For Reel


The Bitter Stems (1956)
August 28, 2016, 1:23 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Fernando Ayala
4 Stars
The Bitter StemsThis recent discovery by the Film Noir Foundation sees a Buenos Aires journalist (Carlos Cores) going into business with a Hungarian immigrant (Vassili Lambrinos) in a get-rich scheme involving a journalism correspondence school. As distrust simmers in the partnership, a tragedy occurs and the fallout is detailed with a hugely expressionistic edge by cinematographer Ricardo Younis (a student of Gregg Toland). A repeated motif involves a retreat into Cores’ interiority—mid-conversation, a word will trigger a flashback in the character, and Younis drains all the light from the room to focus on the character’s anguish. If the technique is overused, it provides a few astonishing transitions, and also lays the groundwork for an early sequence that imagines alternating symbols of capitalism and fascism in a fever dream—dollars are represented as monolithic, a child is seduced by the battlefield, and so on. Cores plays his character’s sense of remorse quite well, and director Fernando Ayala lingers on the fact that his protagonist is haunted by ever having met his business partner—in a genre where men often regret meeting the women who’ve thrown their lives asunder, it’s an interesting twist that the protagonist regrets meeting a man who brought out an evil within himself. As much as its lineage with American film noir is apparent, The Bitter Stems just as appropriately recalls the melodramas of Raffaello Matarazzo, with the sensationalized emotions playing as almost mythic in scale.

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