2014年11月30日 星期日

Hollywood Thrillers: Film Music (驚慄荷里活)

Film Music is a very very much underrated musical genre. Often, we are moved by it without even noticing it. We really ought to forget that mindless nonsense which we still hear from time to time to the effect that film music is "best" when it is unnnoticed: it's dangerous because it is a half-truth. It has a certain superficial plausibility to it which hides the fact that very often film music can positively add to the effect a film produces by enriching our  esthetic enjoyment of the complexity of our cinematic experience precisely because it portrays a mood which precisely may be the opposite of the "natural" mood of the action unfurling on the silver screen eg. a scene of bloody violence may be accompanied by some calm, well balanced baroque, classical or even some very "romantic" melody or alternatively an idyllic scene of two lovers kissing in in soft light on a beach may be accompanied by music with harsh rhythms and discordant sounds to highlight the contrast between surface of "reality" and some deeper subterranean clashes and the secret motives and secret intentions of the characters on the screen: the music can serve not only to "enhance" the mood of the relevant action, but can also hint at some underlying reality or form an ironic "comment" on the action. Whatever the effect of music on the film may be, we got the chance to sample the music written for some thrillers by 3 famous 20th film music composers Bernard Hermann (1911-1975), Miklós Rózsa (1907-1995)and Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990) last Saturday.

2014年11月29日 星期六

Murray Perahia & St. Martin in the Fields in HK (梅理.柏拉雅與聖馬田樂團在港)

If you were to tell others that you are a classical music fan and yet have never heard St Martin in the Fields, I'm quite sure that you couldn't have been one for very long. This wonderful orchestra has already been around from the earliest moment when I started to listen to serious music in the early 60s. I still remember how shocked I was when I first listened to their vinyl disc playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons through a tube amplifier and a pair of JBL horn speakers: though they are many, they play as if they were just one huge complex string instrument. Recently they came to Hong Kong as part of a 10 city Asian Tour, led by famous pianist, arranger and conductor Murray Perahia who, like the orchestra, has made so many recordings of excellent music that it's would be well nigh impossible to count them.

They gave two concerts: one on 1st and another on the 2nd November, 2014. I went to their first. They started with a composition by Mendelsohhn's (1809-1847) Sinfonia No. 7 in D minor, one of the 11 string symphonies the precocious teenager wrote between 12 and 14. It has a very energetic, rhythmic and joyful first movement, a rather easy and leisurely second movement  lightly touched by a tinge of sadness. It's third movement reverted to the lively rhythms and energy of first with a theme which was first played as the main theme which was subsequently mimicked stealthily as if by a naughty child trying to make fun of the adult before being resumed by the adults with more variations. The final movement  in Allegro molto brings everything to a dramatic close with all the necessary contrapuntal contrasts.

2014年11月28日 星期五

Le Beau Monde (High Society) (上流社會)

There are probably hundreds of films on the theme of adolescence "coming of age". In traditional tribal societies, the entry from adolescence into adulthood is often violent: the adolescent usually has to undergo a period of deliberate isolation, then perform some acts of "bravery" often involving completing some risky or dangerous tasks needed for the survival of the tribe, enduring certain physical and psychological pain in the process and when the ordeal is over is formally recognized, admitted and welcomed as a true member of the world of adults. But in contemporary society, there are no longer any kind of clear cut and socially recognized "rites of passage" marking such a transition from the adolescent world to that of the adult and for females, the lines of transition are even more blurry, vague and amorphous: perhaps signaled only by a dim awareness of a certain loss of "innocence" or loss of her  "virginity". It's seldom that we get a film portraying this often ambiguous, hesitant and confusing period for a young girl. But we have one such from Julie Lopes-Curval, who directed and co-wrote the script for her film with Sophie Hiet, deliberately produced, perhaps as her gesture of support for the feminist cause (?) by an all-female team "Le Beau Monde" (2014)

2014年11月27日 星期四

Sils Maria (坐看雲起時)

Being a famous actress has never been easy: one has to tread ever so gingerly so as not to injure one’s most precious asset, one’s reputation and for those who are not yet quite there, the need to create a scandal from time to time just to stay in the limelight in the risky hope that the fickle public still has one within their treacherous hearts, or in this age of instant satisfaction, more likely, their ephemeral eyes. Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) a famous international actress/star in her 40’s is facing three dilemmas all at the same time: she’s in the middle of a divorce and has to negotiate terms with her husband about the division of family assets; next, she has to decide whether or not to receive a prestigious award in Switzerland on behalf of Wilhem Melchior, whose play the "Maloja Snake" catapulted her into fame some 20 years ago when she played the role of a talented, ambitious and scheming 18-year-old Sigrid who drove her 40-ish boss Helena into suicide as a result of a complex love-hate relationship and third she was strongly advised by Valentine (Kristen Stewart) her young, easy going yet independent-minded personal assistant and confidante to accept an invitation by a famous up and coming theatre director Klaus Diesterweg  to play the role of the older protagonist Helena in a revival of "Maloja Snake" and has to decide whether or not to accept that role. That’s the pivot of the film "The Clouds of Sils Maria" by Olivier Asayas ("Paris, je t'aime" (2006), "L'heure d'ètè" ( 2008) and incidentally the ex-husband of Maggie Cheung) who both wrote and directed this cine melodrama.

2014年11月26日 星期三

Libre et Assoupi (Nice and Easy) (輕鬆自由)

We are all accustomed to work. We think of work as giving "meaning" to life and some may even believe that work is one of the most worthwhile objects in human life. We tend to condemn those who have reached the age of majority but who don't work as every one else  or who don't work as much as we do as "lazy bones", loafers" , "parasites" or otherwise morally reprehensible. There're certainly some good reasons why we hope and expect all able-bodied man of sound mind to contribute to the common welfare of society. But it's possible that not every one may think that way. Are they justified in so thinking? If I remember correctly, there's a highly respected and intelligent and intelligible philosopher whose thoughts are full of common sense who has written an essay which came as a shock to me when I was young: "In praise of idleness" by Bertrand Russell in 1932. There he said "I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached." Benjamin Guedj's Libre et Assoupi(Nice and Easy) (輕鬆自由) is a most unusual film which takes up this subject in a light hearted and interesting manner.

2014年11月25日 星期二

Tu veux.... ou tu veux pas (Sex, Love, Therapy) (性愛治療室)

After an intense drama, it's a most welcome change to step into a light and delightful subject in which I'm sure every healthy specimen of the human race must be intensely interested, vigorous protest to the contrary notwithstanding. The title of the film is well chosen to attract the maximum number of sex/love (the difference of which has become ever more blurry the farther we wander forward from the Victorian England) addicts: the prettiest feminine face and body in France, the heart-throb of all French females, the lure of some hot and spicy inside stories on that most intimate subject, with a healthy dose of some exaggerated human foibles in that regard and you got a formula with all the ingredients for a hoped for box office success and thus all the pretexts Tonie Marshall ( "Vénus beauté", "France boutique") needed for rolling the cameras and unfolding the results on the big screen.

Tu veux...ou tu veux pas (literally "you want to or you don't want to) (Sex, Love, Therapy) (性愛治療室) (2014) is a sex comedy. The excuse for a "plot" is the accidental encounter between Lambert Levallois (Patrick Bruel) an ex-pilot turned sex therapist on a one year sex-abstinence regime and an ex-international sales director of a multinational who seems to think that the best way of relaxing her male sales team members is to have sex with as many of them as possible and who has just been fired for causing unacceptable "breaches" of some unspoken corporate ethics who stumbles onto the wrong floor of the building ( a dental clinic) for an interview as an "apprentice sex therapist", eventually finding the right place, with a broken green high-heel, undergoing an interview in which all she got to offer to her prospective boss is her "willingness" to learn "on the job", her ravishing looks in a revealing dress and probably deliberately torn stocking with a long tear right up one of her thighs and a pair of green high-heels which just "happened" to figure in a recent erotic dream of her future "patron".

2014年11月24日 星期一

Diplomatie (Diplomacy)(外交手腕)

Sometimes, it doesn't take much to produce a good movie: an excellent script full of credible situational logic during inherently epic times and two excellent actors able to render to bring out the relevant dramatic conflict with their eyes, their gestures, their postures, their tone of voice and even their well-timed and eloquent silences. Sprinkle in a wee bit of music and you'll have just the right kind of mood of an entire epoque. But oftentimes, what appears to be the simplest demands may in practice turn out to be most difficult feat in the world. Maybe that's because the simpler something is, the easier any error will show up.

With Volker Schlöndorff's ("The Tin Drum") Diplomatie (Diplomacy) (  (外交手腕 ), that perilous walk through the tightrope of near perfect simplicity appeared to have been miraculously crossed. And with what unbearable tension! A great deal of credit must go to Cyril Gely who wrote the play upon which the film is based and not a little of it must go to the director himself who adapted it for the silver screen such that all the tension comes out within the  narrow confines of a small 19th century hotel room in Paris: the action is carried forward almost entirely by the cut and thrust of its dialogues, expertly delivered by two veteran male actors  André Dussollier, playing General Raoul Nordlin, the Swedish consul to the Vichy Government during the final stages of WWII and Niels Arestrup, playing Général Dietrich von Choltitz, the Nazi commander charged with the unenviable task of defending greater Paris against the Allies shortly before its liberation and if need be, of blowing up every meaningful historic buildings in that beautiful city: the Tour Eiffel, the Opera, Arc de Triomphe, the Palais de la Concorde, the Chambre de Deputés, the Gare du Nord, Gare du Sud, Gare de Lyon, the Notre Dame, the Louvre, Pont Neuf, Pont Alexandre etc. but not before being asked to remove a few prize portraits from the Louvre before doing so by his superior, Caravaggio (if I remember correctly) but which doesn't include the Mona Lisa.

2014年11月23日 星期日

Tristesse Club (Fool Circle)( 悲情會所)

After a taxing investigation into the problems surrounding a double love crime, it's a bit more relaxing to delve into another world, the world of various characters marginalized by contemporary mainstream French society, people whose lives are stringed together by the strange twist of fate aided by the desperate antics of a young woman looking for an absent lover.

When the film begins, we see a 30-ish man with long long strands of badly combed hair dangling down the two sides of his otherwise completely bald head all eagerness in listening to and nervously copying down the opening lines to what's obviously is intended as the ice-breaker to a possible encounter with a member of the opposite sex from a middle-aged female life-coach. He's Bruno Camus (Vincent Macaigne), a successful operator of a dating website! Before long, he gets a telephone message saying that his father is dead and that he is required to attend his funeral at a remote location. He got in touch with his brother, Léon Camus (Laurent Lafitte), an ex-tennis star whose only concern seems to be his flashy out of date red Porsche sports car and whose credit card was rejected when he went to do some supermarket purchases when he's meeting his 10 year-old son Jérôme Camus (Emile Baujar) normally under the custody of his divorced wife Florence (Anne Azoulay). Obviously they haven't got in touch with each other for quite some time. Thinking that they might inherit something from their long absent father, who used to be a doctor but had his license revoked but who still had a lakeside hotel under his name.

La chambre bleue (The Blue Room) (藍房情殺案)

What is truth? Is it objective? Is truth to be decided by what "actually" or what "really" happened? What is seen as recorded by the instruments of scientific investigation? As recounted by different witnesses ? Are witnesses always honest? Can witnesses lie for various reasons? Even if the witnesses are honest, is their ability to recall details always accurate and reliable? Is our memory always to be trusted? Even if there's no problem with the witness's ability to recall, can what is accurately recalled by a witness be clearly and unambiguously reduced into words? What are the limits of language? These are the kinds of questions which surface again and again in our mind as we hear on the screen what is being related as a magistrate inquire into a murder whose victim we never actually saw and the happening of which is initially shrouded in mystery. All we see are the expressions on the face of one of the suspects, Julien Gahyde (Mathieu Amalric, who co-wrote and directed the film La chambre bleue (The Blue Room) (藍房情殺案 ) and the replies he gives to various question intended to probe at the elusive "truth", based upon a 1955 novel by a well-known detective story writer George Simenon. At the end of the film, Julien is convicted of joint murder of Monsieur Despierre, husband of Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau) and  Julien’s wife, Delphine (Léa Drucker).

2014年11月22日 星期六

Jamais le premier soir ( I did it again)(愛本多磨)

Three OL's with equally messed up love life share their experiences and support each other in their dream for the "perfect one" but not getting anywhere close in the French film, "Jamais le premier soir (literally, "never the first night"), whose title is already a hint of why they fail: they want to "manage" their love life as if it were a "job" to be done, a "plan" to be executed, an "objective" to be achieved, a "script for happiness" to be acted out: by carefully thought out "strategies" and by "rules" and "guidelines" devised by New Age " Life/love coaches/gurus" which they unthinkingly swallow and religiously practice..

This latest production by woman director and co-scriptor (with Vincent Juillet) Melissa Drigeard in which she takes a half sympathetic and half satiric look at how some junior feminine office ladies in their late 20s or early 30s living alone in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris look for and fail to find the love of their lives. Being commercial cinema, its approach is of course neither sociological nor anthropological but takes the more palatable form of a "romantic comedy".

2014年11月21日 星期五

Qu'est-ce qu'on fait au bon Dieu? (Serial Bad Weddings )(非常四女婿)

What has France become? A virtual united nations of different nationalities and ethnicities?  Maybe not yet. But for the Verneuils, a traditional conservative upper middle class French Catholic Gaulist couple:a lawyer Claude Verneuil (Christian Clavier) and  his middle aged wife Marie Verneuil (Chantal Lauby), living in Chinon, a little suburban town some 2 to 3 kilometers from Paris, who together had 4 daughters to be married, it soon became evident that multiracial and cross cultural marriages, something which look initially totally inconceivable but which with the passing of time, somehow becomes something they have to reluctantly adapt themselves to, though not without a few regrets which unfortunately could only be expressed when they are out of earshot of their daughters and their hubbies. Maybe they might have derived some consolation from the old worldly wise French saying, "C'est la vie" and had to confess to its universal applicability to all kinds of life situations, including their own.

"Qu'est-ce qu'on fait au bon Dieu?" (Serial Bad Wedding)(非常四女婿) is a film about the unexpected little hiccups in the fate of the intellectually and politically "liberal minded" couple  confronting the realities they had to face when they tried to put into practice their devotion to the three founding principles of the French Revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. Their eldest daughter Isabelle Verneuil (Frédérique Bel) was the first to leave the family. She fell in love with a court opponent she beat in litigation, Rachid Benassem (Medi Sadoun), a Muslim, whom she duly married. Next to follow is Julia Piaton (Odile Verneuil) who married David Benichou (Ary Abittan) an orthodox Jew in the same church, who had always wanted to start the business of selling organic Jewish food but never succeeded. The following year, their artistic and sensitive 3rd daughter  Ségolène Verneuil (Emilie Caen)  married a Chinese banker Chao Ling and ...by the same parish priest.

2014年11月20日 星期四

The Inimitable Icon of Fashion --YSL (無可比擬的時裝偶像--YSL的狂情歲月)

It's never easy making a film about some one who has become an icon. So much is "known" about him: his successes, his scandals and gossips of high society. Who shall portray him? Which of the characters in his life should one film? What kind of details does one go into: public, private or something in between the two? What part of his life should one highlight and what to pass over. Shall it be a cold objective documentary? A tear jerking melodrama? Those are some of the choices facing Bertrand Bonello, born in Nice in 1968, the year when France nearly had a successful revolution, a director and writer, known for L'Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close) (2011), Le pornographe (2001), who co-wrote the screenplay with Thomas Bidegain.

The opening film of this year's French Film Festival in HK is called simply "St. Laurent", starring the well-chosen Gaspard Ulliel as the sensitive and unpredictable and famous designer Yves St. Laurent (1936-2008), Helmut Berger as the older Yves Saint Laurent in 1989, Dominique Sanda as his mother Lucienne Saint Lauren, Jérémie Renie as his former lover and business partner, Pierre Bergé, Louis Garrel as Jacques de Bascher, the lover Yves could never quite forget,Léa Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise who knew instinctively almost exactly the kind of effect and mood that the famous designer may wish to achieve with his designs, his original forms, his colors, the texture of the fabric and accessories and who later became its chief designer after old master left and YSL became a listed company producing not only for the elite but also for the mass market.

2014年11月16日 星期日

The Royal Family of Guitar in Hong Kong (結他皇族): Los Romeros (羅美路結他四重奏)

The guitar's predecessor is the lute, an instrument traditionally played only as accompaniment to folk songs or the recitation of poetry in the Middle Ages. It has since come a long way and become the instrument of choice by the masses of Iberia. It was Francisco Yepes and Andrès Sergovia who helped bring the instrument into the concert hall. Today it has firmly established itself as an instrument which can stand alone before hundreds of people, thanks in part also to the invention of the microphone. But because of the size of its sound box, it is still best played before a small audience. For the same reason, there's always a very unique intimacy in its sound which makes it such a likeable musical  instrument: its sound always so gentle and even when it strives to be powerful, it can never ever quite match those thundering from the modern grand piano.

Since a very young age, I have been fascinated by its sound. I was so captivated that I even learned to play it, especially during my student days. It seemed that there's nothing better than to take out a guitar, try a few chords and coax out of it some melody or other from scores of a the huge number of composers like Albéniz, Villa-Lobos, Ponce, Bach etc and even to improvise or try out a few simple melodic line or two whenever I'm bored with my studies. I like the South American composers. They seem to have the ability to invent some incredibly innovative melodic combinations which you seldom find in the more classical works of old Europe, a feature which lends a peculiar romanticism to its guitar sound. Recently I got the chance to listen to some of such compositions live from the Los Romeros when they came to Hong Kong. They have a long tradition of playing classical guitar music in public( more than three generations from Celendonio Romero (1st generation) to Celin Romero (2nd generation) to Pepe and Celindo Romero (3rd generation) to Lito Romero (4th generation). To them, the guitar is not just their livelihood. It's their love. It's their family tradition. It's what gives meaning to their lives. It's their life. Perhaps, that's why some call the Los Romeros the "Royal Family of the Guitar".  Recently, they celebrated the 55th anniversary of their public guitar recitals and they shared their joy in the sound of that lovely instrument with us. They hit the side of the guitar, the top of the sound box, they finger individual notes on one string or two strings together, they grate the strings, they damp the strings in all kinds of rhythms(rasgueado), run their fingers rapidly over one string after another in quick succession (tremolo) or they touch the strings lightly to produce merely the harmonic but not the main tone, they tap on the sound box of the guitar as if it were a drum, they flick their finger nails against the side of the guitar etc. They play with their finger tips or their nails. There are so many ways to play the guitar.

2014年11月15日 星期六

HK Cultural Centre turned 25! (香港文化中心剛廾五週歲了!)

Before you know it, the Cultural Centre is now 25  whilst the HKPO, now widely recognized as one of Asia's top symphony orchestras, is 40!  Originally, it's birthday concert was supposed to be led by veteran conductor Lorin Maazel, who batoned some 200 orchestras and 7,000 operas and concerts, made more than 300 recordings and won 10 Grands Prix du Disques. Unfortunately, he died of pneumonia in July earlier this year. But it was a golden opportunity for Perry So, our upcoming local conductor to display his conducting skills. He did not waste this opportunity. We were regaled with an evening truly great music

We started off the anniversary concert with a piece by that musical prodigy called by an extremely long name: Jacob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), mercifully abbreviated by the musical world into simply "Mendelssohn" or  the slightly longer "Felix Mendelssohn". The piece was his Symphony No. 4 in A, more popularly known as the "Italian Symphony". It got its name from the visit that he made during his educational tour of Europe lasting some 3 years( 1829-1832) including the UK, Switzerland, France and Italy, being the son of a rich banker father and a talented musical mother. Beginning to write music at 11, Mendelssohn already had some 12 symphonies written by the time he reached 15!  Italy was a country he simply loved. In this piece of music, we can almost feel the Mediterranean sun, the blue of its seas, the picturesque little towns perched atop the rugged rocks of its coves, the serenity of its northern meadows, the energetic galloping of its military horses and lively dances of its young men and maiden, in short, its joie de vivre.  Its Allegro vivaceAndante con motoCon moto moderatoSaltarello (Presto) were supposed to be continuously performed as if it were one huge movement and as if the orchestra were a chamber orchestra, almost like a symphonic poem. We feel the innocent joy of youth, its lyricism,its romance, its tentative exploration of variety of the world, its unpredictable resoluteness but above all its unbounded energy and excitement.

2014年11月14日 星期五

An incurable Romantic: Brahms at the Cultural Centre (無藥可救的浪漫主義者:文化中心內的勃拉姆斯)

Brahms may not be every one's favourite. He is a tortuous soul who has the misfortune of falling in love with the wife of his patron and mentor Robert Schumann, the lovely and talented Clara Schumann. He is much influenced by the music of Beethoven perhaps for that reason, hesitated in producing his first Symphony, something which took him some 15 years, which some say may be considered Beethoven's 10th because of inter alia, his bold use of timpani in the opening movement to announce the power of fate and the constant alternation of tenderness and ferocity in his music. Whatever the truth may be, that brought me to the Cultural Centre for a program which originally was supposed to be conducted by Maazel, who died shortly before his arrival and is now done by our former chief conductor of the HKPO, Atherton.

The evening started off with Brahms' Academic Fesitval Overture, a work which combines 4 student songs into one:  Wir Hatten gebauet ein Sttattliches Haus, Der Landvesvater, Was kommt von der Höh and Gaudeamus igitur , something he did as a gesture of thanks to the University of Breslau who conferred on him an honorable Ph D degree for his contribution to music. It's a suitably festive piece with moments of the academic pomp and ceremonious solemnity thrown in. I couldn't help feeling that perhaps the performance of this first piece might  have been sequed rather more smoothly. Maybe the orchestra was not yet in form?