This year 50h anniversary is celebrated by several films that withstand the test of time more or less successfully even after repeated viewings

Well-Kept Fifty-Year-Olds

Among the films that are celebrating their fiftieth birthday this year, there are several that become better as years go by and that, as old exquisite wine, with each new viewing increase in their quality of color, taste and bouquet. On the other hand, with each repeated viewing, some of them even more evidently display apparent weaknesses that were obvious even at the time of their premieres. Some of the films that withstand the test of time are the great existential drama Wings by the most important modernist of Soviet film Larisa Shepitko, which was controversial at the time of its making. The author, originally from Ukraine, prone to subtle and very suggestive dives into the complex psychological worlds of protagonists and distanced visual and performance procedures, creates a story about a forty-year-old provincial teacher who used to be a famous pilot during WW II. Under the influence of her fighting spirit and previous military service she has trouble adapting to the peaceful life. Shepitko made her debut, based on real events, during her studies at the Gerasimov University, under the mentorship of the great Aleksandr Dovzhenko from whom she learned to make lyrical subjective films. She created a universal touching story about loneliness, a piece of film with fluid narration and an impressive anxious atmosphere that focuses on the complex personality of  Nadezhda Petrukhina, who was portrayed by the great Soviet character actor Maya Bulgakova with a unique talent for subtlety and complexity of psychological conditions and transformations.

Political war drama Battle for Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo is the most important film about Algerian fight for independence and an exciting and masterfully directed documentarist drama that is equally intriguing and strong today, as it was at the time it was made. Moreover, in the context of contemporary events in the Middle East and global insecurity, it is an even more intriguing film that lucidly portrays the Algerian fight for liberation from colonialism, form the initial romantic motives to the guerrilla war tactics. The impressivness of the film is additionally strengthened by the tendency to precisely reconstruct events and by suggesting authenticity, due to which the cinematography is grainy, by relying on non-professional acting crew including the real guerrilla leader Yacef Saâdi, and by avoiding the simplified portraying of characters. In August 2003, the film was shown to the employees of Pentagon in order to show them the extraordinary motivation of fighters to succeed at whatever cost, fighters who are not on a suicide mission and are not guided by religious motives. It is an energetic and often violently directed film with elements of a pseudo-documentary, an impressive rhythm, aggressive audio-visual procedures and a dramatic composition of a series of retrospections in which Pontecorvo, even though he is a leftist on the side of the Algerian National Liberation Front, wisely balances the situation and provides a realistic portrayal of events.

From eight Oscar nominations in 1967, biographical drama A Man for All Seasons won six of them – including those for best film, leading actor and adapted screenplay. It is a successful film adaptation of British playwright Robert Bolt’s play, who also wrote the screenplay. The plot of the film, whose parts are made as a legal drama, focuses on the conflict between Sir Thomas Moore and King Henrik VIII, which enables the authors to create an intriguing moral story about an unfaltering individual’s loyalty to his own conscience and religious and ethical convictions. They also used the opportunity to create a portrayal of careerism and hypocrisy that flourish under the wings of absolutist rule. All the characters, from Thomas Moore himself, superbly portrayed by Paul Scofield, who played the same role in theatre before on film, across the ambitious Thomas Cromwell played by the great Leo McKern, all the way to plastically portrayed Richard Rich, played by John Hurt, all the characters are well-rounded and successfully profiled, while the confident directing style of the double Oscar-winner Fred Zinnemann effectively makes up for the occasionally slow and monotonous narration.

Even though it does not belong with the other more successful films by Joseph Losey, who achieved his creative peak with crime drama Time Without Pity and Concrete Jungle, the adventure comedy Modesty Blaise, based on the famous comic book by the screenwriter Peter O´Donnell and original artist Jim Holdaway it cannot be denied certain charm and entertainment quality. The decisions of the screenwriter Evan Jones and director to make fun of the original and to create the film as a sort of a pop-spectacle, which is the same path that will be taken two years later by Vadim in his Vadimova Barbarella, are obviously wrong. Nevertheless, great performance by Dirk Bogarde and toying with conventions of spy films, which were established during the previously made four celluloid adventures of James Bond, make up for those oversights. The parallel with James Bond is not surprising as the heroine was designed as a sort of a female antipode to Bond.

War comedy The Lace Wars is the last film directed by René Clair, avant-gardist prone to populist comedies, physical tricks, irony and toying with film and theater expressive conventions.  The film was made in French-Romanian co-production and it relies of comedy of situation and error, it is abundant on tricks and humorous details. The acting crew is led by the brilliant Jean-Pierre Cassel, and the sequences of fighting remind us of commedia dell´arte, while the overall charm of the film lies not only in its ironical atmosphere but also its naiveté and positivism.

Spy thriller drama Torn Curtain, together with Topaz, is the second visibly less well done film by Hitchcock. The reasons for its weakness are not quite clear, because Hitch was on well-known terrain of chase film and it features two big stars of the 1960’s (Paul Newman and Julie Andrews). Maybe the explanation lies in his unsatisfactory collaboration with the screenwriter Brian Moore (later replaced by Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall) and composer John Addison, and his later comment according to which he never even wished to direct this film. On paper, it all seems much more interesting, because in the story about an American scientist Michael Armstrong, who, at his fiancée’s great surprise, decides to defect to East Germany, Hitch inserted the previously skillfully utilized elements of an eccentric genius who has crucial information for the protagonist, hero’s manipulation of his beloved woman for higher (patriotic) purposes, growing suspicion and estrangement between partners and the, for the director, emblematic elements of chase films. Nevertheless, the result is a relatively dull, distanced, artificial and somewhat drawn-out piece of film that lack humor and that is recognizable for its two key scenes that stand out from the whole with its quality and intrigue. The first scene is the unconventional and modernist long scene of Michael speaking to Anne in a hotel room when the camera statically portrays the dialogue between the growingly suspicious protagonists in a central plan. The other one is the very violent, disturbing and anxious portrayal of a murder of the East German agent Gromek, killed by Michael and a peasant who is fighting the regime, in which the director manages to show the utter horror of taking someone’s life. (Josip Grozdanić)