Saturday, July 23, 2022

El buen patrón / The Good Boss

Fernando León de Aranoa: El buen patrón / The Good Boss (ES 2021) with Javier Bardem as Blanco.

Fernando León de Aranoa: El buen patrón / The Good Boss (ES 2021) on the Blanco Básculas shop floor with Tarik Rmili (Khalec) and Almudena Amor (Liliana).

Fernando León de Aranoa: El buen patrón / The Good Boss (ES 2021), the first tour of the interns on the Blanco Básculas shop floor with Almudena Amor (Liliana).

Fernando León de Aranoa: El buen patrón / The Good Boss (ES 2021), with Sonia Almarcha (Adela Blanco) and Almudena Amor (Liliana).

Hyvä pomo / Världens bästa chef.
    ES 2021. PC: Reposado Producciones Cinematograficas, S.L. ; Mediapro Cine, S.L.U. ; Basculas Blanco, A.I.E. Productor: Fernando León de Aranoa , Jaume Roures , Javier Méndez. Productor ejecutivo: Patricia de Muns , Pilar de Heras , Laura Fernández Espeso , Eva Garrido , Marisa Fernández Armenteros. Dirección de producción: Luis Gutiérrez
    Dirigido por: Fernando León de Aranoa. Ayudante de dirección: Antonio Ordóñez. Guión: Fernando León de Aranoa. Dirección de fotografía: Pau Esteve scope. Dirección artística: César Macarrón. Vestuario: Fernando García. Maquillaje: Almudena Fonseca Ferrandis , Manolo García. Peluquería: Almudena Fonseca Ferrandis , Manolo García. Efectos especiales: Miriam Piquer. Música: Zeltia Montes. Sonido directo: Iván Marín. Montaje de sonido: Pelayo Gutiérrez. Mezclas de sonido: Valeria Arcieri. Montaje: Vanessa Marimbert.
    Sergei Prokofiev: Overture to the ballet Romeo and Juliet (1936).
    "Feeling Good" (Anthony Newley, Lesley Bricusse, in 1964 for the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint The Smell of the Crowd), perf. Michael Bublé 2005.
    Intérpretes: Javier Bardem (Blanco) , Manolo Solo (Miralles) , Almudena Amor (Liliana) , Óscar de la Fuente Bellido (Jose) , Sonia Almarcha (Adela), Fernando Albizu (Román, the gatekeeper) , Tarik Rmili (Khalec) , Rafael Castejón (Rubio), Celso Bugallo (Fortuna) , Martín Páez Sánchez (Salva) , Yael Belicha (Inés) , Mara Guil (Aurora).
    Fecha de inicio de rodaje: 12/10/2020. Fecha de final de rodaje: 4/12/2020.
    Tipo de película: Cine Ficción. Género: Comedia drama. Etiquetas: Comedia , Drama. Relación de pantalla: DCP.
    Versión original: Castellano.
    116 min
    Estrenos: 14/10/2021.
Credits and synopsis from: I.C.A.A. (Instituto de la Cinematografía y de las Artes Audiovisuales): Catálogo de Cinespañol.
    Finnish premiere: 22 July 2022, released by Future Film with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Sari Selander / Michaela Palmberg.
    Viewed at Finnkino Strand, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 23 July 2022.

Official synopsis: "Blanco, the charismatic owner of a family run factory, is under pressure as he covets a local award for business excellence. Everything needs to be perfect! But the veneer of the perfect company cracks as Blanco has to deal with a vengeful fired worker, a depressed supervisor, and an infatuated ambitious intern. To win the competiton, the manipulative “good boss” shamelessly meddles in his employees ́ private lives and crosses every line imaginable, unknowingly starting an explosive chain reaction with wild consequences."

AA: Carried by the intelligent screenplay and direction by Fernando León de Aranoa, a charismatic lead performance by Javier Bardem as Blanco and an overall excellent cast, The Good Boss is a witty satire about working life in a traditional patriarchal family-run factory, Blanco Básculas (Blanco Scales). The patrón type boss is like a father, and the employees are his family. This is, in fact, Blanco's explanation why he and his wife have no children.

The issues are interesting and León de Aranoa's approach is original. It starts with juvenile delinquency. Blanco is always eager to help even in private crises, and he takes care of a youngster because Fortuna (Celso Bugallo), his father, is an employee. Three young female interns get special attention since "you are like my daughters". Miralles the supervisor (Manolo Solo) acts chaotically because his private life is a mess, and Blanco starts to meddle. Jose (Oscar de la Fuente), a worker who has been fired, starts a media campaign on the wasteland in front of the factory.

The factory produces industrial scales in a provincial town, and the plot is about the factory's attempt to win an award for business excellence. The themes of the scales, balance and justice are central visually, literally and symbolically.

But with all the problems emerging everything seems be heading for disaster. Miralles keeps getting more and more erratic, the fired worker does not give up until the hooligans burn his place and he kills in self-defense Fortuna's son who has been protected by Blanco. Blanco lands into bed with the beautiful Liliana (Almudena Amor) before learning that she is the grown-up daughter of a close family friend.

Despite his reactionary and latently racist patriarchal disposition, Blanco is a smart businessman who cannot deny the abilities of Khalec (Tarik Rmili) who is promoted while Miralles if finally fired.

Liliana is smart, too, and it is interesting to figure out who is playing whom. While Blanco's watchword is balance, Liliana keeps reminding us of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. Closeness of the observer to the observed can bring changes.

Against Liliana's better judgment, she is aroused in the vicinity of Blanco. It is not a simple case of boss taking advantage of young beautiful intern. When Blanco finds out who Liliana really is (he has, it turns out, known her since she was a baby), he immediately takes steps to send her elsewhere. Quietly, Liliana takes things into her own hands together with Khalec. Perhaps everything takes place with the complicity of Blanco's wife Adela (Sonia Almarcha).

In a last minute rescue, the company gets the award of the most quality conscious enterprise of the year. But tears are falling on Fortuna's cheek. The funeral of his son is the emotional climax of the tragi-comedy. El buen patrón succeeds as engrossing entertainment and as a thoughtworthy account of contemporary life.

The figure of the patriarchal boss reminds me of Japanese post-WW2 films, including those by Yasujiro Ozu such as Higanbana. The world is officially patriarchal, but women pull the strings and let men play boss.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida (Savonlinna Opera Festival, 2022)

Olavinlinna, Savonlinna. Photos: Savonlinna Opera Festival.  Please click on the images to enlarge them.

Aida (Savonlinna Opera Festival, 2022). Helena Juntunen (in the forefront and in the background video projection) as Aida.

Aida (Savonlinna Opera Festival, 2022). The lamphouse wall and the video projection on the castle wall. Stage director: Philipp Himmelmann. Stage designer: David Hohmann. Lighting designer: Fabiana Piccioli. Video designer: Tieni Buchhalter.

Giuseppe Verdi: Aida. Opera in quattro atti
LIBRETTO: Antonio Ghislanzoni
Finnish translation: Leena Vallisaari
PREMIERE: First performed in Cairo, Khedivial Opera House, 24 December 1871
Finnish premiere: 1916
First performance at Savonlinna Opera Festival: 1986
AIDA ............................. soprano
1., 4., 6. & 22.7. ........... MICHELLE BRADLEY
12., 16., 18., 20. & 23.7 ..HELENA JUNTUNEN
RADAMÈS ................................ tenor
1., 4., 6., 18. & 22.7. .......... GASTON RIVERO
12., 16., 20. & 23.7. .......... MARTIN MUEHLE
AMNERIS ............................mezzo-soprano
1., 4., 6., 18. & 22.7. .... AGNIESZKA REHLIS
12., 16., 18., 20. & 23.7. . ÈVE-MAUD HUBEAUX
AMONASRO ................... baritone
..........................................TOMMI HAKALA
RAMFIS .....................................bass
1., 4., 6., 18. & 22.7. .. ALESSIO CACCIAMANI
12., 16., 20. & 23.7. ............. TIMO RIIHONEN
KING OF EGYPT ................. bass TAPANI PLATHAN
MESSENGER ................................. tenor JOHAN KROGIUS
PRIESTESS....................... soprano IRIS CANDELARIA
1.7. premiere
4.7., 6.7., 12.7., 16.7., 18.7., 20.7., 22.7., 23.7.
Conductor ..........................................VILLE MATVEJEFF
Assistant conductor....................MARIA ITKONEN
Stage director ........................................PHILIPP HIMMELMANN
Assistant stage director ........ RIIKKA RÄSÄNEN
Choreography................................................ KRISTIAN LEVER
Stage designer .................... DAVID HOHMANN
Costume designer ...................................LILI WANNER
Lighting designer ..................FABIANA PICCIOLI
Video designer ........................... TIENI BURKHALTER
Chorus master ...................................... JAN SCHWEIGER
Sung in Italian.
Finnish surtitles ............ SUSANNA CAROTENUTO
English surtitles .......................... JAANA KUORINKA
The performance begins at 19 and ends at about 22.00. One interval.
Sets and props made jointly by students from Savonlinna Upper Secondary and Vocational College (SAMI).
Répétiteur ..........................HANS-OTTO EHRSTRÖM
Venue manager ..................LAURI AKKILA
Technical stage manager ...OLIVER EAGLE-WILSHER
Head of workshop .............AHTI JALKANEN
Production assistant ..........MIRVA KOIVUKANGAS
Make Up ...........................JANI KYLMÄLÄ
Head of wardrobe .............HELI ROININEN
Props .................................SANNA TYNKKYNEN
Technical producer.............JOONAS VÄKEVÄINEN
Head of productions ..........JUKKA POHJOLAINEN
Savonlinna Opera Festival, Olavinlinna / Olofsborg, Savonlinna, 18 July 2022.

AA: After three years, Savonlinna Opera Festival has reopened. I am just an accidental opera-goer, but always gratified when I go. Giuseppe Verdi's Aida belongs to the most beloved core listening in the history of music, also for me. In Finland, Giuseppe Verdi, especially Nabucco, has also always resonated in a special way as a music of liberation, and he also inspired his contemporary Fredrik Pacius to compose the first Finnish opera in his spirit.

Seeing Aida performed is completely different. The acoustics of the Olavinlinna Castle (1475) is magnificent, and I marvel at the art of the performers, singers projecting arias without amplification in a huge space like this while the orchestra is playing and the choir is singing. It is a beautiful but cool evening. The record-breaking heat waves of Europe are bypassing us, but the enthusiastic audience brings its own heat with it.

In traditional interpretations such as Aida seen here in Savonlinna in 2012, it is lavishly set in Ancient Egypt, but in Philipp Himmelmann's direction and David Hohmann's stage design, it happens in a timeless, dismal now, reflecting Russia's war against Ukraine that started in February 2022. It is a welcome notion to break free from tradition and introduce a fresh interpretation. Myself, I also adore traditional concepts in classic works and think that talented directors and designers cannot help bringing thousands of fresh touches and emphases to them, as well. Aida is a devastating tragedy about the fate of love and humanity in wartime. I feel that a gloomy design is "more is more" and that a glorious, beautiful design could suggest a Gegenbild, a promise of hope, and evoke the better angels of our nature. The relentlessly sinister stage concept is a powerful statement about our time.

As it is, it changes the balance of the performance and guides us to focus to an exceptional degree on the music and the performances. As a musical experience this Aida is magnificent, in the legendary choruses, in the rousing epic passages and the tragic lyrical arias. The love theme in the stage direction feels superficial, emphasizing erotic titillation in a way that feels superfluous. But the grandeur of the passion in the music is too overwhelming for the stage direction to hamper.

Aida is a black princess of Ethiopia, traditionally performed in black body paint by the greatest sopranos in history. The use of black body paint has fallen under increasing criticism in recent years, and the tradition is about to be banned.

Colour-blind casting is increasingly the norm since Hamilton (2015), also in film adaptations of classics such as David Copperfield (2019). A "united colours" approach is an engrossing phenomenon of our global age, a promising signal of our progress beyond racism.

Aida in Savonlinna has double casting: first cast with the black soprano Michelle Bradley, the performances now continue with Helena Juntunen in paleface. Both are great, but for me, a snow white Aida is a jolting Verfremdung effect, consistent with the bleak stage design.

I understand the criticism and even the willingness to cancel black body paint, because it has often been used in a demeaning way of pejorative racial clichés. However, I don't think this is the whole truth. Great characters of tragedy such as Aida and Othello have always been performed with dignity and grandeur. They are us, we are them.

Aristotle said that the urge to play is the most distinctive character that separates humans from animals, ever since childhood. The human is the most playful animal. By playing we learn who we are and who others are. A play is also about learning about the other by becoming the other, the me in the other. The play brings us together. We dress in others' clothes and use masks and bodypaint. It is in our nature. But because this disposition has been abused, certain uses are becoming banned.

Clemente Fracassi: Aida (IT 1953). Sophia Loren as Aida in her first starring role (doppiatora originale: Renata Tebaldi, canto).

Maria Callas as Aida in 1951 in Mexico.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Elvis (2022)

Baz Luhrmann: Elvis (AU/US 2022) starring Austin Butler.

Elvis / Elvis.
    AU/US © 2022 Warner Bros. Pictures. PC: Bazmark Films and The Jackal Group. P: Baz Luhrmann, Gail Berman, Catherine Martin, Patrick McCormick, Schuyler Weiss.
    D: Baz Luhrmann. SC: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Bromell, Craig Pearce, Jeremy Doner – story by Baz Luhrmann, Jeremy Doner. DP: Mandy Walker. PD: Catherine Martin, Karen Murphy. AD: Ian Gracie. Cost: Catherine Martin. SFX: Brian Cox. VFX: Lindsay Adams. S: Wayne Pashley. ED: Matt Villa, Jonathan Redmond. C from Wikipedia (a longer cast listing beyond the jump break):
    Austin Butler as Elvis Presley
    Tom Hanks as Col. Tom Parker, Elvis' manager
    Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla Presley (née Wagner), Elvis' wife
    Helen Thomson as Gladys Presley (née Smith), Elvis' mother
    Richard Roxburgh as Vernon Presley, Elvis' father
    Kelvin Harrison Jr. as B. B. King
    Xavier Samuel as Scotty Moore
    David Wenham as Hank Snow
    Kodi Smit-McPhee as Jimmie Rodgers Snow
    Luke Bracey as Jerry Schilling
    Dacre Montgomery as Steve Binder
Principal photography took place in Australia.
159 min
Festival premiere: 25 May 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
US premiere: 24 June 2022.
Finnish premiere: 29 June 2022, released by SF Studios Finland with Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Timo Porri / Saliven Gustavson.
Viewed at Finnkino Strand, Iso Kristiina, Lappeenranta, 10 July 2022.

Sung by Elvis Presley: “Suspicious Minds,” “Edge Of Reality,” “Cotton Candy Land,” “That’s All Right,” “An American Trilogy,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” “Fever,” “Let’s Forget About the Stars,” “Love Me, Love The Life I Lead,” “Shake, Rattle And Roll,” “I’m Comin’ Home,” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “A Little Less Conversation,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Bossa Nova Baby,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “I Got a Feelin’ in My Body,” “Up Above My Head,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Guitar Man,” “Tiger Man,” “Any Day Now,” “Power of My Love,” “Polk Salad Annie,” “Burning Love,” “It’s Only Love,” “Unchained Melody,” “Without a Song,” “In the Ghetto,” “Men With Broken Hearts” and “Summer Kisses, Winter Tears.”
    Sung by Austin Butler: “I’ll Fly Away,” “That’s All Right,” “Baby, Let’s Play House,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Working on the Building” (with Yola), “Hound Dog,” “Are You Lonesome Tonight?,” “Trouble,” “Crawfish,” “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “If I Can Dream,” “Suspicious Minds” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
    First end credits song: "In the Ghetto (World Turns Remix)" – Elvis Presley & Nardo Wick
    Second end credits song: “The King And I” – Eminem and CeeLo Green
    Third end credits song: "Tupelo Shuffle" – Swae Lee & Diplo
    Fourth end credits song: "If I Can Dream" – Måneskin
I thank Asko Alanen for the soundtrack listings which were not easily available at the time of blogging.

AA: I did not expect this, but this is the best Elvis movie I have seen. It is also the finest achievement of the director Baz Luhrmann.

About Baz Luhrmann I have always had mixed feelings, but I have been positively surprised by his The Great Gatsby adaptation, and I also remember fondly his vivid and engrossing Romeo + Juliet.

Luhrmann has a passion for excess, and in Elvis Presley he has found an ideal subject. Excess is so inherent in the story of the legendary performer that Luhrmann does not need to emphasize it. Instead, he can focus on enriching and deepening the treatment in different ways.

The Elvis family story is central and emotionally appealing, a heartfelt foundation also for Presley's musical career.

Elvis as a performer brings together in a radical way the white traditions of country & western and the black roots of rhythm & blues. He is also capable of uniting sacred and profane musical traditions in a profound manner.

These themes are central in all Presley biopics, but Luhrmann integrates them in an original fashion. What is distinctive is the central role of Colonel Tom Parker, with whom Elvis signs a Faustian pact. A Faustian pact was a favourite theme in the American cinema of the 1940s, of which I have recently seen William Dieterle's The Devil and Daniel Webster and John Farrow's Alias Nick Beal. Tom Hanks's Mephisto incarnation can be compared with Walter Huston and Ray Milland in the above-mentioned movies.

Luhrmann integrates even the Faustian story with the family story. When Elvis's mother, his greatest love, dies, there is a transference of love to Colonel Parker, his new "mother". Tom Hanks interprets the role extravagantly which is how it is meant to be. Colonel Parker is a carnival hustler who happens to sign the world's greatest performer. Elvis is always at his best when he follows his own way, defying Parker's trite and conventional demands. But because of his docile side, he never breaks free, and this is the root of the tragedy of Elvis.

Actors almost inevitably fail when trying to interpret legendary performers, but Austin Butler belongs to the outstanding exceptions. He radiates charisma and excitement and excels even in performing many of the songs himself. The magic of Elvis was his unique connection with his audience. He loved to perform, and he was great until his very last performance, from which we see some touching documentary footage. Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler convey this connection in a special way. The ecstasy of the female part of the audience is conveyed tenderly, without the usual and condescending clichés. We see the members of the audience as individuals, as does Elvis who wants the audience to be lit at the end of the show.

There are ups and downs in Elvis's life and career. The great turning-point is the 1968 comeback concert in which we witness the generation clash between Colonel Parker and Steve Binder. Elvis is devastated by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy in 1968. Elvis wants to be in touch with the times and express his support for the civil rights movement, immortalized in songs such as "If I Can Dream" (in homage to Martin Luther King and his "I Have A Dream" speech) and "In The Ghetto".

The queer dimension in the Elvis story is expressed matter-of-factly and with a greater sense of liberation than in earlier decades.

The soundtrack of the movie has been edited with devotion and imagination, avoiding clichés and conveying the versatility and the life force of the indefatigable performer. The selection of new talent helps build bridges across generations. It is a labour of love.

PS. This blog entry is in memory of Jouni Suomalainen who let me listen to his collected LP's of Elvis Presley in December 1984. Until the end he pursued another passion of his, street photography, exhibiting in his hometown Uppsala in Sweden where he recently died, but not of Covid.

PS2. My favourite Elvis tracks include "Mystery Train" (1955), "Reconsider Baby" (1960), "If We Never Meet Again" (1960) and "Trying To Get To You" (the 1968 comeback interpretation). None of them are in this movie. "Mystery Train" is also on my shortlist of all great music of all times.


Friday, July 01, 2022

Apache Drums (2021 restoration Universal Pictures)

Hugo Fregonese: Apache Drums (US 1951) poster with Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds) and Coleen Gray (Sally).

Hugo Fregonese: Apache Drums (US 1951) poster with Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds).

La rivolta degli Apaches / Kuoleman rummut / Dödstrummorna.
    US 1951. D: Hugo Fregonese. Sog.: Harry Brown. Scen.: David Chandler. F.: Charles P. Boyle. M.: Milton Carruth. Scgf.: Bernard Herzbrun, Robert Clatworthy. Mus.: Hans J. Salter. Int.: Stephen McNally (Sam Leeds), Coleen Gray (Sally), Willard Parker (Joe Madden), Arthur Shields (reverendo Griffin), James Griffith (tenente Glidden), Armando Silvestre (Pedro-Peter), Georgia Backus (signora Keon), Clarence Muse (Jehu). Prod.: Val Lewton per Universal-International Pictures Co., Inc. DCP. 75’. Col.
    Restored in 4K in 2021 by Universal Pictures in collaboration with The Film Foundation at NBC Universal StudioPost laboratory, from a 35 mm nitrate 3-strip original negative preserved by UCLA.
    From NBC courtesy of Park Circus.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022: The Drifter's Escape: Hugo Fregonese.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, 1 July 2022.

Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato 2022): "One of Fregonese’s most completely realized projects, Apache Drums was also the last film of the creative producer Val Lewton (The Cat People), who died a few weeks before its release in 1951. The film follows the fast-talking gambler and gunman Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally), perhaps Fregonese’s most rootless protagonist, after being kicked out of a mining town in the New Mexico desert that is on the verge of becoming respectable. Sent into exile, Sam comes across the bodies of the dance hall girls massacred by a band of Mescalero warriors. He reluctantly returns to town to warn the residents of the impending threat. Even when convention requires Sam to become a hero and lead the townspeople to safety, Fregonese continues to emphasize his weakness and vanity – he’s far more interested in looking like a hero than in actually becoming one, and his flamboyance and impulsiveness leads to disaster. The final siege sequence is one of the most remarkable passages in American cinema. Throughout, Fregonese has developed a visual motif of low ceilings (indeed, some of the interiors seem like shots from a lost Orson Welles western) and cantilevered porticos that give a sense of constraint and claustrophobia even to the exteriors (the locations, mostly in California’s Mojave Desert, are themselves quite dramatic and unusual). When the action enters the hall, the camera goes along with it; there are no exterior views to establish the mounting presence of the Apache warriors, but only the pounding rhythms of the war dance (the music, apparently authentic, was supplied by an indigenous musicologist). One feels the influence of Lewton in the mounting suspense focused on an unseen menace, but the release is startlingly original – warriors suddenly diving through the upper windows, their bodies painted in primary colors and bathed by matching pinspots, an audacious concept that looks forward to the bold stylization of Mario Bava." Dave Kehr

AA: I entered the screening of Apache Drums at 20.30. It was my fifth film today. I fell into dreams of my own. I have to see properly this most highly expected film of the Fregonese retrospective. The colour in the 2021 restoration looks gorgeous.