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Thread: Film Comment Selects 2008 At Lincoln Center

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    Film Comment Selects 2008 At Lincoln Center

    FILM COMMENT SELECTS
    2008 AT LINCOLN CENTER


    Manohla Dargis' description is quoted (no doubt with pride) on the FSLC poster and publicity for this series:
    A self-consciously punk kid alternative to the New York Film Festival.


    It is true that the NYFF is staid. With only 28 or so official selections and a desire to present the year's best, it does not venture into extremely avant-gard material. And the FSLC in house magazine Film Comment does bring a formidably knowledgeable and occasionally more daring range of tastes to bear in making its selections for its own series. I won't comment on this year as a whole. I will refer you to Nich Pinkerton's Villege Voice overview And also to Nathan Lee's piece on one FCS choice for The Village Voice. His description didn't make me want to rush uptown to see "the truly and spectacularly horrifying Inside" (a French horror movie); and I'd already seen Romeros' new Diary of the Dead and commented on it. I had also seen Jacques Nolot's elegant, chilly self-starred film about a French HIV-positive gay man approaching 60, Before I Forget. I figured since Chop Shop, Boarding Gate, and The Duchess of Langeais were about to have theatrical distribution I could skip them. I chose four films to see:

    Fatih Akin: THE EDGE OF HEAVEN
    Andrei Zvyagintsev: THE BANISHMENT
    Philippe Garrel: J'ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE (1991)
    Lucas Moodysson: CONTAINER.

    I will post reviews of these four in this thread and also of a fifth FCS film that I saw at the IFC Center:

    Jacques Rivette: THE DUCHESS OF LANGEAIS
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2018 at 04:05 PM.

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    Fatih akin: The edge of heaven (2007)

    FATIH AKIN: THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (2007)



    Reaching for great themes, and telling a good story

    The Edge of Heaven (actual title Auf der anderen Seite, "On the Other Side"), Fatih Akin’s new movie, doesn’t have a marvelous character in it like the feisty, moody Cahit, played by the feisty, moody Birol Ünel in Akin’s stunning 2004 directing/writing effort, Head-On (Gegan die Wand), a compulsively watchable cross-cultural saga that won the grand prize at the Berlin Festival. But this one has Hanna Schygulla, magnificent as the bereaved mother of a young woman who goes astray for love. And instead of two people with wildly disorganized lives, it has six people, who come in pairs, whose lives criss-cross unawares. All go back and forth between Germany and Turkey—as they must, because Akin is himself a man partly German and partly Turkish.

    Akin's scenario is ingenious enough to have won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes and like Head On's, isn't short on turbulent and surprising events. It unfolds like a collection of neatly intertwined short stories. An old man in Bremen, who's Turkish (Tuncel Kurtiz), goes to a prostitute in a blonde wig (the appealing Nursel Köse). She turns out to be Turkish herself. He revisits her and persuades her to give up the oldest profession and come and live with him; he promises to pay her as much as she's been making as a "woman of easy virtue." He has a nice place with an enclosed garden where one can dine and enjoy the vines and tomato plants. And he's a good cook. But he's crude and reckless. He wins and loses at the races. He's also a drunken brawler and on his first night with the lady in his house his overindulgence brings on a heart attack. She sticks with him, but when he's back from the hospital, still smoking and drinking, he fights her and accidentally kills her. His son, Nejat (Baki Davrak), is a professor of German. We see him in a lecture citing Goethe's disapproval of revolution. We don't know it yet, but at that very moment a young Turkish woman, who's a revolutionary on the run (Nurgül Yesilçay), is sleeping in the lecture hall. The prostitute has a daughter in Turkey and after she dies, Nejat, as recompense, goes back to Istanbul to try to find her. Maybe eventually he meets her. But the markers of the screenplay are the deaths of the prostitute and of the young German woman called Lotte (Patrycia Ziolkowska) whose mother is Hanna Schygulla.

    You can organize all that happens in your mind in various ways—as a study in contrasts and parallelisms of generations; as an examination (like Head On) of conflicts between cultures and between inner moral law and external social pressures; as an ingenious depiction of that modern sense that everybody is connected, yet also doomed to isolation. Or you can just say it means people do the damnedest things. What’s certain is that even with our attention divided among more central characters this time, Akin still knows how to make us care about them. We have to because they feel complex and unpredictable and their relationships are fresh and explosive. His images are open and his movement is wonderfully fluid. One scene slides into the next with such smoothness and inevitability that it’s only later you may feel like these dovetailing moments (though how they’re filmed is nifty) are a little too pat—even as the ways relationships are constantly reshaped alternatively through luck, coincidence or unbridled emotion are curiously moving. Akin has caught something of Kielslowski and also of Haneke. And the way people shift identities may even owe something to the Antonioni of The Passenger. Like these big boys of European cinema he reaches for great themes, but he also tells a good story. There’s something for everyone here, though some in the audience may not know what to make of it all. This is the kind of movie, like Head On, you want to see more than once.

    Shown as part of the series Film Comment Selects at Lincoln Center, New York, February 23, 2008, this will go into limited release in the US May 21, 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2018 at 04:08 PM.

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    Jacques rivette: The duchess of langeais (2007)

    JACQUES RIVETTE: THE DUCHESS OF LANGEAIS (2007)


    Jeanne Balibar and Guillaume Depardieu in The Duchess of Langeais

    Passion vs. the rules

    Jacques Rivette, the grand old late-bloomer of the French New Wave, is a sacred cow. You must either worship him or turn on him and shatter an idol. It's no use calling this new film "dull," though Armond White and Andrew Sarris have emphatically done so. That will make the cinephile fans call you stupid and impatient and without finesse or taste. It will only signal that you lacked patience. Had you endured the film's considerable longueurs with more fortitude, you would be proud and wear your multiple viewings as a banner of accomplishment, of authenticity. No, don't fall into the obvious trap of calling this film "dull." But on the other hand, it's only jumping on a fashionable little bandwagon to call it a "masterpiece." It's more appropriate to describe it as a reexamination of history and culture--a film more to be studied than enjoyed. Though it does offer some pleasures. It's not hard to look at. Its authentic period interiors and rich costumes are beautiful and presented with an austerity than only enhances them. It has moments that bring Patrice Chéreau's Gabrielle to mind (though it's set later)--the recreation of a period through male-female sparring that's so starkly emotional it almost becomes contemporary (because we subconsciously think of historical people, especially famous or rich ones, as lacking raw emotions). The crackly fires and creaky floors and flickering candles might seem clichés, but handled with a sure, unadorned European touch they seem fresh, like the Brechtian vérité of Versailles in Rossellini's stunning 1966 La prise de pouvoir par Louis XIV.

    Bu there are basic problems. Jeanne Balibar and Guillaume Depardieu, who play the sparring love-withholding lovers, the Duchesse Antoinette de Langeais and General Armand Marquis de Montriveau, just are not cool. The fact that they never make love and only toy with each other only brings out the fact that these two actors haven't much presence on screen or chemistry with each other. Balibar is thin and long-necked enough to wear her Empire dresses well, but she's no beauty and has no spirit and alas, her voice is a bit whiny. Depardieu, the terribly overshadowed son of the famous father, as Armond White in his review writes is a "former dreamboat...hidden behind acne and unkempt facial hair." Supposedly playing the hero of a desert campaign, Depardieu actually limps from a car accident and (despite good hair and profile) has a face that when seen dead-on seems to disintegrate as from depression or drug abuse or both. That may do for the shattered war hero look, but there isn't much about Guillaume that suggests officer material.

    These ill-fitted, unmagical actors are brought together to play two neurotic characters, who, in an unusually focused and formally scripted work for this director, seem like the characters in Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress (2007), people trying to live the lives of eighteenth-century rakes but overcome by nineteenth-century romantic emotions, and in this case a kind of Victorian guilt alternating with the temptation to commit perversion. The colonel has the duchess kidnapped and threatens to brand her. Earlier she's said he's looking at her at a ball as if he had an ax in his hand; the French title is Ne touchez pas la hache, "Don't touch the ax," referring to a superstition about the ax that killed Charles I of England.

    She welcomes being branded. So of course he has the hot iron taken away. Isn't this the essence of S&M--to provide the most exquisite torment by withholding torment? Armond White says "Rivette sticks to the melodrama of manners, as if observing a war of social proprieties. Each rendezvous--or missed meeting--of the would-be lovers becomes a game of one-upsmanship. These people are trapped in conventions that they adhere to more than anybody else. They're tragic 19th-century fools--figures from an unfamiliar age who test a modern audience's patience." They do that no doubt, but Rivette deliberately exaggerates the constricting conventions to go beyond naturalism or historical accuracy and make this almost a conceptual piece--and hence not really "Masterpiece Theater" at all (despite Nathan Lee) but something different and more intense and more like Gabrielle---though lacking Gabrielle's excitement.

    And without context. Gabrielle's emotional intensity is achieved by great acting and casting (Isabelle Huppert and Pascal Greggory have a kind of high-octane negative chemistry) and by the vividly conveyed sense of a surrounding society that is shocked, even as it looks the other way. In The Duchess of Langeais we see only a few relatives, soldiers, and pals, mere appendages, so that despite all their adherence to constricting conventions the protagonists seem isolated and free--living in their own invented hell. We don't know what the world thinks about them of if it even cares. That's much more a modern idea. Beware a historical film that feels authentic; it's probably even more anachronistic than a conventional one. Despite the duchess' allegedly constant attendance at balls and a couple of dance scenes with nice music, little sense of a rule-imposing society is evoked.

    Though she's enamored of Armond or of his love for her, the duchess won't give in to him because she deems it undignified to become his mistress. But why? We need to learn more about the rule book she's following; you can't have a real sense of passion till you know the rules are that it makes people want to break.But despite plenty of cards and letters (most of the latter unopened however), a plethora of chronological intertitles and a few moments of voice-over, this is one of those times where a film from a book (or in this case a Balzac novella) is direly lacking in verbiage to make sense out of what's going on. You can't say nothing happens--besides the kidnapping there's an attempt to storm a convent. But the story is all about the withholding--and we need to know more about its inner repercussions. Despite Rivette's self control and ability to tease, this is a literary adaptation that doesn't quite work cinematically.

    Shown as the opening night presentation of Film Comments Selects 2008 (Feb. 15); also showing at the IFC Center, NYC.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2018 at 03:29 PM.

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    Andrei zvyagintsev: The banishment (2007)

    ANDREI ZVYAGINTSEV: THE BANISHMENT (2007)



    A long haunting puzzle that's never quite asembled

    Not as strong as Zvyagintsev's haunting 2003 debut The Return/Vozvrashcheniye (grand prize at Venice--I reviewed it the following year), this adaptation of William Saroyan's 1953 novella, "The Laughing Matter," is recognizable for its intense, slow-paced style and beautiful cinematography (by Mikhail Krichman). Izgnanie (the Russian title) takes us out to a remote country house where there are thin roads, grassy fields over gentle hills, herds of sheep, and old friends, because this is the childhood home of the protagonist Alex (Konstantin Lavronenko), who's brought his family out there for summer vacation. But before that (and a signal of a certain disjointedness of the whole film) we observe Mark (Alexander Baluev), Alex's obviously gangsterish brother, getting him to remove a bullet from his arm. this is also the first of a series of failures to seek adequate medical treatment. Now we move to Alex with his wife Vera (Maria Bonnevie) taking their young son Kir (Maxim Shibaev) and younger daughter Eva (Katya Kulkina) out to the country by car.

    Zvagintsev certainly takes his time with every action of the film. It's as if he thought he was writing a 500-page novel rather than making a movie. The effect is not so much a sense of completeness as a kind of hypnotic trance. Everything is marked by the fine clear light, the frequent use of long shots, and the pale blue filters that give everything a distinctive look. Some of the long landscape shots are absolutely stunning, and the interior light and the way shadows gently caress the faces are almost too good to be true.

    When another family comes into the picture and they all spend a day outdoors, the sense of familiarity, summer listlessness, and vague unease made me think of a play by William Inge or Tennessee Williams. That may seem odd for a Russian movie, but the names are only partly Russian, the location is deliberately indeterminate, and Saroyan's source story is set in a long-ago California, not in Russia. Zvyagintsev doesn't seem to work in the real world but in some kind of super-real netherland. Whether it is unforgettable or simply off-putting seems to vary. In The Return it as the one; here it is the other.

    Vera drops a bombshell, when she announces she's pregnant and that the child isn't his. The tragedy that slowly but inexorably follows arises from a derangement in the wife and a misunderstanding by the husband. To deal with the problem Alex wants the children out of the way and he is happy to have them stay at the friends' house, where they're putting together a large jigsaw puzzle of Leonardo da Vinci's painting, The Annunciation. I'm indebted to Jay Weissberg's review in Variety for this identification; Weissberg adds, "That... isn't the only piece of heavy-handed religious imagery on offer. There's Alex washing his brother's blood off his hands, Eva/Eve offered an apple, and a Bible recitation from 1 Corinthians about love ("It does not insist on its own way"), handily set apart by a bookmark depicting Masaccio's The Expulsion From the Garden of Eden. OK, we get it, but that doesn't mean the parallels offer a doorway into personalities who offer little emotional residue on their own." And he is right: Zvyagintsev's fascination with Italian painting, and here also with the Bible, doesn't change the fact that the characters nonetheless remain, this time, troublingly opaque. Mark is an adviser and stimulus to action for Alex. Robert (Dmitry Ulianov) is a third brother who enters the picture later. I will not go into the details because the chief interest of the film is its slow revelations.

    And yet the revelations don't quite convince, because for one thing they do not fully explain. The wife's behavior remains unaccountable. And a long flashback in the latter part of the film seems to come too late, and to explain too much, yet without explaining enough. None of this is the fault of the actors, who are fine, including the children.

    Zvyagintsev's second film, then, is a disappointment and a puzzlement. I began to think after a while that the whole thing would be much more effective if it were done in a very simple style, with simply workmanlike photography, in a film trimmed of all externals, down to the bone, something noirish like Robert Siodmak's The Killers or Kubrick's The Killing. We are left to figure things out anyway, so why all the flourishes? Yet Zvyagintsev's style is nonetheless beautiful, and one only hopes he finds material that works better for him next time. I was thrilled with The Return and wrote "This stunning debut features exceptional performances by the talented young actors, brilliant storytelling in a fable-like tale that's as resonant as it is specific, and exquisite cinematography not quite like any one's ever seen before. " This excitement is why the new one is such a let-down.

    Shown as part of the FSLC series Film Comment Selects 2008 (February 25).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2018 at 03:33 PM.

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    Great stuff, Chris. As you probably know, for me, the release of a new Rivette film is cause for celebration. I respond to what he does perhaps more than the average foreign film enthusiast. I would also like to watch Romin Bahrani's follow-up to Man Push Cart, which I liked. The number of revival/retrospective films in the selection surprises me. Garrel, of course. Alex Cox's Walker, which I imported on dvd years ago because I never thought it would be released here, and 2 underappreciated Richard Fleischer films from the 70s.

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    The US critical response to The Duchess of Langeais/Ne touchez pas la hache is, overall, not negative, but not ecstatic. To call it a "masterpiece" is just a knee-jerk response. Obviously for a Rivette fan there is no issue, and for a fan of French cinema like me it is a must-see. A serious cinephile would want to check it out too. But it ssomewhat disappointed me compared to those of his other films that I"ve seen; I haven't made an exhaustive study of them because they don't hugely appeal to me and many of them aren't easy to come by. Some may like its more focused quality compared to Va savoir. No multiple plots, no theatrical interludes. Or one may miss those and feel this one is claustrophobic. I found Catherine Breillat's The Last Mistress/Une vieille maitress more entertaining certainly (also the source novel more historically intriguing); it will be the "gala opening" film of the SFIFF though that seems a bit unnewsworthy, given that it was in the NYFF last September.

    Man Push Cart is in theatrical release. Opinions differ on its merits but I think I'll probably find things to like. Don't know anything about the Richard Fleischer films. Missed Romin Bahrani's debut though. I think it was at Tribeca; not the NYFF.

    I would like to know why the Rendez-Vous did not show, nor did FCS, Abdelatif Kechiche's La grain et le mulet. Going by Allocine the French critics rates that substantially higher than Rivette's No touchez pas la hache, even though they liked that one too.

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    Philippe garrel: J'entends plus la guitare (1991)

    PHILIPPE GARREL: J'ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE (1991)



    A post-New Wave love journal that hasn't lost its freshness

    Philippe Garrel is a French director of cult status whose work has not been much seen in the US. Interest among film buffs certainly must have grown with the showing of Garrel's wonderfully atmospheric evocation of 1968-69 Regular Lovers/Les amants reguliers (2005) at the New York Film Festival, with a brief New York theatrical showing two years later. After re-watching Regular Lovers last year I wrote that it is " the kind of film that burns itself into your memory and keeps coming back."

    And this is a French cinematic dynasty. Philippe's brother Thierry is a producer; his father Maurice is a veteran actor with well over a hundred credits (recent notable ones: The Red and the Black, Dercourt's My Children Are Different, Kings and Queen, and Regular Lovers); and his son Louis, the young poet and central character of Regular Lovers, is the hottest young French screen actor in more senses than one. Americans saw Louis with Eva Green and Michael Pitt in Bertolucci's 2003 The Dreamers. But what are Philippe Garrel's important films? I don't know; the promoters of the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center say J'entends plus la guitare ("I No Longer Hear the Guitar") is "arguably Philippe Garrel's masterpiece."

    Masterpiece or not, this film (which won the Silver Lion in Venice) is a complete contrast to the over-three-hours-long, epic-feeling black and white Regular Lovers--and yet memorable in its own way. It's quieter and more intimate and more obviously autobiographical--almost like a loose compendium of fragmentary diary entries from a man who had many lovers and one good friend, a painter (Martin, Yann Collette, a veteran actor who happens to have a sunken and blind left eye). The man is Gerard (Benoit Regent). One of the women is Aline (Brigitte Sy, mother of Louis Garrel). But most important in Gerard/Philippe's life is Marianne (Johanna ter Steege), a luminous exotic Nordic lady drawn to drugs and dirty longhairs (unseen in the film but described with distaste by Gerard) who say "Yeah man!" and "cool."

    The film begins with Marianne and Gerard in Positano, on the Italian Riviera, with Martin and his friend Lola (Mireille Perrier). They go back to Paris where Gerard spends every evening smoking hashish at Martin's place and talking about Marianne. Gerard's fascination with her is obvious, but there are no love scenes. One day Marianne meets another man and wanders off.

    Marianne is, as is well-known, the stand-in for Nico (stage name of Christa Paffgen) the singer of the Velvet Underground and Warhol "superstar" with whom Philippe Garrel had an ongoing relationship for over a decade. In the person of ter Steege, Nico/Marianne's appeal is obvious. Nico herself was in seven of Garrel's films in the Seventies. This one was made three years after her death--and Marianne like Nico is described as dying while riding a bicycle.Gerard meets Linda (Adelaide Blasquez) Aline (Brigitte Sy), and then Adrienne (Anouk Grinberg), but Marianne remains in Gerard's world, the love of his life.

    Scenes of J'entends plus la guitare over twenty years later still evoke the Sixties and Seventies in content and style. They are so simply staged they're arresting. A woman comes to the door and says she's a friend of someone else. Apparently she moves in, just like that. The next thing you know Gerard is in the bath and this new woman brings him a plate of food which he forks down hungrily. He gets up, hastily towels off, puts on a shirt while still wet. The woman spreads two sheets on the bed. They get under them, clothed, and propped up on their elbows lie looking into each other's eyes. This is how the beginning of a new relationship is described--not quite realistically in conventional film terms, but with telegraphic immediacy.

    When Gerard's girlfriend has a baby, they eat at a table with a whole family, but nobody's identified. Closeup of a young teenage boy looking on with eager happiness as the food is dished out. Most of the scenes are one-on-one conversations (unlike much of Regular Lovers, which is more collective and symphonic). This is like an autobiographical meditation, verging, the FCS blurb suggests, on "psychodrama." Garrel is an heir to the Nouvelle Vague who captures life in the raw with lovely cinematography and interesting and attractive people but not very sophisticated or self-conscious technique. His films (so far as I've seen them so far) can be irritating and slow but are curiously endearing. Think Warhol, but without the titillation and voyeurism, and with a European straight male sensibility, particularly here. Even without the presence of Louis (who was around eight when this was made) this is still a fresh, youthful kind of filmmaking. It may seem self-indulgent, but it doesn't age.

    Shown as part of the series, Film Comment Selects, at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center, New York (February 25, 2008).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2018 at 03:23 PM.

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    Lucas moodysson: Contaner (2007)

    LUCAS MOODYSSON: CONTAINER (2007)



    If you loved 'A Hole in My Heart,' you'll adore 'Container'

    Lucas Moodysson is best known for his wry 2000 feature about Seventies Swedish communes, Together, and the stark and heartbreaking 2002 depiction of a Russian girl exploited for prostitution, Lilya 4-Ever. He's also made a film about a man shooting a porn movie in a shabby apartment while watched by his young son (A Hole in My Heart, 2004), a much-praised study of teenage girls (Fucking Amal/Show Me Love, 1998; Ingmar Bergman called it "a young master's first masterpiece"), and a documentary (Terrorists: The Kids They Sentenced , 2003) about anti-globalization demonstrators at Gothenberg. This may give some idea of his orientation, which is very political and takes on a variety of social issues.

    Container is a venture--not a very accomplished one--into the avant-garde. With a continual murmured voice-over by the young American actress Jena Malone (who at one point identifies herself and says she's never been to Sweden before), in grainy black and white, the film seems mostly to depict a young overweight man who's a cross-dresser, though it's hinted at one point that the man "playing" this role is nothing of the kind. This person, sometimes in dress and wig, plays with clippings and all kinds of only half-identifiable junk, rolls around on the floor, and, in the voice-over, which is not particularly coordinated with any onscreen action, describes himself as continually fantasizing about being a celebrity, about being in contact with tabloid film stars like the Spice Girls and the porn queen Savannah. Sometimes these references are funny, and they give the otherwise often mournful or deranged chatter a cozier note. Sometimes he/she also refers to Jesus and pregnancy and virgin birth. Gradually a sense is conveyed that this person is a metaphor, though mixed with other things, for a twentieth-century media-overloaded public. He's fat because he's a "container" for all the detritus of corporate over-production, the junk of life that can never be disposed because there's nowhere left for it to go. The "consumer" consumes all, and becomes puffed up with garbage. We are the detritus of our collective consumer lives.

    Another description of the film reminds one that the protagonist "carries an Asian woman, piggyback, through a garbage-filled landscape." There are also sequences that seem to be in a hospital, wandering from corridor to corridor; and still others in a trashy abandoned house with peeling walls and debris everywhere. The film was shot in Chernobyl, Transylvania and in Sweden's Film i Vast studios in Trollhattan.

    While obviously Moodysson has been capable of warm humanism, this is more an effort at thumbing his nose at the audience, and follows upon A Hole in My Heart, which has been described as nauseating. Clocking in at 75 minutes, Container is so uninteresting and repetitious that it seems much, much longer and only sheer maschism and an overriding sense of duty kept me from walking out before it was over. Films of this kind are never easy to watch, because they don't have a "hook" of character, chronology, or visual touchstones to keep one watching. One might add that a barely mumbling, depressed-sounding young woman's voice is not much of an addition to the cinematic effect. Compare things like Koyanasqaatsi, which while also meandering and repetitous and lacking in narrative content, engages with visual beauty and hypnotic music. Obviously Moodysson eschews the slickness of such work; and why not? But though surreal and rife with mysterious and strange goings on Container all too evidently lacks the visual flair of work by similarly avant-garde filmmakers like Stan Brakage or Kenneth Anger. Container ultimately is very clearly better to talk about than to watch. Where Moodysson's career is going now is hard to say. One reviewer, perhaps appropriately self-styled as "Movie Martyr: Suffering for your cinema," describes this as the next step in Moodysson's "spectacular career immolation following his first few features" and concludes that "those who still might be willing to give the director the benefit of doubt, and especially those who appreciated A Hole in My Heart, should be encouraged to seek out Container." Others can rely on second-hand accounts.

    Shown as part of Film Comment Selects at Lincoln Center, February 26, 2008.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2018 at 03:36 PM.

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    I've given up on Moodysson. I liked the humanist Show Me Love and Together a lot, especially the latter. Lilya 4-Ever was characterized by what Hoberman called "calculated miserablism". What was worse is that the auteur didn't seem interested in the protagonist or her environment only in what was being done to her. The last two films evidence a director on artistic decline. However, Mammoth, the English-language film he has completed shooting with Gael G. Bernal and Michelle Williams sounds interesting.

    I would, like you, like to know why the NYFF and the FCS didn't show Kechiche's highly acclaimed (at least in France) film. The film will play here in the low-profile Panorama section, was not screened for press and will have a single screening during the fest (which I plan to attend at all costs).

    The Breillat film has a distributor, right?

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    "Mistress" is in bed with IFC, Variety says.

    One French film forum had contributors listing the following as among the year's best French ones:

    A Secret
    Roman de Gare
    L'Ennemi intime
    Conversations with My Gardener
    La Vie en Rose
    The Witnesses
    Love Songs
    The Girl Cut in Two
    Second Wind
    Caramel


    That's just a cross section. Except for Conversations with My Gardener (Jean Becker, with Daniel Auteuil) these are all films I've seen and reviewed on this site. But nobody mentioned Kechiche's La grain et le mulet.

    'm not in with the powers that be to say why Kechinche was held back here till later, it can be politics or pure chance I guess. France plays a leading role in the US art house foreign film circuit, yet tastes differ, so winning all the Cesars doesn't seem to always make a huge impression Stateside. But not always, given that Marian Cotillard won the Cesar for Best Actress in Paris too. Actually it seems like the lead time between French and US releases is shrinking somewhat, generally.

    Which reminds me to mention the Cesars, awarded four days ago (Feb. 24, 2008).

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    This weekend I watched The Witnesses and the new Jacques Rivette film, The Duchess of Langleais, which you reviewed for this thread. I've declared my love for Rivette in this forum. As a matter of fact, the 80 year-old Rivette and 85 year-old Alain Resnais remain, as they have been since the 1970s, my favorite active French filmmakers. It comes then as no surprise that I think Duchess is very good; I obviously have an affinity with his themes and methods. After a single viewing_ this film's singular focus makes it one that doesn't require additional viewings for full appreciation, I'm prepared to say it's my favorite Rivette work since Joan the Maid, 1993 I think. Rivette gives himself credit specifically for the "mise-en-scene". I think it was Nathan Lee who said something to the effect that Rivette is equally interested in bodies in space as he is in the characters. It's a rare pleasure to take note of what he leaves in view and what he leaves out, how he positions the actors within the frame, and how he moves the actors and the camera across the spaces, especially the indoor spaces.

    Content-wise, I was thoroughly fascinated with the games of the heart played by the Duchess and the Marquis, which are depicted in a way that respects the mystery of human relationships, the ambiguity, and unclear motivations for human behavior. Well, I actually think one event is obviously the turning point here: after having his desire for the Duchess frustrated in myriad ways by her, the Marquis abducts her and threatens to brand her with a hot iron. But he's all about the chase, because once she surrenders and declares her love he rejects her. There is more than enough material here to form a number of hypotheses to explain the rejction by the Marquis. I personally think that it has a lot to do with the allure of the unattainable object, but since it's human beings we are dealing with here, the full answer is bound to be more complicated than that.

    *I took a break from writing festival reviews today (the Rivette and Techine films were occupying my thoughts too much). Festival reviews resume tomorrow.

  12. #12
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    The Rivette film is very good. Please don't call it great, though. I just didn't like it. I don't know if I ever could. Not everybody can like things. I might like it more if I could bring myself to watch it again. It was like watching paint dry for me. It might have helped if the lady had been Asia Argento. You will get that with My Last Mistress (Une derniere [last] maitress in French). I'm not too keen on Jeanne Balibar. You may be interested in the as ever pungent remarks of Armond White, who specifically compares Rivette's film with the other one you just saw, The Witnesses--much favoring the latter. And about Balibar he says
    Balibar has been Rivette'ss ingenue of choice since starring in Va Savoir (2000), and she is terribly unappealing here. She plays the persnickety Duchess as a sexually voracious wench: skinny, calculating, with an always distrustful, scrutinizing expression on her face. Yes, there are people like this in the world, but they're seldom the focus of a feature-length film.
    But that's not all
    When Antoinette's aunt (a dowager Bulle Ogier) advises her "Don't be a coquette," it's laughable. Balibar is the essence of what the French call jolie laide," homely with a lopsided walk like Nora Gregore's in Rules of the Game. But in contrast to the great Arletty (Children of Paradise, Daybreak) who emanated plain yet regal femininity, Balibar resembles a shrill, pouty Paris Hilton type (modeling the most sumptuous costumes since Love in the Time of Cholera).
    I'd love to quote the whole NY Press review by White. Just read it, if you will. It'll get your dander up, I reckon.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2018 at 03:13 PM.

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    I get the impression from reading White's review of Duchess that mainly what he didn't like was the main characters. He acknowledges there's people like that in the world but that they've rarely been movie protagonists. He finds them, especially the Duchess, dull and unappealing. I personally found them mysterious and fascinating, but I think he's reaction to them is perfectly acceptable and rather keenly expressed.
    I wouldn't want to be the type of person who gets upset because anyone doesn't appreciate something I like. Daily life would be much more difficult, I'd say. Imagine how boring it would be if everyone had the same taste, the same biases. I tend to be more practical.

    For example, I am upset about not having had the chance to watch Southland Tales at the theater. I had to wait until the dvd came out. And I think that Samuel Goldwyn Films decided to release it on a limited basis and not spend on marketing because of the negative reception at Cannes, and the clueless reviews by Ebert and the critics at Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. I also consider that the review of Opera Jawa by Jeannette Catsoulis kept a number of people who would enjoyed it from watching it. I wish The New York Times had assigned the film to one of their regular, more experienced critics. Opera Jawa is one of my favorite films of 2008. Her review is a derisive little piece that marvels at just how "bizarre" and weird Indonesians are. If her review had been published by a less influential paper, or if there were a larger sample of available reviews, I wouldn't care at all.

    I'm looking forward to The Last Mistress and the possibility it might change my mind about Argento's acting skills, particularly her range as a performer.

  14. #14
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    You know now that I have the time and the opportunity to see most things in theaters I greatly appreciate the difference. Much can be said for DVDs for filling in the gaps though as you know even better then I.

    Armond White also obviously didn't like the actors. I agree with him on her. Anyway, you and I don't really agree on Rivette and of course we don't need to. I could say I enjoyed the Belle Noiseuse. Va savoir had its points. But I am not so taken with his dilatory style. You on the other hand seem to favor things that are long and challenge the patience. Which brings us to Opera Jawa, I guess, if there is a logical connection of some kind. I can see that Jeannette Catsoulis did not take to Opera Jawa. I like "tinkly gamelan music" myself and agree that's not a very culturally sensitive phrase to use about Javanese music. But I don't know whether her little review had a decisively negative effect on its audience. It was only shown at MoMA anyway. . . However influential the NYTimes is--and it's movie reviewers aren't really the most interesting--not many readers get to the tiny minor film reviews there. But I guess what you're saying is that they should have promoted it by putting it on page one of the Arts section. But they would not be too likely to do that for a film shown only a couple of times at MoMA.

  15. #15
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    I can't find the Nyff 2008 comments thread so I'm putting this note here about Antonio Campos' AFTERSCHOOL. This film by the young Campos has been very hotly discussed so people may want to see it.

    DVD release is scheduled for September 14, 2010. Ezra Miller has since appeared in Raymond De Felitta's CITY ISLAND.


    DVD cover for afterschool

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