Archive for the ‘Cinema’ Category

Ok, I know this blog is supposed to be about foreign films but I wanted to discuss in this reflection about the major influence that Italian Neo-Realism and French New Wave had on American Cinema in the 1960s and 1970s.

American New Wave Cinema is considered the Hollywood Renaissance. As European art films began circulating in America, American directors (Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen, and William Friedkin) recognized and appreciated the neo-realism style of Fellini and the documentary style of Godard. What was produced was an era of artistically creative films that were grounded in filming on location, working with a low budget, and centering on non-main stream issues and themes.

A brilliant example of American New Wave Cinema is The French Connection. Filmed on location in the New York streets of the Lower East Side and the borough of Brooklyn, Friedkin (the director) exhibits a storyline captured in a gritty documentary style. Based on a true story, narcotic detectives, “Popeye” Doyle (Gene Hackman) and “Cloudy” Russo (Roy Scheider) begin to unravel a smuggling heroin operation that starts in the French port city of Marseilles. The wealthy drug-lord Charnier (Fernando Rey) plans to bring his large supply of heroin across the Atlantic. As he arrives in the port of New York, “Popeye” and “Cloudy” are already aware of his arrival.

A few weeks before this, Popeye and Cloudy are at a bar when they observe Sal Boca and his wife Angie entertaining some Mafia members who are involved in narcotics. They begin to follow and observe the actions of the suspicious couple. By wire-tapping their modest luncheonette, the two detectives find out that a significant supply of heroin will soon be arriving on the streets of New York.

What follows after Charnier arrives are restless stake-outs, nail-biting car chases, and gripping on-foot tailing pursuits.

I cannot end this reflection without discussing the car chase scene.
Often hailed as one of the greatest car chase scenes in film history, viewers are taken on a riveting, intense ride along the streets of Brooklyn. After hijacking a civilian’s car, Popeye anxiously and earnestly follows the elevated train that one of Charnier’s partners has gotten on to. Swerving to miss pedestrians and recklessly accelerating the gas to catch up with the train, Popeye finally is able to trap the criminal as the train collides at a halting stop. Weakened and injured by the collision, the criminal staggers out only to be shot at point-blank by Popeye.

Here is a clip from the scene:

The French Connection reminds me of the 1969 political thriller Z. In my next reflection, I will discuss this French language film that captures a government organized scheme that is centered on assassinating a leftist political figure.

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This 1993 documentary film takes viewers on a vibrant musical odyssey following the Rom gypsies of India, Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France, and Spain. Viewers become visually captivated by the sensual passionate world of dance and music. Through the whimsical and emotionally expressive variations of song each Rom community weaves a story of struggle, persecution, poverty, and resilience.

Beautiful mesmerizing landscapes of desolate deserts, austere snow filled fields, and lush green pastures serve as “homes” for these wandering people. Intimately captured, the importance of family and community are poignantly revealed throughout the film. After seeing this film several times I seem to always recall and think about three powerful scenes from the film.

The first vignette portrays an older woman sitting in a snow covered field singing about her and her people’s horrific experiences while imprisoned at Auschwitz. The camera closely reveals the expressions of pain and sorrow in the woman’s tired face. As the camera intimately pans down to the woman’s hands and arms viewers get a glimpse of the demeaning permanent tattoo markings that were given by the Nazi guards.

The second vignette captures French gypsy musicians on their short journey to a small chapel. An overflowing of candles encircles this cramped sanctuary that houses a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. One by one the musicians kiss the cheek of Mary and quietly pray to her. They then begin to “serenade” to her with their rich organic music.

The third vignette shows a group of Spanish gypsies singing and dancing outside the abandoned ramshackle buildings that they have been squatting in. As Spanish police officers and brick masons assemble to brick up their homes, the Rom people are left to wander again. Standing on top of a hill looking down on the city, a Spanish gypsy woman powerfully and passionately sings of the endless persecution that they face as a people.

Today the Rom people are still facing persecution. Just last year Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s conservative president, expelled thousands of the Roma people living in France. They were forced to emigrate from France to Romania and Bulgaria. I find this very troubling and sad that these people still face discrimination and harassment.

Tony Gatlif, who is of Rom descent, filmed this powerful evocative film. He has made several other wonderful films that have centered on the lives of the Roma people. Some of these include: Mondo, The Crazy Stranger, and Transylvania.

If you don’t happen to see Latcho Drom try checking out the soundtrack. It is amazing!

Here is a clip from the film:

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