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|A HUMBLE LIFE (Smirennaya zhizn) (director/writer: Alexander Sokurov; cinematographer: Alexi Fiodorov; editor: Leda Semionova; music: Algirdas Paulavicius; cast: Umeno Matuyoshi, Alexander Sokurov (Narrator); Runtime: 76; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alexander Sokurov; Medici Arts; 1997-Russia/Japan-in Russian and Japanese with English subtitles)|
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The title tells it all. Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov ("Whispering Pages"/"Stone"/"The Second Circle") treks to the 130-year-old Japanese house in the mountains of the remote Village Aska, Nara Prefecture, Japan, to let the elderly widow Umeno Matuyoshi tell her slow-moving austere story and let us see how she lives a simple Buddhist monk-like life alone.
The frail woman sews silk funeral kimonos for a living, goes about routinely doing her chores in the chilly late autumn, cooks a simple meal like someone would in the 19th century, offers Buddhist prays, gives alms to four chanting monks with bells who appear at her door, and in conclusion recites a few heartfelt haiku poems that reveal an inner sadness that her husband is gone, that she's estranged from her married daughter and that a snowstorm is on the horizon because the crickets stopped singing. To complement those shots, there are utterly fascinating poetic shots of the sky, the forest, the stream and a beautiful rock garden. It's a lyrical and utterly amazing timeless documentary about living a humble life in harmony with nature.
The liner notes mention that Umeno saw the completed film and died soon after.
REVIEWED ON 10/5/2009 GRADE: A
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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