Volcano [Vulcano]

(Italy 1950)

Vulcano, we’re informed at the end of the film, is not a story about Maddalene (Anna Magnani) or her younger sister, Maria (Geraldine Brooks); it’s about the volcano, which never changes.

I can’t resist a good Italian melodrama, especially a neorealist one. Although not a major work or a prime example of the movement, Vulcano doesn’t disappoint even with its numerous flaws. For reasons not immediately revealed, Maddalene returns to her girlhood home on a Sicilian island that she left for Naples some 18 years before. A far cry from the rough and dreary yokels who inhabit the island, Maddalene is elegant, urbane, alluring, and much better dressed. She’s also got a not-so-secret career as a prostitute back in Naples.

The women shun Maddalene, interfere with her options for legitimate work on the island, and block her from entering church to attend Mass. One crazy bitch goes so far as to kill Maddalene’s dog in a quarry. All of this confuses innocent Maria, who is unaware of her sister’s, um, vocation. Enter sexy scammer Donato (Rossano Brazzi), a sponge diver after a sunken trunk. After a few demonstrative rebukes, Maria gives in and falls in love with him. Maddalene realizes Donato is also a recruiter for a sex slave ring—and he’s got his sights set on Maria. How far will she go to protect her little sister?

The melodrama here is wonderfully overdone (Vulcano is purportedly Magnani’s revenge film after her lover, director Roberto Rossellini, dumped her and replaced her with Ingrid Bergman in another film called Stromboli). The location looks like another planet; all dirty, dry, and deserted, it works well in illustrating the desolate, loneliness of the island and Maddalene’s situation. The narration, however, is cheesy and crudely executed. Director William Dieterle throws in a bunch of odd scenes on fishing boats and underwater that come off gratuitous and not quite natural. The ending is abrupt and silly—a volcanic eruption cuts everything off. Qualunque cosa.

106 minutes
Not rated

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B-

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

(USA 1986)

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.”

—Ferris Bueller

I caught a 30th anniversary screening of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—what a treat to see it on the big screen again! The first time I saw this was with my mother and grandmother on a school night during its original run—that says a lot about its appeal. I had no idea that John Hughes wrote the screenplay in less than a week, or that it was his “love letter to Chicago” however readily apparent that is now, or that it was one of the top ten grossing films of 1986 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferris_Bueller%27s_Day_Off). I do know that it’s one of his best films, and in my opinion his last truly great one.

Where to begin? Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is damn near perfect. An exquisite balance of Weird Science fluff and The Breakfast Club heaviness, it’s a fun escape fantasy anyone can relate to—calling in sick and hitting the city—that isn’t mindless. This film is hilarious, poignant in places, subversive, and in many ways so over the top, but it doesn’t insult your intelligence. The story’s holy trinity—mischievous Ferris (Matthew Broderick), quick-witted Sloane (Mia Sara), and high-strung jittery Cameron (Alan Ruck)—are spot on realistic. They’re downright cool—I’d hang out with them. Indeed, Ferris is enviable—admit it, you wanted to be him. I know I did.

The film is an interminable string of iconic scenes and lines: Ferris’s opening monologue, Ben Stein taking roll call (“Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?”), school secretary Grace (Edie McClurg) explaining to principal Ed Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) that Ferris “is a righteous dude,” Cameron’s prank call to Rooney (“Pardon my French, but you’re an asshole”), the Ferrari, the Art Institute, “Twist and Shout,” the restaurant (“The Sausage King of Chicago?”), Wrigley Field, the singing telegram, “Save Ferris,” hateful Jeanie Bueller (Jennifer Grey), Rooney’s bus ride home, and being sent home at the end of the credits. Interspersed is weighty stuff like Ferris’s realization that he and Sloane probably won’t be together after high school ends and Cameron’s meltdown—none of it out of place or trite in the context of the film. I can watch Ferris Bueller’s Day Off over and over, and never get tired of it because it’s multilayered and always brings a smile to my face.

As for Hughes’s love letter to Chicago, I must say that living here, it’s strangely satisfying to walk down the street on any given day and encounter a setting—a corner, a street, a building—that I recognize from an iconic movie that to this day I love. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking it up.

In 2014, the United States Library of Congress deemed Ferris Bueller’s Day Off “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

103 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Brew & View at The Vic) A

We Monsters [Wir Monster]

(Germany 2015)

With We Monsters, Sebastian Ko examines who’s worse in a tough situation: the transgressive child who caused it, or the parents protecting her. Don’t be quick to call it, because the answer isn’t clear.

Self-absorbed and buffoonish Paul (Mendi Nebbou), an ageing newly-divorced musician, and his sour teenaged daughter, Sarah (Janina Fautz), are en route to summer camp when she asks him to pick up her schoolmate Charlie (Marie Bendig). Curiously, Charlie is already waiting on the road—in the middle of the forest where they’re driving. After a petty bicker in the backseat—over a boy, of course—Paul pulls over for a pit stop. The girls disappear, and Paul soon finds Sarah standing on the edge of a dam. She coolly tells him she pushed Charlie off.

Thus begins the drama as Paul and his ex-wife, Christine (Ulrike C. Tscharre), struggle with handling Sarah’s deed: how do they hide what she did—and how could they? And why is she so indifferent? We Monsters is a morality play oozing psychological dread worthy of a Hitchcock film, especially when Charlie’s volatile alcoholic father (Ronald Kukulies) comes around looking for her. One cover up leads to another, and soon Paul and Christine are in over their parental heads. But is the situation really what it seems?

A few spots are slow, but We Monsters still kept me riveted. The story for the most part is paced well, and the acting is really good. Andreas Köhler’s cinematography is beautifully understated and drab, letting the characters and the drama take center stage. About an hour in, Ko’s tense tone gives way to something decidedly dark, comic, and ironic—and it plays out nicely. Karma’s truly a bitch.

According to Variety, an American remake is in the works (http://variety.com/2016/film/news/we-monsters-remake-veena-sud-broad-green-1201701398/). Let’s hope it’s half as good, but I doubt it will be: We Monsters is not a story I see resonating with a mainstream American audience without some tweaking that changes the story and kills the mood.

95 minutes
Not rated

(Facets) B