Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Doctor Zhivago (1965)

A tragic yet beautiful story of love, history and lost opportunities, Doctor Zhivago is as much a love story about Russia as it is one between Yuri (Omar Sharif) and Lara (Julie Christie). Yuri is a young doctor and poet he is engaged to his childhood sweetheart, Tonya, (Geraldine Chaplin) in the days prior to the Russian revolution. Lara is seventeen and has been forced into a relationship with an older man, Komarovsky (Rod Steiger). Lara attempts to murder her lover, and this is witnessed by Yuri. Several years later the two meet whilst severing in the medical corps during the First World War. Both are attracted to each other but Lara refuses to let Yuri betray his wife. When the war ends Yuri and his family are forced to flee Moscow due to his anti-Bolshvik feelings. Yuri and Lara meet again and begin what is ultimately a tragic affair, doomed by the forces that surround them.

Doctor Zhivago is an epic on a grand scale. Directed by David Lean and acted by a perfectly cast group including Julie Christie, Omar Sharif, and Alec Guinness, Doctor Zhivago is a haunting picture of a love that reflects the tragedy of Russia itself. Lara reminded me of Russia, abused, forgotten, but beautiful, tender, wanting to be loved but continuously having to sacrifice herself. There is an eerie echo of Lara in the life of her supposed daughter, Tanya. Tanya is apparently abandoned by Komarovsky as a child, separated from her mother for ever, and we see her with her boyfriend a young worker. Will the second generation end as the first did?

Visually the film is stunning, portraying both the beauty and harshness of the Russian landscape.

Sharif and Christie are wonderful, he poetic, romantic, she troubled yet luminous. Their tragedy is perhaps best described by this conversation, when Lara laments;
"Wouldn't it have been lovely if we'd met before?"
"Before we did? Yes."
"We'd have got married, had a house and children. If we'd had children, Yuri, would you like a boy or girl?"
"I think we may go mad if we think about all that"
"I shall always think about it"


Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Black Narcissus (1947)

A group of Nuns moves to the Himalayas to start a school and hospital. Led by Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), the Nun's find themselves in a strange, intoxicating atmosphere. They take residence in a palace which used to be a harem, and the exotic locale sends them back into the past, their memories and desires haunting them, and eventually driving them mad.

The film was unusual upon release, both for its themes and it's stunning use of cinematography and colour. Audiences were said to have gasped at the sight of the tropical flowers. Much of the film was shot in the studio, and the backdrops of the mountains were paintings. This adds a strangely beautiful, ethereal quality to the film.
Jean Simmons plays a young Indian girl who seduces the General's son, and David Farrar play Dean who arouses the attentions of both Clodagh and Sister Ruth.

For me one of the strangest and interesting parts of the film was the physical similarities between Deborah Kerr and Kathleen Byron (Sister Ruth). It  was if they were doubles of each other, Sister Clodagh the 'good', and Sister Ruth the 'bad'. They reflect two sides of the one person, Ruth reflects the 'bad' that is raging within Clodagh but which she suppresses. Trying to ignore her desires, her attraction to Dean and to the heady atmosphere of the mountains.  Ruth is driven mad by her attraction unable to deal with the darkness. When she dies it is as if Clodagh is finally free. Ruth's death gives her a reason to leave the mountain. Is Ruth perhaps the final death of Clodagh's desires and memories?

The second part of the film feels like a horror film, the hysteria, shadows, and Ruth's final entrance are chilling but mesmerising. Double exposure is used constantly, bridging the gap between past, present and future, plus the similarities between characters. The nuns are always dressed in white and it is starkly contrasted by the colourful clothes worn by the General, his son and Kanchi (Jean Simmons), the brilliant flowers planted by Sister Phillipa, and the red lipstick worn by Ruth in the final scenes. Colours reflect a life very different from the one lived by the nuns, one that is sensual, one that is relegated to the past. The ever present reminders of the palaces' previous life are constant and when the nuns are searching for Ruth they resemble ghostly visions as if they too have become a part of the past.
                                        Kathleen Byron (top) and Deborah Kerr (bottom)


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Dark Passage (1947)

"I was born lonely I guess"

Dark Passage was the third of four films made by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It tells the story of Vincent Parry (Bogart), a man wrongly convicted of killing his wife. He escapes from prison and is helped by a young woman, Irene Jansen (Bacall), who has taken an interest in his case. Parry accepts an offer to have plastic surgery on his face, and with this new identity he sets out to clear his name.

The first half of the film is very atmospheric. The audience does not see Parry's face, until after his operation, so it is shot from his point of view. When he receives plastic surgery it creates a strange atmosphere, with the bandages wrapped around his head, Parry resembles an Egyptian mummy. The stark white of the bandages stands out vividly against the darkness of the night.

One of the main themes in the film is loneliness. All the characters are lonely in their own way. Parry is seemingly alone in his quest for freedom, Irene has lost all her family and has become attached to a criminal case, Bob (Bruce Bennett) is looking for security with Irene after the breakup of his own relationship, the taxi driver makes frequent references to his own loneliness, the surgeon was fired from the medical practice he worked in, and we see him working under the cover of darkness. The controlling Madge (Agnes Moorehead) is also lonely but has used this to manipulate everyone around her. One of the starkest scenes of loneliness is when Parry visits his old friend George. George lives alone in a dark dinghy flat, he dreams of moving to South America to play his trumpet. Interestingly all the characters wish to escape to either Mexico or South America, warm sunny places, far from the darkness of San Francisco. 

The film is beautifully shot and Bacall is stunning, her rich lifestyle contrasting with the drabness of the rest of the city, the empty hotels and diners Bogart frequents. It is not one of Bogart's finest films, but he gives a solid performance, and the strangeness of the subject matter gives the story weight. Bacall later wrote in her autobiography that during filming Bogart began to lose his hair due to alopecia areata, and by the time filming ended he was wearing a wig.