Jerry Stamatelos DVD reviews

Irreversible

My companion swayed in her seat like a waterweed, then clutched my arm. People dived for the exits. A woman sitting closest to us looked over, as if wanting to talk about what happened—and all this by the first 10 minutes. I thought the ingenious presentation of the opening credits were worth the price of admission alone.

France’s auteur provocateur Gaspar Noé caused a stir of legendary proportions at Cannes and it’s easy to figure out why. I was visibly shaken by what I witnessed on screen. Irreversible was already impossible to forget.

Said scene begins the reverse-order storyline as Marcus and Pierre (Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel) search with dizzying freneticism for a pimp in a murky gay nightclub, made all the more effective with some deft hand held camerawork. When found, the two men proceed to bludgeon him in what was the most graphic violence seen on screen, only to be supplanted moments later by the rape sequence. Irreversible then retraces the steps to the motivation for such a monstrous act, and leads us to Marcus, whose partner Alex (Monica Belluci) was viciously raped. What transpires adds up to over 9 minutes worth of the most cruelly abominable and repulsive film conceptions. The camera brings its furious pace to a halt here and positions itself at the Paris underpass and simply observes.

Pounding our senses silly is Noé’s aim up to now, and he makes no excuses for pulling this off admirably. Gratuitous one might suspect, but then the mood softens. Noé begins searching for the affective. We play witness to Alex and Marcus arguing at a party that leads her to abandon the revelry and make for the underpass. Then further back the couple are in bed together, swept by the crimson tide of affection. Irreversible ends at the beginning, with their love’s young dream. The premise “Time destroys all things,” uttered at the start and end, reverberates throughout. Time destroys Alex and Marcus.

Irreversible’s weaving of the interplay between memory and time may not be weighty and insightful, but it’s skillful. Brace yourself, the journey is as electrifying as it is horrifying.

Pot Luck (L’Auberge espagnole)

The whole world is a global village, and twentysomething Xavier (Romain Duris) is merely a foreign exchange student—or is he? Our intrepid Parisian is off to Barcelona for a year to study business and perfect his Spanish on the recommendation of his father’s friend. A cozy office job in the state sector is waiting for him upon his return. Things seem perfect don’t they? Well, he’s about to enter the realm of the long-distance relationship with his beloved Martine (Amélie’s Audrey Tautou) for starters.

Xavier meets two excruciatingly quotidian newlywed Parisians upon arrival in Barcelona that graciously offer him temporary lodging. He’s more than happy to oblige when the neurologist husband asks him to kindly show his delectably curvaceous wife (Judith Godrèche) around town. The two discover a few points of interest along the way.

Xavier eventually settles in an apartment with a motley crew of students. What binds them is more than just their EU passports and physical space, and French director Cédric Klapisch pulls this off masterfully. I feel as though I’m eavesdropping on snatches of conversation. They wail and thrash, dance and sing, get drunk and throw up, fall in and out of love—they do what students do when fate drops them off in some part of the world to cohabitate for any extended period of time. And all this dizzying freneticism is captured on digital video, making a tired topic strongly plausible and effective in its delivery.

A curious absorption and arousal in other women develops for Xavier as his long-distance relationship begins to run its course. The tension surrounding him and the sexually undernourished, staid wife is seamless and uncontrived. I swayed in my seat from laughter watching a lesson in sex from his lesbian roomie. This ample comedic energy is scattered throughout Pot Luck. The questionable application practice of Erasmus, the organization assisting our aspiring Eurotraveler with foreign study, is farcical.

Xavier returns to the protected naivete of Paris lugging the indelible impression Barcelona has left on him: life’s a trip, not a destination.

The Crime of Father Amaro (El Crimen Del Padre Amaro)

The Crime of Father Amaro (El Crimen del Padre Amaro) trailer conjured up 20-year-old images of the wildly successful miniseries “The Thorn Birds”. Richard Chamberlain’s romp with a fetching Rachel Ward drew no controversy, perhaps due to the focus on Chamberlain’s failure as one man of the cloth, and not as a scathing indictment on the church or its clergy per se. But with the Catholic Church routinely grabbing headlines worldwide for its rampant sexual abuse nowadays, it’s no wonder The Crime of Father Amaro has caused such a furor. Amaro has parlayed its notoriety into the highest grossing locally made movie in Mexico.

Loosely based on a 19th century novel of the same name by celebrated Portuguese writer José Maria Eça de Queiróz, the movie takes place in modern-day Mexico, where a 24-year-old Father Amaro (Gael García Bernal, Amores Perros, Y Tu Mamá También), arrives at a small parish in Los Reyes to embark on a promising liturgical career. On the Bishop’s orders, he’s to provide a helping hand in Father Benito’s daily operations. Benito (Sancho Gracia), deeply entrenched in the community, welcomes Amaro’s wide-eyed idealism.

The ambitious priest meets Amelia (Ana Claudia Talancón), a wholesome and immaculate 16-year-old who teaches the good word at Sunday school. Her attraction to Amaro is immediate, and the youngish padre is awakened to her potentially explosive sexuality when she lets him in on certain self-gratifying secrets at the confessional. Amelia initially spurns his advances but eventually buckles to carnal pleasure, and the two set off on a torrid sexual journey that has its share of witnesses, despite their cover. In a perverse fate, Amelia’s widowed mother is locked in a long-term relationship with the revered Father Benito.

It doesn’t take long for Amaro to wise up to the fact that corruption and the Church run hand in hand in small-town Mexico. Once again, Benito is at the epicentre, gladly accepting drug money to build a hospital, a practice justified by turning bad money into good. Added to the mix is a motley crew of townsfolk, corrupt politicians and excommunicated priests with leftist guerilla leanings. Despite Amaro’s sobering realization, he continues to plunge further into sacrilege, with sins of the flesh ultimately pitted against a higher calling.

Bernal follows up his other-worldly acting success in Y Tu Mamá También admirably, seemingly perfectly cast for the role of a tormented Roman Catholic priest. In fact, the acting is masterful throughout and supremely shot. Forty year-old director Carlos Carrera makes no qualms about his intentions here; the portrayal of organized religion and ministry is exposed for public consumption, and the picture that’s painted isn’t a pretty one, what with flaming lotharios disguised as priests and a thoroughly shady Church. Furthermore, Amaro’s moral and ethical unraveling is anticipated.

The Crime of Father Amaro is as much a social treatise, straddling a fine line between the black, white and grey of compromise, as it is a character-driven plot, a man who failed himself first and foremost, and then his calling.

Reviews by Jerry Stamatelos