The teaser trailer for Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film The Skin I Live In (La Piel Que Habito) has left me with a feeling of pure bliss and giddiness. I am smiling from ear to ear.
The brief appearance of Antonio Banderas coupled with the mere glimpses of what will (hopefully) be a commentary on how we alter the human body and a touch of psychological melodrama as only Almodóvar can do it just makes me swoon. (Almodóvar has described The Skin I Live In as a horror film but I hardly believe that he is capable of making a film without a little bit of melodrama.)
The 30-second clip immediately reminds me of Matador (1986), Laws of Desire (1987) and The Flower of My Secret (1995). Whatever it ends up evoking and getting at, The Skin I Live In is bound to be just as self-referential and fascinating as every previous Almodóvar film.
Needless to say, I’m intrigued and can’t wait to here the buzz from Cannes.
When a film you did not particularly enjoy wins a critics award, it dredges up a series of thoughts and questions. This happened to me when Italian actress Giovanna Mezzogiorno received the National Society of Film Critics Award for best actress. Mezzogiorno was rewarded for her portrayal of Ida Dalser, Benito Mussolini’s alleged first wife, in Marco Bellocchio’s Vincere. I saw most of Vincere at the Cannes Film Festival and from what I remembered, it was not my favorite film.
Vincere, however, is another story. I walked out after an hour and a half. The biopic tells the story of Mussolini’s first wife, Ida Dalser, played by Giovanna Mezzogiorno. Dalser married Mussolini in 1914 but the Italian dictator denied their marriage. She spent much of her life confined in asylums. The film does not do this compelling story justice. It is poorly constructed with too much emphasis on found footage. It does not concretely establish the foundation of the relationship, making Ida an unsympathetic character. All in all, not worth the 30 minute wait in the rush line.
I admit that I didn’t give Vincere a fair chance. Of course I have many excuses for why I walked out. It was the middle of the festival and I was exhausted. I had just seen Pedro Almodovar’s Los Abrazos Rotos that morning… and I was exhausted. I had to be at my internship at 1 p.m. and the movie started at around 11:30. After the wait in the rush line and a first hour that I found less than enjoyable, leaving early made sense.
Then I forgot about Vincere. It barely made a dent in my memories of Cannes.
After learning that Mezzogiorno was named the best actress over favorites like Natalie Portman and Annette Bening, I realized that maybe I should give Vincere my full attention.
After watching Vincere in its entirety, some of my opinions are the same. It is a compelling story but the interpretation was scattered. The found footage can be jarring and off-putting. Ida Dalser is a character who teeters on the edge of sympathetic, crazy, and irritating.
What struck me more profoundly is how Vincere is all about seduction. The opening sequence is of Mussolini, played by Filippo Timi, delivering an emphatic challenge to God to strike him down if God does exist. In the audience is Ida Dalser watching Mussolini with a piercing stare as she becomes seduced by his charisma, energy, and rhetoric. This is followed by the first use of found footage and Carlo Crivelli’s operatic score. The word, Vincere, is flashed over phallic imagery of smokestacks that can easily be interpreted as weaponry. The footage segues into images of industry, trains, cathedrals, and fashion models – images that are representative of Milan. The found footage and newsreels provides the historical context for Mussolini’s rise to power and it shows how Mussolini seduced the Italian people. It is fascinating how Mussolini’s sexual seduction of Dalser is equated with his rise to political power.
Dalser holds no power over Mussolini, yet he controls every aspect of her life. Mezzogiorno’s performance as this scorned woman resigned to living in asylums takes center stage. I’m still not crazy about Vincere but it is Mezzogiorno’s mesmerizing performance that carries this film.
“Vincere” means “to win” which is an ironic title because no one – not Dalser, the Italians, and certainly not Mussolini – wins at the film’s conclusion. Except, maybe, the audience. I see that now.
At 101, Portuguese director Manoel De Oliveira is taking the Cannes Film Festival by storm. Well, as by storm as someone who uses a cane and is little hard of hearing can. Todd McCarthy tells us that Oliveira barely looks older than 87.
The director made his directorial debut 80 years ago and his 1942 film, Aniki-Bóbó, is a landmark film in the history of Portuguese cinema during Salazar’s dictatorship. His latest film, The Strange Case of Anjelica, premiered May 13 in Un Certain Regard.
My discovery of Manoel de Oliveira occurred over two years ago when for my History of World Cinema I wanted to write about a country rarely covered in discussions of European film – at least in American film courses. Since writing that paper, I have watched countless De Oliveira films – Je Rentre à la Maison (2001), Abraham’s Valley (1993), Um Filme Falado (2004). Each film is poignant and beautiful; De Oliveira is a master at creating powerful shot compositions. The frame has the power to overwhelm you with simplicity and complexity all at once.
If you have not seen his films, rent a few. Only some are available on Netflix, but it will be worth it.