Although I saw it last year in Morelia’s Arturo de Cordova retrospective, I find the opportunity to see “The Kneeling Goddess,” starring María Félix as well as de Cordova, irresistible, at the Morelia International Film Festival. It’s an amazing melodrama with noirish elements. Felix, something of a glorious amalgam of Rita Hayworth and Ava Gardner, is literally statuesque, in that a nude statue of her figures prominently in both the plot and many shots. Steven Jacobs and Lisa Colpaert, authors of “The Dark Galleries,” about the paintings used in film noir and gothic melodramas, are working on another book about statues. I commend “The Kneeling Goddess” to their attention, along with Rouben Mamoulian‘s “The Song of Songs,” with its statue of a nude Marlene Dietrich.
I especially enjoy the sequences set in a fantasy sailor’s dive bar in Panama, where Felix is the singing star of a lavish revue. Unlike many of my male colleagues, I am also constantly impressed by Felix’ elaborate wardrobe. Sometimes it seems that there are more costume changes than there are scenes.
I had thought that “Violet,” by Luiso Berdejo, was a Mexican movie by virtue of its Los Angeles setting. But it turns out to be about chic young Spanish expatriates who live in Santa Monica and shop at the flea market at the corner of Melrose and Fairfax, where the polaroid of a beautiful blonde is found, setting a quixotic search for her in motion, despite the fact than an equally attractive young brunette woman is present in the flesh and obviously enamored of our hero.
“Darker than Midnight” (2013, by Sebastiano Riso) is part of the Semaine de la Critique program from Cannes. Its cast of young gay street kids who hang out in a park in Catania is uniformly impressive, especially the main character, an androgynous boy of 14 seeking approval outside his home. There’s one astonishing traveling shot down a back alley lined with sex workers that’s like a mini “Russian Ark.”
“Serbian Epics” (1992) is one of the short documentaries that festival honoree Pawel Pawlikowski made in his years working for the BBC. Astoundingly, he had continued access to Radovan Karadzic, one of the generals that started the Serbian wars that helped tear apart the then-unified Yugoslavia. Despite occasional bursts of machine-gun fire that seem rather casual, or passing tanks, we see the lighter side of religious and ethnic warfare: Karadzic reciting poetry, drinking, trying to call his wife, or, amazingly, discussing with other leaders just what territory they’re willing to cede when new maps are drawn up. The banality of evil, indeed.
The last film of my determinedly eclectic day is part of the Amos Gitai tribute: “Roses à Crédit” (2010), based on a postwar novel by Elsa Triolet, the companion of Louis Aragon, and featuring a mouthwatering cast including Lea Seydoux, Pierre Arditi, Arielle Dombasle, and Valerie Bruni Tedeschi. Seydoux plays a spoiled young woman who’s eager to acquire all the delights of consumer culture — a brand-new Parisienne flat complete with modern appliances and new furniture, bought on credit — despite the modest means of her husband, who’s a horticultural researcher, and her own ill-paid job in Dombasle’s beauty salon. Seydoux’s intense performance (as well as her lovely and unselfconsciously displayed, frequently-nude body) holds the film together for me. In the brilliant last shot, she marches heedlessly, recklessly into the future, of France as well as the cinema.