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Thread: New York Film Festival 2010

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    New York Film Festival 2010




    Bryce Dallas Howard, Matt Damon, Hereafter, Closing Night

    New York Film Festival 2010

    Welcome to the Festival Coverage thread for the 48th New York Film Festival, fall 2010, put on by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Filmleaf's General Film Forum discussion thread for the NYFF begins here.

    INDEX OF LINKS TO REVIEWS

    Another Year (Mike Leigh 2010)
    Aurora (Cristi Puiu 2010)
    Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, The (Andrei Uticǎ 2010)
    Black Venus (Abdellatif Kechiche 2010)
    Carlos (Olivier Assayas 2010)
    Certified Copy (Abbas Kiarostami 2010)
    Film Socialisme (Jean-Luc Godard 2010)
    Hereafter (Clint Eastwood 2010)
    Inside Job (Charles Ferguson 2010)
    LennonNYC (Michael Epstein 2010)
    Letter to Elia, A (Scorsese, Jones 2010)
    Meek's Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt 2010)
    My Joy (Sergei Loznitsa 2010)
    Mysteries of Lisbon (Raúl Ruiz 2010)
    Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvois 2010)
    Oki's Movie (Hong Sang-soo 2010)
    Old Cats (Sebastián Silva, Pedro Peirano 2010)
    Poetry (Lee Chang-dong 2010)
    Post Mortem (Pablo Larraín 2010)
    Quattro Volte, Le (Michelangelo Frammartino 2010)
    Revolución (ten short films from Mexico, 2010)
    Robber, The (Benjamin Heisenberg 2010)
    Robinson in Ruins (Patrick Keiller) 2010
    Silent Souls (Alexei Fedorchenko 2010)
    Social Network, The (David Fincher 2010)
    Strange Case of Angelica, The (Manoel de Oliveira 2010)
    Tempest, The (Julie Taymor 2010)
    Tuesday, After Christmas (Radu Muntean 2010)
    Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (Apichatpong Weeresethakul 2010)
    We Are What We Are (Jorge Michel Grau 2010)


    These reviews have also been published on Flickfeast.uk.


    Clint Eastwood directing Hereafter in London
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-09-2012 at 02:50 AM.

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    PRESS SCREENING SCHEDULE Sept. 15-Oct. 7, 2010

    Screenings/Q&A's scheduled - August 30, 2010.
    (Also printed on the General Forums thread for the NYFF 2010 here)


    POETRY - LEE CHANG-DONG

    Mon Sep 13
    Noon - 5pm
    Credential pick-up only

    Tue Sep 14
    9am - PRISONERO 13 (76m)
    10:30am - EL COMPADRE MENDOZA(85m)
    12:30pm - LET'S GO WITH PANCHO VILLA (92m)
    (Masterworks: Fernando de Fuentes' Mexican Revolution Trilogy)

    Wed Sep 15
    9am - PALE FLOWER Masterworks Elegant Elegies: The Films of Masahiro Shinoda (96m)
    11am - SILENCE (129m) [?]
    2pm - CAMERAMAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF JACK CARDIFF Craig McCall, 2010, UK; 86m[/B] (83m) (Nyff Special Event)

    Thu Sep 16
    9 am THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU Andrei Ujic, 2010, Romania; 180m
    Noon - press conf VIA SKYPE
    1pm - NURENBERG [The Schulberg/Waletzky Restoration] (80m) (Nyff Special Event, "Masterworks" series )
    2:30pm - press conf

    Fri Sep 17
    9am - CARLOS, Olivier Assayas, 2010, France, 319 min

    Mon Sep 20
    9am - POETRY (Shi), Lee Chang-dong, 2010, South Korea, 139 min
    11:19am - Poetry - press conf VIA SKYPE
    12:30pm - LE QUATTRO VOLTE, Michelangelo Frammartino, 2010, Italy, 88 min
    2pm - press conf VIA SKYPE
    2:30pm - OKRI'S MOVIE (Ok hui ui yeonghwa), Hong Sang-soo, 2010, South Korea, 80 min

    Tue Sep 21
    9am - ROBINSON IN RUINS, Patrick Keiller, 2010, UK, 101 min
    10:40am - press conf VIA SKYPE
    11:45am - UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL PAST LIVES (Lung Boonmee raluek chat),
    Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2010, UK/Thailand, 113 min
    1:30pm s - press conf
    2:30pm - CERTIFIED COPY (Copie conformé), Abbas Kiarostami, 2010, France/Italy, 106 min
    France, 120 min
    4:30pm - press conf

    Wed Sep 22
    9am - LENNON NYC, Michael Epstein, 2010, USA, 115 min
    11am - press conf
    Noon - A LETTER TO ELIA Martin Scorsese & Kent Jones, 2010, USA; 60m (Special Event, Masterworks)
    2:30pm - TUESDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS (Marti, dupa craciun), Radu Muntean,
    Romania, 99 min
    4:15pm - press conf VIA SKYPE
    5:15pm - THE ROBBER (Der Räuber), Benjamin Heisenberg, Austria/Germany, 90 min
    6:45pm - press conf
    7:30pm - SILENT SOULS (Ovsyanki), Alexei Fedorchenko, Russia, 75 min
    8:45pm - press conf

    Thu Sep 23
    9am - MY JOY (Schastye moe), Sergei Loznitsa, 2010, Ukraine/Germany, 127 min
    11:08am - press conf VIA SKYPE
    12:30pm - OF GODS AND MEN (Des homes et des dieux), Xavier Beauvois, 2010,
    2:30pm - press conf OF GODS AND MEN

    Fri Sep 24
    9am - THE SOCIAL NETWORK, David Fincher, 2010, USA, 120 min
    11am - press conf
    Noon - FILM SOCIALISME, Jean-Luc Godard, 2010, Switzerland, 101 min
    2pm - Views from the Avant-Garde (sampler)

    Mon Sep 27
    9am - AURORA, Cristi Puiu, 2010, Romania, 181 min
    Noon - press conf
    1pm - THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA (O estranho caso de Angélica), Manoel de Oliveira,
    Portugal, 97 min
    (tentative) press conf

    Tue Sep 28
    9am - BLACK VENUS (Venus noire) , Abdellatif Kechiche, France, 166 min
    (tentative) press conf
    12:30pm - POST MORTEM, Pablo Larrain, 2010, Chile/Mexico/Germany, 98 min
    2:10pm - press conf VIA SKYPE

    Wed Sep 29
    9am - INSIDE JOB, Charles Ferguson, 2010, USA, 120 min
    11am - press conf
    1pm - BOXING GYM Frederick Wiseman, 2010, USA; 91m (Nyff Special Event)
    (tentative) - press conf

    Thu Sep 30
    10am - WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (Somos lo que hay), Jorge Michel Grau, Mexico, 90 min
    Noon - THE TEMPEST, Julie Taymor, 2010, USA, 110 min(110m)
    2pm - press conf

    Fri Oct 1
    NO PRESS &INDUSTRY SCREENINGS OR PRESS CONFERNECESF

    Mon Oct 4
    9am - ANOTHER YEAR, Mike Leigh, 2010, UK, 129 min
    11:10am - press conf
    12:30pm - MEEK'S CUTOFF, Kelly Reichardt, 2010, USA, 104 min
    2:15pm - press conf

    Tue Oct 5
    9am - FOREIGN PARTS Verena Paravel & J.P. Sniadecki, 2010, USA; 80m (Nyff Special Event)
    (tentative) press conf
    11:30am - REVOLUCIÓN, Mariana Chenillo, Fernando Embecke, Amat Escalante, Gael Garcia
    Bernal, Rodrigo Garcia, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Plá, Carlos Reygadas,
    Patricia Riggen, 2010, Mexico, 110 min
    1:15pm - press conf VIA SKYPE

    Wed Oct 6
    9am - OLD CATS (Gatos viejos), Sebastian Silva, 2010, Chile, 88 min
    10:30am - Old Cats - press conf
    Noon - Shorts program (compilation - 123m)

    Thu Oct 7
    9am - MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Misterios de Lisboa), Raul Ruiz, Portugal/France, 272 min
    1245p - press conf

    Fri Oct 8
    10am HEREAFTER (Clint Eastwood,2010, USA, 126, 126 min
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-15-2010 at 11:21 PM.

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    Martin scorsese, kent jones: A letter to elia (2010)

    MARTIN SCORSESE, KENT JONES: A LETTER TO ELIA (2010)


    SCORSESE AND KAZAN AT THE OSCARS IN 1999

    Scorsese's very personal tribute to a film master

    This 60-minute documentary is a love-letter, really, from Martin Scorsese, perhaps the most celebrated major American filmmaker of today, to his controversial hero, artistic model, and emotional influence, once the greatest American filmmaker (they called them directors back then) of his day, Elia Kazan. Kazan of course is the author of three great movies of their time, On the Waterfront, A Streetcar Named Desire (the latter not much discussed here), and East of Eden, showcasing the Actors Studio talents of Marlon Brando and James Dean. Kazan was a co-founder of the Actors Studio. But Kazan's favorite film was his black and white immigrant epic, America America, which opens this film (in a gorgeous pristine restoration), and emerges as deeply significant to Scorsese too.

    A celebration of the films of Elia Kazan (very selectively considered), Letter to Elia goes over Kasan's personal history, his rise as an actor on Broadway, then as a theatrical director, finally as a maker of what at first were mostly filmed plays in Hollywood. The reach of Kazan's whole career is considered. And that includes his very questionable "outing" of 8 fellow leftists to HUAC Congressional witchhunters in the Fifties. Scorsese describes this, which meant even the Academy's very late lifetime achievement award was much questioned; but he doesn't justify or even explain it. Why did Kazan do that? How could he do it? The only implication is that for Scorsese, Kazan was too important an early influence to become a fallen idol, so he straddles the fence. This is a panegyric, not a cool-headed analysis. Interestingly enough, Kazan did do his best film work after this betrayal. But where his films may seem dated today, Scorsese prefers to see them as he did when young, vibrant, exiting, and personally significant. Scorsese's later personal friendship with Kazan is documented with many stills and his loyalty and support movingly shown by their embrace at the Academy Awards honorary Oscar time, when many refused to stand to celebrate the old man in 1999 when he was 90. He died in 2003.

    This is also very much a spoken and illustrated tribute to Scorsese's lonely cinephile youth and to the old classic New York movie houses, now all gone, where he sat alone after buying a ticket for 12 or 15 cents and sighed and sobbed with the family conflicts of Brando and Steiger in Waterfront and Dean in Eden. Scorsese goes over specific scenes in some detail, playing the whole speech by Brando that leads up to "I coulda been a contenda." The director is talking about love of movies, but first and foremost he recounts how these films were personal psychodramas for him, and also in the case of On the Waterfront significantly drew realistically on the "mean streets" world he himself grew up in, in Little Italy. It's only later, the director suggests, that he went back and studied the technical aspects, the camerawork and editing of these for him seminal films. It's not noted by Scorsese, but where Kazan made stars of Brando and Dean, he created idols himself like Di Nero and DiCaprio.

    My own favorite is America America, whatever the social or artistic significance of Kazan's better known films; so it's nice to know it was the one that mattered most to him, and to understand why. It was based on the life of an uncle, and he, and Scorsese too, he says, as (in Kazan's case) from a Greek family out of Turkey, always saw the world as an outsider.

    Made as one of the American Masters series for American public television. Narrated, written and directed by Martin Scorsese. Co-authored and co-directed by Kent Jones, a former member of the selection committee of the New York Film Festival and the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Associate Director of Programming there. Jones has collaborated with Scorsese on other documentaries, including My Voyage in Italy. The voice of Kazan in dramatized quotations is performed by Elias Koteas. Seen and reviewed as a sidebar item, a Masterworks series Special Event, as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. Debuted simultaneously Sept. 4 at Venice and Telluride, scheduled for Sept. 27 at the NYFF.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-06-2014 at 12:58 AM.

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    Radu Muntean: TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (2010)

    RADU MUNTEAN: TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS (2010)


    MIMI BRANESCU AND MARIA POPISTASU IN TUESDAY, AFTER CHRISTMAS

    A man with two women, and a daughter who needs braces

    Romanian director Radu Muntean's 99-minute Tuesday, After Christmas (Marti, dupa craciun) is a scrupulously mondane study of an adulterer with a wife and 10-year-old daughter whose orthodontist girlfriend happens to be responsible for correcting the little girl's slight under-bite. When dad takes daughter for a consultation about braces, mom unexpectedly shows up. This unnecessary encounter at her workplace upsets the girlfriend, which leads the husband to confess his infidelity later to his wife. She wants an immediate divorce and her husband moves to his love nest. And yet, it's Christmas, and when the time comes, the couple still has to show up for the in-laws and play Santa to their daughter. The moral is that marital ruptures don't mean you're excused from decorating the tree and wrapping the presents.

    Like other Romanians whose stock is high in the international festival market these days, Muntean specializes in precise, scrupulously unhurried observation of ordinary life. Sometimes there's an important issue brought up. Sometimes there's a darkly ironic message. This time there's mainly just a voyeuristic feeling. We're actually spying on Paul Hanganu (Mimi Branescu), a schlub with some sort of loan office job, as he alternates between his blond girlfriend Raluca (Maria Popistasu), who makes him feel like a stud, and his dark-haired, bespectacled wife Adriana (Mirela Oprisor), with whom he's just a spouse. Muntean's nearly 10-minute opening scene depicts Paul and Raluca nude together on a bed kissing and chatting. They are exceptionally natural and relaxed, but the scene runs too long. It's a miscalculation. It's not what the film is about and just seems included because somebody liked it.

    The next scene shows Paul with Adriana sifting through hideous blouses and snow boards at a shop. All these two sequences reveal is what you'd expect. Paul's affair is fresh and sexy for him. His life as a husband is routine. The little girl, Mara (Sasa Paul-Szel), is chirpy, chatty, borderline annoying. All the scenes show off Haganu's stiflingly bourgeois existence. His parents shower Mara with junk. There is much talk of gifts and what they cost; of winter resorts. What is child orthodontistry but a middle-class luxury denied to the working class? The scene in the orthodontistry office might have been rich in irony, but instead is a tedious exercise in pediatric dental terminology.

    Finally Tuesday, After Christmas has two good scenes, or two moments when Muntean gets to his point. When Paul subsequently spills the beans -- tells Adriana he's "very much in love" with someone he's met, and she responds with anger and tears -- the Romanian penchant for lovingly examined banality finally pays off, because the emotions are intense enough to make the dialogue thought-provoking. Paul's confession seems extremely unwise as well as ill-timed, but Adriana's response is, as he says, nastier and uglier than what he's been doing. Is Paul's relationship with Raluca worth trashing his marriage? If marital infidelity is wrong, aren't some responses to it from spouses also questionable?

    There's also a beautiful irony (though it might have been much subtler and wittier) in the final scene with little Mara's paternal grandparents, when Mara is pushed forward to watch passing carolers so Paul can rush "Santa's" presents into the other room, while Adriana smoothly slips him a present out of her purse to put back there too. This complicity, despite Adriana's earlier clenched-teeth warning that she's not staying for long, is a clear sign that the marriage-and-parent game trumps the adultery drama. And that is a message worth the wait. As with other Romanian films, I am annoyed, I feel the scenes have been dragged out too long (and may even be poorly arranged, as here), and yet there is always something. The acting of the principals is very good here. The camerawork by Tudor Lucaciu has been justifiably commended (especially in the nude scenes). And yet I'm not the only person who is asking if this was worth making a movie about; if Paul, in particular, warranted so much of our attention.

    Tuesday, After Christmas was in the Un Certain Regard segment at Cannes, and included in other festivals. Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-19-2010 at 09:32 AM.

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    Benjamin Heisenberg: THE ROBBER (2010)

    BENJAMIN HEISENBERG: THE ROBBER (2010)


    ANDREAS LUST IN THE ROBBER

    What's the rush?

    Austrian director Benjamin Heisenberg's sophomore effort The Robber (Der Räuber, 90 min.) is the taut, minimal, intentionally fun-free story of an ex-con from a good family whose endorphin/adrenalin addiction has led him to be both a champion marathoner and a guy who robs bank for a hobby. Far-fetched? Maybe, but it's based on actual events.

    Andreas Lust gives a committed and convincing performance as the runner/robber. Essential to the commitment is that he looks the part -- and during the shooting was in serious running shape. (The source novel author and screenplay co-writer Martin Prinz, who once ran a race with the real runner-bank robber, was Lust's trainer.) Long distance running isn't something you can fake. Though the film may be five minutes or so longer than it needs to be, there's no excess fat on Lust's body or slackness in his muscles. And the film itself is seriously well constructed, as lean in its cool existential minimalism as its main character.

    This is a protagonist who's a rather unique combination. The logic that unifies his personality is his essential solitude. As Dr. George Sheehan memorably argued in Running and Being and other books, the distance runner, and for that matter the endurance athlete, is not primarily a social being. He resolves his issues with people by putting a lot of space between himself and them out on the roads and hills. The long hours of training appeal to one who prefers to be alone. But the aloneness of Johann Rettenberger (Lust) is greater than that. The preoccupations and goals of the ordinary world mean nothing to him. Not to mention the laws.

    Appropriately, because he lives locked inside a small world in his own mind, the film begins when Rettenberger is in prison finishing a six-year sentence for bank robbery. In the yard, he doesn't socialize. He runs around it, racking up mileage in circles. He has managed to get a running treadmill installed in his little cell, and he continues the workouts there. He's an obsessively well-trained, driven, and talented long distance runner. If fact he's so good, he comes from behind to beat all the favorites and win the Vienna Marathon a short time after he's been released from prison. Ironically, he has gone from his prison cell to a tiny hotel room that for his purposes is less useful and perhaps no more appealing. Where is the freedom?

    There are only two people in Rettenberger's life; he has not connected with his family upon release. There is the parole officer, Bewährungsbeamter (Markus Schleinzer), whom he's met with before release and to whom he has pointedly made no promises. He says only that he'll be glad not to run in circles any more. The parole officer wants him to avoid coming back in. He's supposed to get a job. At an employment office he runs into a former acquaintance from a good family, Erika (the poised, centered Franziska Weisz), who now works there. Johann meets up with Erika later and till he "settles down" she lets him live in a room of her big family apartment, now empty since her immediate relatives have all died; she's isolated too. (A snapshot of the large family now departed becomes a symbol of isolation.) After going to a cinema and watching a violent movie, which greatly amuses her and he watches with sphinx-like approval, they drift into a sexual affair.

    Rettenberger has gone back to bank robbing right away. His routine rarely varies. He steels a car, always playing loud music as he drives. He wears a hoodie and a mask (which doesn't look much different from his pale, expressionless face), brandishes a machine gun, fills a duffle bag with cash, drives off, leaves the car in a wood and runs away. He puts the cash in plastic bags and stuffs them under his bad at Erika's place. He's rapidly racking up robberies, faster than he's winning races. The cash, not spectacular but much more than his race winnings, means little to him.

    Meanwhile the fussy, well-meaning and dogged parole officer is not pleased. He follows Rettenberger to races and demands that attempts be made to find a job. He gets in return more and more hostility and silence. Rettenberger has little to say. In fact this could largely be a silent movie. It will appeal to those who like being challenged to make an effort; it makes no overtures to the audience whatsoever. Rettenberger is compelling but unappealing as a character.

    The link between competitive athletics and bank robbing is an interesting one some may feel the film insufficiently develops. The Variety reviewer comments that Rettenberger seems to get no visible rush from either running or crime. He does smile very broadly once, when he wins the Vienna Marathon. He also carefully monitors his heart-rate in both processes. His effort may grow from some anti-social Nietchiean self-image. As a former marathoner myself, I found the idea of carrying ultimate conditioning into challenges to human as well as natural law intriguing and not impossible, especially if you buy into Dr. Sheehan's mystique of the anti-social distance runner. I was also reminded of Kathryn Bigelow's classic Point Break, with its athletic surfer-bank robbers and their mystical leader nicknamed Bodhi (the late Patrick Swayze). Those looking for conventional crime thriller material here will be sadly disappointed. It's essential to Heisenberg's protagonist that he's not at all a working- or criminal-class person or part of the criminal world but an amateur crook, without the resources of prison networking. Bank robbing as he performs it is an artisanal craft mostly requiring just cojones and speed.

    In the end running becomes, of course, running away; and the beauty of The Robber is that it is a metaphor for itself throughout.

    Shown at various international festivals beginning with Berlin, where it was nominated for a Golden Bear award, The Robber/Der räuber was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-19-2010 at 09:32 AM.

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    Andrei Ujicǎ: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUŞESCU (2010)

    ANDREI UJICǍ: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUŞESCU (2010)


    NICOLAE CEAUŞESCU VISITS KIM JONG IL IN THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY

    Life at the top

    In The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceauşescu, Andrei Ujică has put together a film that lasts three hours, composed almost entirely of government footage of the Romanian dictator who ruled (officially as Secretary General of the Romanian Communist Party and President of he country) from 1965 to 1989, when he was deposed in a coup. There are also some slightly more personal home movies. Three hours is too long, but that is precisely the point: that makes the film a festival film, for festival devotees take watching the unwatchable or unendurable to be a badge of honor, and excessive length conveys a specialness an ordinary film doesn't possess. Moreover, with this length Andrei Ujică is also making several points of his own. He's showing what the Romanian people had to endure, and for how long -- and what Ceauşescu had to endure too, the boring rituals of playing the role of head of state. The film is book-ended by a few minutes of rough videotape of Ceauşescu and his wife Elena when the government has been taken over, and he is being held hostage and stonewalling all efforts to make him explain his brutal efforts to repress the revolts in Timişoara and Budapest.

    Ceauşescu allowed himself to be routinely photographed for an hour every day of his regime, and Ujică has culled his film from that vast official accumulation, editing it in his own way. This is an "autobiography" by someone else, like those of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein. The title, and the means of presentation, without commentary, of this for the most part bland, impersonal footage, express in some Orwellian sense the idea that Ceauşescu is barely a real person; that there was never any real difference between his public and his private self; that he was a cipher standing for a repressive regime. He is the state with no face.

    This regime is shown by endless footage of public events, parades of shiny black limousines, tanks, troops marching, party officials high up on rostrums reviewing; on visits to China or the Korea of Kim Jong Il, thousands of costumed citizens moving smartly in unison; giant blown up photographs of Ceauşescu and his wife; drives along vast boulevards with no trees, only government buildings, stage sets where human beings have no extra-ceremonial function.

    This Autobiography is enigmatic, yet revealing. It's grand, yet boring and mundane. Its subject is repellent -- or at best unappealing -- but after spending so much time with him we, like Andrei Ujică by his own admission, come to feel a certain sympathy. How can he endure the boredom of all the peasant handicraft fairs, the dances, the handshakes, the parades, the conversations with Eastern Bloc leaders about the weather, the ceremonial meetings with Nixon, Carter, Queen Elizabeth? He must be a very brave and patient man -- in some odd way, a good sport. (Rumor has it that he was ill-humored in later years, but not in public.)

    Andrei Ujică points out in an interview that Ceauşescu was a peasant who spent a full seven of his earliest years in prison, which strengthened his intense, simple belief in communist ideology (he changed the country's official title from "socialist" to "communist." His pep talks about communism's virtues are without depth but enthusiastic, and he always has then at the ready. In speech-making he holds a sheet of paper up in the air in front of him but speaks without looking at it. This also reflects the fact that he can say whatever he wants. He is repeatedly renominated and reelected by the party by acclamation. Once, toward the end, an official manages to protest before a large party audience at the boss's being nominated for the central committee and thereby guaranteeing his own releection, but there is a roar of disapproval, a standing ovation, chants of Ceauşeacu's name: "Reelect! Reelect!" Where are the dissenters? Where are the planners of the coup? We don't get to see them. They're behind a wall of propaganda and monuments of Stalinist wedding-cake architecture. This film mesmerizes us with that wall. But we don't believe it. We know this is a long, careful charade.

    A charade bought into by East and West. Besides state visits to China, some gleeful, Nixon came calling, and so did De Gaulle (in a Caravalle), and Ceauşescu stayed at Buckingham Palace and when Jimmy Carter received him in one of his four visits to Washington he called him "a great leader of a great country." His regime was more open toward the West than other communist countries, and we get glimpses of that.

    When on domestic official tours, Ceauşescu often surveys wreckage, floods, acres of mud; but indoors, he gazes on vast miniaturized models of perfect, pastry-white cities. On indoor tours, he visits big food shops packed with goods and picks up loaves of bread. "The crust is too thick," he says, or "the quality is better outside the capital." The packed shops are a front. The empty ones aren't photographed. By what we see, we know what is hidden. The indifference to what was really going on in the country was going to catch up with Ceauşescu and lead to his execution (not included here).

    Ceauşescu, Ujică says in the interview, was "like a peasant who suddenly became a great landlord." In private life he was exemplary, except for avarice: in his last years he kept up to 30% of the country's GNP for himself when the country was barely growing. All he was doing was hunting deer and bears and building palaces. Informal footage shows he and his wife were both terrible at volleyball and she was a sloppy swimmer. Could he do anything well? Yes, he could endure. He looked good in suits and overcoats and scarves and hunting tweeds. His hair was combed. His speeches were sprightly. He stayed there.

    The minor Eastern Bloc regimes were vast events that were essentially non-events. Ujică celebrates that fact in this aesthetically pure exploration of the vast, epic emptiness and empty-headedness that is the life of a tyrannical head of state.

    Shown at Cannes, where it had its world premiere, and other festivals, this was seen and reviewed as a Special Event of the New York Film Festival 2010 at Lincoln Center. I dare you to sit through it.

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    Oliver Assayas: CARLOS (210)

    OLIVER ASSAYAS: CARLOS (210)


    ÉDGAR RAMÍREZ IN ASSAYAS' CARLOS

    Cool revolutionary terrorist mercenary seducer dude

    The French director Olivier Assayas, former husband of the Hong King diva Maggie Chung, has made films as widely separated in style as Irma Vep, demonlover, Clean, and Summer Hours (fantasy, scifi, rehab, family drama). This year he has turned his talents successfully to the TV miniseries. Carlos, which is in three segments totaling 5 1/2 hours, is about the Venezuelan revolutionary Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, whose daring exploits made him into the media star who later became known as Carlos the Jackal. And the result is thrilling, informative, and fun.

    Carlos has the many layers and multiple languages of the British series Traffik, but its subject matter, a succession of terrorist exploits with like-minded cohorts followed by flight and eventual capture, is closer to Uli Edel's recent feature The Baader Meinhof Complex. Except Assayas' focus is on one guy. And what a guy. Carlos, AKA Ilich, speaks Spanish, English, French, German and Arabic. He's dashing, super-macho, good-looking, brave, smart, and catnip to the ladies. He knows how to take charge, and he knows how to have a good time. The excellent cast is headed by Venezuelan actor Édgar Ramírez, who is more than equal to the task, as forceful with annoying cops and security officials as he is with OPEC honchos and pretty women. Much of the pleasure of the film is watching Ramírez in action.

    Another pleasure is the authenticity. There are over a dozen national venues involved including France, Hungary, East Germany, Austria, Lebanon, South Yemen, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, and Sudan, nine languages spoken, and there's never a false note. Though English is the main language heard, unlike the Hollywood version of such proceedings, Carlos is a film where Arabs play Arabs, and they have the right accents. It's enjoyable to see Ramírez sliding smoothly back and forth from German to French to Spanish to Arabic to English as the occasion arises. Ramírez' Carlos if not the coolest dude ever, comes pretty darn close. (Of course he is also a killer, and he suffers a decline.) This actor played in Soderbergh's Che but he didn't get to play Che, and that was a steal. What Todd McCarthy wrote was "Édgar Ramírez inhabits the title role with arrogant charisma of Brando in his prime." That's only a slight exaggeration.

    Speaking of Soderbergh, though this sprightly study has none of the vanity project air of his Che, there is a similar problem of a format too unwieldy for theatrical viewing. This should be seen and is best enjoyed as TV drama in three spaced-apart segments. Instead it came out first at Cannes and was watched and reviewed there as a film. IFC in the US is to make it available in its full length and in a 2 1/2-hour shortened version. Critics who have to spend more than half their day watching one film, no matter how good, are likely to complain, and it's not surprising that some have knocked Assayas' extremely accomplished foray into the miniseries genre. Main points: that Carlos' ideology isn't subtle and gets cruder as he ages in the film; that he's crude with women too. Manohla Dargis wrote (from Cannes) that this Carlos is "a militant pinup" (she speaks of his leather and beret outfit for the OPEC caper) but at bottom is "a mercenary, a thug."

    Yes, and one might add that the film could benefit from a few less scenes that begin with men lighting up cigarettes -- or cigars, even ones from Fidel's private Havana stock (as Carlos boasts at one point). The nicotine, not to mention the booze, consumption in this movie will wear you out.

    I too had to watch the series in basically one long sitting, and that can leave you limp. It's still obviously great stuff; but being able to take a break of a day or a week between segments would make it work a lot better. Maybe in any format the free-lance revolutionary's life ultimately becomes repetitious and fatiguing. But this is a story full of panache. The Jackal has fed into many films already and is reputed to be a source of the Bourne concept, but it seems likely Hollywood will be moved to draw on the character anew after this dashing recreation, and Ramírez might get some plum roles.

    Apart from his perhaps simplistic Marxist ideology and sexist dealings with Seventies women's liberationists, Carlos can be accused of being a grand-stander in tireless pursuit of personal fame. Various governmental adversaries or Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) handlers accuse him of such behavior. But despite his self-promotion, womanizing, and love of good whiskey and good cigars, the Venezuelan had lots of training, in economics as well as fighting, and his politics were sincere. He supported the Palestinian cause, and early on is reluctantly accepted by the PFLP's Wadie Haddad (Ahmad Kaabour) to carry out terrorist acts against Israel. This becomes his main focus, and leads to his pursuit by many national security services.

    The film's first major scene is one in which Carlos is caught with a group of Latin American leftist friends in an apartment in Paris when two French DST counterintelligence agents come in looking for him. He shoots his way out and kills the two agents. This is the crime that leads to his incarceration in La Santé prison two decades later.

    The second and longer big sequence is Carlos' most celebrated exploit, in which he and a group of German and Arab cohorts take OPEC's main delegates hostage at a meeting in Vienna in 1975 and try to fly them to Baghdad. The trip is cut short and is seen by the PFLP as a failure , but Carlos takes $20 million in ransom money and the exploit makes him famous. Ramírez's revolutionary outlaw shtick is at its most glamorous and sexy in these scenes. When he talks to the likes of the Saudis' Sheikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani as an equal, it's a pleasure.

    Carlos is more effective than some of the other Seventies terrorism films at showing the range of human skills involved; they vary from the German nutcase Nada (Julia Hummer) to faithful allies like Johannes Weinrich (Alexander Scheer), to brilliant leaders like Carlos himself. Seeing this maligned profession from the viewpoint of a practitioner as bold, brave, and talented as Carlos allows one to understand better what it means to live this way. Carlos sees himself as a soldier of the revolution who exists only for his mission and his fellow soldiers. He is not a martyr but serves best by surviving for the next mission. He goes downhill in the end however, as he is rejected by one former Eastern Bloc and Arab ally after another.

    The film contains the startling revelation that all countries use terrorists for their own ends. Carlos is traded back and forth from Yemen to Hungary to East Germany to France to Syria to Lebanon to Sudan. In the end he is abandoned by everyone, used up, and sold to the highest bidder. The process leading up to Carlos' delivery to the French is slow and torturous, but it is true. Assayas' Carlos is as instructive as it is entertaining.

    Shown first at Cannes out of competition, later on French TV (Canal+). It was bought for US distribution in both short and full length formats by IFC. Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. For more details see the Wikipedia articles Carlos (TV miniseries) and Carlos the Jackal. A.O. Scott has an profile of Assayas in the NY Times Magaine, "A New King of Cineaste," Sept. 24, 2010, which sets Carlos in the context of the director's whole body of work and personal identity.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-27-2010 at 10:28 PM.

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    Lee Chang-dong: POETRY (2010)

    LEE CHANG-DONG: POETRY (2010)


    YOON JEONG-HEE IN POETRY

    A drowned girl, an elegant old lady, a search for beauty

    As in his last film, Secret Sunshine, Lee Chang-dong has drawn an exceptional performance from an actress playing the role of a single woman raising a child under difficult conditions. Mija (Yoon Jeong-hee, a veteran actress in her sixties who had not made a film in sixteen years) is raising her teenage grandson Jongwook (Lee David). Her daughter has moved to another town after divorcing.

    Three things are going on. And they are serious things, a death, a crime, and a fatal illness. A girl is found in the river. She was a student at Jongwook's school and committed suicide after being repeatedly raped by five students. One of them turns out to be Jongwook. Mija is an elegant woman who sets off her slightly ravaged beauty by dressing nicely. She has had a fascinating past, and evidently was once a beauty. Now, however, she is reduced to working as a housekeeper for M. Kand (Kim Hira), a well-off shopkeeper who is damaged from a stroke. Visiting a doctor for a prickly feeling in her arm, she is instead diagnosed as probably being in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. Instead of pursuing treatment or telling her daughter -- about the Alzheimer's or, later, her son's crime -- she impulsively joins an adult poetry class.

    Throughout the film, Mija struggles to produce a poem, taking out a notebook to jot down ideas whenever she eats a fallen apricot or sees a pretty flower. She also attends meetings of a poetry group whose contributors are alternately maudlin, kitsch, or bawdy. The bawdy one turns out to be a policeman, and that becomes significant later. And what is maudlin or kitsch comes across as colorful artifact, not in any way spilling over into a story that could so easily have succumbed to treacle but instead remains tart and keenly observed. Still, one wonders if the poetry class theme needed to be so exhaustively explored: at 139 minutes, the film is again too long, as was the 142-minute Secret Sunshine.

    The crime is only revealed later after much time has been spent following Mija's daily routines, which include a relation with the post-stroke man that verges on the intimate, and a growing sense of her openness, patience, and ability to cope -- but also a tendency to walk away from unpleasantness. The rapes are to be kept secret but four fathers of the other boys corral Mija to contribute to pay off and silence the mother, a rough woman from a poor rural family, to the tune of 30 million won (about $30,000). She wants to contribute but hasn't got the money. The idea of a legal settlement and cover-up seems repugnant and Mija's solution is hardly above reproach either. Ultimately there is poetic justice, however, in more ways than one in writing by Lee Chang-dong, who began as a novelist, that is both subtle and ingenious.

    Meanwhile Jongwook is never anything but oafish and lazy when at home with his grandmother, disrespectful, dirty, the basic teenager from hell -- but quite believable and never overstated. She is sometimes severe with him but still in some ways indulgent. And at moments he can be cowed into submission and still seem just a boy. Occasionally they play badminton in the evenings in front of the apartment building; she's rather good at it. Later she gives an awesome performance at karaoke. Eventually Mija will find surprising solutions to all her problems, and will be the only student who comes up with a poem at the end of the session as the teacher had requested. It is a poem linking her with the drowned girl.

    Poetry has moments that are obviously pushed and manipulative and it is sometimes predictable, but it is also neat in its dovetailing explorations of morality, social justice, and the search for meaning and beauty in life. I tend to feel uncomfortable in Lee Chang-dong's films, as if something isn't quite right. However, watching Yoon Jeong-hee is a continual pleasure. Not only are her scenes delicate and subtle, but she is a wonderful example of how an older woman can be beautiful and elegant -- and dignified even under great duress. And sometimes manipulativeness is forgivable when the arrangements make as satisfying a pattern as they do here. And the best moments, like the visit by Mija to the drowned girl's mother, when she does not do what she was expected to do and instead the delicacy of the character portrait is enhanced, have an unexpected and quite wonderful quality.

    Seen as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in September 2010. Shown at Cannes, where it was awarded the Best Screenplay prize, and at Telluride and Toronto with many other festivals to come. A Kino International release.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-21-2010 at 11:12 PM.

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    Michelangelo Frammartino: LE QUATTRO VOLTE (2010)

    MICHELANGELO FRAMMARTINO: LE QUATTRO VOLTE (2010)


    GIUSEPPE FUDA IN LE QUATTRO VOLTE

    Pythagoras, transmigration, and Calabrian goats


    Frammartino was born in Milan but again returns to his family's native Calabria, to which he had often traveled in his youth, for this second feature. He realized a dream: exploring the intersection of documentary and fiction, culture and history. Le Quattro Volte is a formally beautiful, rather abstract, almost wordless visual poem. The filmmaker visited the Serre, a mountainous region of the Calabrian outback in the province of Vibo Valentia. He found there communities of shepherds and coalmen and decided to make a film, having found his elements but not yet determined how they would fit together. He made a film about an old goatherd, a baby goat, a big pine tree, and an ancient process of making charcoal, the four "volte" or "times" referred to in the title.

    The intellectual framework of the film is more elaborate and high concept than that. For Frammartino it's important that Pythagoras lived in what is now Calabria in the 6th Century BC, and that his school taught the doctrine of the transmigration of souls. Pythagoras wrote: "Each of us has four lives inside us which fit into one another. Man is mineral because his skeleton is made of salt; man is also vegetable because his blood flows like sap; he is animal inasmuch as he is endowed with motility and knowledge of the outside world. Finally, man is human because he has the gifts of will and reason. Thus we must know ourselves four times."

    Open-minded viewers may enjoy just watching the handsome photography of a little-seen part of the world, with medium and long shots of landscape and villagers, and closeups of goats, nimble, pretty, ometimes comical, the sense of a quiet, seemingly unspoiled land, not unlike the Aquila of Corbijn's recent The American. On the other hand, notwithstanding the debt to Raymond Depardon and Robert Bresson, one may find Le Quattro Volte's total absence of plot or dialogue, the preponderance of inarticulate, neutral framing, either offputting, or just boring.

    We begin, anyway, with the Human. The Shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda) herds his goats up in the hills and slopes above his village. He is ill, with a chronic cough. To treat it every night he drinks dust gathered from the floor of the local church mixed with water. Dirt not being an effective remedy for respiratory disease, the Shepherd dies: dust to dust. But in a striking shot from inside the marble tomb, there is still a heartbeat as it is sealed. The film moves immediately to the animal world, as a white baby goat is seen dropping from his standing mother's womb and slowly scrambling to his feet (an arresting sequence by any standard). Eventually a number of baby goats head out of the village following the herd up into the surrounding hills, but the little white one gets stuck in a long trench and becomes isolated. Eventually it runs up a slope and finds refuge under a big fir tree. From the Human we have moved to the Animal and now Plants take center stage.

    Next, villagers are seen coming and cutting down the tall tree. Frammartino has explained that this is part of a local custom called Pita. They strip the tree, set it upright in the center of the village, and someone rides it over onto the street. A very long and typically static shot by excellent cinematographer Andrea Locatelli with his 35mm camera stationed high above a street shows men in costumes with the tree, a dog comically chasing back and forth around them and later causing a small truck to slip down a hill and bash down a fence. What the ceremony means is not explained, but we see Good Friday celebrations, with villagers recreating the Stations of the Cross, suggesting Resurrection.

    Later the fir tree's cut into pieces and taken out of town to where the coalmen build wooden domes in which the wood is fired and turned into light, crispy black charcoal. Thus Human has gone to Animal, thence to Plant, now to Mineral. No dialogue, no music through all this, only the sounds of daily life, the tinkling of goat bells, roar of small engines.

    As Jay Weissberg points out in his Variety review of this film, it's quite manipulative, making use of three villages to represent one, never showing signs of the presence of modern life -- pop music, television, cell phones. Things found in the remotest human habitations today are edited out to give a sense of primitivism and quietude. If this is truth, it's truth of a highly predetermined and honed-down kind. Due to the film's highly experimental nature its US box office potential may be dubious; but then Philip Gröning's nearly wordless 2005 monastery documentary Into Great Silence had a good US art house run. Le Quattro Volte's festival success is indicated by its winning the Europa Cinemas Label for Best European Film in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes, and it received glowing reviews in Italy and went on to Telluride and Toronto, as well as the NYFF. US theatrical release will begin at Film Forum in NYC in March 2011. According to IMDb, it opened on eighteen screens in Italy March 28.

    Seen as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in September 2010, this 88-minute Italian-German-Swiss coproduction is a Lorber Films release from Kino Lorber Inc. in the US.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-07-2017 at 06:33 PM.

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    Hong Sang-soo: OKI'S MOVIE (2010)

    HONG SANG-SOO: OKI'S MOVIE (2010)


    JUNG YUMI AND LEE SUN-KYUN IN OKI'S MOVIE

    Shuffled film school triangle

    Hong Sang-soo means philandering drinkers, egocentric filmmakers, pretty women, winter weather, and endless self-reflectiveness. This can lead him to good character studies, ironic laughs, keenly observed almost-real-time flirtations -- and to a light intellectualism and energetic use of dialogue that owe a clear debt to the French New Wave. This time, due to dividing the film into four short segments with the same triangle in rearranged situations, the repetitiousness and self-absorption are carried to an almost geometric extreme, and the situations, despite a Rashōmon-esque multiple examination, come through as thoughtful in a film-school sort of way, but otherwise only superficially delved into. Hong Sang-soo fans, who include myself, will still not want to miss this because it explores further themes already richly dabbled in by the filmmaker. Others may fail to be entranced.

    Basically we get an older director and teacher and a younger one, and a pretty young woman film student; sometimes the younger director is just a student. In the first episode, A Day for Incantation, the tall, deep-voiced younger filmmaker Jingu (boyish Korean star Lee Sun-kyun, 35 now and so able to straddle the fence) is experienced and married; in later episodes he will revert to mere student status. Here, he has supposedly quit smoking and drinking but is slipping back, to his wife's disapproval. He discusses the decline of filmmaking in a bad economy with older film professor Song (Moon Sung-keun). He gets drunk and annoys Song with questions about a rumor that he's bought his tenure. Then he goes, drunk, to a Q&A following showing of a short film he's just made and he is called to task by a young woman for jilting her best friend -- in an affair even though he's married.

    In the second episode, King of Kisses, Jingu is purely a student, pursuing Oki (Jung Yumi), another student, who rejects him for drinking and notes his classmates call him "psycho." But he proves himself a good kisser, and after staying up all night in the cold outside Oki's flat, she takes him in and has sex with him and agrees she's his girlfriend. She is probably having sex with Song, the professor and older man, at this time.

    The very short episode After the Snowstorm is from the viewpoint of Song, here a disillusioned film teacher whose classroom after the snowstorm is completely empty. Finally just two students, Jingu and Oki, show up, and he engages in a question and answer session with them about life and love, firing off rapid, arguably superficial answers.

    The fourth and titular episode Oki's Movie purports to be a movie made by and narrated by Oki, the girl film student, in which she depicts her two lovers, Song and Jingu, whom she accompanies on the same walk up Acha mountain in the wintertime a year apart, going back and forth between the two lovers and showing what the two lovers and she said and did at various points, the parking lot, the entrance, the pavilion, and how many times they went to the restroom on the way up. The gist is that she was very involved with both men at the same time, and felt herself to be equally in love with them both, but later dropped the older one.

    There is a certain almost mathematical interest in the recombinations here, but the cutting up of the film into the four segments keeps any scene from being played through to the point of developing depth, a danger that has arisen in earlier Hong films, which are often divided into two or three parts set in different locations. I confess to a weakness for Hong Sang-soo through multiple Lincoln Center viewings, and can forgive him his greatest self-indulgence. But though aspects of the first and last parts of this film are memorable, I'm afraid this has the weakness of his earlier films in even greater measure: that they will be most enjoyable to watch for an hour or so, but afterward all that may remain are vague memories of blowhard movie directors getting drunk or laid -- usually both -- or standing talking on the beach.

    Oki's Movie (Ok-hui-ui yeonghwa), a film of 80 minutes from South Korea, was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, September 2010. It premiered at Venice several weeks earlier and also was shown at Toronto.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-21-2010 at 11:14 PM.

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    Patrick Keiller: ROBINSON IN RUINS (2010

    PATRICK KEILLER: ROBINSON IN RUINS (2010)



    An unsentimental journey around the south of England

    Vanessa Redgrave voices the narration of this intriguing, intelligent film that hovers between historical analysis and geographical essay while traveling in an ellipse around the south of England with a series of static shots of locations that illustrate ecology, history, and politics in a world marked by the collapse of late stage capitalism, privatization of public lands (from the 16th century onwards), the emptying of the countryside, and planetary ecological disaster.

    The framework is a fiction, separating Keiller (for whom this is the third in a series, the first two being London and Robinson in Space) from his observations, because purportedly the film is constructed from footage recorded by an alter ego, the wandering researcher Robinson. Robinson was not his real name, the narrator says. He had lived in Germany, though he was not German. The allusion is to the late W.G Sebald, a German writer long resident in England whose 2001 book Austerlitz this film resembles. At the end of the film, Robinson is said to have disappeared, but his footage found in a shed.

    Striking images of nature and marginal sites (military bases, opium fields, lichen growing on a traffic sign) and sometimes contemplative, other times apocalyptic, observations are delivered in Ms. Redgrave's measured, pleasant, posh-sounding voice. As Keiller explained in an interview with Dennis Lim and other members of the press at the New York Film Festival, the filmmaking comes first in his process, and took some time. Then comes the writing, which weaves together (and paces apart) the different shots and interweaves information about little known historical facts and detailed accounts of the ownership of certain ostensibly public spaces. It's a given of Keiller's working method as a filmmaker and a thinker that he is simultaneously exploring the intersection of enclosures, lichen, the 2008-2009 global financial crises, while we may be looking at a marker showing 58 miles from London or a small ruined castle with a railway speeding by or a spider going round and round repairing its web.

    Comparing Robinson in Ruins with London and Robinson in Space, Leslie Felperin of Variety feels the new film "hasn't quite got its predecessors' breathtaking range of reference or their spritely wit." He later describes the first film enticingly: "In the first, London (1994), an unnamed narrator voiced by the late Paul Scofield (whose droll, honeyed tones enhanced both pics so deeply) describes how he and his lover Robinson explored the burg of the title, from Downing Street, the prime minister's residence, to Ikea in deepest suburban Brent Cross, all part of a quest to map the 'psychic landscape' of the capital, with digressions about Baudelaire, H.G. Wells, and Laurence Sterne, among many others." That indeed sounds poetntially sprightlier than Robinson in Ruins, which does not much develop the Robinson character as it goes along or include digressions about quite such a range of authors but instead dwells a lot on US companies' and the American government's ownership or control of missile bases and other installations, sometimes in ruins, or abandoned after the recent expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars. It seems agreed that viewers of Keiller's two previous Robinsons will get what's going on better, that there's less offhand wit this time, and that the replacement of the late Paul Scofield's rich, plummy, ironic voice by Vanessa Redgrave's is another loss. Nonetheless, though perhaps more downbeat than the earlier films and best taken in segments (which Keiller wants it to be via DVD, cued to a map), Robinson in Ruins offers lots of mental stimulation to the thoughtful viewer.

    Keiller is a lecturer who took 13 years e to get from the last Robinson film to this one. He studied at the Royal College of Art, and has often presented his ideas and observations about architecture and landscape in gallery installations. Those, of course, could not include a narration as detailed as this one but are normally restricted to visuals. It takes a while to get used to the format. Clearly Keiller's films are avant-garde in nature. Felperin says these are essentially "radio plays with pictures." Thus the pictures distract from the words. But after one adjusts, the pictures provide a resting place for the eye while the mind is stimulated by the words. The images are coldly handsome: 35mm HD -- and suggest that despite the narrated decline of the UK and the planet, there remains much unspoiled beauty in England's green and pleasant land.

    Seen and reviewed at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in September 2010. It was shown earlier at Venice.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-21-2010 at 11:24 PM.

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    Apichatpong Weerasethakul: UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010)

    APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL: UNCLE BOONMEE WHO CAN RECALL HIS PAST LIVES (2010)



    Dying as a gathering of spirits

    The 40-year-old Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul, who studied filmmaking in Chicago, is more and more celebrated in the festival circuit. His latest film, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, received the Golden Palm, the top honor, at the Cannes Festival this year. Shot in the environs of the director's hometown of Khon Kaen in Thailand’s rice-growing and poor northeastern plateau, Uncle Boonmee is a strange film that slides back and forth between present and past time and between dreamlike sequences involving visits from the dead and everyday silliness like a truant young Buddhist monk who says "Let's go to the Seven Eleven" or a dead son who comes back in the form of a wooly critter with red eyes that glow in the dark. Spiritualism, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, visits from the dead, even sex with a fish come and go with a quality of dreamlike abandon that entrances those who surrender themselves to the director's vision -- and makes rational types go into total reject mode.

    In one sequence Weerasethakul says is a homage to old Thai films a princess carried through the forest on a litter draped in diaphanous curtains walks into a stream beneath a waterfall casting off jewelry and clothing to be sexually possessed by a jumping (and hitherto talking) catfish that throbs between her legs.

    Uncle Boonmee (Thanapat Saisaymar) is a character the director has used more than once. This time he is suffering from kidney failure, is obviously in need of dialysis treatments, and has left a hospital and come back to the family farm to live out his last days among relatives and caretakers, including his sister-in-law Jen (Jenjira Pongpas). Conversation is desultory, concerning Boonmee's need for care, a Laotian male nurse, and other topics. At a long dinner table sequence the phantom relatives begin to appear: Boonmee expects to depart this world, and they apparently come to see him off. First is his late, much-beloved, wife Huay (Natthakarn Aphaiwonk) in ectoplasmic form, a grayish image. Then comes his disappeared son, whom we've already seen as red glowing eyes in the forest. He's a furry "monkey ghost," a life-sized wooly mammoth. Everyone present sees these visitors. There's a contrast between the everyday chatty flavor of the dialogue and the supernatural, borderline horrific nature of the visitations. No one screams or shouts. Conversation is deadpan. This somehow works to create a surreal atmosphere in which anything may be possible, though to unsympathetic eyes the result may just feel peculiar and silly, or as one IMDb contributor said, "bizarre and little more." That viewer complained of losing two hours out of his life. Maybe so. But they may be two hours worth giving, because what Weerasethakul provides isn't something is best understood by description and analysis but rather must simply be experienced -- and in that it is distinctively cinematic.

    The director's two previous films, Tropical Malady and Syndromes and a Century, were both divided into two parts with the second acting as a kind of commentary on the first. This just has sequences that move jerkily forward in chronological progression, sort of. How they connect isn't always wholly clear, particularly not in the case of the old Thai movie homage. Apart from the dinner table and the princess-and-the-catfish sequence there is a lengthy, later, climactic one, accompanied with an ominous throbbing sound, in which Uncle Boonmee and others explore a cave, their flashlights darting over its odd formations to create a succession of naturally spooky and mysterious images. This leads up to Uncle Boonmee's death. Somewhat anticlimactic is a closing episode of a funeral ceremony in a temple with flashing neon lights and female relatives in what may be a hotel room sorting funeral cash gifts and receiving the young monk, who sheds his robes, showers, and wants to go out and eat. The food run happens out-of-body. Uncle Boonmee also makes stunning use of suddenly introduced stills, some of them showing young men in camouflage-cloth fatigues gathered around the "monkey ghost" as if for a snapshot of comrades on an outing.

    The world of Apichatpong Weerasethakul (or as some non-Thais call him, "Joe") seems largely not only alien and strange but also fey and self-indulgent, but nonetheless you have to grant that the director has natural cinematic gifts and his work is sui generis. His sense of composition, image and sound is very distinctive. Working with cinematographer Sayombhu Mukdeeprom, he provides many haunting images, especially in night photography. The sound here is a feast of powerful and rapid contrasts, between a chattering jungle and silence, a rippling waterfall and a saccharine Thai pop song. Somehow with rather limited means he creates effects that are rich and strange. This is not surprising. People can be spooked or scared or mesmerized better with limited means than the elaborate CGI of films like Inception. The costliest studio gimmicks merely call attention to themselves; the simple, cheap, but inventive ones focus on what the filmmaker wants to convey. This is why The Blair Witch Project was such a success. "Joe" is at heart a Blair Witch Project kind of guy. His weirdness is all the more weird because its framework is matter-of-fact, its means simple and DIY.

    Weerasethakul's style appeals to a host of currently prevailing festival tastes. Glacially slow scenes shot with a stationary camera mostly with long and medium shots are much in vogue. So are fictions that are barely distinguishable from documentary. The more exotic the world thus evoked the better. And if the material provided is utterly puzzling, not much more is required. Especially when the gift for melding image and sound is personal and strong. Then we get a result that is not adaptable to mainstream general box office tastes. But what are festivals for if not to present films tailored to a very special audience, quite clearly distinct from hoi polloi?

    Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, September 2010. Winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes. There is also a 17-minute opening pendant film (like the one for Wes Anderson's Darjeeling Limited) called Letter to Uncle Boonme. The longer film is loosely based on a book by a Thai Buddhist monk. It is having some European theatrical releases. Also shown at Toronto, and the London and other festivals will show it. An article in the NY Times by Thomas Fuller, "Laurels at Cannes and Battles at Home," fills out the picture of the film's cultural context and the director's uneasy relationship with the mainstream Thai audience.

    Uncle Boonmee will be Thailand’s Official Selection for Best Foreign Language Film for the 84th Annual Academy Awards. It opens in New York on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 at the Film Forum. Strand Releasing is the distributor.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2010 at 04:12 PM.

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    Abbas Kiarostami: CERTIFIED COPY (2010)

    ABBAS KIAROSTAMI: CERTIFIED COPY (2010)



    The game of marriage, game of love

    Kiarostami, the most honored of the contemporary "Iranian New Wave" directors, told an English journalist last year that he would never move from his native country. However, he has now directed an international film, produced in France (by MK2), starring a French actress (Juliette Binoche) and an English opera singer (William Shimell), shot in Tuscany, with dialogue in English, French, and Italian. And while the director, who made more than forty films at home in Iran and received many awards for them abroad, has been noted for unusual camera positions and confusing narrative gaps as well as harsh themes of politics and death, this new film is more of a glossy chamber piece. Except for a sequence shot into a car like ones he did in several earlier films, it's shot in a smooth, straightforward manner and depicts the story of a man and a woman who meet and spend a few hours together. She drives him to a touristy town called Lucignano. They argue, they drink coffee, they talk, perhaps they make love. And that's all there is too it.

    Except that Certified Copy (Copie conforme is the original French title) is a teasing puzzle film that plays games with the theme announced in the title -- also the name of a book-length essay by James Miller (Shimell). He is giving a lecture (in English) celebrating the publication of the book in Italian. His thesis is that a good copy is as valid as the work of art it's based on and can give as much pleasure.

    The weakness of this entertaining film, which includes a suave, if neutral performance by the opera singer Mr. Shimall (who never had a purely spoken part before), and a richly histrionic one by Binoche, who received the Best Actress prize for it at Cannes this year, is that it is all simply a conceit -- about identity. Viewers with a long memory will remember Alain Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad, in which a man meets a woman and claims they met there the previous year. The question is repeated over and over, and never resolved. The film, with its setting at an austerely grand old European spa, is a series of aesthetic delights, of pleasing abstract geometries. Certified Copy is something different -- but not entirely. Though superficially much warmer and without the austere elegance, it too is only a riddle.

    The couple seems to be playing a game. There are many hints at the talk that She/Elle (Binoche) is a visitor who has heard of and seen this English writer and wants to meet him. She has seen and read his book, and so has her sister Marie. Her young son, to whom she speaks in French, seems to know she is interested in this Englishman and teases her about it. He too attends the man's talk, but is bored by it, perhaps doesn't even understand. (But does the audience? They are Italians.) She sends a note to Miller, and after an awkward meeting at her antique shop in the town -- later it emerges she has lived in Italy for five years -- she is soon driving him off to Lucignano in her car while he signs six copies of his book for her.

    When they get to a cafe and Miller leaves to take a phone call, the mistress of the cafe has a conversation with her, in Italian, about marriage, assuming Miller is her husband. She takes up this game, saying they have been married for fifteen years. When Miller comes back she tells him, in English, about this. For the rest of the film she and Miller pretend to be a married couple. And they do it so well that we, the viewers, become increasingly confused. What is the game? That they are married, or that they were not married and are now playing at being married? And, in the terms set up (a little too neatly) by Miller's essay book, mightn't a fake marriage be as good as a real one? They seem to evoke the accumulated resentments and ill reproaches and indifference of fifteen years of marriage so convincingly. Little things cast doubt on the original situation, for example the fact that now, Miller speaks a lot to her in French, whereas at first they spoke only English. Shimell may be less of an actor than Binoche (one would expect so), but his mellow voice sounds like Cary Grant's and he has nice wavy gray hair. He's a nice posh fake husband -- or disappointing real one; take your pick.

    The trouble with this, other than its being entirely contrived to puzzle the audience, is that it falls back on the essential fakery of conventional filmmaking, where well-trained (and well-directed and rehearsed) actors are able to play out emotional little scenes in a convincing way even though they often don't know who their characters are or where the scene will go in the final sequence of the edited film. Unfortunately films are too often just a game anyway; this is not particularly different. And Certified Copy seems false also in the way of an international production directed by a famous filmmaker from far away, with French, English, and Italian actors, glamorous accoutrements (a posh antique shop, nice car; a well-known writer who's just won a prize in Italy), posh voices, multi-lingual conversation -- so that, with the help of subtitles, we can enjoy feeling how international and sophisticated we are. Certified Copy is pleasant enough. Binoche, acting with equal fluency in English, French, and even Italian, gives a dazzling performance with emotional moments. But since the point is to puzzle us rather than move us, none of it seems to matter much.

    Certified Copy/Copie conforme was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center. It premiered at Cannes, and opened the next day, May 19, 2010, in Paris; two days later in Italy. It opens theatrically in the US in March 2011.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-10-2019 at 08:34 PM.

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    Michael Epstein: LENNONNYC (2010)

    MICHAEL EPSTEIN: LennonNYC (2010)



    John Lennon's last nine years

    LennonNYC is a documentary included in the PBS American Masters series about the nine years the Beatle John Lennon spent living with his family in New York City during the 1970's. The period ends with Lennon's assassination in December 1980 two months after his 40th birthday. A long struggle to avoid deportation and obtain his Green Card has been won. In NYC Lennon has been happy, productive, enjoying his young son Sean, reunited with his wife Yoko Ono after a painful period of separation. He has played Madison Square Garden with Elton John and received a huge ovation. He and Yoko have recently made the Double Fantasy album. This film, which is richly illustrated with footage and tapes of its subject, includes some taste of nearly all the music he recorded at various times in America, including some unusual outtakes.

    LennonNYC is a good-looking film with handsomely formatted subtitles and hip little black-and-white animations dividing sections and filling in image when only sound is available. The film makes use of plenty of footage of Lennon -- he must be one of the most fully recorded humans in history -- some of it very informal, seamlessly conveying a sense of Lennon's presence. Important talking heads include friends and musicians and producers he worked with closely, including photographer Bob Gruen, producer Roy Cicala, David Geffen, and members of the New York band Elephant's Memory. A centerpiece is an interview with Yoko Ono. Evidently this film has her imprimatur. Without that it would not be much of a film. On the other hand, Yoko is controlling how we perceive John in death as in life. The film doesn't go into much detail about the assassination, and doesn't even mention the name of his convicted killer, Mark David Chapman. Nor do we hear from Lennon's two sons, Julian and Sean.

    The positive aspects of Lennon's choice of New York are fully covered: the way people left him alone so that, unlike the situation in London, he and his wife could go to a movie or restaurant, buy clothes, or take a taxi without being mobbed. NYC felt like a freer place for the couple in simpler ways, because of the city's melting-pot identity. But the other reason for leaving England, the fact that Yoko was strongly disliked there for intruding into the life of the Beatles and being instrumental in the group's breakup, is barely touched on.

    In some ways this is also a strangely mixed story. John Lennon loved New York and was very happy there. But he was also at his most unhappy. After a night of infidelity Yoko kicked him out of the Dakota where they lived. They had been inseparable, 24 hours a day; to be apart was difficult for both of them. She eventually became very productive, and was enjoying the separation. He went to LA and did some recording and a lot of drinking. This was not a good period for him. He called the time his "lost weekend." With Harry Nilssn and others he got blasted every night, usually in the company of May Pang. Yoko says that she had arranged for Pang to take John in tow, feeling he would be lost on his own. Elsewhere, not here, it is said that Lennon had an affair with Pang. In LA Lennon consumed huge quantities of alcohol. In his own words he "fell apart." He and Yoko spoke very day, but she wouldn't take him back. Not until a thunderous reception Lennon received when he played with Elton John at Madison Square Garden in 1974 and Yoko was there, and she and Lennon sat eye to eye in a little dressing room, pulled together again.

    In the period that followed, their son Sean was born and John became a house husband, focusing exclusively on raising the boy, cooking, baking bread, and happy in this role. All this sweetness notwithstanding, Lennon's activism against the Vietnam war lhad earlier led to the FBI's tracking him, and a lengthy attempt to have him deported that went on throughout the New York residence. Through the help of immigration attorney Leon Wildes, somewhat miraculously the attempt was finally dropped and residency was granted.

    What emerges from the film overall is a generally positive and appealing picture of what John Lennon was like, his humility, clarity and humor, his scrupulous matter-of-fact honesty -- and what the often awestruck musicians who worked with him in the American years see as his remarkable creativity. He is described by musicians as an artist who even in ostensibly fallow periods had times when the words and the music flowed from him almost like magic. Despite testimony from people then present of serious drunkenness and an episode of violence and obscenity during the Los Angeles "lost weekend," LennonNYC is a very positive spin on John Lennon. The film doesn't go into detail about the specifics of Lennon's drug use. It also does not describe how or where he and Yoko lived after the small apartment in the Village when they first came to the city. Details of the ex-Beatle's considerable wealth are omitted, though there's a quote from John about how Yoko did the accounting because he didn't have the knack for it. Such lacunae notwitstanding, obviously this 115-minute documentary, which contains plenty of archival footage, including newly-digitalized concert films, is a must-see for Beatles and/or purely John Lennon fans, especially New Yorkers.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in September 2010. Also presented at the Woodstock Festival. The film's television premiere date is November 22, 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-22-2010 at 04:51 PM.

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    Alexei Fedorchenko: SILENT SOULS (2010)

    ALEXEI FEDORCHENKO: SILENT SOULS (2010)


    YULYA AUG IN SILENT SOULS

    Smoking, burning, and buntings on a doomed road trip

    In Alexei Fedorchenko's exploration of Slavic melancholy Silent Souls, two glum, hulking middle-aged men go on a sad ritual journey. Aist (Igor Sergeyev), who was burdened by an "odd" poet father ( Viktor Sukhorukov), and his recently widowed friend Miron (Yuri Tsurilo) -- as much a friend, anyway, as their glumness allows -- get together to take the body of MIron's dead wife Tanya to the edge of Lake Nero in West-Central Russia to stage a do-it-yourself cremation and drop her ashes in the water nearby where the couple went on their honeymoon. It's a custom of the old, and vanishing, Finno-Ugric tribe from which the two men are descended.

    The voiceover by Aist, who brings along his recently purchased pair of caged buntings on the trip, tells us a lot, but Fedorchenko doesn't show us much. It's all about the dying rituals of Merja culture. Aist and Miron are both Merjan. They also look very much alike. It would be nice if you could tell them apart better. Flashbacks do give them separate experiences: but how are they any different now? Miron liked to bathe his young wife Tanya (Yulya Aug) in vodka before sex (her body and especially her breasts are impressive in this ritual). Before he and Aist take the now-deceased Tanya on her last journey (no word as to how and why she died), Miron wipes her naked body with a cloth as Aist does further preparations to one side. How can one help just wondering how Ms. Aug put up with this, and made her body look floppy enough to be that of a woman recently dead? (Rigor mortis she doesn't attempt.) Custom also requires tying multicolored strings on the dead wife's pubic hairs, as is done for a bride in Merjan culture. And then we get a look at young women thus preparing a bride.

    Sex continues to be a focus on the trip when Miron "smokes," local lingo for the custom, as Aist again helpfully explains, of revealing intimate details about the couple's love life, okay, even somehow desirable, to do, now that her soul has departed. What would Tanya say? But the women in the film are stolid. Aist is a photographer at the factory where Miron is a manager, and we see a succession of blank female faces early on as he snaps ID photos of new employees. One or two screw up their faces a bit, but unlike the chirpy buntings, they emit not a peep. Fedorchenko likes head-on shots: he gives us a lingering one of a blond boy (Ivan Tushin), the young Aist (though it is impossible to see traces of him in the older one), who listens to his father's poems and accompanies him on an inexplicably penitential water burial -- of his most prized possession, a small typewriter, sacrificed in midwinter. The boy pulls the typewriter out on the ice on a little trolley. Another ritual, this one presumably however not time-honored Merjan custom but the whimsy of scenarist Denis Osokin, or of Aist Sergeyev, whose novel The Buntings Osokin adapted for the film.

    Then there's more sex after the cremation. Aist and Minon stand on a desolate bridge, and two women come up with the opening line, "Do you want us?" They do.

    The film drops hints of excitement and revelation -- of a sudden storm out of nowhere full of jealousy, discovery, and sudden violence. When Aist's voiceover says "Little did we know that this was a trip from which we would never return," there seems, for a while anyway, real hope that Fedorchenko will stop lecturing us on Merjan folklore and tell a good story. There is a hidden menace in the similarity of the two men and their lack of a real connection. Aist might be some ectoplasmic enemy, a doppelgänger along to punish Minon for being such a dolt. Instead, alas, what happens is that the buntings who have been chirping in their cage, cooperative actors ready for any role, turn into the trigger of a final, sodden tragedy. It's all very mournful, and very Russian, I guess. But it just seems like photography with rambling talk, atmosphere waiting for the show that never starts. The 35mm Scope photography is handsome, but Leslie Felperin's verdict in Variety that the film is "beautifully assembled, but emotionally inert" is totally justified. Felperin is also right to note that Andrei Karasyov's "wailing strings sections," constitute "a solid but not desperately original score." In fact this film threatens to fade quickly in memory into other less-than-memorable recent Russian arthouse films, most of which at least had more appealing central characters.

    The 75-minute film Silent Souls (entitled Ovsyanki or "Buntings" in Russian, like the novel) was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, September 2010. This is Fedorchenko's third feature, and was a selection shown a little earlier at Venice and Toronto.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-14-2012 at 03:45 PM.

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