch, but I sat through 5 hours in one sitting, bearing witness to some of the best acting I have ever seen. When it ended, we were emotionally exhausted, our hearts and souls had gone on a wild rollercoaster ride. I can’t help comparing this to The World of the Married, which is no doubt entertaining, but it’s completely artless. Twists and turns are announced with heightened music cues and close-ups. Scenes From a Marriage also chronicles the death of a marriage albeit in less spectacular ways, but no less absorbing and in a more truthful way. Bergman is never interested in happy families because they are happy in the usual ways; the auteur is interested in unhappy families because they are unhappy in unique ways. This is one of the most honest and truthful portrayal of a marriage. Oh man… on the surface they are the epitome of a happy married couple, but underneath the surface is repressed feelings and desires. This is one intense character study and is not something you can watch while munching on chips and sipping beer; this one will make you look inward and ponder if you did the right thing in marrying the person sitting next to you. I want to say a lot more but my words are utter crap and I know crap about marriage as it turns out. One last thing… being a film-buff I love creating movie lists like “best action scenes”, “best ending scenes”, “best lines” and “best sex scenes” (don’t worry, I am not a pervert 😬) and in this last category I have sub-categories like “most sleazy sex scene”, “most heartwarming sex scene” and something called “saddest sex scene”. The one that almost happened in ep3, it is the episode Johan basically drops the bomb that he is going to leave her for Paula, has deposed the one that I adored in The Wings of the Dove (1997). It was utterly heartbreaking to see Marianne plead with Johan to make love to her one last time. My heart broke into a million smithereens.

That’s it for our European weekend. Originally, I wanted to see three more since the next day was a holiday, but I am quite attuned to my wife’s disposition with these arthouse films. I have to comment that she kept her enthusiasm as high as she could and that’s a mean feat. I shan’t “torture” her anymore. I will do the rest on my own. 

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