Tennessee finally has a shelter-in-place order, so it's time to blog!Over the past weeks, I've been watching new (to me) films in two primary categories:
No Man's Woman (1955) is a very-B noir thriller (sans noir cinematography). Directed by Franklin Adreon. It's only truly noteworthy element is the presence of Marie Windsor as the spider woman at the heart of a very thin web. Windsor sports a bumper bang and tight sweaters and gives much face as she runs a successful art business while blackmailing her husband who seeks a divorce, cheating her infatuated business partner, and attempting to seduce young hunk Dick *snicker* (Richard Crane), who is engaged "good girl" employee Betty (Jil Jarmyn). The script is thin, the acting thinner, and the mise-en-scene missing and presumed irrelevant. But it was a fun way to spend 70 minutes while sheltering in place.
Czech Holocaust films are high on my currently list of to-watch films. I have very little knowledge of the history of either the country (in various forms), political movements, or the Nazi occupation. I'm beginning to learn, which is important to understanding the films and their historical, cultural, and artistic importance.
I began my filmic introduction with Diamonds of the Night (Démanty noci, 1964). The film has few words, which is good because I couldn't find a version online with subtitles (though I've now remedied this by purchasing the Criterion edition). This 67-minute tale of two boys on the run after escaping a train headed for a concentration camp was director Jan Němec's first film, based on an autobiographical novel by Arnošt Lustig. Realism based in following the boys via hand-held camera as they run through the forest, swamps, and rocky terrain has a powerful impact on the viewer, bringing us close as we hear their panting breath and feel their desperation. In this way, the film avoids the trap of melodrama seen in so many Holocaust films or the peephole style that can objectify victims.
Nonetheless, it is not just a tale of escape and adventure, for we do get inside one of the boy's minds to see flickers of his recent and more distant past. We also see multiple versions of his experiences as they flit through his mind, and we cannot know which is true. Some critics call this element surrealist. It happens with particular impact as one of the boys steals from a farm: does the woman give him bread or does he hit her and take it, leaving her (dead?) on the floor of her kitchen? Such a technique is also used at the film's conclusion,so we cannot know the immediate (or ultimate) fate of the boys.
In writing this review, I used the Wikipedia entry to get spellings right and learned something new I also want to share. In the film, we do not know who these boys are, only that they were put on a train to death and that they escaped and fled. We don't know if they are Jewish or of another victim group or petty criminals the Nazis simply decided to transport to the camps. The characters are only named First Boy and Second Boy in the script (and a voice actor was used for the Second Boy, who is the only one of the two with (minimal) dialogue in the film. The Second Boy, Wikipedia states, was a Roma railway worker the director cast after seeing him in a documentary. (FYI: Roma = "Gypsy" - a group identified by the Nazis as racially inferior and "asocial," targeted for extermination but with less purposeful, formal organization and zeal than the Jews).
Reviews say director Jan Němec (whose surname is common and also seems to mean either "German" or "mute"!) particularly admired the films of Luis Buñuel.
I'd call this film a must-see for anyone invested Holocaust cinema or film technique.