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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2015 6:32 am 
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DISCUSSION ENDS MONDAY, MAY 25th AT 6:30 AM.

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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2015 6:43 pm 
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Well, I didn't think much of this, mainly because the film's most interesting aspect, that of Susan Strasberg's gradual descent into moral gray-areas in her quest to survive, isn't explored nearly enough to set the film aside from any other prison camp survival tales that came before or in its wake. The film would be stronger if it had any real interest in this character and her journey and not just using it as window-dressing on what is otherwise a mostly by the numbers Holocaust film. The auspices of it being "real" or gritty are laughable-- so the women aren't all saintly, that hardly qualifies as a fresh take (and the main character then about-faces and commits suicide in a saintly fashion, which doesn't help the already muddled thesis). I kept wanting more trust as an audience member to present Strasberg, so spunky and memorable as the bratty little sister in Picnic, with an eye to how she's transplanting teenage selfishness onto a life-or-death scenario (and not, as is usually the case in teen films, on a situation that merely feels like that to the teen!), instead of making some halfhearted excuses for her behavior and then showing us a lot of side excursions into the supporting cast, none particularly memorable. And then that love story horns in and all hope is lost indeed. I also found the film's ironic ending juvenile. The woman who devotes the whole film to surviving at all costs sacrifices herself and then almost everyone dies anyways, so what's the point? Oh what's the point, the film keeps pounding into us, when we all got screwed? Well, actually, now that you mention it...

Also, though I didn't care for the film, Rivette's infamous piece on Kapo is, as per usual with Cahiers, moralistic nonsense. As I've stated before, I like the Cahiers crew, but I don't find their effusive form of film criticism anything more than perversely entertaining in its hyperbole and helpful in painting a portrait of several artists as young men, and this piece especially doesn't do the journal's reputation any favors


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PostPosted: Mon May 11, 2015 10:45 pm 
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I actually had a very positive reaction to Kapo. Having no expectations going in and being a little apprehensive about many of the Criterion Essential Art House releases may have altered my judgement, but I also tend to judge films primarily on their entertainment factor. Concentration camp movies are, obviously, not looked at as laugh riots (by most people, anyway), so in this case I was looking for an intense film that effectively utilized its characters and hopefully gave a different perspective on the genre. In that way, I believe Kapo to be a success.

Sure, the final sacrifice is a bit simplistic considering the muddled nature of the film's morality, but I would argue that the continued pessimism shown by Edith/Nicole gives the cliche a bit more depth than usual. The immediate aftermath of the plan (i.e. a metric crap-ton of death) seemed to keep with the realism attempted, sometimes unsuccessfully, by the film.

The characters are given little at times, but considering the film's minimalist structure and quick pace, I felt that it worked. Karl was a very intriguing foil for Nicole, and if I have one major criticism it's that he could have used more of the time devoted to the less sincere romance. Perhaps the two characters being so cold was the impetus to bring in Sasha's more romanticized character, but I could have easily taken two or three more scenes with Karl and Nicole. That said, Sasha certainly has his place, and his insistence that Nicole kill herself for the sake of the others was a smart way to go, as opposed to what could have been a far more commercial ending.

All that aside, I think my favorite aspect of the film, and the one that won me over above its flaws, was the pacing. War movies have a nasty tendency of boring me, especially those dealing with WWII and concentration camps, but Pontecorvo managed to craft a very quick film that never seems to utilize any filler. Looking back, there were certainly moments and characters that could have been cut, but didn't need to be cut. This pacing helped keep me on edge, always curious as to what would happen next, and that to me is entertainment. Sure, as soon as Sasha told the story about how his mother and father would react to Nicole I knew roughly what would happen, but it's tough for an experienced film viewer to not reach that point in any film.

The opening scene is a great example of how to shove the viewer into the narrative. We open with a portrait of a talented girl with a potentially bright future... except then she puts on her jacket and we see the star of David, and being movie watchers we know that's always a bad sign. It also puts us in a very specific time and place. She leaves, told to hurry home, just before her piano teacher receives a phone call to keep Edith there, and the piano teacher gives a feeble attempt to reach out to her, but she's already gone. We're given a few scant moments of the girl just being normal and happy, only for her to arrive home to her parents being whisked away by Nazis. She's too young to know she should control herself, and she runs to them, only to be taken along and effectively killed right then and there. Opening title and super aggressive theme. Bam. That's a quality opening.

Overall, it's a deeply flawed film, but between what I've already mentioned and the stark black and white photography, I consider it a winner. I'll the rest of my thoughts for the ensuing discussion, which I'm very excited about as a new member to this forum.


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PostPosted: Tue May 19, 2015 7:25 pm 
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I just thought I'd bump the thread to remind everyone that this discussion is happening, and also because most people probably never saw the last post that was made.


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PostPosted: Tue May 19, 2015 8:01 pm 
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I'd lean a bit closer to Domino on this. Though the film does function as an interesting what if akin to Martin Ritt's first feature on how a daring social artist functioned without whatever right ingredient made him turn intelligent. The film hints to Pontecorvo's more interesting uses of realism and flattened characterization despite ultimately being based in your typical '50s social drama coat like a lamed Bernhard Wicki portrait. Slightly countered to Dom I'm curious what would have happened had the film stepped away from Strasberg a little since the most effective bits are the ones which illustrate her as a cog in a machine that doesn't particularly need her. That said the one bit of intimacy that I thought worked well was the bits with the cat even if all shock value is gone as it lunges about predictably.


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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2015 11:39 am 
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So, what do we attribute the utter failure of Kapo to generate discussion / viewings? Is it the new discussion timeline or lack of access or interest? This is by far the least-successful title we've done yet, unless I've blocked out a winner that did worse


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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2015 11:48 am 
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For me, it's as simple as the fact that I've collected the Criterion and Eclipse lines, but never delved into Essential Arthouse. I may have been able to find it online, but I hate watching things at my computer. Probably the worst of reasons to avoid a film, but there it is.


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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2015 12:02 pm 
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We've had ones that did worse, or just as bad. I was planning on watching the film this weekend. I'm a recent dog-owner and got a new job recently, so have been busy, but the disc is sitting by my TV!


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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2015 3:53 pm 
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I would guess this just wasn't an exciting title for most people. The vote itself was on the lower end for turnout, so I would guess people weren't that interested in the Essential Arthouse titles.

I'm going to wait until several more discussions pass before weighing how successful (or not) the timeline change has been.


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PostPosted: Fri May 22, 2015 4:55 pm 
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I've been watching 1990s films for the List Project more than anything else and didn't vote in this round. I think Kapò is a very good film, far more compelling than his earlier feature The Wide Blue Road, but it still didn't give any solid indication of the kind of power that his 1960s films would possess. Pontecorvo hadn't found his voice yet, which would be one that would eschew conventional narrative devices such as Kapò's romance between the title character played by Strasberg and the prisoner played by Terzieff. He said in retrospect about this, "Too much fiction. It should have been eliminated."

Kapò was seen even more seldom before Criterion's release of it, and I have the sense that Pontecorvo is mainly a "one-hit wonder" with The Battle of Algiers and that, reclusive and seemingly distant and hesitant to want to actually make films, he has very little image or reputation as an artist even with most hardcore cinephiles. I can even recall hearing a friend effusively praise The Battle of Algiers, and when I asked if he'd ever seen or heard of the earlier feature, Kapò (a new release at the time, in 2010) he hadn't and seemed to have little interest in it. The outstanding Burn! languishing OOP and never having received the special edition it deserved hasn't helped his standing either.


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PostPosted: Sat May 23, 2015 1:24 pm 
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I got around to watching the film today and enjoyed it a great deal, though it certainly wasn't perfect and had its share of weakness. I will admit, I think the movie's strengths sort of rest on the implied assumption of just how horrible Nazis are. I suppose the best way I can say this is that the Nazis are really, really bad, and awful (duh) and the audience knows this going in. However, the movie sort of cheats, in a sense, because the first part of the movie is told through the eyes of Edith, who it almost seems has no idea of the horrors that await her. If she has as little idea of what's going on as we are made to feel, how can the audience so quickly appreciate the gravity of the horror she has found herself in?

That said, I do believe that the way the movie is told in the first half, with Edith learning the information (her arrival at camp, her visit to the doctor's office, her listening in on her peers where she's being kept) was a very effective way of putting the audience in her shoes. There almost isn't enough time to really gather what's really happening, and Edith's feeling of not knowing what's going on is sustained well up to the point she sees the smoke from the gas chamber. If she doesn't share the camaraderie of her fellow prisoners, let alone the Russian army that eventually arrives, it's because she doesn't have that mindset. She certainly isn't greeted with the "the group is more important than the individual" mindset when she arrives at the camp, as its unique that she shared her gruel with the woman who dropped hers.

Another strong point I'd like to bring up, as this is a war film, is that the film does an incredible job of keeping the war at the distance. Though we have Karl who yearns to go to the front (once they begin to lose the war and he is needed), there's very little sense that the women know what's going on or that there's much of a war going on at all. The film certainly feels more like a prison film than a war film, if it's even worth categorizing them.


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PostPosted: Wed Jul 26, 2017 9:53 pm 
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Raro is releasing this on Blu-ray sometime in the fall. Knowing their track record, there is a good chance that it'll look worse than the DVD.


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