NOW, VOYAGER (Irving Rapper, 1942) -- 3/4
Now, Voyager is packed with memorable lines, peculiar bits of business, and more repressed sexual angst than nearly any half dozen other melodramas combined. The result is somewhat staggering, and thoroughly compelling (if maddening) in its simultaneous questioning of psychoanalysis, maternal constraints, free will, and moral fortitude - all of which is left heavily open-ended by the equivocal dialogue and Irving Rapper's sly direction, which consistently indicates more lies beneath the film's seemingly straight-forward veneer. Davis gets to play both the hag and the princess here, but don't mistake this for simply a wink towards her star persona; the mutability of identity and self drives the narrative, playing with themes that Douglas Sirk would later draw upon for his masterpiece, Imitation of Life.
FLUNKY, WORK HARD (Mikio Naruse, 1931) -- 2.5/4
The first surviving film of legendary Japanese director Mikio Naruse covers many themes that are dear to him - childhood, familial shame, and the transcendental possibilities of film in conveying them. Nevertheless, at its scant 28 minute runtime, it offers only a glimpse of what's to come, hinting at formal and thematic aspirations rather than fully presenting them.
NO BLOOD RELATION (Mikio Naruse, 1932) -- 3.5/4
In terms of melodramatic content being matched by form, few films to my knowledge synch up so fluently, as Naruse opts for kinetic, often aggressive camera moves (usually a dolly-in) to convey the maternal delirium of his two central characters, each imprisoned by past mistakes, though of a varying degree. Naruse navigates this dilemma well, especially in suggesting the moving (non-static) camera as a potential answer and compliment for erratic material, not merely heightening drama, but transcending it through a paradoxical fragmentation, movement as indicative of disunity. If the obvious material doesn't mirror Naruse's astute mise-en-scene, that's okay (and preferable), since the director is more interested in abstract expression rather than meditative quietude, which must necessarily confront, rather than placate. Naruse knows how to be messy and still retain control, fascination.
APART FROM YOU (Mikio Naruse, 1933) -- 3/4
Apart From You finds Naruse continuing to explore his chosen theme (the tumultuous lives of women), though his chosen aesthetic does not play quite as convincing here as in No Blood Relation. He too often over-indulges, bordering on self-parody at times, especially in the most explicit reassertion of his obsession with camera movement. Nevertheless, there remain blissful moments and sequences, penetrating with precision his characters for revelation of hidden desire and repressed unrest, personal crisis as vessel for the whole - though Naruse often deals with merely a handful of characters, his ability to posit their troubles as indicative of greater human strife, and in such peculiar, but consistent ways, invigorates rather than enervates.