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Thread: New York Film Festival 2009

  1. #16
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    Maren ade: Everyone else (209)

    MAREN ADE: EVERYONE ELSE (2009)


    BIRGIT MINICHMAYR, LARS EIDINGER IN EVERYONE ELSE

    German director Ade's All the Others (Alle Anderen) is very much a women's picture (in the most positive sense). Her story might be the kind Jane Austen would write if she lived today, when a young couple must learn about each other by living together -- but with the old problem of weighing themselves and their values against other people's and theirs. Ade focuses on the relationship between a young architect and his publicity agent girlfriend as they think about how to be together as a couple while spending the summer at his parents' villa on the island of Sardinia. Wonderfully natural acting by the two principals as well as action that shows off the mercurial twists in man-woman roles through day-to-day events make this film continually interesting to watch even though it lacks big dramatic payoffs. But when the calibration is subtle, as with Jane Austen, little matters like buying a dress or deciding what to carry on a hike become matters from which much is to be learned. But what's unlike Austen's world is that man and woman are playing with roles, and there are no fixed rules.

    Gitti (Birgit Minichmayr) and Chris (Lars Eidinger) seem to have a lot of fun together. Gitti shows her eccentricity when she tells the little daughter of visiting friends to be up front if she doesn't like her. She even lets the girl pretend to shoot her, then does a mock death and falls into the pool. Chris seems a little insecure about himself; his talent as an architect has yet to pay off; he's uncertain about a competition he's entered, and Gitti is worried that he's a little wimpy. Perhaps to be more assertive, he insists they spend time with his fellow architect Hans (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and pregnant wife Sana (Nicole Marischka), whom he'd initially avoided, switching gears and now considering them as role models. Eventually Chris acknowledges this wasn't such a good idea; that he and Gitti are happier and better off being who they are. Though there's a somewhat failed hiking expedition, and Chris (off-camera) meets with a promising local client and his future suddenly brightens up, it's primarily the couple's weighing themselves against the seemingly more fortunate pair that embodies the film's life lesson.

    The quirky redhead Gitti, given to fits of laughing, has insecurities too. She doesn't like it when she asks Chris if he loves her and he answers only by kissing her. She's continually afraid he may stop loving her. Both of them in fact are in love and grateful that they ever met. This is unusual in being about a happy couple, who are not headed toward tragedy or betrayal or other dramas. But the screenplay is nothing if not proof that "happy" isn't any more a fixed reality than "confident" or "grown-up."

    There isn't much more to the action than that, but it's all in the details as Ade spins out one scene after another in which Eidinger and Minichmayr run through a range of emotions together.

    Some male viewers of this two-hour film find it self-indulgent and interminable. There's lilttle doubt that the second evening spent with Hans and Sana doesn't have to be allowed to run so long to make clear they're bores, and the film could have done with some trimming. It also seems that Gitti's moodiness is allowed to go too far; you begin to wonder if she may need help. However when one thinks of how natural and real the two actors are throughout, it's impossible not to conclude that Ade is doing something right, and has trod familiar paths but avoided cliche. She just needs to develop more faith in the value of the cutting room.

    Seen as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009. Awarded the Silver Bear at Berlin this year and Minichmayr won Best Actress.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-31-2009 at 01:07 AM.

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    Bruno dumont: Hadewijch (2009)

    BRUNO DUMONT: HADEWIJCH (2009)


    JULIE SOKOLOWSKI IS HADEWIJCH (CELINE)-Indiewire

    Tha Fatiha and the Lord's Prayer, side by side

    Dumont, who has dealt most successfully with brutish country people in Bailleul, the bleak part of northern France he comes from, makes some big changes here. He focuses on a religion-obsessed girl from an upper-class Paris background who gets mixed up with Muslim Arabs from the projects (banlieue), and an ex-con. The focus is on religion and activism, and on love of God carried too far.

    As the film begins the 20-year-old Hadewijch (Julie Sokolowski), not yet fully invested as a nun, is asked to leave the convent because she is excessive. She refuses to eat and stands out in the cold and rain without a coat. The sisters find she is confusing abstinence with martyrdom. Her concept of being the "bride of Christ" is also too literal, and is to remain so. She goes back to being Celine and living with her father, a government minister, on the Ile St. Louis, in a palatial residence in the most elegant part of Paris.

    But she quickly befriends unemployed, untrained ghetto boy Yassine (Yassine Salime), who tries to pick her up in a local cafe. Yassine, a rather sweet little guy, is a bit of an oddball himself. He steals an expensive motorcycle and races around town with her on the back running red lights because he doesn't like the way the owner of the bike looked at him. She fails to respond to his taste in music, a kind of punk-meets-Satie band by the Seine, and goes by herself to a baroque concert in a church. But Yassine accepts that Celine considers herself the bride of Christ and wants to remain a virgin: they agree to be friends, and after he's dined with her remote, clueless father and mother on the Ile St. Louis and stolen the bike, he takes her to his home on the outskirts to meet his brother, David (Karl Sarafidis), a devout Muslim who does his own backstreet religious teaching.

    David invites Celine to a class he gives about the concept of "the invisible" ("al-ghayb") in Islam, but she flees when a strapping young Arab eyes her hungrily in the class. David follows her to discuss this, and they become friends. Eventually David convinces Celine to consider "action" and even the necessity of violence as a focus for her troubled sense that God is not present despite her passion for Christ. She goes with him to visit the West Bank, or somewhere like it, such as Lebanon (where the sequence was shot) where her decision is translated into Arabic and she's welcomed by radicals. Back in Paris, she's present at an explosion.

    Later Celine is back at the nunnery, when, in a dreamlike sequence, she flees the police and walks into a stream where she's embraced by the young ex-con.

    Dumont works, as anyone who follows such things knows, outside any mainstream of French filmmaking ("self-taught," some say) and is the subject of controversy, despite winning two grand prizes at Cannes and expressing a continuing desire to win a wider audience. This film had its premiere however at Toronto and doesn't open in France till November 25th.

    In an essay for Cinema Scope, Scott Foundas says this film is "in part, a continuation of [Bruno Dumont's] career-encompassing study in the origins and varieties of human violence," but we note that there is no cruelty, and no sex, bestial or otherwise. Several writers (such as the skeptical Variety reviewer) have been troubled by the somewhat extraneous way the con (eventually ex-; David Dewaele) is threaded through the film only to appear as a workman at the convent and then in the final faintly redemptive moment.

    Another question is why either a young Muslim teacher or what may be "terrorists" in the Middle East would be interested in the passion of a wayward Christian nun, though Elley of Variety considers the discussions between Nassir and Celine the most touching scenes in the film. What one can agree on is that the filming is intense and beautiful and full of Dumont's typically memorable awkwardness, the blue-tinged images heightening Celine/Hadewijch's pallor. Her face has the luminosity of some saint in a medieval panel. As before in Dumont, the non-actors are arresting and convincing, the scenes, odd and sui generis, are fresh and thought-provoking, but this for me was not as gripping or as emotionally intense a film as Dumont's previous Flandres, though there is a new sweetness about it that's welcome, even as it comes with provocative hints that ecstatic Christianity and violent jihad are cousins.

    Seen as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, 2009. A few weeks earlier, Hadewijch won the FIPRESCI Special Presentation Prize at Toronto, where it was the opening film. It has been picked up by IFC. Also included in the SFIFF and shown May 5 and 6, 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-10-2014 at 10:47 AM.

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    CORNELIU PORUMBOLIU: POLICE, ADJECTIVE (2009)

    CORNELIU PORUMBOLIU: POLICE, ADJECTIVE (2009)


    DRAGOS BUCOR IN POLICE, ADJECTIVE

    Realism and didacticism in the new Romanian cinema

    Young director Porumboliu, whose 2007 12:08 East of Bucharest has been much admired, is having fun here, but the audience may not be. The rigor with which Politist, Adj. explores a minor moral issue in terms of definitions and uses of words may be interesting, but the emphasis on the dullest aspects of police work leave one numbed. This is a film that makes you realize why Hollywood makes police procedurals the way they do. Paint takes a long time to dry. We don't have to watch the whole process.

    The virtually real-time narrative follows young undercover cop Cristi (Dragos Bucur) in the little Romanian town of Vasliu on a surveillance of a teenage student, Viktor (Radu Costin) who's known as a pot user. His superior Nelu (Ion Stoica) wants to arrest the boy. Cristi would prefer to wait and find the dealer, and feels arresting Viktor will ruin the kid's life for nothing, especially since European trends toward decriminalization of marijuana suggest that soon this won't be illegal in Romania either.

    Cristi's recently married to Anca (Irina Saulescu), a schoolteacher, and his encounters with her at home consist mainly of debates about word use and grammar. Since Porumboliu shows two of Cristi's surveillance reports in their handwritten form so we can read through them word for word, he's obviously interested in how police work is partly shaped by a sense of how it will be mapped out in words for superiors to peruse.

    Porumboliu likes following the (perhaps Asian-influenced) fixed-camera approach. This is realistic enough in following a surveillance, and a lot of Crist's time is spend standing around waiting. It's firmly emphasized that even to get reports from other parts of police HQ he must wait and haggle over delivery times. A young woman who has access to files wants to leave early to see her boyfriend. Another who deals with ID photos is busy and resents being rushed. The film is definitely accurate and realistic in depicting low-level police work. Cristi is dogged and patient; he has to be.

    One scene that calls much attention to itself shows Cristi eating a dinner Anca has prepared in front of the fixed camera while Anca sits behind a wall, watching her computer and listening to an inane love song that they then debate. The restrained irony of the scene is subsumed in a sense that life is a matter of drudgery and dry debates. In the two scenes between Cristi and Anca, it's all about words.

    When he's told repeatedly that he must carry out a "sting operation" (perhaps not the right term?), that is, set up a police arrest with backup, hidden cameras, and well-planned logistics, Cristi refuses point-blank. That is, until a prolonged session with a colleague and the Captain, Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov, the hard-hearted abortionist of the much-celebrated 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) during which the superior has a Romanian dictionary brought in and orders Cristi to read from it the definitions of "conscience" and "moral" and "law."

    Perhaps due to the convincing naturalism of earlier sequences, this somewhat far-fetched scene, the most dramatic, in a sense, of the film, goes unquestioned by the audience, though it seems extremely far-fetched; or, at least, like everything else, drawn out far longer than necessary. One can't help thinking that a good police officer would simply tell Cristi what he has to do and not conduct a class in semantics and etymology. It seems the cops in Vasliu aren't very busy. Word is that a lot of the Romanian gangsters have transferred operations to Italy.

    Cristi's desire to avoid arresting a minor teenage drug offender because of anticipated future liberalization of Romanian law understandably doesn't go over with his superiors. In fact his repeated insubordination in word might be expected to call for threats of discipline or expulsion, but such is not the case here. Nor is it clear why the cops don't want to catch a bigger fish. Police, Adjective has its own special point of view that may appeal to some, but for this viewer it is yet another illustration that the widespread anointment of the "new Romanian cinema" as experiencing a "renaissance" is a little premature.

    Shown as part of the New York Film Festival 2009 at Lincoln Center. IFC Films has picked it up for US distribution.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-30-2009 at 09:29 PM.

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    CLARE DENIS: WHITE MATERIAL (2009)

    CLAIRE DENIS: WHITE MATERIAL (2009)



    Back to Africa

    Denis returns to an undefined African country to explore colonialism and revolution in this film that has more in common with her wonderfully mysterious The Intruder (2004) -- though it's less successful -- than with her warm-hearted family story 35 Shots of Rum (2008).

    At the center here too is a family, the Vials, French colonial types who own a coffee plantation, or did own one. And at the center of this family is the scrawny, determined Maria (Isabelle Huppert), as brave as she is heedless. Everything is falling apart, but she simply won't give up -- or even acknowledge that there's any danger.

    But here, as in various African countries, government forces are at war with rebels and schools are closing and children are turning into dangerous, thrill-seeking warriors popping pills and wielding pistols, machetes, and spears. The plantation workers are fleeing just at harvest time, and the Vials themselves are warned by a helicopter flying overhead that it's time to get out. The rebel army's missing leader, known as "the boxer" (Isaach de Bankole' of Jarmusch's Limits of Control and of Denis' original Africa film Chocolat) has reappeared, wounded, hiding out in the plantation, which makes it a double target.

    The family itself seems to have fallen apart some time ago, though as usual in Denis' films, the relationships and family histories aren't meant to be immediately clear. Maria's ex-father-in-law, Henri (Michel Subor of The Intruder) is mysteriously sick; he seems to know more than the others, but he is powerless; he reigns over nothing -- except that he is the real owner of the plantation. Maria's ex-husband Andre Vial (Christophe Lambert) has a son by a new young black wife, Lucie (Adele Ado). Maria and Andre have an older son, Manuel (Nicolas Duvauchelle), who has turned into a sluggard, and seems deranged. Later after being attacked and humiliated by two black boys (they rob him naked and cut off a lock of his blond hair), he shaves off the rest of his hair, takes a rifle and his mother's motorcycle, and becomes a wild rebel himself.

    Meanwhile Andre has made a deal with the wily black mayor (William Nadylam), presumably to get money to escape, and the mayor now owns the plantation, and feels whatever happens he'll be okay because he has his own private army. All the while there are messages over the radio broadcast by a disc jockey playing reggae and saying the rebels are coming. But soldiers in gray uniforms are coming to kill almost everyone, including some of the child soldiers, and some members of the Vial family after Manuel goes over to the rebels.

    None of this matters as much as the fact that Maria, a kind of foolish Mother Courage or life force, fights on till the end, even when the new workers she recruits flee, a sheep's head turns up in the coffee beans signifying doom, the power is cut, the gasoline runs out, and family members disappear or are killed. Maria repeatedly says she can't go back to France; to a young black woman she admits it's probably because she can't give up her power. She also says in France she couldn't "show courage." In short, she's useless anywhere else. She has contempt for the fleeing French soldiers, calling them "dirty whites" that never belonged here. This is her element. Unfortunately, her element is disintegrating. "White material," in English, is a phrase used variously by the African locals to denote possessions of the whites and the whites themselves. A child rebel comments that "white material" isn't going to be around much any more.

    Denis is good at creating a sense of the many-layered chaos. Her mise-en-scene is vivid and atmospheric. Yet something isn't quite right. The casting feels wrong. Butor is a relic from a better movie, Lambert is unnecessary. Duvauchelle, who has played rebels but determined, disciplined ones, seems out of place with all his tattoos as a youth born in Africa and a good-for-nothing. Nobody can play an indomitable woman better than Isabelle Huppert, but for that very reason it would have been a welcome surprise to see a completely new face in this role.

    As Variety reviewer Jay Weissberg notes, the images by the new d.p. Yves Cape are less rich than those of Denis regular Agnes Godard, but may suit the violent action situation better, and the delicately used music is wonderfully atmospheric. This is definitely a Claire Denis film. What's unique is its sense of foreboding. You feel Maria is somehow bulletproof and yet you also fear that at any moment she'll walk into something she can't get out of.

    Still, after the wonderful warmth of 35 Shots of Rum and the haunting complexity of The Intruder, there doesn't seem as much to ponder or to care about here, and even if this is a fresh treatment of familiar material, it's a bit of a disappointment. From another director it might seem impressive and exceptionally original, but from Denis, is seems to lack something, some more intense scenes, some grand finale.

    Shown as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-13-2009 at 03:58 PM.

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    JACQUES RIVETTE: AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (2009)

    JACQUES RIVETTE: AROUND A SMALL MOUNTAIN (2009)


    JANE BIRKIN, SERGIO CASTELLITTO

    Intervention and redemption in a traveling circus

    Being far from an expert on the French master Jacques Rivette, I can do no better than to quote extensively from an essay on this film by the French critic Helene Frappat.
    Around a Small Mountain/36 vues du Pic Saint Loup [Frappat writes ] "casts a novel, unprecedented, never seen before" light [un eclairage 'inoui, inedit, jamais donne' jusqu’a maintenant'] on Jacques Rivette's oeuvre. The quote is from Vittorio (Sergio Castellitto), a new, Italian incarnation of of the mysterious character of guide/savior/intercessor whose mission, since Va savoir, consists in releasing a princess from her spell -- in other words, her past or her grief. This gracious princess inconsolably mourning her late love by a graveside (like John Wayne talking to his departed wife in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon), is Jane Birkin.

    Having played the ingenue in L'Amour par terre and the great painter's former model in La Belle Noiseuse, Jane Birkin strips bare, in Around a Small Mountain, the enigma of all Rivette's heroines: confined behind the bars of the Rue de Rivoli, in a moment of distraction snatched from the film's Cevennes mountains, she brings to mind Anna Karina, imprisoned in a convent in La Religieuse, haunted by a mistake she didn't make her heart aches like Sandrine Bonnaire's in Secret Defense; madly in love with a ghost, like Pauline (Bulle Ogier) in Out 1, she moves like a tightrope walker in an intermediate state between life and death similar to the coma from which Louise (Marianne Denicourt) emerges at the start of Haut Bas Fragile.

    Yet Around a Small Mountain introduces a novel space-time that changes the rules of the game: the circus. Despite appearances, the circus is not the continuation of theater by other means. Jacques Rivette makes it a synthesis: it's a magic circle of light, surrounded by banks of empty seats, occupied after nightfall by whispering ghosts closed in by crinkled walls of blue canvas.

    Since Paris nous appartient, the theater has constituted an acid test for Rivette's heroines, each novice actor becoming herself through the words of someone else : her role. For the traps of theatrical language, the circus substitutes clown's masks and acrobats' death-defying feats: 'It's the most dangerous place in the world where anything's possible, where eyes are opening and my eyes were opened.' Like Lola Montes, fully aware that she risks her life in the ring, Kate (Jane Birkin) must perform the whip number in order to be excised of her grief. 'I feel like I've had an operation. I'd become used to my sickness, to my grief.' Interpreting Rilke's advice to a young poet, Vittorio, who stages the risky number designed to free Kate of the memory that stops her from living (the tragic death fifteen years earlier of the man she loved), provides one of the keys to the puzzle: 'All the dragons in our lives are perhaps princesses in distress asking to be released.'

    In Jacques Rivette's oeuvre, the circus becomes the images of the peril that art compels us to confront in order to release our fears. Unlike the heroines of Haut Bas Fragile who develop 'terrifying games' because 'there's no bigger thrill than fear,' Vittorio, the accidental stage director, gives himself the mission of saving princesses.

    In this respect, Around a Small Mountain is an encapsulation or even, to employ an expression rarely used today, poetic art: Jacques Rivette provides his audience with a stunning opportunity, in 84 magical minutes, to experience the existential test to which art (occasionally) raises us.

    All it took him was a few blue-dyed clothes floating on the surface of a river, a makeshift table where the fruit stands out like a still life, lovers looking for or dodging each other in the undergrowth, a clown looking us in the eye ('All's well that ends well!') a circus tent framing the trees' green foliage, a full moon over the mountains, watching over our dreams. All is well that ends well: as Jacques Rivette allows us to discover today, 'it's art that makes life' and not the contrary.
    This is very short for a Rivette film, and its delineation of his themes is correspondingly clear, simple, skeletal -- suited to the simplicity of the little dying circus, whose director has himself recently died, and whose remaining members say this is its last tour. Castellitto's character encounters Birkin's on the road when the vehicle she's driving, which pulls the circus tent, has broken down. He arrives in a shiny German sports car like the deus ex machina that he is -- the present equivalent of Cocteau's motorcycles. Ms. Frappat doesn't mention it, but he falls in love with Kate from then on, and yet, after lingering around the circus for a week or two, he is called on to Spain on business and leaves her. By participating in a reenactment of the dangerous whip trick that had accidentally killed the most important person in her life 15 years earlier, Kate is purged of the lingering sorrow and guilt she has been feeling. She may now presumably return to her Paris occupation of dyeing cloth for designers.

    I tend to agree with Variety reviewer Boyd Van Hoeij, that Jane Birkin's performance is more emotionally rich and her character is more rounded than Sergio Castellitto's. Castellitto is a versatile pro, and it's a bit surprising -- perhaps he's over-awed? -- that he doesn't endow Vittorio with more nuance. As Van Hoeij also notes, Rivette uses a lot of improvisation, and potentially the most fun are the clown "numbers", intentionally "threadbare" at the outset, then enriched at Vittorio's presumptuous suggestion in subsequent performances. The artificiality of the film is underlined by the fact that during the circus acts the audience is almost never seen.

    The film may provide a kind of skeleton key to Rivette, as Castellitto's quoted remark suggests, and thus may specially appeal to students of his work. On the other hand, it lacks the richness of the director's preceding three films, the 2001 Histoire de Marie et Julien/The Story of Marie and Julien, the 2003 Va savoir, and the 2007 Ne touchez pas la hache/The Duchess of Langeais. But in its simplicity, clarity, and its sense of resolution, this is very much an enlightened artist's late work, and resembles Shakespeare's late Pastoral romances.

    Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice (which was won by Samuel Maoz's Lebanon). Shown as a part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-03-2009 at 02:06 PM.

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    Todd solondz: Life during wartime (2009)

    TODD SOLONDZ: LIFE DURING WARTIME (2009)


    ALLISON JANEY IN SOLONDZ'S LIFE DURING WARTIME

    Laugh-to-keep-from-crying

    There's not much that Todd Solondz doesn't excel at as a filmmaker in this new work, perhaps making up titles. Life During Wartime doesn't tell you much, except it means all life is wartime. Above all it's about the screenplay, and this one is as dazzling, shocking, and packed with riveting dialogue as Pulp Fiction's, but without the violence. (The violence is repressed, as in ordinary life.) From the first scene between Allen (Michael Kenneth Williams of The Wire) and Joy (English actress Shirley Henderson), a one-year wedding anniversary dinner in a restaurant when she discovers the man she's married is still a pervert (she flees back to her mother and sisters in Florida and California), the dialogue is cranked up as in A Clockwork Orange to an acid-trip intensity. Solondz gets the maximum from his actors, and has assembled a fascinating cast. Even the brief turns are memorable, such as those of Charlotte Rampling as Jacqueline, a desperate woman in need of sex, and Paul Reubens, of Peewee Herman fame, as Joy's deceased former suitor Andy, who reappears to her for several troubling conversations.

    The images, bright and yellow-tinged, are heightened but not caricatural versions of everyday Americana, ranging from a middle-class Florida kitchen to a fab Hollywood pad. The sense of precise control the director achieves overlays and contrasts with the edge of hysteria in the characters' emotional lives. If the casting is virtuoso, the beautifully modulated cinematography of Ed Lachman (Far from Heaven, I'm Not There, Virgin Suicides) is one more illustration of Solodnz's mastery of the whole production of making a film.

    Most of the characters are freely carried over from Solondz's previous triumph, Happiness some ten years older but some more, some less, with different actors. This is a family that suffers from dysfunction -- but there is also normality. Trish (Allison Janey) has three children, and has met a very "normal" man, a lonely divorcee, Harvey (Michael Lerner), and they're in love and want to marry. Her 13-year-old boy Timmy (Dylan Snyder), a composed, preternaturally articulate boy, is about to be bar mitzvahed. Joy is Trish's sister, and turns up. She also sees their mother, Mona (Renee Taylor). Later she goes to California and sees their other sister, Helen (Ally Sheedy). These scenes are skillfully interwoven with the central ones directly or indirectly involving Timmy.

    Harvey is truly "normal," but then there's Bill (Irish stage actor Cieran Hinds), who is just being released from prison, where he has served a long sentence for pedophile acts. Bill is the father of Trish's three children, but she has told everyone he's dead. After Allen visits older brother Billy (Chris Marquette) at college, to assure himself the sex crime gene hasn't been passed on, Timmy finds out about his father.

    Solondz is exceptionally good at dialogue, and it can be jaw-dropping and hilarious, but Life During Wartime is further strengthened by the ingenious ways the characters and their conversations interlock. If there is a theme, and at one or two points this is presented almost too didactically, it is forgiveness (which was the original working title). Picking up Bill in a hotel bar Jacqueline (Rampling), who's hardened and brutal, says "Only losers ask for forgiveness. Only losers expect to get it." But Timmy and Harvey's pessimistic son Mark (Rich Pesci) discuss seriously whether you can forgive and forget, and how it might be necessary to forget without forgiving. As for Bill, Trish's view is "Once a perv, always a perv."

    Those who find Solondz's material too shocking or bitter need to consider that confronting such horrors as pedophilia head-on with grim but sometimes hilarious humor may be a kind of provisional forgiveness of humanity's worse faults. The movie seems to skirt on the edge of the difficult question of what's forgivable and what's not. And thus in Life During Wartime an already brilliantly original filmmaker has moved perceptively (but subtly) in the direction of maturity and mellowness. There's still a lot of specific stuff that's topical and funny, more than you can put into any review.

    Timmy (not present in Happiness) is really the central character, in the best position to change and change others. Because his Bar Mitzvah is coming, he considers himself to be almost "a man." He is horrified to learn both of his father's true identity and his mother's lying about it, and terrified that he might be a "faggot" too, and now, thanks to his mother's warning, terrified of the idea of being "touched" by a (big, grown up, old) man. Bill provides a shadowy, haunting counterpart to the brighter scenes of Trish and Timmy. His encounter with his older son Billy is surprisingly intense, perhaps the most real moment, because its emotional content is more wordless. Again and again and in many different ways the film astounds with its dialogue scenes, especially one-on-one. The operative technique is not wit but surprise. Not all the moments work equally well; Bill as a character may be too heavy-handed, a bit of a waste of the brilliant actor Cieran Hinds (who has played a pedophile murderer on stage). But the way the screenplay interlocks and flows keeps this from mattering too much, and all the scenes work separately (another link with Tarantino).

    Joy's encounter with successful, but completely unhappy and mean Hollywood sister Helen is an illustration of how people aren't who they seem, but more than that is another spot-on illustration of subtle sisterly in-fighting. The threat of bodily harm with an Emmy statuette is one of many laugh-to-keep-from-crying moments in the movie. Todd Solodnz achieves mastery here, and has made one of the best American films of the year.

    Shown and reviewed as part of the main slate of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, 2009. Also shown at the Venice, Telluride, and Toronto festivals.

    Limited US release came July 23, 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-21-2012 at 06:50 AM.

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    SOULEYMANE CISSE': MIN YE: TELL ME WHO YOU ARE (2009_

    SOULEYMANE CISSE': MIN YE: TELL ME WHO YOU ARE (2009)


    SOKONA GAKOU AS MIMI IN MIN YE

    Boorish Bovary

    Cisse', a mature (67-year-old) African director more known for folkloric village tales, veers off in a completely new direction in this lengthy (135-minute) exploration of marital conflict in an upper-class couple involving an overbearing courtesan-like woman and two polygamous men. It's a direction that has been favorably heralded locally by the Malian audience, but isn't likely to win admirers in Europe or America.

    The setting is the capital of Mali, Bamako, and the scenes wander from one palatial house to another. The action involves repeated encounters, arguments, legal consultations and divorce proceedings, but as it grows more and more repetitious and -- dare one say it? -- annoying, the chief amusement becomes admiring the ladies' colorful hair, turbans, and matching dresses, which as in Wong Kar-Wai's In the Mood for Love (which probably shouldn't really be mentioned in the same breath with this disaster) never change style but always vary in color and material. Interest in the European and American film markets seems unlikely, especially since dialogue is not in the official language, French, but the local patois, Bambara.

    A Malian writer has called Mimi (Sokana Gakou) "an African Madame Bovary." Okay. She has in common with the tragic French literary figure an adulterous choice that dooms her marriage. But Cisse is no Flaubert. This story is no more sharply crafted than the average telenovela. You watch one scene after another wondering if it is ever going to lead anywhere, and the resolution is absurd, because it suggests some sort of peace between Mimi and Issa (Assane Kouyate), her filmmaker husband, when it's quite obvious that she is far too inconsistent, self-indulgent, and demanding to be worth bothering with and she has ruined her marriage many times over. She comes off as both glamorous and tacky, a fifty-something African Paris Hilton. Issa comes off as dignified, ironic, but weak.

    Mimi's boyfriend is Abba (Alou Sissoko), a dealer in fish (and he seems rather slippery and slimy). Also a wealthy man, Abba has two wives, who are none too pleased with his affair. Issa has another wife too. Mimi doesn't like that. But though the film clearly shows the double standard that applies in African marriages, calling this a feminist film seems a considerable stretch given that its "heroine" is so boorish. Mimi has a palatial house of her own with female servants on duty day and night, who don't need TV, since they have the dramas Mimi puts on to entertain them. They're addressed in a haughty, rude manner by their mistress.

    Mimi is trained as a lawyer, and claims she makes her country billions of dollars through her work for a national development agency, but as Variety reviewer Alissa Simon says, "it's unclear when she actually works; her entire screen time is spent scheming, lying or complaining about her personal relationships." What she does do is lie about, have assignations when the whim strikes her with Abba, and model an endless wardrobe of outfits with dramatic jewelry to go with them. But work? We see her at it only once, early on.

    This is one of the chief failings of the film: while it goes into wearying detail about the rows between Mimi and Issa, making this read more like a reality show than a film, there is no context of social or working life outside the marital problems, and no sense of action in any sense moving forward through work or outside events.

    Reviewers have commented that the visuals are too dark and not sharp enough. In addition some outdoor shots of streets and fields are washed out and downright blurry. The darkness is not so bothersome because the people are so colorful, none more so than the super-sized Mimi, who surely must be some kind of caricature of a Malian nouveau riche type. But the prolixity of the dialogue and the lack of effective editing make her character become irritating rather than enlightening.

    Inclusion of a movie this disappointing in a film festival must be explained by " the current dearth of sub-Saharan African filmmaking" Alissa Simon notes. When one considers that three years ago the New York Film Festival showed Abderrahmane Sissako's outstanding and emotionally rich political drama Bamako, this dearth seems a very sad turn of events.

    Shown as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-30-2009 at 09:26 PM.

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    PEDRO COSTA: NE CHANGE RIEN (2009)

    PEDRO COSTA: NE CHANGE RIEN (2009)


    JEANNE BALIBAR

    Visual poetry and relaxed musical moments from Pedro Costa, Philipe Morel, and Jeanne Balibar

    Ne change rien/Change Nothing (a phrase from a song) is a departure from the usual focus of Pedro Costa. The Portuguese director, who has linked himself with Tourneur, Bresson, Ozu, Lang, Hawks, Lubitsch, Walsh and Chaplin, to name a few, has acquired an very special reputation among cinephiles over the past couple of decades for his artfully non-invasive films depicting mostly natives of the Cape Verde islands, both at home and in Portugal, on digital, in black and white, with low light, and using fixed camera setups and non-actors but resorting to many takes.

    This new film of French actress and Jacques Rivette muse Jeanne Balibar recording and in rehearsal singing songs by a variety of composers (French and American songs, and an Offenbach opera) with a small (and twice a larger) combo fulfills the sometime promise of the New York Film Festival or any festival to provide "documentary" material that is out of the ordinary, because Ne change rien is not merely informative but stylish, beautiful, thought-provoking, perhaps even profound.

    Costa keeps to his usual visual style with fixed camera positions, digital black and white, and low light and square aspect ratio. This time the effect is sometimes elegant, like a fashion shoot. Balibar is not exactly beautiful but she has good bones and the big eyes, full lips, and lean and rangy frame of a a fashion model -- but her face isn't opaque like a model's. It's sweet and soulful, and sometimes here, fatigued, though she goes through endless repetitions, like a good actress used to many takes, without complaint. The repetitions are engineered by the musicians, though; Costa simply shoots, cutting seamlessly, almost invisibly, from one moment, venue, or camera position to another.

    The main musicians identified are Rodolphe Burger, Herve' Loos, Armond Dieterdan, and Joel Thieux. The sound engineer was Philippe Morel. Sometimes the image disappears or the artists are not on camera, but the audio is always in the foreground, and powerful. The languorous French rock sound isn't always winning, but there are irresistible moments, and this film catches the always appealing magic of musicians collaborating in a format that is at once simple, "minimal" (except that less is so often more) and enormously stylish. Other credits can be obtained on Costa's website. There are rock songs, love songs and ballads, and a quote from Godard, and a scene shot in a Tokyo bar, and others shot in a barn in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. There are subtitles, and it would have been good if they'd continued when Balibar sang in English, because the words are not clear.

    The film was included in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, where it received raves. But it does not open in Paris till January 2010. Included in the main slate of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-04-2009 at 07:59 AM.

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    HARMONY KORINE: TRASH HUMPERS (2009)

    HARMONY KORINE: TRASH HUMPERS (2009)



    Is humping a US mailbox legal?

    Young provocateur filmmaker Harmony Korine, who lives in and grew up in Nashville, has made a film in trashy cheap VHS that evokes the nightmare world of degenerate southern redneck swine.

    He doesn't exactly say that. He explains when talking of the film that growing up, there were some scary old people who used to peek in windows at night, particularly next door where there was a young girl. Now the underpasses and open lots that he roamed as a youth are full of trash, and looking at trash receptacles one day the idea came to him of people humping them. He couldn't get real old people to play his roles so he gathered together a group of friends earlier this year who wear old person masks in the film. A couple of weeks of warming up and a couple of weeks of wandering around and shooting as the cast improvised and the film, like a sketch made on a whim, was done. It's perhaps an antidote to the more elaborate process involved in Korine's last film, Mr. Lonely, a more straightforward film starring Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, and others.

    There is no plot, just a series of random scenes. A boy tries and fails to sink a basketball in a hoop. The garbage cans get humped. A screeching old lady rides a small dirt bike around with a baby doll tied dragging behind. The boy takes a hatchet to a doll in a parking lot and tries to chop up its head. A man recites an improvised poem about a nation of trash while one of the masked oldsters sits in a wheelchair and throws out firecrackers at a bunch of balloons. There is some nakedness. There is some nasty talk. There is almost the fear Korine said his wife felt when he played a VHS tape somebody'd given him, that it was going to turn into a snuff film. Korine wanted this to look and feel like found footage, like stuff on a strange videotape found in the trash somewhere. Made by old and demented perverts living a free and aimless life.

    Some of the images may evoke various sources such as Diane Arbus or Ralph Eugene Meatyard's still photos (strangeness, retardation, aimlessness, gothic vacuity), but he denies any such connections. Somebody has suggested Korine is treading on the ground of early John Waters. But Waters has a knack for plot; even Korine's structured Kids scenario rambles. And Waters has a great sense of humor. Trash Humpers is ridiculous -- it's a horror movie that's also a comedy -- but there is no wit in it. It's a kind of improvised voyeurism. It does succeed in wandering well outside the mainstream. Its use of a very primitive kind of VHS reminds us as in a far more complex way did David Lynch's beautiful Inland Empire that seeming "found" footage can be deeply evocative and scary. Even Blair Witch Project comes to mind. Not many filmmakers would have staged a series of casually revolting stunts like those encapsulated randomly and (he says) in order of staging that Korine dumps on us here. It's a statement about limits, and about freedom. And it's being acknowledged as valid. Even Variety concludes its review of the film with the line: "Across the board, tech credits are appalling -- in a good way." Korine is an odd one (and an articulate interviewee in the NYFF press Q&A) and for festival and film buff audiences he is a force to reckon with. The question is, what's next? Will he go backwards or forwards?

    Dennis Lim has written an appreciative piece on the film for Cinema Scope. "Can the most regressive work yet by an artist known for arrested development also be a sign of his newfound maturity?" Now there's a bit of interpretive convolution for you. And the statement implied by the question may be true. But still the question remains, what's next?

    Shown as part of the main slate of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009. Premiered at Toronto.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-02-2009 at 08:04 AM.

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    BONG JOON-HO: MOTHER (2009

    BONG JOON-HO: MOTHER (2009


    WON BIN, KIM HYE-JA IN MOTHER POSTER

    An extra-loyal mom

    Bong Joon-ho's new film is built around actors. The starting point of it is Kim Hye-ja, grande dame of Korean acting (around whom the screenplay by Bong and Park Eun-kyo is built), who gets a chance to break away from the long-suffering, boundlessly loving mother image she maintains in the long-running "Rustic Diary" TV series to embrace a juicier, darker, richer role. Likewise Won Bin, whose pretty-boy looks have gotten him gangster and perfect son casting, here becomes the slack-jawed, unpredictable Do-joon, a "retard," not taken seriously by most of the town, but zealously protected by his apothecary mom (Kim), who even sleeps in the same bed with him, though he's 27. Both the mother's and son's roles are challenging. Kim Hye-ja shows an incredible emotional range within a de-glamorized exterior, and Won Bin subtly side-steps dumb-guy shtick, managing to keep Do-joon lastingly unpredictable and mysterious.

    Do-joon has a run-in with the police after he and his friend Jin-tae (Jin Gu) hassle some fat cats at the golf club after one of them hits Do-joon with his Mercedes and doesn't stop. Simple Do-joon brags about being at the police station, but then gets drunk, brooding about the way Jin-tae ribs him for being a virgin and wanting to get laid. Then that same night Ah-jong, a schoolgirl, is found with her head bashed in and Do-joon becomes the prime suspect. His case seems hopeless, but his aging mother, convinced that Do-joon would never hurt a fly, takes it upon herself to conduct her own investigation of the case, which neither the cops nor the fancy lawyer she has engaged are interested in. This story carries its mother-son relationship well beyond the usual. There is no extent to which this mom won't go to protect and exonerate her son, and some of the memories that are dredged up are troubling indeed.

    In some aspects Mother reaches back to Bong's 2003 '80's-set police procedural Memories of Murder, particularly to its sensitive development of a small-town milieu. But this film is also full of comic aspects like the director's later international success The Host (2006, also a NYFf selection). The focus on mysterious, isolated people relates to the main character in Bong's top-drawer segment of the 2008 Tokyo! trilogy, "Shaking Tokyo." Cell phone cameras, autographed golf balls, and acupuncture also play key roles in the story, which is full of interesting twists and turns. A major turnaround comes from Do-joon's bad-boy friend Jin-tae, whose true role we have no idea of at first.

    Bong explodes the image of the ideal mother and as usual, bends genres in this new effort. At times this might seem a twisted psychological thriller with links to Douglas Sirk and Sam Fuller, and the occasionally old-fashioned movie music by Lee Byeong-woo, traditionally surging at key points, reinforces that impression. Ryu Seong-hie, the production designer, has worked extensively with Park Chan-wook, and d.p. Hong Gyeong-pyo does a superb job in integrating the looks of a wide variety of locations. This is highly sophisticated Korean cinema at its technical best.

    We can't possibly reveal the outcome: the essence of Mother is that its plot is packed with surprises. Perhaps indeed there are a few too many: the last ten minutes introduce further twists after the surprise climax that might better have been omitted. For all the great look, terrific acting, and explosive plot twists, I'm not sure this is up to the best of Bong Joon-ho's previous work. It's fun and entertaining especially at the outset and watchable throughout, but Bong and Park's screenplay meanders a bit. The film's inclusion in the 2009 New York Film Festival may owe more to timing, to the bloom that's still upon Korean cinema, and to Bong's status as an alumnus of the festival, than to the film's intrinsic merit. (Despite a new film that's received raves, Hong Sang-soo, a NYFF favorite, is omitted this year. His 2008 NYFF Paris-based entry was somewhat lackluster. . .)

    Bong's Mother/Madeo was included in the "Un Certain Regard" series at Cannes, and shown as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-31-2009 at 06:49 PM.

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    LEE DANIELS: BASED ON THE NOVEL PUSH BY SAPPHIRE (2009)

    LEE DANIELS: PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL 'PUSH' BY SAPPHIRE (2009)


    PRECIOUS (GABOUREY SIDIBE) FACES THE TAUNTS OF GHETTO YOUTHS

    Dramatic depiction of a black teenage girl's horrific ghetto life

    Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire (the film's awkward full title) is treacherous ground for audiences and movie reviewers. How can you be critical of a 300-pound sexually abused, illiterate 16-year-old black Harlem teenager who betters herself? Moreover the film has the warm endorsement of Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry. Oprah says "it split me open," "I've never seen anything like it. The moment I saw (it) I knew I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage other people to see this movie." The film also comes with the mixed blessing of double prizes at Sundance and the audience award at Toronto. The Weinstein brothers fought with Lionsgate for distribution rights; Lionsgate won. It almost makes you want to hate it, and there are things to criticize, but ultimately the movie is so bold, striking, eye-opening and thought-provoking that it inspires respect. The director Lee Daniels, a black man, has done respectably with tough topics before as a producer of Monster's Ball and The Woodsman but in this second outing as a director goes for a stronger impression, with colorful visuals and a host of vivid performances. It's still hard to be tough on the subject matter. But is this a great movie? I don't think so. We're meant to be awed, though, rather than to analyze the film as a film.

    Clareece "Precious" Jones (excellent newcomer Gabourey Sidibe) is pregnant with her second child fathered by her own father. She is put down and ordered around by her lazy welfare mother Mary (the explosive and frightening Mo'Nique), who does absolutely nothing but smoke cigarettes and watch TV and expect Precious to cook for her and wait on her. It is the scenes between Precious and her mother that give the film its shock value. There are even brief flashbacks of her father having sex with her. Daniels says this film would "have been X-rated" if he had not introduced colorful brief fantasy sequences that come when Precious wants to escape from her life and imagines herself as a star greeting fans, dancing, escorted and adored by handsome young black men in tuxedos. Precious' voice-over, which is sharp, articulate, and somewhat detached at times, also provides a necessary distancing effect with materials that otherwise would be too harsh and Dickensian to bear -- or perhaps to believe, or take seriously. But the fantasies, in which Sidibe (who in real life is a smart college girl more like Precious' dreams than her reality) excels, also add to the slick artificiality that makes Precious feel too much like Darren Arronofsky's manipulative, stylized morality play, Requiem for a Dream.

    Clareece/Precious is big, and sometimes violent, and after she hits somebody in math class who taunts her, she's sent to the principal's office. (She is relatively good at math, or thinks she is, and imagines the white male teacher likes, even loves her.) As a result of this encounter with authority she is transferred to an "alternative" G.E.D.-preparation school called "Each One Teach One," and here her fellow students, an assortment like a female ghetto equivalent of a 40's movie bomb squad, and their beautiful light-skinned black lesbian teacher Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), become a second, better, family for Precious. Under Ms. Rain's patient tutelage she also begins to learn to read and write and speak correctly.

    While Precious is reading one of her journal entries, a "fantasy," she goes into labor. The baby is normal and a boy; she names him Abdu. Her previous child is retarded (or autistic?) and she calls her "Mongol" or "Mongo." The class and Ms. Rain rally round her in the hospital, and she meets a kind male nurse, John, played by Lenny Kravitz. Another piece of successful celebrity casting is singer Mariah Carey as Mrs. Weiss, Precious' welfare counselor.

    Precious has a horrible clash with her mother that causes her to take Abdu, break into Each One Teach One, and throw herself upon Ms. Rain's mercy. Ms. Rain finds a halfway house where Precious can be safe with her child, but Mary contacts Mrs. Weiss and demands that she be allowed to see the baby and meet with Precious in Mrs. Weiss' office. The film's most appalling moment among many comes when Mary tells Mrs. Weiss about the father's sexual abuse, and what she did, or didn't, do. The movie has Precous say nothing except to tell her mother she never wants to see her again and walk out with her baby. Later she learns she has AIDS, but the baby doesn't. The movie is set in 1986 when this was a terrible fact, but still Precous expects to finish high school and go on to college, and Ms. Rain is encouraging her to give up the baby for adoption so she can pursue an education.

    The film is more focused on depicting the girl's horrific situation than on presenting a rounded picture of Harlem life. Precious is larger than life in every sense. Emphatic closeups combine with the voice-over and the DayGlo daydreams to undercut realism further. Saying that this is "the truth" is to say it's a truth that we'd rather overlook, or that perhaps middle class African Americans might rather not think about, or white Americans might prefer not to know. But it's hard to claim as some do that Precious has "utter authenticity." Its "authenticity" is relative and highly cinematic. Lee Daniels has worked well with his well chosen cast and not gotten in the way of what they could do with the explosive material, and consequently, whether this needed another film festival boost or not, Precious seems likely to do better and get a wider audience than the previous films Daniels has been involved with. It does so much to keep you from observing its over-simplifications and artistic shortcuts that you'd be hard put to do so, even if the subject matter did not scream at you to shut up.

    Shown at the New York Film Festival in October 2009. Also presented at the Cannes, Toronto, San Sebastian, Tokyo, and London film festivals. To be released by Lionsgate (limited) from November 6 2009.
    ______________
    (NYFF selection committee member Scott Foundas, reporting from Sundance, wrote a nicely balanced short review for the Village Voice.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-13-2009 at 04:30 PM.

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    Catherine breillat: Bluebeard (2009)

    CATHERINE BREILLAT: BLUEBEARD (2009)


    DOMINIQUE THOMAS, LOLA CRETON IN BLUEBEARD

    Feminist angle on first serial-killer-of-women tale

    Catherine Breillat, who once made provocative contemporary feminist features about women’s sexuality, has recently moved in a new direction with costume dramas. But it's not like she's cast aside her feminist outlook. In The Last Mistress/La derniere maitresse (2007) she adapted a controversial novel that straddles the 18th and 19th centuries; Asia Argento got the juicy lead role of the bold courtesan who refuses to yield to a nobleman's squeaky-clean new young wife and keeps on living a grand passion with the groom, her old boyfriend. The story dramatizes a marriage of 18th-century libertinism and 19th-century notions of romantic love. In La Barbe bleue Breillat works out her own take on the famous French folktale about the rich serial wife-killer who gets his comeuppance. Famously, the legend was transcribed by the 17th-century writer of fairy tales, Charles Perrault, and this is Breillat's source, but she rings some interesting changes on it, endowing it with more psychological depth and adding more comments on the historical subjugation of women.

    In Perrault's version, though all young women are terrified of the rich old man because of his blue beard and his series of wives who've never been seen again, the younger of a neighbor's two daughters accepts to marry him.

    Then he goes away for a spell and leaves the young wife the castle keys, forbidding her to use one little one. She can't resist, and in that room she finds the murdered wives hanging on the will and a puddle of blood into which she drops the key. There's a spell on the key, and she can't wash the blood off. So when Bluebeard comes home, he knows she's been in the room and decides to kill her. But her two brothers come and kill him and save her and she inherits Bluebeard's estate and remarries and lives happily ever after.

    Breillat expands the story (after all, it's only three pages long in Perrault). There's also the reveling in period flavor -- the walls of a castle, the horses and carriages, the creaky floors of a nunnery, and above all the rich old fabrics sewn with semi-precious stones (the costumes were lavish and authentic in The Last Mistress too). The two sisters, red-headed Anne (Daphne Baiwir) and younger Marie-Catherine (Lola Creton) are students at a school run by nuns, and their father dies, whereupon they're kicked out of the school by a nasty (and young) head nun (Farida Khelfa). The father leaves their mother with nothing, and they're forced to sell furniture and a harpsichord out of their house to pay bills. The sisters are vocally annoyed at their mother for dyeing all their dresses black: how are they supposed to appeal to potential husbands so drably dressed? Their mother is almost as much of a damper on things (and agent of male oppression) as the head nun.

    The younger sister chooses to marry Bluebeard because she is the more fearless and independent one. Bluebeard is fat and old and a little pathetic, and he seems to love his new young bride. He turns out to be something of an old softie. (A good role for Michael Lonsdale, but Breillat makes use of the less known Dominique Thomas.) There are several elaborate eating scenes at a long table, which underline the family resemblance between this film and Rossellini's super-authentic, deliberately stilted history films, especially the most famous, The Taking of Power by Louis XIV (1966). There are also several sequences of well-dressed young people dancing and celebrating, which tend to underscore Bluebeard's un-fun existence and lack of youth.

    We don't know how she does it (she engineers several delays and changes of weapon) but Marie-Catherine seems to do away with Bluebeard on her own, without the help of brothers. The last shot shows her sitting proudly in front of a large plate with Bluebeard's severed head mounted on it, like Judith with the head of Holofernes (another proudly feminist story from the past).

    Breillat's Bluebeard is beautiful but unlike the sprightly Last Mistress creaks and drags. It's livened up by interposed scenes throughout of two very lively (and sometimes combative) sub-teen girls of the 1950's in an attic with a copy of Perrault, Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites) and Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti), and the younger and more bumptious of the two, Catherine, reading from the tale of "Bluebeard" and mocking her older sister when she protests that it makes her afraid. That's the point, and apparently Breillat's inspiration; that young girls like to be safely "scared" for the titillation of it. And partly of course the film is about the relationship between young girls and such tales. There's a surprise twist, the 1950's kids linking the Perrault tale with 'actual" events in a haunting, dreamlike way that also lightens up the stilted, slow, and rather gloomy progress of the "Bluebeard" dramatization.

    Though a classy French film in every way, this is less fun than The Last Mistress. Though this may be a cheaper production than the latter (which Breillat said cost more than all her other films combined), it does not look cheap as the Variety reviewer argues, and the DV isn't "drab" as has been said. No doubt at all that if Rossellini were working today on his historical films, DV would be his medium, and he'd work wonders with it. Breillat hasn't done badly herself.

    Shown at the Berlin and other festivals, including the New York Film Festival, when it was seen in October 2009. The film was bought by Strand Releasing and opens in the US March 26th, 2010, at the IFC Center in NY.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-05-2010 at 09:24 PM.

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    RAYA MARTIN: INDEPENDENCIA (2009)

    RAYA MARTIN: INDEPENDENCIA (2009)


    ALESSANDRA ROSSI, SID LUCERO, TETCHIE AGBAYANI

    Nostalgia vies with protest in a young experimental filmmaker's movie about colonialism

    In this film 24-year-old Raya Martin, the first Filipino director to be chosen for a Cannes Cinefondation film-making workshop, shows the ambition of the very young. He takes on the entire history of colonization in the Philippines as his subject. And he comes from a country that has been colonized and dominated by Spain, then the US, then Japan, then the US again. But Independencia, whose 35 mm camera work is by the French cinematographer Jeanne Lepoirie, and which if you can really separate the two is more remarkable for its lovely evocative black and white look than for its narrative, approaches its subject indirectly. Skillfully appropriating the style of long-ago local studio films (silents, and early talkies) and reveling in their artificiality, soft focus and fixed camera positions, it depicts a young man (Sid Lucero) and his aging mother (Tetchie Agbayani), who slip off into the forest to live in hiding because they feel an invasion is coming -- the invasion of the Americans. (This is not merely symbolic, but happened during the various invasions, that Filipinos escaped and lived dangerous hidden lives in the hinterlands.)

    The look evoked is of the films made during the American occupation, while the events take place during the same time. The forest/jungle that dominates the scenes is lush and gorgeous and luminous. The son and mother find an abandoned shack and live there. The son later finds a wounded and raped girl (Alessandra de Rossi) and takes her back to the shack. Later his mother dies. The story jumps forward, after the brief interruption of a segment from a mock-propaganda film justifying American soldiers shooting a boy who steals in a village market, meant to take the place of an old style cinema intermission break, to some years later when the young woman and the son are now living together as husband and wife and have a young son -- or rather, are raising the boy with whom she was pregnant when she arrived (Mika Aguilos). Since he is light-skinned, perhaps he was fathered by an American, and that indeed is indicated by a fugitive line of dialogue earlier.

    There are several important sequences of oral storytelling, and a pungent speech in the film's Tagalog language in which the little boy describes exploring and seeing a golden man by a river whose hair and body are so bright he can't look at them. (A savior, or a white oppressor? The boy's father?)

    The film, which is rich in insect sounds throughout (as well as intrusive music) ends with a spectacularly loud and lightening-filled typhoon when the little family is broken up. The little boy is left alone and driven over a cliff by the invaders.

    At the risk of seeming superficial, one has to say that the visuals are what sing in the film; the narrative is allusive and symbolic and you can make what you want of it, but the images provide immediate rewards. As Deborah Young writes in her Hollywood Reporter review, "Though everything is obviously shot on a studio set with potted plants and a painted backdrop, the effect is to cast the characters into a magical world that can be both quaint and wondrous." Moreover the whole film shows the beauty of shooting with a lens that has a shallow depth of field, and the evocation of silent-era film-making at times is remarkable. Independencia is an experimental work (Raya Martin has spoken of being inspired by Stan Brakhage's painted images in his final shots of the boy, with the colorless landscape suddenly painted red), but visually it is stimulating to the imagination, and the apparent simplicity belies the richness of the effects. Like many a talented young artist, Martin seems self-absorbed, pretentious and naive, proclaiming at Cannes that he hoped people would get "to die for their country and for cinema." Time will tell if his talents will bear solid fruit or get lost in showy gestures. Meanwhile, he has ideas more mainstream cinematographers may want to steal.

    Independencia is the second in a trilogy, following A Short Film About the Indio Nacional (2005), which dealt with the struggle for independence from Spain in the late 19th century and was made in the style of silent films.

    Shown at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard series (along with a short, Manila, shown out of competition). Seen as part of the main slate of the New York Film Festival, October 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-03-2009 at 06:14 PM.

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    AN JONG-HWA: CROSSROADS OF YOUTH (1934)

    AN JONG-HWA: CROSSROADS OF YOUTH (1934)



    Elaborate presentation of oldest known Korean film

    Crossroads Of Youth (Cheongchun's Sipjaro), a melodrama about a brother and sister from the country who go to the city and must deal with its dangerous and corrupting influences, was discovered last year in its original nitrate negative by the son of a former theater owner, and is the earliest extant Korean film and the only existing film from the Korean silent era (late in the era, obviously). The Korean Film Archive, which now owns the Crossroads negative, has a Korean talkie called Sweet Dream from 1936. An Jong-hwa, according to an article about this find in Variety, shot 12 films between 1930 and 1960. According to the Variety article, "The film stars Shin Il-seon, who was the female lead in Na Un-gyu's legendary lost classic Arirang (1926)."

    In honor of this discovery, with assistance from the Korean government, an elaborate presentation of the film has been worked up with a classical combo and three costumed performers to liven things up. A young man and young woman sing songs, representing the hero and his sister. The other performer is the pyosa or live off-screen narrator, dressed in striped suit, old-fashioned spectacles, and red bow tie, and he dominates the show with his extremely dramatic narration and impersonation of the characters.

    This is how the film was screened at the renovated Alice Tully Hall for the New York Film Festival, and explains, I guess, why Crossroads of Youth wasn't shown at the festival's press and industry screenings. The production was too elaborate to present more than once. In fact, it was so elaborate, it detracted somewhat from one's perception of the film itself.

    At times the pyosa's narration deliberately made fun of the process. For example when he did the voices of three young women on screen, he added the line, "Why do our voices all sound so alike?" Another time he has one character say to the hero, "Did you do your eyebrows yourself?" at a moment when they particularly look painted on. This was incorporated into the modern subtitles, which may represent a combination of original titles and additions for the new performance package. Such ironies had to be applied sparingly, since much of the film concerned serious matters like saving one's sister's virginity.

    What's clear is that there was a film industry in Korea in the early Thirties. The emphasis is on a series of rapid scenes involving a young man, his sister, a young women from a poor family who works in a gas station and becomes interested in the hero, and a lecherous money-lender who has one or two sidekicks. The money-lender preys upon both the youth and his sister, who have both come to the city but haven't found each other. The two young women both are seduced by the lecher, and the young hero turns to drink. All ends happily when he beats up the lecher and finds his sister.

    If only they'd had cell phones none of this would have happened.

    The empahsis is on poverty, sexual predators, and the corruptions of city life.

    The images seemed to be out of focus a lot, perhaps due to the lenses used. Nonetheless the casting worked, and so did the use of locales and costumes.

    Ultimately the presentation was more interesting than the film, and the amount that it added to the entertainment made up for the way it detracted and in part mocked the origan film.

    Now, at least, we know that Park Chan-wook, Hang Song-soo, Bong Joon-ho, Kim Ki-duk, and the many other great Korean directors who have emerged to international prominence over the past decde or so, did not spring from the void.

    Shown in this special production, as noted, as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, October 3, 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-06-2009 at 05:08 PM.

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    HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT'S INFERNO (2009)

    SERGE BOMBERG, RUXANDRA MEDEA: HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT'S INFERNO (2009)


    CLOUZOT AND SCHNEIDER DURING SHOOTING OF L'INFER

    Anatomy of an elaborate unfinished production

    L'Enfer d'Henri-Georges Clouzot is one of those documentaries, like Fulton and Pepe's Lost in La Mancha, about a movie that never got finished. This one concerns a film of 1964. Not a suspense thriller like the director's famous Wages of Fear (1953) or Diabolique (1955), which gained him arthouse notoriety in the States and made him seem a French competitor of Hitchcock, or his earlier detective meller masterpiece Quai des Orfevres (1947), Inferno was a psychological study of jealousy, with Serge Reggiani as stricken husband Marcel and the young, but already stellar, Romi Schneider as his too-pretty, flirtatious wife, Odette (references to Proust?). But things got too complicated and the movie never happened.

    In 1994, Claude Chabrol did his version of the story, having purchased the script from Clouzot's widow, Inez. In both cases, the essence of the tale is that the hotel owner's suspicions lead to paranoid delusions that overpower him. But Chabrol represents one of the primary Cahiers du Cinema branch of the French Nouvelle Vague, which was at its peak during the period of Clouzot's ascendancy, but represented new, freer, more inventive ways of working in film.

    Clouzot on the contrary was old school, and was particularly noted for writing and story-boarding everything out ahead of time in the most scrupulous detail, as well as for working actors too hard. His Inferno was to have been highly inventive in one respect, at least: he shot reams of experimental, "op-art" and prismatic lens shots, even creating "optical coitus" with spinning geometry and a zoom lens, as well as on-location reverse color images, planning visual equivalents of the Reggiani character's growing madness. The latest techniques were used, though the concept seems rather more like the surrealism of the Forties and Fifties than something new.

    Still, there's no way of knowing how well the film would have turned out. What is clear is that those experimental shoots took too long, and ate up funds as well as time. When it wen beyond pure optical illusion in the studio and more and more required the participation of Reggiani and Schneider, the shooting, much of it extraneous to the script, began to strain the stars as well. Clouzot was a chronic insomniac and would wake crew members at two a.m. with new ideas. He made Reggiani spend an entire day running, shooting the same sequence over and over and exhausting him. Reggiani walked off the set, pleading a mysterious illness, and never came back. Jean-Louis Tritignant was called in to interview as a replacement, but that didn't work out. Shortly later Clouzot, then 56, had a heart attack. That was it. Clouzot only made one more film, La Prisonniere, and died in 1977, aged 70.

    Because the film wasn't finished, all the "preuves" were kept, and this film is interesting and unique for its lavish sampling of the experimental footage in which day-glo images spiral hypnotically or Marcek or his (imagined?) rival's faces merge, or Reggiani's or Schneider's faces are distorted as in a fun house. There's also detailed footage showing work to use color reversal to make the lake of the setting turn red when Marcel sees Odette water-skiing with Martineau (Jean-Claude Bercq), the local womanizer with whom she apparently has a fling.

    The trick as Bomberg, a specilalist in cinematic history and film restoration, told it in a NYFF Q&A, was to get hold of the 185 cans of footage controlled by Clouzot's second wife, Inez. Getting caught in a stalled elevator for two hours with her convinced her that her experience with Bomberg was "special" enough to give him the rights she'd denied to many others, and she also passed the completed documentary, without cuts.

    The Inferno footage is largely without sound, though there are test recordings of Reggiani uttering mad repetitious ravings as the wacked-out Marcel. Bomberg uses voice-overs to reconstruct some scenes of the film, and introduces five short scenes in which conetemporary actors Berenice Bejo and Jacques Gamblin read from the script, to extrapolate.

    Though it's all a bit after-the-fact, and the value of the Clouzot film remains moot, the documentary has interviews with nine cast and crew members, including Catherine Allegret, then-production assistant Costa Gavras and assistant cinematographer William Lubtchansky. Details of the breakdown emerge, and it's due to Clouzot's employing three separate film crews unaware of each other's activities, and his endless re-shooting of simple sequences. As one talking head points out, the film might have gotten made if Clouzot hadn't been writer, director, and producer. A real producer might have speeded things up, thus saving everybody's nerves and the production.

    This is a glossy, beautifully crafted MK2 production and is a must-see for film buffs, particularly those interested in French cinema history. However as Variety reviewer Todd McCarthy points out, essential context is omitted in the failure to mention Clouzot's being out of commission throughout the Thirties in sanatoriums for mental problems. Maybe the widow wouldn't have wanted his lack of mental balance to be further discussed. McCarthy is also right that the dominant image you come away with is the radiant and obviously cooperative young Romi Schneider. Dany Carrel as "Marylou" is another pert sex kitten in the cast who shows off plenty for the camera. It's puzzling that in the Q&A the flamboyant but otherwise informative Bomberg (so chatty he who was reluctant to relinquish the mike both before and after the NYFF public screening), never once mentioned co-director Ruxandra Medrea. Anyway, this is a rich and evocative piece of cinematic documentation.

    Shown as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009. Also featured at Cannes, Toronto, Vancouver, and the London Film Festival. To open in France November 11, 2009.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-06-2009 at 05:10 PM.

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