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Blu-ray Review: The Possessed and The Fifth Cord on Arrow Video

In both films, death both threatens to throw a society into disarray and serves as a possible corrective for corruption.

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The Fifth Cord
Photo: Arrow Video

Luigi Bazzoni’s 1971 giallo film The Fifth Cord opens with Andrea (Franco Nero), a drunken journalist, slumped over a bar on New Year’s Eve. Lights flash and neon colors abound throughout a credits sequence that recalls that of Mario Bava’s classic Blood and Black Lace. Bazzoni and cinematographer Vittorio Storaro display a winking self-awareness by alluding to Bava’s film, which is often cited as the inaugural giallo. Assigned to cover a vicious attack that happens later that New Year’s Eve, Andrea becomes, much like Tony Musante’s writer in Dario Argento’s less playful The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, equal parts investigator, witness, and suspect throughout the course of a string of murders.

Six years before The Fifth Cord, Bazzoni co-directed The Possessed with Franco Rossellini. That film explored a similar story, about a writer, Bernard (Peter Baldwin), caught between his pursuit of an old flame, Tilde (Virna Lisi), and the realization of her disappearance and possible murder. But unlike The Fifth Cord, where Storaro’s color photography feels wholly in keeping with the gialli of the ‘70s, The Possessed uses black and white as an allusion to film noir, particularly Carol Reed’s The Third Man. Bernard speaks to himself in voiceover, fearing that he’s “running straight towards disaster” in hustling from place to place in the small lakeside town where he met Tilde. The Possessed also has an air of early-‘60s art cinema that The Fifth Cord lacks, seeming, as it does, to channel the ennui of Michelangelo Antonioni’s Red Desert and the mysterious circumstances of Jacques Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us.

In both The Possessed and The Fifth Cord, death both threatens to throw a society into disarray and serves as a possible corrective for corruption. The killer in The Fifth Cord, who leaves a pair of black gloves (each with a finger cut off) at the site of each murder, says as much about his plans, claiming through a recording that he’s chosen victims for whom death “could only be a liberation.” The killer’s motives become muddled, however, when he targets Sofia (Rossella Falk), a paraplegic who in one scene finds herself helplessly crawling toward a telephone after falling out of her wheelchair. Storaro’s camera crawls on the floor beside her, neatly placing the the viewer in her point of view. For the way he strangles Sophia and hurls her down a spiral staircase, the killer proves to be only cruel and not at all ideologically motivated. The sequence echoes a moment in The Possessed where Bernard is told, in relation to Tilde’s disappearance, “perhaps it only appears that way.” Bazzoni directs both films to reveal the hypocrisy of most claims of vengeance as actually being self-aggrandizing acts, especially when the lives of women are so often forsaken in the process.

The 2K restorations of both films from Arrow Video highlight Bazzoni’s knack for a variety of spatial compositions, especially his dreamlike presentation of a character’s point of view. In The Possessed, some of the anguished Bernard’s recollections are rendered in overexposed black and white, while in The Fifth Cord, a fish-eye lens replicates the unseen killer’s perspective as he whispers his plans on a recording. The most intriguing overlap across both films is the voiceover that appears on the soundtrack as men wander through a space, whether Bernard around the lakeside town or the unnamed killer tiptoeing around partygoers. In each case, Bazzoni uses speech to reveal how these men aren’t so much caught in their feelings as they are perpetually lost, and doomed, within their own tangled thoughts.

The Possessed and The Fifth Cord are now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Arrow Video.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Original Screenplay

This season, Hollywood is invested in celebrating the films they love while dodging the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

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Green Book
Photo: Universal Pictures

You know, if it weren’t for the show’s producers effectively and repeatedly saying everything about the Academy Awards is terrible and needs to be changed, and the year’s top-tier contenders inadvertently confirming their claims, this would’ve been a comparatively fun and suspenseful Oscar season. None of us who follow the Academy Awards expect great films to win; we just hope the marathon of precursors don’t turn into a Groundhog Day-style rinse and repeat for the same film, ad nauseam.

On that score, mission accomplished. The guilds have been handing their awards out this season as though they met beforehand and assigned each voting body a different title from Oscar’s best picture list so as not to tip the Oscar race too clearly toward any one film. SAG? Black Panther. PGA? Green Book. DGA? Roma. ASC? Cold War. ACE? Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Even awards-season kryptonite A Star Is Born got an award for contemporary makeup from the MUAHS. (That’s the Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild, not the sound Lady Gaga fans have been making ever since A Star Is Born’s teaser trailer dropped last year.)

Not to be outdone, the Writers Guild of America announced their winners last weekend, and not only did presumed adapted screenplay frontrunner BlacKkKlansman wind up stymied by Can You Ever Forgive Me?, but the original screenplay prize went to Eighth Grade, which wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar. Bo Burnham twisted the knife into AMPAS during his acceptance speech: “To the other nominees in the category, have fun at the Oscars, losers!” In both his sarcasm and his surprise, it’s safe to say he speaks on behalf of us all.

As is always the case, WGA’s narrow eligibility rules kept a presumed favorite, The Favourite, out of this crucial trial heat. But as the balloting period comes to a close, the question remains just how much enthusiasm or affection voters have for either of the two films with the most nominations (Roma being the other). As a recent “can’t we all just get along” appeal by Time’s Stephanie Zacharek illustrates, the thing Hollywood is most invested in this season involves bending over backward, Matrix-style, to celebrate the films they love and still dodge the cultural bullets coming at them from every angle.

Maybe it’s just tunnel vision from the cultural vacuum Oscar voters all-too-understandably would prefer to live in this year, but doesn’t it seem like The Favourite’s tastefully ribald peppering of posh-accented C-words would be no match for the steady litany of neo-Archie Bunkerisms spewing from Viggo Mortensen’s crooked mouth? Especially with First Reformed’s Paul Schrader siphoning votes from among the academy’s presumably more vanguard new recruits? We’ll fold our words in half and eat them whole if we’re wrong, but Oscar’s old guard, unlike John Wayne, is still alive and, well, pissed.

Will Win: Green Book

Could Win: The Favourite

Should Win: First Reformed

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Watch: Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir, Starring Honor Swinton Byrne and Tilda Swinton, Gets First Trailer

Joanna Hogg has been flying under the radar for some time, but that’s poised to change in a big way.

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A24
Photo: A24

British film director and screenwriter Joanna Hogg, whose impeccably crafted 2013 film Exhibition we praised on these pages for its “disarming mixture of the remarkable and the banal,” has been flying under the radar for the better part of her career. But that’s poised to change in a big way with the release of her latest film, The Souvenir, which won the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Prior to the film’s world premiere at the festival, A24 and Curzon Artificial Eye acquired its U.S. and U.K. distribution rights, respectively. Below is the official description of the film:

A shy but ambitious film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) begins to find her voice as an artist while navigating a turbulent courtship with a charismatic but untrustworthy man (Tom Burke). She defies her protective mother (Tilda Swinton) and concerned friends as she slips deeper and deeper into an intense, emotionally fraught relationship that comes dangerously close to destroying her dreams.

And below is the film’s first trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9Al2nC0vzY

A24 will release The Souvenir on May 17.

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Awards

Oscar 2019 Winner Predictions: Sound Mixing

For appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore, one film has the upper hand here.

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20th Century Fox
Photo: 20th Century Fox

Given what Eric wrote about the sound editing category yesterday, it now behooves me to not beat around the bush here. Also, it’s my birthday, and there are better things for me to do today than count all the ways that Eric and I talk ourselves out of correct guesses in the two sound categories, as well as step on each other’s toes throughout the entirety of our Oscar-prediction cycle. In short, it’s very noisy. Which is how Oscar likes it when it comes to sound, though maybe not as much the case with sound mixing, where the spoils quite often go to best picture nominees that also happen to be musicals (Les Misérables) or musical-adjacent (Whiplash). Only two films fit that bill this year, and since 2019 is already making a concerted effort to top 2018 as the worst year ever, there’s no reason to believe that the scarcely fat-bottomed mixing of Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody will take this in a walk, for appealing to voters’ nostalgia for drunken karaoke nights of yore.

Will Win: Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody

Could Win: A Star Is Born

Should Win: First Man

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