24 November 2023.
PERFECT DAYS ***** (vo Japanese)
How does Wim Wenders do it? How does he go from his German films of the 80s (“Wings of Desire”) to exceptional documentaries covering countries from Cuba – “Buena Vista Social Club”; Brazil – “Salt of the Earth”, on the great photographer Salgado; to Italy – “Pope Francis: A Man of his Word”; then recently back to his own roots, covering the grandiose German artist in “Anselm”? And now he has directed this completely Japanese film about a toilet cleaner in Tokyo. For me this is the best film of the year in its simplicity and depth of humanity, and it has been chosen to represent Japan in the Oscar’s Foreign Film section.
How does Wenders bend himself to all these different cultures and become one with them? I would say he does it much like his Japanese toilet cleaner – by the full awareness of each task and each moment. In fact, that’s how he was inspired to do this film, when his friend and co-scriptwriter Takuma Takasaki introduced him to these state-of-the-art toilets in Tokyo.
That is what ‘Perfect Days’ is about – a dedicated man whom we follow daily from early morning when he wakes to the sweep, sweep of the street cleaner, through his servicing of the ultra modern works of architecture that are these public toilets around Tokyo. His act of scrubbing and disinfecting is so thorough that it feels like a solemn ritual. Then there are the moments in-between and the encounters he has that further bring out his character.
He is a gentle, dignified man of few words and orderly habits as he observes everything around him with deep concentration and appreciation. He lunches daily in a secluded park where he takes photos of the trees he loves so much, as he does the small plants in his spare flat. There are his books and his collection of old cassettes that keep him company. There is the young, unreliable assistant who represents the trendy world of Tokyo to him. And his evening meal in the same cafe every night, along with his regular bathing routine in a public bath. He is always alone, always content with himself. Until a niece comes to visit and reveals to us his real background.
By now we have begun to appreciate his quiet, meaningful regimen. It’s as though our tensions diminish and we fully observe life around us, as he does. It may happen to you when you leave the film – the world will have become illuminated by his immense tranquility.
I have given it the exceptional five stars because of its universality and its example of decency and true independence. The fine Japanese actor Koji Yakusho won the Best Actor Award in Cannes for his role as the toilet cleaner. Hats off to him and Wenders!
A Ridley Scott film is always an event. His latest is doubly so, for it has the maestro of exciting and varied films such as “Blade Runner”, “Thelma and Louise”, “Gladiator”, “Body of Lies” and “A Good Year”, giving us the rise and fall of the maestro of war strategy. This grand epic zeroes in on the two passions of Napoleon Bonaparte – his countless wars and his everlasting love for his wife and queen, Josephine.
There is this intriguing balance between the incredible love (and turmoil) connecting them, and his repeated battles around Europe, always in the name of France’s glory, but also emanating from his feverish ambition for power. As a general and emperor he was cunning and ruthless, but an adoring, reverent lover when faced with the bold and beautiful Josephine, wonderfully portrayed by Vanessa Kirby. As Napoleon, Joaquin Phoenix has all the fervour yet restraint of this Corsican who managed to rise from a mere officer during the French Revolution in 1789 to crowning himself Emperor of France in 1804.
One of the most enigmatic, revered and reviled leaders in history, Napoleon’s remarkable ascendancy is presented by Scott with exact dates and locations, in a sort of visual history lesson, starting with his audacious ousting of the British from the southern port of Toulon in 1793. His following battles are portrayed with brilliant force and fury, such as his great victory at Austerlitz, almost like grand tableaux straight out of the Louvre. In between his military conquests we are privy to the encounter between Napoleon and Josephine when he falls in love with her at first glance. She is the mother of two children and the widow of a nobleman. Scott spins the ebbs and flows of their love from a tumultuous marriage to their tragic, forced divorce because she could not bear him an heir.
Of course, Scott uses cinematic license in private moments and conversations, as he also does at the end of the film, in a created meeting between Napoleon and Wellington (Rupert Everett) after Bonaparte’s devastating loss at Waterloo. This is when he is told of his coming exile to St. Helena, a barren island in the South Atlantic Ocean between Africa and South America.
Though seemingly well-documented historically, this grand film is Scott’s personal vision of an extraordinary man with his both glorious and infamous battles that cost the lives of millions of soldiers. Watch the ending for the number of the fallen. It will have you wanting to delve further into the actual facts – a sign of a memorable, provocative film.
RIEN À PERDRE *** (vo French)
The fine Belgian/French actress Virginie Efira seldom fails her audience in her many varied roles. This latest film is especially touching, as it’s about a loving mother who loses her young son. Not to disease, accident or death, but to the French Social Services which seem to be more intent on applying the cold rule-of-law than thinking of the consequences to the child, mother and the family.
Working hard to support her two sons, she is out one night late at her job in a bar when her youngest son has an accident. When the Social Services find out about the incident from the hospital, they take her son away, supposedly due to parental negligence.
Well directed by Delphine Deloget and forcefully played by the whole cast, this is the mother’s heart-rending story of her fight against the system, a case that seems to apply to many other struggling families.
Superb **** Very Good *** Good ** Mediocre * Miserable – no stars
Neptune Ravar Ingwersen reviews film extensively for publications in Switzerland. She views 4 to 8 films a week and her aim is to sort the wheat from the chaff for readers.