Author: Alex Thompson

Back Catalog Review: Paisan

Paisan 1

The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all of the films I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films. 

Roberto Rossellini’s follow up to the stupendous Rome, Open City was probably always going to be a bit of a letdown. Rossellini mitigates some of that disappointment by changing up the structure and focus, even if war is still the general topic. Paisan, from a word that is used in Italy to address a fellow Italian as a friend, is really six short films that are connected with documentary footage of the Allied invasion and liberation of Italy. The movie follows a roughly sequential timeline from the early landings to the last battles and jumps from small seaside towns to big cities like Rome and Florence. Because each roughly 20-minute-long segment is completely independent from the others, the characters don’t get quite as much time to make as strong an impression as some of those in Rome, Open City did. Rossellini still manages to craft stories and relationships that leave a mark. I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the characters a day later but I can tell you about the wonderfully touching little moments that Rossellini captures them in and his remarkable use of the short story structure to link the segments through thematic and geographic similarity.

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Back Catalog Review: Rome, Open City

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The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all the movies I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films. 

Rome, Open City, released just months after V.E. Day in 1945, is Roberto Rossellini’s fictionalized depiction of Don Pieto Morosini’s life during the Nazi occupation of Rome and its sad conclusion. Because it was based on a real man, because it was filmed just after Rome was liberated, because Rossellini hired mostly new actors, and because Rossellini himself experienced much of the same fear and sadness that permeates the film during the occupation, Rome, Open City is a masterpiece of Italian neorealism. It veers into melodrama in the concluding scenes, but those work all the better for the earlier focus on realism and the dangerous situations that the group of Romans the film follows encounter on a regular basis. It’s a near-perfect movie, and it’s the best movie about WWII that I’ve seen so far.

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Back Catalog Review: Medium Cool

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The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all the movies I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films. 

Those of you who have read more than one thing I’ve written or talked to me for over an hour probably know that Fanny and Alexander is my favorite movie of all time. You may also know that last year I wrote my Master’s Thesis on it (you can read the whole thing here, if you’ve got the time and the inclination), in which I talked about how Bergman sets up storytelling as a way to counter fascist (or authoritarian) narratives. I’m pretty proud of it, and it served as my launching point for my soon-to-begin Ph.D. studies in oppositional storytelling. I began to seek out other works (books, movies, essays) that could potentially become subjects of my dissertation. Medium Cool was one such film. My instincts, in this case, were pretty good too. When I watched Haskell Wexler’s half-drama half-documentary last night, I was stunned at not only how interesting it was in terms of the oppositional storytelling I was exploring, but also how beautiful and moving the film was.

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Back Catalog Review: The Double Life of Véronique

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The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all the movies I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films. 

Maybe it shows my relative lack of experience with Krzysztof Kieslowski, but if you asked me to describe his style in one word, fun wouldn’t be the first to leap to mind. I guess I only have Blue as prior knowledge and that one is particularly, well, blue, but from what I know about his other films, I still wouldn’t leap to anything like joy or delight. So color me surprised when the first half hour or so of The Double Life of Véronique was particularly fun. It starts with the opening shot, an upside-down cityscape at dusk on Christmas Eve. We soon see a little girl being held upside-down by her mother as she casts a spell over her daughter, telling her that the city lights are really stars in the sky, and that the last colorful light in the sky is really mists below the town. It’s a thing kids do. If you tell them to look at something and then tell them what it is, they’ll believe it, even if they know that they always see a city out that window. It’s a thing movies do, too. They create a reality of their own and then show us what’s inside it. If the movie’s any good, we’ll believe it too.

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Back Catalog Review: Rebecca

Rebecca

The Back Catalog is a series following my quest to watch all the movies I own. Check out the index, or follow the Back Catalog tag to see what I’ve watched and what I’ve thought of the films. 

I’d been curious about Rebecca since I heard about it about a decade ago. It doesn’t really feel a whole ton like the other Hitchcock films I’ve seen, it’s much more character based than something like North By Northwest. And the romance is a thing I can really believe in for the first time outside of maybe Rear Window. I read the back of the Criterion case and it sounded a heck of a lot like Jane Eyre with the class difference between the man and the woman and the man’s mysterious past that haunts his (big and beautiful) house. But this is its own thing, enhanced by some superb acting and Hitchcock’s amazing eye for detail and manipulation of the frame.

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