As I mentioned yesterday, I took today off. I’ve been beyond exhausted lately and so an extra day off seemed more than necessary. The fact that today is also my birthday just made the timing serendipitous. Even with the day off, I only made it through two films, but that was mostly due to sleeping in and taking a long afternoon walk. Additionally, while recently I’ve focused on the Oscar short lists, today I ventured into some of the Criterion box sets I’ve picked up somewhat recently by two of my favorite directors.
I Vitelloni (1953, Dir. Federico Fellini)
The more films by Fellini I watch, the more I really connect with his filmmaking. Specifically, I connect with his character studies. With five leads, I Vitelloni blends his more focused character studies with his larger ensemble pieces, but the shared place in life of the five young men lend it closer to the individualized film. Each character may have unique passions and problems, but the fact that they are all young men struggling with taking the full step into adulthood gives the characters enough cohesion for the film to feel focused.
For Fausto (Franco Fabrizi), a shotgun wedding with his pregnant girlfriend was insufficient for him to grow up, but his failure acts as the necessary catalyst for the rest of his friends. They are able to use his failure as a mirror to their own shortcomings. Gratuitous partying and womanizing gains a level of grime as they watch their friend destroy his life through their habits. The film acknowledges the joys of youth while pointing it’s characters to the responsibilities they must someday soon embrace.
After a film by my favorite Italian director, I moved to one by my favorite French director.
The Beaches of Agnès (2008, Dir. Agnès Varda)
If you’re not a fan of Agnès Varda, I’d have to imagine that The Beaches of Agnès must seem an insufferable bit of naval gazing, but I adore her and was more than happy to watch her explore her life and work for two hours. And more than just a fascinating subject, Varda’s ability to tell a personal story is second to none and even when turning her camera on herself she prods at the small moments that define a life.
The film enhances the discussions of her life through a blend of recreations and meticulously created art installations. These grandiose productions expose the oversized importance these moments to Varda. Her love of her children and husband, filmmaker Jacques Demy, is ever apparent through the film, but what comes across the most is Varda’s love for life. This also comes across in any of the documentaries where she inserts herself, but because of the self-reflective objective of The Beaches of Agnès it comes across the clearest here. Her unyielding curiosity led her to create some of the most personal films ever shot, and that makes her the exact kind of person deserving of her cinematic attention.
While I for the most part abandoned Oscar short list watching for the day, I snuck in two of the remaining documentary shorts on my list to finish my evening.
What Would Sophia Loren Do? (2021, Dir. Ross Kauffman)
What Would Sophia Loren Do? fits the mold of standard Oscar nominated documentary short that I set out with the first one I watched this year: A Concerto is a Conversation. Like that one, What Would Sophia Loren Do? is a filmmaker sitting down with their elder to discus an aspect of their life. This take is a little more interesting as Nancy Kulik recalls her life through a love of Sophia Loren, but it’s still the run of the mill documentary short that I’ve seen dozens of before.
The Speed Cubers (2020, Dir. Sue Kim)
The Speed Cubers likewise mimics a rather standard documentary format. A story of a rivalry, in this case in competitive Rubix Cube solving, is told via interviews about the competitors, Feliks Zemdegs and Max Park, culminating in footage of a world championship. While still a little cliché, this format allows for more dramatic elements elevating the film over a pure interview. Still not my favorite of the options, but it is an interesting topic and well executed short.