Saturday, 18 May 2019

Shadow Of A Doubt (1943 film)

In one of those moments inspired by a transient piece of social media information, I decided to give a watch to Shadow Of A Doubt, Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 thriller/film noir, which stars Teresa Wright and Joseph Cotten.

The plot centres on a visit by Oakley (Joseph Cotten) to the family of his sister, a family which includes his niece, the young Charlotte (Teresa Wright), who rather idolizes her uncle. It soon emerges, however, that Oakley is harbouring some very dark secrets.

One of the first things which I noticed about this picture was the meticulousness of the narrative, and the care taken to build and develop the suspense. Quite apart from this, the characterizations, including the Newton household, and even the relatively minor players, ensure that this film holds the interest, almost independently of the central direction of the story line.

Some elements which seem destined to be pivotal to the story are relatively peripheral, whilst those who look like classic red herrings end up being influential to how things turn out.  Part of the appeal and the energy of Shadow Of A Doubt, as with other Hitchcock works, is the masterly way in which we are kept guessing and wondering. Clearly the viewer knows that something is likely to be amiss, and the portentous atmosphere early on in the film contributes to this mindset.

Joseph Cotten is excellent as the suave, but manipulative and cynical Oakley.  Soon after his arrival at the Newton residence he is affable, and the sudden arrival of his sinister side, and the dissolving of the earlier jollity and levity, is disconcerting but absorbing to behold. Teresa Wright is a delight as Charlotte, who has to cope with many of her illusions being shattered.

In general, the movie has a wonderfully "organic" quality which it shares with many of the classic black and white films of that period. The period fashions and stylings are also highly appealing. My one gripe is the background music, which occasionally intrudes unnecessarily, but I guess this was a trait common to many pictures of those days.

Shadow Of A Doubt is a movie which demands very close attention, as it is easy to miss snippets of dialogue, or "clues", which will enhance one's understanding of the story.  It is a highly enjoyable and rewarding film to see.  The ending is also quite something!

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Zerograd (1988 film)

Zerograd (also known as Gorod Zero) is a 1988 Soviet film, directed by Karen Shakhnazarov and starring Leonid Filatov.

I stumbled across this movie whilst searching for more Soviet science fiction, and I am glad that I watched it, as it had a distinct, but intangible, effect on me.

The story revolves around an engineer (played by Filatov) who journeys from Moscow to a small town on business. Once there, he is confronted by a series of strange events, many of which take place after he witnesses a suicide.

Zerograd has a surreal and disorientating flavour to it, but it is also quite absorbing. The fact that it was made in 1988 in the Soviet Union will mean that people (including myself) will perhaps look for messages which are not really there.  In fact, the beauty of this picture is that it does not make simplistic or direct social observations, and it works on more than one level.

There is a scene in a museum which is perhaps central to an attempt at understanding this film, and this portion of the film is both philosophically fascinating and technically admirable, as well as being amusing.  Also, there is at one point a monologue by the town prosecutor, and this is also perhaps key to ascertaining what the writers were getting at.

A word of praise too for the performance of Leonid Filatov in the role of Varakin, the engineer.  He endearingly conveys a mixture of confusion, impatience, ennui and bewilderment.

Overall, I found Zerograd to be a powerful, fascinating and absorbing film.  It is one of those films which will probably continue to pose questions and tax the viewer's imagination on repeated viewings;quite a rare feat for any film, I would say.  One just has to watch the picture and draw one's own conclusions.