One of the great things about the Criterion Channel is its wide range of films from all over the world. The service does a great job of highlighting some of the best movies out there, and because there are thousands of titles on the service, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. To make it easier on everyone, below are highlighted five great films to check out on the service this November.
Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family
An often overlooked Yasujiro Ozu film, Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is one of the Japanese director’s great family dramas. Released in 1941 right before There Was a Father, which would see Ozu take the longest break between pictures in his career, Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is a premier example of his signature style, dealing heavily in family dynamics. It’s one of the saddest films of Ozu's early career, but also one of his most realistic in its portrayal of familial relationships. The movie follows a mother who, after her husband dies, finds herself—along with her youngest unmarried daughter—in a difficult situation when her other children don’t want any part of housing the two. One of the standout features of Ozu’s films is their relatability, and Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is no different in the way he frames this complicated family.
It’s a movie that a lot of people will be able to see themselves in, for better and for worse. This is a film about growing old, as a parent begins to rely on her children in the same way her kids did when they were growing up. Seeing the mom essentially wear out her welcome along with her daughter in each of her children’s homes is heartbreaking. Husbands and wives begin to influence the children as to whether they should continue to allow their mom and sister to stay with them, or try and pawn them off on their other siblings. With the backing of an all-star Ozu cast, he holds a mirror up to an aspect of life that a lot of people will have to deal with, and that will have trouble coming to terms with.
Children of Paradise
Considered one of the greatest French films ever made, Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise is a true achievement of 1940s filmmaking. Released in 1945 and filmed during the occupation of France, at times you’ll be wondering how a feat could even be possible. Unlike Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City, which was filmed during Italy’s occupation and released in the same year, Children of Paradise doesn’t focus on the ongoing war and the struggles of its inhabitants but instead takes audiences back a century before. Set in Paris, the film focuses its lens on the theatrical world of the 1830s, as four men find themselves enraptured by a beautiful woman.
From top to bottom, the technical aspects displayed throughout Children of Paradise are exceptional. Coupled with that are the equally impressive performances. Jean-Louis Barrault gives an absolutely stunning portrayal of Baptiste, a mime who finds himself on the rise, while still longing for the woman he once loved so much. One could write a whole paper just on Barrault’s powerhouse performance, but it’s best not to overlook his equally as impressive screen partners, as Arletty, Pierre Brasseur, and María Casares all turn in excellent work. For fans of the stage and the theatrical nature of the art and the artists that bring the works to life, this is a film you'll want to watch. It’s an epic on a smaller scale, yet still an epic all the same. It's also one of the quickest three-hour films you’ll ever see.
Odd Man Out
A fitting recommendation now that we’re well into Noirvember, Odd Man Out should fit perfectly into the month’s black and white mood. Released two years before The Third Man, Carol Reed would first take audiences to Ireland. He turns the camera on a robbery gone wrong, as a wounded IRA leader (James Mason) makes his way through Belfast as he tries to escape the continued threat of the police. Because Mason is running around the city half unconscious for a large portion of the movie, Odd Man Out leans heavily on its supporting cast. In doing so, the film is just as much about the city’s inhabitants as it is about Mason.
As Reed takes audiences through the city, he does a great job of showcasing the varying sides of understanding that humanity has to offer. It’s an incredibly tragic film throughout, leading to a climactic finale that is made all the more impactful thanks to the haunting main theme from composer William Alwyn. The Third Man often gets the primary attention of many movies fans when it comes to Reed’s work, but there’s a case to be made that Odd Man Out is his masterpiece.
Out of the Past
This time around for another noir we’ll jump back to the United States, as the great Out of the Past is the perfect type of film to set aside some time for. After being discovered by an old acquaintance while living a new life in a quiet town in California, Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) is pulled back into the world he once tried to escape. By the time the film was released in 1947, Jacques Tourneur had already made the gorgeous black and white film Cat People (1942). Here he once again teams up with cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, and the end result is truly something special.
The film has everything you’d want from a noir: a charismatic yet troubled lead in Mitchum, an alluring yet powerful femme fatale from Jane Greer, and a slimy Kirk Douglas in a great villainous turn. Couple all of that with beautiful exterior shots of various California locales, and an engrossing story from start to finish, and Out of the Past shows why it’s one of the most memorable film noirs of the 40s.
The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum
The greatest work from director Kenji Mizoguchi up until this point in his career, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum is a masterclass in the director's distinct style of filmmaking, which he'd go on to continue to perfect through films like The 47 Ronin only two years later. In a similar way to how Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise followed the lives of actors through the French theatrical world, here we see a tale told with the backdrop of Japanese kabuki. When the adopted son of a famous kabuki actor finds himself drawn to his infant brother’s wet nurse, he finds in her the motivation for his own acting career that he was otherwise missing.
This is a heartwrenching tale of family and art, and the lengths one will go to for what they love in their life. Mizoguchi does a great job of framing the film in a way that makes it incredibly easy to sympathize with the lead character Kikunosuke Onoue (Shotaro Hanayagi). It's a movie that deals heavily with the idea of those who feel that they haven't earned what they've been given, and Hanayagi's performance is great in the way it exemplifies this. It's also one of the prime examples early on in Mizoguchi's filmography that showcases his understanding and portrayal of women that would continue throughout his career in movies like Flame of My Love.
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