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Best Films of 1994

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Miller's Crossing
Un Coeur en Hiver
Glengarry Glen Ross
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: Red

Fast Cheap and Out of Control

BEST FILMS OF 1994 - List in Progress
by Mike Lorefice

Bandit Queen
Shekhar Kapur

This look at the plight of a low caste Indian woman (Seema Biswas) had all the makings of a great film until it piled on the dubiousness. Purportedly the true story of Phoolan Devi (though she instigated a legal dispute to prevent the films release in India), Bandit Queen could have been a classy film about a woman who wants respect and equality from a society that refuses to grant women anything. Rather than focusing on her quest to maintain dignity and later to combat sexual prejudice, the film pours on atrocity after atrocity until you are forced to side with Phoolan as she becomes a hateful revenge thirsty bandit. This eventually leads to the massacre of a few dozen men who, if anything, sat back and watched her public humiliation. At least the film shows her to be raving and raging rather than portraying it as the good old fascist brand of Death Wish justice or distracting from the ugliness that comes with leading the gang by continually reminding us of how groundbreaking it was for a woman, much less a worthless low caste, to helm the bandits. Bandit Queen won't fail to move you in some way. It may not be a positive way, which is fine, but I don't think to near the extent it could have if Kapur painted a portrait more women could relate to rather than wallowing in the consistent torment of his more specialized case. Luckily, Biswas' lead performance is strong enough to make you continue to sympathize with her character long after your senses have been numbed. When it comes to keeping with Devi's folk hero mythology, the film is very impressive, a larger than life actioner that isn't lacking in style and more importantly doesn't let the style destroy the credibility. As this film hasn't been made solely for money, it doesn't try to brainwash the audience into purchasing a new round of Devi Dolls (Indian girls used to play with them in the early 80's when she was a favorite subject of media sensationalism). [12/23/06] ***


Cemetary Man
Michele Soavi


Full Movie Review


Jan Svankmajer

Drawing from seemingly every version of the seminal legend - novel, play, opera, puppet theatre, and comic book - but most importantly his own wild surrealistic imagination, Jan Svankmajer's once again trades representational commercial fodder for magical hallucinatory innovativeness. His version of Faust is at once disturbing and hilarious, using dream logic to consistently create excuses for his marvelous inventive visuals. Svankmajer is arguably cinema's greatest magician, but his work is based on breaking the illusion at every turn, as he wants you to realize manipulation is ever present in life as well as his art. Thickly veiled allegory, absurdity, and satire have always been Svankmajer's weapons against the powers that be, and here marionettes, puppets, and claymation are the stop motion master's tools. Faust doesn't come to the devil and fall prey to his seduction. In fact, the main character isn't even the "real" Faust, but rather the latest in an endless cycle of the power's foibles. The nameless everyman (Petr Cepek) begins by following something specific, a map given to him by a stranger that leads him to a theater, but continues to follow unseen and unheard instructions throughout to show he ceded his free will long ago. Dressing as Faust, he picks up the book and begins learning his lines, but quickly finds he hasn't memorized them when he's suddenly attempting to perform for an audience. He's simply a cog in someone else's machine. Faust is passively manipulated; others battle over him while he looks on. Ultimately it comes down to conformity vs. rebellion. Drawn from modernity and civilization, the theater represents a place where perverse indulgences are allowed to come to life, for a price. Faust responds unrealistically to the dangers because he is intrigued by the prospects. As everything is predestined, animation even applies to the living who willingly engage in whatever nonsense their master suggests. Svankmajer melds the Faust character with the everyman, and really all the characters. Men can replace marionettes and vice versa. Live action and stop motion are interchangeable. A hunk of clay can grow into a baby then have an adult face, even Faust's. Everything including size can change as quickly and easily as a costume. The dubbing is even more lacking than dubs usually are, causing the original rhymes to be altered so they work in English, but sound effects are far more important than the dialogue. There are other problems, but this is not only a rare example of the possibilities and capabilities of stop motion animation, it's true surrealism of the highest order. [4/20/07] ***1/2

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