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by György Palfi (2006)

Shrek the Third

The life of others

From the onset of the 20th century the artistic possibilities of cinema were understood by the early French impressionists. Since then, many unknown filmmakers have attempted to break through as innovators.  The lighting and the sets of Murnau, the riding cameras of Abel Gance, the close-ups of the Russian formalists and the depth of field of Orson Welles's films are now landmarks of a aesthetic history of cinema.

It is not hard to distinguish, though, sincerity from pretentiousness; the delicate takes of Un Chien Andalous are far more compelling than the tedious and so-called provocative sequences of L'âge d'or.

In most recent years, the directors of the self-anointed movement Dogma 95, have tried to persuade critics and audiences of the innovativeness of their work. Younger directors have follow the example and cinema audiences have had to endure a series of films with no other purpose than that of proving how innovative their directors are. The secret of their presumed success is as vane as complex: to show whatever repulsive image audiences have not seen yet. Lacking originality, concepts and ideas, these pretencious directors end up believing to have discovered the gold-mine of originality in the grotesque. They too-quickly assume that the abnormalities of the body have not been represented on account of a certain sense of morality, and they avoid even to consider the possibility that the grotesque is not represented on account of a universal sense of urbanity. The slaughter of domestic animals, children accusing their parents of sexual harassment and visual sexual penetrations have been some of the favourite mise en scène of this new era of innovation.  It won't be difficult on the other hand, to predict their future iconic output: men and women that become famous by their phlegm; a character unable to control his/her sphincter, and a boy that ejaculates without effort in public places.

With Taxidermia György Palfi should be considered one of the most eloquent directors of the grotesque. His second film has not only a poor narrative structure –that of three sterotypical generations, but also a visual account of vomiting, onanism, fat and butchery. 

The final scene, in which an Anglosaxon audience enjoys the view of two cadavers, can be interpreted as a homage to  the German artist who makes a comfortable living out of stuffing nameless corpses, and whose countenance is often mistaken with one of his many macabre models.

Several scholars have referred to Shrek as a post-modern reinterpretation of traditional fairy-tales. Such awkward categorization does not take into account the simple fact that Shrek is overall a parody, nor the fact that in order to be rightly understood, spectators should be acquainted with the European fables that the Walt Disney Corporation have made so popular throughout the world.

Having said this, the Shrek films are quite effective. They have a dramatic structure that refers to the conventional structures of story-telling. Their variations are quite original in the first two films, and predictable, repetitive and dull in the third one. Children, nonetheless, still find them quite amusing, for they have already fallen in love with the character in the previous instalments of the series.

Towards the end of this film, the screenwriters put into question the most prevailing ethical structure of narrative, and the concepts of good and evil are openly discussed.

Let's hope that the consequences of such questioning will have some effect in the sensibility of the men to come.

It is quite common to assume that the preservation of one's life is the most compelling duty anyone can have.  But men that appear to be great contradict quite often this assumption. They are admired, precisely, by the promptness with which they risk their lives for other's lives. Das Leben der Anderen is a film that portraits the humble existence of Party-loyalist Captain Gerd Wiesler, a man who gains our admiration by his determination to defend the other.

At the beginning of the film, Gerd Wiesler is presented as a tough and pitiless captain, who does not hesitate to sacrifice the lives of his victims in order to guard the reputation of socialism. But when he taps the phone of a playwright and his lover, he gradually discovers the value of life, the fallacies of socialism and the sensitivity of poetry. The ethical shift of Captain Wiesler is not as much triggered by a dozen of sharp comments on politics, nor by the reading of Brecht's writings, as by the mere intimate knowledge of the soul.

It is known that from medieval times executioners were asked to cover their faces. Thus, the executioner had a blurred sight of the condemned, while being able to hide the gestures of killing, so easily mistaken with those of pleasure. During the Second-World War, there were also reports of Nazi executioners unable to perform their duty. As a result the Führer's aids created the concentration camp of Treblinka, in which the elimination of prisoners was accomplished with practically no contact between victims and executioners.

The enlightenment of Gerd Wiesler occurs as he listens to the intimate conversations of his would-be victims. Through them he discovers his kinship with humanity and life. His greatness comes out as he decides not to denounce the poet and his lover to the authorities.  His decision, which would have been tragic under conventional circumstances, becomes heroic under the shadow of Germany's recent history. In that sense, the last scenes of the film can be politically misleading. Captain Wiesler may become the hero by antonomasia of a previous non-existent Germany, but the system that used to be so admired by the intellectuals of East Germany, is the same system that stresses the gaps between Germans and Turks, or/and between nationals and foreigners.

Native Land, by Hurwitz & Strand (1942)

Priest (1995)

Our Daily Bread, by King Vidor (1934)

The most honest denounced against American hypocrisy; a committed work for equality and human rights. The US is portrayed as a fascist state that supports abuses and political murder-to its credit, the Federal Government imposes justice when internal pressure gets too high. From paramilitaries that shoot union members in the run, to KKK groups that feather white political activists, this documentary attacks the taboos of American life. Although politics seemed to have changed since then, the film captures the atmosphere of American greed and paranoia—in a landscape that still exits. I remember our trips through small American towns; the closeness and distrust of the people was oppressive. Although the film structure seems manipulative to audiences today, its denounces go on—KKK membership is nowadays the highest.

A shallow, yet revelling approach to the intimacy of priests. The director's main concern, as that of many artists of our time, seems to be the enunciation of  homosexuality. He also presents priesthood as a comfortable way of living ('the church feed us,' says a priest,) a thesis that does not match reality, for the number of new priests decreases . The conflict of the film is triggered by a puritan scandal: a priest is accused of being homosexual by the press. Celibacy might be a private vow, but sex is a strong force that only saints are ready to defeat. Whoever demands the santity of priests and nouns will turn  religion into a source of a hypocrisy and deceit.

The film about would-be socialism in America. Far from being propaganda, Vidor explores the conflicts of a communist life —maybe against his will. An unemployed urban man goes to a farm to get his daily bread: he hires people laid off by the depression —in order to avoid capitalist propaganda, the script shuns any references to private property. Happiness is born out of conflict, which is to say —as Cervantes wrote, that poor men are happy as long as they starve.  When they found harmony or decadence, greed and lust sprouts. A spirit of independence has nourished America for four hundred years —how to change it within one film? The director's belief that economics was more important than ideology was a mistake, as it was the use of Our Daily Bread by the Democrats during the California elections.

Irving Thalberg stressed Vidor's off-ground approach to reality by making two documentary newsreels. By portraying beggars, toothless old people and emigrants as pro-democrats, Thalberg stressed the fact that Vidor's characters were non-ideal Americans. Although most of the people of California was depressed, they were never fond of their misery—they had hope, an American dream.
Vidor's approach is too well-intended: pitiful, paternalistic and aristocratic. America's  New Deal was not a subproduct of democracy, but of a widespread fear of socialism.

Reservoir Dogs, by Q. Tarantino (1991)


The Best Intentions, by Billie August (1992)

Tarantino confesses he's interested in representing violence as crude as it can be. No wonder why his films are so admired by teenagers—who spent hours killing his inhuman enemies in front of computer screens.  As a result of the impact of film on society, Tarantino's films are as pernicious to civilized societies as the oldest Nordic sagas were to Northern European barbarian communities. Tarantino's characters celebrate violence, fear and cruelty. He simply pushes the most wicked instincts to the extreme―as Sade (would a puritan mind associate Sade primarily with sex, rather than with cruelty?) Buñuel would have approved this misé en scene, thinking it a sort of exorcism, a twist in the realms of the imagination—unfortunately such extremes lose their escence in a single film, leaving a flimsy plot to be repeated ad infinitum


A film that could also have been made under the threatening shadow of the Soviet Union. The art direction, the acting and the dialogues are remarkable, but the understanding of the social conditions of early 20th-century Mexican society is obtuse.  The scenes that present Frida as a 21st-century libertine are childishly contradicted by the scenes that present her as a woman tortured by her husband's infidelity.  Her affair with Trotsky reveals a sensitive woman betrayed by an unreal ideology: the stereotypical free-mind of the Soviets vanishes with the suffering countenance of Trotsky's wife.

The film works under the shadow of Ingmar Bergman, who wrote the script and gave his family name to the main character. The pace of the film weaves remarkably its visual aesthetics with the melodramatic plot—a poor student that wants to merry an upper class girl against the will of her family. There are two films: the struggle for love—which is engaging and predictable, and the story of the married couple—tense and uncertain. The excess of the first part of the film is redeemed by the austerity of the end. As we get into the story we understand that the visual glamour of the upper-class girl family (staged in a mansion with wide halls, parks and forests) has been a visual trick of the director—in the second part the girl can not cope with a poverty that according to the visuals of the film would have been easily solved with her father's inheritance.  Although its pace renders a sensation of deepness, the film tips towards common topics and Manichaeism. Petrus is one the most interesting character from a sociological point of view, but her wickedness is understood as a natural trait—as Isabella Allende does in her pink-ethnic novels.

Stranger than Paradise, by Jim Jarmusch (1984)

La Dames du Bois de Boulogne, by Robert Bresson (1945)

The Informer, by John Ford (1935)

The best independent film made in America so far. Although the acting is conventional and the script betrays Puritanism —this film was, after all, a family affair, Jarmusch grasps the asphyxiating mood of American daily life and  conveys it with serenity.

The scene where a black man gives money to Eva by error is unworthy of the entire film.

A melodramatic film, enacted with conviction and directed without hesitation.

As in 'La Regles de Jeu', critics may overvalue this vaudeville by assuring spectators that Bresson depicted the crumbling of a social class.

The performance of Victor McLaglen preserves that pitiful, doomed, half-witted flavour that granted him an Academy Award.

Although the script dismisses the economic tensions--Gypo's recrimination to the IRA (that they marooned him) seems to be the only glimpse, Ford manages to present the social clash between the well-off Irish intelligentsia and the deprived workers and prostitutes.

This tension is, nonetheless, highly stylised and romanticised, particularly in the final scene.

Giulietta Degli Spiriti, by F Fellini (1965)

Moulin Rouge (1952) by John Huston

Marnie, by Alfred Hitchcock (1964)

In a competitive, affected and shallow art actresses must become celebrities in order to be loved. Being short and rounded-face, Giulietta Masina is the exception to the rule.  Her  cheerful personality gained the heart of Federico Fellini, an artist that praised her beauty in Giulietta Degli Spiriti.  Spectators discover, scene by scene, the humanity of Giulietta, a woman tortured by an unfaithful husband and a rigorous catholic upbringing. Instead of rejecting the conventions of fashion, Fellini points them out by overemphasising glamour. The merit of Fellini, which Deleuze was not able to appreciate well enough, was that of bending time into a circus, that's to say, into spectacle.

The scene in which a shallow priest shows the gates to hell to a tourist is, as in Buñuel, prompted by metaphysical concerns. 

A melodramatic and ethnical film that, nonetheless, reveals the infatuation of society and the politics of modern art. The dialogues are witty, the images realistic, the performances precise. José Ferrer enacts Touluse Lautrec with a dignity usually denied to dwarf-character roles-not even «Tatoo» had such a human role. An aftermath of centuries of prejudices? Conservatives may reply that Touluse Lautrec was not a dwarf, but a sick aristocrat—a genius. Ferrer endures a bourgeoisie that appreciates the lewd insinuations of his work, rather than his critical depiction of society. His clowns, his dancers, his prostitutes are, in fact, idealised portraits of himself: creatures able to capture the attention of the public, either for pleasure or derision—as his cripple body.

A psychological recipe film: a woman suffers of frigidity, a trauma that she must face, remembering her past, in order to be cured. The plot is as melodramatic as unbelievable: a tycoon falls in love with a thief and marries her--sure, the script specifies that Sean Connery is obsessed with shrewd women.

But Hitchcock was less interested in ideology and verisimilitude than in atmosphere--in Marnie's case it is conveyed by the robbery, by the jealousy of Connery's sister-in-law and by the coldness of the mother.

Hitchcock has been called the master of suspense. Nobody, though, has rendered a clear definition of suspense. I believe it is the need to accomplish the forbidden.  It is mainly about power.

A Tale of Springtime, by Eric Rohmer (1989)

O Despertar da Bestia,
by Jose Mojica Marins (1969)

Mr. Arkadin,
by Orson Welles (1955)


Rohmer flatters French intellectuals by creating film title series.  This need is artificial and sophistic, but entices modern minds—we are obsessed with what Deleuze & Guatari have called intellectual schizophrenia. Conte de Printemps may deserve the comments undeservedly attributed to Carl Dreyer's finest film: a studio of halls, pianos and sofas. Again, French scholars are flattered by his continuous references to Kantian philosophy, but in spite of the melodramatic plot, the pace of the film is too heavy for the most indulgent spectator. The main character seems lost by shy and contemplative performance.

A film that attacks psychiatry and mainstream filmmaking. A group of people are recruited by a psychiatrist who wants to write a book on LSD. Hunger is the driven force  of all the characters in this film—men and women at the mercy of scientists and recruiters. The horror story line is unique, but the excess of the grotesque and the visual tacky effects cheapens the film. Mojica Marins persuades the audience by affirming that people, rather than drugs, are the evil of society—a drug becomes dangerous due to its attributes, rather than to its effects.

Although the cinematic eye of Welles still impresses me, I cannot see but the delirium of a tourist travelling around the world. The peoples of the nations are but the exotic background that distracts a raugh man. Arkadin reflects the anthropological sense of superiority of those who believed they were born to rule and to be obeyed. Murders and love affairs are craftily interwoven—the talent of Welles as a storyteller is an asset—, in order to satisfy the curiosity of the spectator. The melodramatic final touch echoes the sled scene of Kane. Arkadin's fables are, nevertheless, provoking.

Cidade de Deus

Le Salaire De La Peur, de HG Clouzot (1953)

Aprile, by Nanni Moretti (1999)

Tarantino provided an entire generation with boundless sequences of violence. The dialogues of his characters, nonetheless, are remarkably shallow; we sense that the director wants to be seen as a spoiled kid who stages sequences of would-be violence.  As many independent films, Cidade de Deus follows the non-chronological structure of Pulp Fiction. Nonetheless the scenes, characters and dialogues staged by Reis are a direct adaptation of the violent reality of Rio de Janeiro, where life is as dear as death. The hopeless atmosphere of Pixote is revived once again; would this be the first product of a Latin American Violent Realism? The first scenes of the film are sharp and refreshing; the last ones repetitive and predictable: a fair editor would have reduced its 125 minutes to 100. 

A philosophy professor from Philadelphia shows this film to his students of Existentialism. Misery brings hate; hate, despair;  despair, exploitation;  exploitation, death. The portrait of Latin America is cruel, but the women who are raped by their bosses, the naked children on the streets, the cars that sprinkle the passer-by with mud —by rolling over the puddles, the Indians kicked out from their forests, the discrimination against the black and the unemployment and suicide amongst the youngsters, is presented with conviction and verisimilitude. Whereas Marcel Camus romanticised this world of misery, Cluzot exposed its chasms. The horrors of any Latin American civil war would confirm the latter views.  The acting of the main characters is outstanding-Folco Lully as Joe is human, too human.

A sympathetic film.  Moretti is a megalomaniac, but his sincerity seduces viewers and critics alike.

European film is intoxicated of fashionable ideologies, prejudices, clichés and an unbearable air of pretentiousness.  No wonder then, why Moretti survives--he has an unconditional belief in himself.

We may disapprove his way of living, but we can not deny his faith. His characters cling to hope with the passion and resourcefulness of those who have overcome suffering.

La Flor de mi Secreto, by Pedro Almodovar

The Long Day Closes, by T Davies (1992)

Tout Va Bien, de Jean-Luc Godard (1972)


Almodovar's formula is a delicate balance between film noir and melodrama—in this film, unfortunately, he leans entirely on the pinkish plate. The result is a vivid pastiche—entertaining, but predictable and void. Although he gives voice to characters that Hollywood often ignores, that voice ends up being naïve—his servants are happy servants; his prostitutes are happy prostitutes—social conflict vanishes under the overwhelming gleam of celebrity.  We may infer that Almodovar portraits the attitude of the people that surround him, but that portrait, in such a case, is idealistic—that's to say, it's based on appearances—sure, a bit of psychology could have taught him the way people tend to hide misery before the eyes of celebrity.

One of the worst films of all times—fortunately today almost forgotten. Pretentious as it can be—imitating an anti-naturalistic imagery a lá Buñuel.

Boring and flat.

The director makes his best to capture his child memories, but he only gets songs and stultifying chats.

Those who as I have lived around Liverpool know that the constant rain in the film is not an exaggeration.

An act of contriction Godard evinces the obvious contradiction of a generation that enjoyed the advantages of capitalism out of preaching revolutionary ideals.

Their sophistry prepared the 1968 revolution, just to betray it on due time.

The scene where a protest is organised in a supermarket prophesises the lack of horizon of our generation. Taking a stand against the the bourgeoisie, they must fight against the policemen hired by their parents.

High Noon, by Fred Zinnermann (1952)

Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune, de Eric Rohmer (1984)

The Ring, by Alfred Hitchcock (1927)


A film that will be remembered as the best achievement of the Western genre. A Mexican woman—Katy Jurado, leaves the town after denouncing local discrimination. The scriptwriter takes care, nonetheless, to present her as a woman of dubious reputation—a fact that our contemporary feminist scholars may read as an asset.

The classical unity of the film is remarkable, and the celebrated crane over the empty town truly reproduces the growing distrust of a community harassed by law and order during McCarthyism.

The final confrontation becomes irrelevant, as the director takes good care to point out who will be defeated. It is, perhaps, the most frugal manychean film of its genre. The four bandits break a window to steal a woman hat before confronting Gary Cooper.

Without this scene the spectator's animosity towards the villains wouldn't be quite justified.

Rohmer develops a consistent plot, but his cinematographic language is impoverished by the photography of Renato Berta and the high-pitch performance of Pascale Ogier—her Best Actress Award raises suspicions against the Venice Film Festival. 

Fabrice Luchine sets a landmark: his sickening face and his overemphasised diction are personal traits that capture our attention.

The girl who is disputed by two men is a common plot of bad cinema. Hitchcock gave it a trial in this popular film, saturated by special effects and scenes of jealousy. Some gags ameliorate the lack of continuity of the script, but Hitchcock's mocking of gypsies, freak twins and swarthy fellows may disturb an educated mind.

The first part of the film renders, nonetheless, a faithful portrait of Victorian society; people's worn-out clothes hardly flatter the idea of a British Empire. 


Repulsion, by Roman Polanski's (1993)

101 Reykjavik, by Baltasar Kormakur (2000)

Un Coeur en Hiver, de Claude Sautet (1992)

As with poetry, French Classical Theatre has became a showcase for sumptuous words, for attires and overloaded make up.

Almost three centuries later, the birth of film converged with the rise of naturalistic theatre—a different approach to art, more concern with mimesis—at least in theory. Film spectators were taught to respect the convention of an invisible fourth wall, from where they were allowed to peep at the crude and hard reality—Zola, as many other writers, came even to hope to change the social conditions of his time. But against such charitable intentions, naturalism had degenerated into conventions. Without moral concerns, we peep into the world of the others.

Filmmakers such as Polanski invite us to become voyeurs. His obsession with teenage beauty is never as obvious as in this film, where Catherine Deneuve is raped three times by an actor with the complicity of the camera. His naturalistic approach -emulated in recent times by Von Trier, may be explained by psychology (a science that explains everything), but his faithfulness to hygiene and fashion doesn't resist the test of time. We see silky-hair C. Deneuve kill two men and remain spotless and  well-fed while fasting for several weeks.

But her beauty is passé for the new generation: her hips might look too wide for young anorexic lovers.

Polanski's morbidity for glamorous actresses is matched by the TV realities--where the obsession to peep into someone else's intimacy is the rule.

Life is getting more dislocating for the new generation: homosexual parents, easy money, Internet sex, endless partying, drugs and promiscuity. Kormandur mixes all this ingredients in a hesitating plot: a good-for-nothing youngster wants to commit suicide: flashback and by the page 65 of the script we know his mother's lover has given birth to his baby.

Kormankur evinces the ill emotional aftermath of homosexual parental care—I suspect without awareness. He also celebrates partying, but, as ever, ends up in a melancholic mood, discovering the loneliness of those who just want to be loved —overall by themselves.

In 1520 Erasmus called Paris the capital and fortress of sophistry. Such remark proved to be not irony, but a sharp description of scholarship, art and civilization. «Arty» films are never about life, but about the accessories of life—such as fashionable writers, music, voyages and love. Sautet's film orchestrates sophistry with versatility.  A man (Daniel Auteuil) falls in love with his best friend's mistress (Emmanuelle Béart). The woman declares him she loves him as well and—against convention—the man rejects her. An unhappy end is seasoned with a pro-euthanasia TV commercial.  Although the main character of the script is Autuil, the director gives preponderance to Béart's performance: we identify with her glamour, her trips, her concerts and her whips. Her arrogance and her superficiality fit well the stereotype of a Parisian snob. Sautet, as most Parisian filmmakers, never analyses success—for him it is enough to record a Ravel concert in Paris to become a famous violinist—as it is to make a film in Paris to succeed in Europe. Auteil character, nonetheless, may save the film—he resembles Beckett's hesitation for Joyce's daughter. But whereas Nora Joyce was an insane woman, Béart is a promising beautiful girl—how can we forget that film industry is about success and looks?

Danton, de Andrzej Wajda

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In the last scene of this film Harry Potter gets what his peers consider to be an expensive gadget: a fast flying broom. The happiness of Harry can be compared to that of a boy who has gotten a Ferrari or a Jaguar, and contrasts with the ennui of the man who got everything in life: Charles F. Kane.  

This film might be recognized in a more sensible milieu as one of the finest revivals of tragedy in modern times. Faithful to his philosophical upbringing, Andrzej Wajda substitutes the metaphysics of suffering and after-life -so dear to the Ancient Greeks and to the Elizabethan playwrights, for the no less complex dialectical movement between humanity and history. Danton is a tragic figure, for he relies on the modern presumption that his enemies won't cross the boundaries that keep them out of their own destruction. But it is Wajda's Robespierre who becomes the tragic hero of this film. It is he alone who understands the dilemma that entangles the lives of the revolutionaries, and it is he alone who shall assume his fatal fate without a tear. The screenwriter's effort is more admirable if we take into account that he has to cope with the modern bias towards Robespierre and the terror.

This single scene casts light over the mystery of J.K. Rowling's books' popularity, a remarkable achievement since they are hardly original or breath-taking. In the first act of the story an abused child is threatened by some evil character, which he has to confront and defeat in the final act .The mood of Rowling's books is not even ghostly, and following the stern creed of the journalists of today, her writing are far away from metaphysics. She is a subproduct of our time, indeed, for nowadays it is quite difficult to find a youngster who has read a book  originally written more than twenty years ago.  An ethical thinker may also argue that the recreation of the fight between good and evil in a non-existent world is always a lucrative theme, as the recent Lord of the Rings film trilogy showed it . But neither fashion nor Manichaeism alone explain the success of Harry Potter amongst children and teenagers.

J.K. Rowling recreates  a world crowded by gadgets, where parents are plainly unnecessary. Her books are variations of Roald Dahl's Matilda, a book in which a little girl uses extraordinary powers to punish her parents and her tutors. Harry emulates Matilda by displaying against his parents and colleagues a sadism that would have blushed the very Marquise of Sade--a sadism always justified, according to the Manichean creed, by some previous exaggerated offence .

'Magic' appears to replace money in the child's personal quest for happiness. The illusion that children can get whatever they want is at the root of the schizophrenia denounced by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guatari in L'Anti-oedipe, a book that opens with a reproduction of a portrait of Richard Lindner: Boy with machine.  Rowling has devised an euphemistic image, that of a Boy with a Magic Wand.

The machines, animals and tools of Rowling's world are suspiciously similar to our own, the main difference being that whereas most parents cannot buy to their children the thousand and one gadgets that the media encourages them to buy, Harry Potter and his friends can get whatever they need with a single stroke of  his hands.  The magic of Harry Potter is, after all, capitalistic magic: his gadgets and fantastic animals disguise machines that produce material, rather than spiritual, satisfaction.

Hugo Santander Ferreira © First Film Productions 2011