Women of the Night ★★★★

Mizoguchi's bleak nod to Italian neorealism is -- as odd as it sounds -- a pleasure to watch, mostly as a result of its miraculously fluid and riveting mise en scene, though the excellent performances by Kinuyo Tanaka and Sanae Takasugi are a major boon as well. They star as sisters coping with post-WWII poverty in the seedy areas of Osaka; after death and disease plague them, they are forced to turn to illicit means, and later the streets, for survival. With the usual breathtaking long takes as well as painstakingly realistic but engrossing uses of focus, space and sparingly agile camera movements, it's a feast for the senses despite its intense despair and squalor (the horrific climax takes place in the bombed-out remains of a church), and Mizoguchi's empathy seems deeper than Rosselini's, or at least less matter-of-fact. He himself eventually renounced the film's belligerence (which is different from the anger springing from the injustice of Sisters of the Gion because that film never moralized at its own characters the way this one arguably does at its conclusion), but if you can look past its ideological failings -- it seems aware of the systemic inequality and ugliness that requires the problem it depicts, but chooses (at times, not always) to blame the victims of these systemized oppressions -- you'll find a fascinating and unusual effort, marked by liberal leaps forward in chronology that allow fuller drama in the way the two protagonists ultimately take on one another's traits and demons as the story progresses. At first it's jarring, but in the end they seem far more like siblings than is typical in the movies, because of the way their winding path coalesces emotionally even as they grow estranged. And more than any film I've seen about Europe after the war, this one holds fast with extreme dedication to its own singular story (running just 75 minutes) while managing simultaneously to capture the ugly, ruined world around it in a way that almost feels incidental but surely isn't.

The unbroken shot of Fusako climbing over a wall barefoot got to me more than anything in Bicycle Thieves.