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Thread: New York Film Festival 2010

  1. #16
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    Sergei Loznitsa: MY JOY (2010)

    SERGEI LOZNITSA: MY JOY (2010)


    OLGA SHUVALOVA AND VIKTOR NEMETS IN MY JOY

    Into the maelstrom of Russian road travel without a compass

    The Belarus-born documentary filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa has produced a frustrating first feature in My Joy, a film that joins together a series of mostly violent and increasingly repugnant anecdotes he was told during a decade of wandering the Russian provinces making his documentaries. When you have seen this film, you will cross visiting Russia forever off your "to-do" list. The trouble is, Loznitsa doesn't abandon narrative -- a sacrifice that can work very well when a filmmaker knows how to spin out visual poetry. He simply violates all the rules of narrative, which is quite another thing.

    Mike D'Angelo at AV Club writes of My Joy: "For about an hour I was sure I was witnessing an exciting new talent, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what the hell was going on. Following a nondescript truck driver en route to deliver a load of flour, My Joy (WARNING: titular irony) initially has an engaging shaggy-dog quality, as the trucker's encounters with folks along the road — an elderly hitchhiker, a scarily young hooker — spin off into unrelated mini-narratives of their own... About an hour in, however, the film goes well beyond discursive and becomes almost completely random, abandoning the trucker entirely (in a startling way) and flitting around without even that vague semblance of a narrative skeleton."

    Actually, the opening shots do not bode well because they show clumsy editing, a series of images of unappetizing landscapes and a work site drainage ditch in which a body is dumped, then covered with cement. A hand on the body has what looks like a Russian Mafia tattoo on it. Fine. A story to be revealed later? But later there are so many bodies, and this one could be any of them. The young trucker D'Angelo speaks of -- Georgy (Viktor Nemets) -- could be and at first is the connecting thread, obviously. His unsolicited "elderly hitchhiker" (Vladimir Golovin) -- is indeed elderly, since the anecdote he tells is of World War II. In it, the teller is an army officer stopped by police in a station. They take him aside, entertain him with tales of the loot they've collected, let him go -- and then stop him again. They seize his suitcase. The revenge he quickly takes makes him into a fugitive. He admits "losing" his name, and his fiancee.

    Fine. Ugly, violent, but fine. And intriguing enough is the truck driver's detour, when the highway is blocked by an accident, led by a teenage prostitute (Olga Shuvalova) to a village. The camera wanders magically among the crowd in the center square, exploring a series of faces that could be by Paul Strand, had he visited contemporary Ukraine. Eventually the driver gets stuck in a field, where a trio out of Beckett coax him out of his cabin -- and, after serving him some baked potatoes, bash him on the head.

    Here is where Loznitsa stops playing by the rules of story-telling, because the next morning we wake up back in World War II watching two figures crawling in the grass. No link, no explanation. Okay, the elderly hitchhiker, at a moment in time somewhere after his previous story, is one of the figures. But there is no logic. And from there on the people and incidents just get uglier and more incomprehensible. There was trouble even back in the village, because when the camera abandoned the truck driver one had the feeling that he was the film's only anchor, and that without him one would be lost. And it was finally true: lost one was, abandoned by Loznitsa, and very eager to get out of there.

    One or two writers when this film showed at Cannes described it as a horror movie; others called Loznitsa an "original director with strong potential." Probably the secret to the film's festival success is that it's so unpleasant it leaves an impression. Its disjointedness is intellectually stimulating in one way: My Joy is a puzzler. Eventually one may figure out who all the people are, and though the rules of narrative have been broken, and the oscillation back and forth between eras causes much confusion, the puzzle can be solved. But so what? The events depicted have no redeeming social value. They have no meaning (other than that one should stay away from the Russian provinces) . But film buffs like being "challenged," even if the challenge is not rewarding. My Joy evokes little emotion, only repulsion. If that is "promising," it promises only further repulsion.

    "A devastating critique of Russian society"? Well, not quite. It's a devastating representation of Russian society, a totally negative one. To be a critique it needs to recognize and show positive aspects of the country and show us why they aren't adequate compensation for the bad stuff.

    My Joy is, nonetheless, the work of an experienced filmmaker who has found convincing actors for every role (though their meanness or violence sometimes almost defy belief), seamlessly blending actors with non-professionals so that rather than horror or fantasy the scenes feel quite realistic, and the steady widescreen cinematography of of Moldovian d.p. Oleg Mutu (who has done some of the new Romanian films, including The Death of Mr. Lazarescu) maintains the realism and provides a pleasing clarity in the landscapes. If Loznitsa would settle down and not try to film every horrifying true story he's been told but just one good one, he might make a more satisfying feature.

    Seen and reviewed at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, September 2010. Also shown at Cannes where at least one critic thought it "an outside bet for the Palme d'Or." Other festivals, including Melbourne and Hamburg.

  2. #17
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    Xavier Beauvois: OF GODS AND MEN (2010)

    XAVIER BEAUVOIS: OF GODS AND MEN (2010)



    A triumph of acting and atmosphere

    Xavier Beauvois' last film was a little cop story, a "policier," but it hit hard. This one, based on true events in Algiers in the 1990's, hits harder, though its impact is a mixture of intellectual and emotional. It poses a life and death ethical issue. When radical Islamists (الجماعة الإسلامية المسلّحة , the Armed Islamic Group, GIA) terrorize the Algerian countryside, eight French Cistercian monks have to decide whether to accept military protection and let the government evacuate them, or stay and continue to serve the terrorized locals they've always provided with necessary clothes, food, and medical treatment.

    Criticisms of the film up front are: that it's an action movie about deciding not to do anything; that where it's going is never much in doubt; that at two hours, those two points considered, it's too long; and that it covers its protagonists with sainthood a little too easily. Some critics complain that the second prize (Grand Prix) at Cannes rewarded the monks rather than the film. But these are weak objections. Accepting almost certain death is hardly not doing anything. It's not so often these days that one gets to see such personal and deeply felt moral decisions being made. Decision-making is the highest form of action; all the rest is running around in circles or following instinct. When one observes how agonizing the decision is for several of the monks, the conclusion hardly seems foregone.

    The film's two-hour running time is necessary to establish how complex and difficult the decision is; moreover, the events telescoped in the film actually took place over a period of four years. The GIA had actually ordered all foreigners to leave two and a half years before they come for the monks of Tibhirine. And the film is not inferior to the monks. Typically for him, Beauvois tells a story that is both complex and essentially simple, unified by a single issue. Eventually the monks' decision comes to seem inevitable but it's not easily arrived at for some any of them.

    Some of the monks have big families and ordinary occupations they might return to. Others have no one and can imagine no other life, but are afraid and don't want to die. They all are here because it is where they were meant to be. They became Cistercians to live, not to die, however: how and who and what will they be serving by dying? And how then can they make a decision that is likely to mean their death? Of Gods and Men is a meditation, a harmonious blend of practical activity, singing prayer, and turbulent encounters with the locals and the Islamists. And all the while the monks are periodically meeting among themselves under their leader Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) to decide what to do. (Christian insists from the start that they must remain, but it's not till much later that they all come around to this point ov view.) Beauvois' accomplishment is that he handles the sublimely monastic, humbly everyday, and terrifyingly violent moments with an equally authentic feel.

    Brother Luc (the venerable and monumental Michael Lonsdale) treas villagers with salves and kisses. He is old and asthmatic, but he is seeing 150 patients a day now, because they are suffering from stress. Shielded as they are, the monks know the whole country is in turmoil. Anyway, early on the GIA leader Ali Fayattia (Farid Larbi) confronts Christian, demanding medical treatment for one of their wounded. Christian manages to put him off, quoting the Qur'an. Fayattia comes across as religious; he repeats back in Arabic the Qur'anic lines Christian has quoted in French, and he's respectful of the fact that, unbeknownst to him, it is Christmas.

    In the past, and still in Hollywood, a story of this kind would never be depicted so authentically. Though Beauvois by intention isn't following events literally, the people, the language, and the locales look, sond, and feel right. The monk's knowledge of and respect for local custom and a fair smattering of Arabic are established. So is their naiveté. When their Peugeot station wagon breaks down on the road, a group of local women restart if for them; they haven't a clue. There are dozens of details establishing the monks' rootedness in the place and their interaction with the people.

    But this doesn't answer the question: why are French Christian monks in this strictly Muslim country? Notably, Croatian workers get their throats cut. The monks have a more important status. Doing peaceful work in a place of conflict always seems crazy or impossible, whether the doers are religious or secular. This is a question the film doesn't answer. But by the end one comes to respect the monks on their own terms. A decision can't always be judged by its consequences. This is a remarkable film because is confronts issues and beliefs in real-world terms within the otherworldly milieu of monastic life. Music consists mostly of the a capella singing of verses by the eight monks in a little chapel; toward the end, when their decision has finally been made, there is a kind of celebration where Luc opens bottles of wine and turns on a radio playing Swan Lake, which takes on a remarkable sacramental air Tchaikovsky may never have imagined. This is one of a number of bold and original decisions by Beauvois who manages almost magically to do something new within the format of classical filmmaking. He has justifiable confidence in his actors, both very individual and very much an ensemble, whose every gesture seems special and human. Yes, this is serious stuff, and the eight monks are painted in saintly colors. Is their something wrong with dignifying human courage? Caroline Champetier's photography, beautiful throughout for its clarity of light, evokes the Last Supper, and the director, in a French pun at a Q&A, connected metteur en scène, film director, with La Cène, The Last Supper.

    The monks refine their decision to the point of purity. But the situation wasn't simple. The villagers seem to love the monks, but authorities see them as as colonial remnants, protecting them only out of duty. A military officer has an unfriendly look. Recent findings show when taken hostage the monks may have died by military error rather then the hand of the as yet unidentified hostage takers.

    Des hommes et des dieux, 122 minutes, in French and Algerian Arabic, was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2010. It premiered at Cannes, where it received the Grand Prix, and opened September 8, 2010 in Paris, where it has received high praise from critics of all stripes.

  3. #18
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    David Fincher: THE SOCIAL NETWORK

    DAVID FINCHER: THE SOCIAL NETWORK


    EISENBERG AND TIMBERLAKE IN THE SOCIAL NETWORK

    Algorithms and power

    The Social Network, David Fincher's brilliant and timely new movie based on Ben Mezrich's book The Accidental Billionaires, begins with a huge irony: The young founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, isn't social. And he isn't nice either. Not so indirectly, the film suggests that perhaps the brave new world of programming and Internet personal revelations is a corruption and downgrading of human interaction (as well as a systematic invasion of privacy). If computer nerds rule, our moral compass may be out of whack. The opening scene, packed with Aaron (West Wing) Sorkin's nasty-smart rapid-fire dialogue, shows both Mark Zuckerberg's steel trap intelligence and his total lack of human warmth. He's so coldly condescending toward his Boston U. girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara, who's to be the US Dragon Tattoo girl) that she decides right then to break up with him. She demolishes him with the closing lines: "Listen. You’re going to be successful and rich, but you’re going to go through life thinking that girls don’t like you because you’re a geek. And I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, that that won’t be true. It’ll be because you’re an asshole."

    Facebook grows out of this insult. Stung, Mark rushes back to Kirkland house, his Harvard dorm, drunk, and begins blogging his resentments toward Erica and simultaneously writing Facemash, a website onto which he hacks Harvard girls' ID photos and puts them in pairs so students can pick which one they prefer. (Mark abandons an earlier idea of comparing girls with farm animals.) He has gotten the site completed by using an algorithm provided by his well-off friend Eduardo Savarin (Andrew Garfield), who will emerge as the most likable character in the film. In hours Facemash goes locally viral. It's October 28, 2003. This breach of Harvard security gets Mark six months' academic probation. It also makes him famous at Harvard. The patrician, rowing champion, final club member Winklevoss twins Cameron and Tyler (both played with panache by Armie Hammer) decide Mark is the man to construct the Harvard social network they have dreamed up. Mark is flattered at being invited to talk to what he later calls "the Winklevi" at Porcellian, Harvard's most elite club (though he was only allowed in the bike room). He's also impressed that the tall, godlike twins "work out." In the verbal sparring with Erica he has talked about the desirability of entering an exclusive Harvard club. (Note: the real Mark Zuckerberg has denied that he ever wanted to join such a club, and the film omits mention that he not only graduated from an exclusive Eastern prep school, Phillips Exeter, but was captain of the fencing team there.)

    The twins ask Mark to build their site and he agrees. But Mark thinks bigger -- and tells no one. He strings the twins and their pal Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) along for weeks with stalling emails. (We start getting this through inter-cut scenes of legal meetings when the principals in the events are deposed.) But he has realized the idea is too good not to steal. Facemash is replaced by what is at first called "The" Facebook. Eduardo remains Mark's business partner, but Mark does not share everything with him.

    All this happens very fast, almost too fast to think -- this is the smart, competitive world of East Coast colleges where the pace is brutal and the stakes are high. There are juicy images of Ivy League party times. "The" Facebook spreads to other colleges. Eduardo's story is a foil for Mark's. He's Facebook's chief financial officer, but he's a nice guy, a guy who reaches out. He gets into some trouble, while punching for another final club, Phoenix, exposed in the Harvard Crimson for feeding a chicken chicken meat in a restaurant as part of club initiation. Later Mark's accused of tipping off the Crimson to discredit Eduardo. The friends eventually aren't.

    There are many actors, including producer Douglas Urbanski as Harvard president Larry Summers, who haughtily rebuffs the Winkelvoss's request to intercede on their behalf for what they see as Mark's stealing their idea. Mark says the twins don't deserve recognition as co-creators of the site and are just upset because once in their life things haven't gone their way. The other major figure in the movie is Sean Parker (a lively Justin Timberlake), Napster's bad boy creator. As Sorkin's screenplay depicts it, Parker is a main cause of Eduardo's greatly reduced role and eventual expulsion and humiliation. But Parker is an ally and protector of Mark's interests. He knows Mark is onto something huge, and gets him bigger funding and dreams of moving Facebook not only beyond colleges and out into the rest of the USA, but to other continents. All this while Mark is still working with a mere $19,000 investment. It's Parker who, at a sushi lunch, with two sexy girls who've latched onto Eduardo and Mark, stuns them with the word "billionaire" -- and also says Mark has got to move to California, to Silicon Valley, home of the young Web rich. The big split comes when Eduardo spends a summer in New York ostensibly as a financial intern, and Mark moves out to Palo Alto.

    The final focus of the movie, which makes much of the conflicts between Zuckerberg and the twins and Savarin through the deposition scenes where they confront each other at various stages, is on Mark's loneliness. He has millions of "friends," but nobody likes him. He's gained the whole world and lost his own soul -- if he ever had one. Yet he's not unsympathetic. And partly his loneliness is the loneliness of genius. He has not only gained the whole world -- which he doesn't care about: both the movie Mark and the real one are indifferent to money -- but he has changed it.

    The settlements are various. No one present at the creation of Facebook has wound up a pauper. Though Mark's lack of connectedness is a theme, he's neither Machiavellian nor cruel, just cut off from people. On a Facebook page (!) about Eduardo Savarin, we learn that, "He owns a 5% share of Facebook, worth US$1.1 billion as of May 13, 2010." The twins, their father, and their partner Divvya Narendra, one source says, received a settlement that including Facebook shares is now worth around $121 million. The twins also came in sixth in the last Olympic rowing competition, and are still in training.

    The movie has a subtly distinctive look that can best be called muted. Without forcing anything, Fincher and his crew bring dialogue to life without any artificial jazzing up. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross's music blends nicely with ambient sound, which is often important. Great skill is exercised in conveying young people talking in loud party or club settings while still keeping tricky dialogue audible. Needless to say, Eisenberg anchors the piece amazingly. He showed in Holy Rollers that he could give life to a nerdy, peculiar guy; that ability explodes here, with an impersonation that is creepy, funny, stunning, and sometimes appealing. Garfield is equally good as a kind of foil, an innocent, but warm and when needed, combative. Timberlake creates a character that is not only wild and dangerous but smart and relatively worldly wise.

    Fincher's movie relies heavily on Aaron Sorkin's writing, which makes characters and events come to life. A criticism is that the witty dialogue is so infectious all the characters begin to talk the same "Sorkin-speak." But Sorkin has a great knack for depicting power struggles among rapidly changing and spreading events. This is above all a series of riveting scenes with great, memorable dialogue. Erica's initial put-down is just one of a host of zingers. This is a classic story of greed, jealousy, and rapacious free enterprise. It may metastasize faster in the world of x's and o's, but it's old-fashioned Americana. Besides this we get character studies of boys growing into men that is a whole set of coming-of-age tales, but above all an ensemble piece. This is not a "biopic." Actually, we don't know who Mark Zuckerberg is, or who any of the main players are. That means some controversy, but that only tightens the movie's vice-grip on the zeitgeist. The Social Network is not only one of the best American films of the year but one of the most significant.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it was the Opening Night film September 24, 2010. The Social Network opens wide in US and Canadian theaters October 1, 2010. Facebok is everywhere, and this film will open in at least 29 other countries over time. It's probably going to make Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, and Justin Timberlake (already famous anyway) as well known as Mark Zuckerberg, or more so.

    YouTube videos (5) of NYFF Q&A begin here.
    See also David Denby's eulogy in The New Yorker calling it "a brilliantly entertaining and emotionally wrenching movie," "a work of art" and "an extraordinary collaboration."

    See further Filmleaf discussion of this movie here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-29-2015 at 12:05 AM.

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    Jean-Luc Godard: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)

    JEAN-LUC GODARD: FILM SOCIALISME (2010)



    Difficult watching

    Godard is nearly eighty now, but Clint Eastwood is six months older; and of course festival-goers know Manuel de Olivera has just completed a film at nearly the age of 102, which the Variety review calls "an especially accomplished example of the helmer's favorite theme of impossible love expressed in precise, comic terms." Yet there is a weariness in Godard's work we don't feel in the work of the other two directors, perhaps because Godard is an avant-gardist, and nothing ages like the radical, and pessimism tires out the pessimist. Another reason is that Godard doesn't work by conventional full-bore filmmaker's means; his work still has a DIY quality; he does a lot of it himself. This time he is working entirely in video. Unlike David Lynch, whose Inland Empire is all shot with the same non-professional camera, Godard, and three other cameramen, used a range of cameras from professional HD that produced pristine images of a luxury cruise ship in bright gleaming color to a cell phone that yielded harsh blurs when flashed on the big screen. This according to Amy Taubin, whose article about Film Socialisme for Film Comment was written in connection with the New York Film Festival presentation.

    It is easy enough to point out, as Taubin does, that the film is divided into three parts like a sonata with a fast movement, a longer, slower one, and a faster final one shorter than the first. The first, as Taubin puts it, "takes place on a huge ocean liner cruising the Mediterranean, with brief side trips in various ports of call." "Takes place" is one way of describing it; I'd have said simply "was shot." Due to the extreme fragmentation and shortness of the edits, there isn't much sense of anything "taking place." Nor are the non-ship moments identifiably "ports of call," though that makes sense of it. The second section focuses on, let's say, a house and nearby gas station in the south of France. The last "movement" goes back over the Mediterranean capitals of western civilization alluded to in the first, but this time making much use of archival footage of atrocities -- something Godard has done before, I believe in his 2004 Notre musique.

    The first part is full of gnomic utterances, and everything is in fragments, in a variety of languages, mostly French with German next, also including some Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, and a dash of Latin and Greek. References are made to various writers and thinkers, and there's a guy on board the ship who gives a lecture on geometry to an empty hall. Sometimes the dialogue fits the image, often not. Along with this are "subtitles" in English, mostly just for the French, in what Godard whimsically calls "Navaho." They are just a few words out of the sentence spoken in the film. Most of the French is comprehensible, not that together it makes much sense, but reading the "Navaho" subtitles could only distract you. Words are often run together, as in “nocures noblood” and “Digdeep Communist archives." If Godard is trying to illustrate the failure to communicate, he succeeds in not communicating.

    The second part is a bit more coherent, but also visually less interesting. It focuses on a family called Martin, made up of the parents, a boy of ten, and a teenage girl. They have a donkey and llama tethered at the gas station. The wife decides to run for local office and a medic crew shows up. Tauabin theorizes that this section is about Godard as a little boy,and says that's confirmed by the boy's doing a copy of a Renoir painting. Here the images are less "flashy," without all the shifting of formats and with longer more stationary shots.

    As almost anybody who writes about this film cannot fail to say, we watch it first of all because it's by Godard, who is one of the French masters of that fertile period of the late 1950's and 1960's, and whose Breathless one can still watch with pleasure, and, if one knows if from its first appearance, with nostalgia. (One can watch plenty of his other films too, up to 1970, when he parted company with the larger art house audience.) In his discussion of Film Socialisme on his blog "Deep Focus," Todd McCarthy comments that in contrast to other film artists, particularly French ones (he mentions Truffaut) who stayed close to the warm openness of Renoir, Godard is, or has turned, mean-spirited, linking himself with those whose anti-Americanism in his view is part of their anti-humanism -- the "same misguided camp as those errant geniuses of an earlier era, Pound and Céline." This, McCarthy thinks, is borne out by Godard's recent failure to appear at Cannes to discuss his latest work. As an innovator who contributed to new film language in his time of creative flowering, Godard also can be compared, McCarthy suggests, to James Joyce, whose Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses and short stories are triumphs, but whose Finnegans Wake descends into what can be seen as a stubborn, hermetic, ivory tower elitism -- "l'art pour l'art," art for the chosen few. There are always "die-hard Godardians," McCarthy goes on, happy to be included in that chosen few, but McCarthy says that at Cannes none of them could be of much help with Film Socialisme. Amy Toubin's article is a description, not an explanation or a justification. At the New York Film Festival the resident Godardian was New Yorker film writer Richard Brody, who has written a 720-page tome on the director, Everything Is Cinema.

    Any careful observer can describe the contents. Devotes can say what cinephiles like to say when they can make no sense of a film, that they "need to see it again." And a Godard film like this one can add luster to a film festival, the way a literature buff might add tone to his shelves by displaying a copy of Finnegans Wake. Parts of Finnegans Wake are lovely to listen to, notably the long "Anna Livia Plurabelle" monologue, which I used to listen to a record of Joyce reading when I was young. And Finnegans Wake, though nearly impenetrable, is coherent and has "skeleton keys" that explain it For a film buff, it's worth while to watch at least some of Film Socialisme; Amy Taubin's applying the adjective "ravishing" to the film makes some sense, if referring to the look of some of the HD segments, and their occasional effective contrast with the rough video. But for most of us, time is spent better watching films that make more coherent use of their documentary footage, their image and sound than this bulletin from Godard's dotage.

    Seen and reviewed at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, October 2010. Planned in France as VOD. Recommended for Godardians. I am sorry now that I did not refer to French criticism of the film, which was generally favorable, rather than relying on a few English discussions. But what I wrote above is true to my viewing experience, and I am not of the opinion that a film that is repulsive or opaque will open up its secrets if I "need to see it again." Again I am in agreement with Todd McCarthy on this point.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-09-2014 at 06:56 PM.

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    Cristi Puiu: AURORA (2010)

    CRISTI PUIU: AURORA (2010)


    Cristi Puiu in Aurora

    Murder and other daily activities

    New Romanian Cinema leader Cristi Puiu stars in and directs this three-hour film, his second, about a man whose four murders seem only blips in a host of minutely observed quotidian events -- observed, but not explained. Puiu is more interested in the what than the why. Or the who: the film doesn't reveal who some of the people are, and motives are still unrevealed even at the end. All that's clear is that Viorel, the protagonist, is full of muted anger. Compared to Puiu's absorbing and critically admired debut, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, about an aging man who dies because he's shifted from hospital to hospital on a holiday weekend, there is no sense of moral outrage or dark humor in Aurora. What prevails is a sense of the meaninglessness of it all. The combination of meaninglessness and complication is a difficult one. None of the stark poetic simplicity here of Camus' Stranger. Puiu's vision of man is of the numbing ordinariness of evil, violence as a quiet, inexplicable reflex. One leaves the film convinced of the originality of its vision, but dreading the thought of seeing more. One feels chilled, baffled.

    There's almost a real-time feel as the film follows Viorel from one dawn into a second day. He wakes up with a woman who has a little girl. She is Gina (Clara Voda), apparently his girlfriend. Even at coffee he is stony-faced and withdrawn. He goes to the metallurgy plant where he may have been fired or demoted, and collects two firing pins made for him by an employee to fit a shotgun. That he must test the pins with calipers and insists on paying shows his reflexive distrust and desire to separate himself from others. Puiu the actor is impressively composed, contained, and mundane. He's nobody you'd particularly notice, except that he's not quite there.

    Viorel's life is mired in detail, and we get to watch dozens of tasks slowly performed, before and after the murders (there are four, two and two). He leaves things with his mother Puşa (Valeria Seciu), who gives him some of his shirts she's ironed; much argument about the size of the bag. He confronts his stepfather Stoian (Valentin Popescu) for entering his jumbled room (he still has one in the flat, apparently) and tells him he has never liked him: "It's just chemistry. I can't help it." (That may explain the whole lead-up to the murders.) He watches people from his car. His flat is being redone, and he supervises men who remove boxes and other things for the walls to be scraped and painted. (His resentment even toward these men is clear.) He puts together the shotgun, and tests it, firing into a duvet. And so on.

    The first murders are observed in a long shot in a hotel parking garage so the victims, a man and a woman, can't be clearly seen. The second two, which happen hours later, take place in a suburban house later identified as that of his "ex-mother-in-law," Rodica (Catrinel Dumitrescu). After a long conversation, he follows her up the stairs with a knife. The stabbing isn't shown. We see Rodica's legs on the floor later from another room. Puiu the director is master of the excruciating delay. Nothing happens with much dispatch. Viorel gets coffee and has conversation with his mother-in-law before he stabs and later shoots her. He hesitates long just deciding what to say when she asks him if he wants one lump or two.

    After the murders is when the viewer's ordinary cinema expectations are shocked. Viorel does not run. He simply goes about his business. He has other chores to complete. In the end, he takes his older daughter, a first-grader, out of class and, because his mother is out, leaves her at the next-door neighbors'. Here as always the viewer is plunged into a world of irrelevant, but richly observed, detail: an eager-to-please wife; a husband arguing with his nephew who wants to sell him a fitted kitchen; a preening adult son. And then he goes and turns himself in at the police station. The bored cops interview him as if he were reporting a noisy neighbor.

    At one point Viorel terrorizes three women at a chic men's clothing shop. The well-dressed manager never loses her cool. He's looking for a woman they say no longer works there. It's never clear who she is. Puiu's performance is memorable. In retrospect one is struck by the repressed rage and irony of his character. He has created a killer who is close to lots of people, tipped just a little over the edge. The glare in his eye as he looks at his mother-in-law cutting up potatoes gradually tips us off that he is going to use the knife on her.

    This is the second in Puiu's planned series of "Six Stories from the Outskirts of Bucharest." The beginning in "aurora," dawn, he has said signals an answer to F.W. Murnaus's warmer vision in his famous film Sunrise. Images by Viorel Sergovici are in harsh color when there is bright light, often under-lit and tinged with blue. A lack of background music, apart from occasional dimly heard songs, adds to the impression of realism. A Louis Moreau Gottschalk piano piece during the opening and closing credits adds an ironically pleasant note. But none of this is truly at all pleasant, unless for the pleasure to some of satisfying festival fashions: a glacial pace, a preponderance of stationary long or middle distance shots, an intermingling of documentary and fictional techniques, and a screenplay that leaves much to puzzle over, and in this case, belies all conventional genre expectations in which, as Puiu has commented, murder is more commonly "glamorized."

    Cristi Puiu's 181 film, in Romanian, was shown in the Un Certain Regard series at Cannes and was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center in September 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-19-2017 at 06:13 PM.

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    MANOEL DE OLIVEIRA: THE STRANGE CASE OF ANGELICA (2010)



    Love and death and the transmigration of souls

    Oliveira's reputation may be more widespread than knowledge of his eclectic output. Now 102, he began sporadically after being an athlete, film actor and farmer, and has only been making features almost every year more recently. Last year he completed Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl, and this year he again tells the tale, The Strange Case of Angelica (O Estranho Caso de Angélica) this time more magical, of a young man who falls hopelessly in love with a beautiful young woman. Again Oliveira straddles epochs. Blond Haired Girl was a 19th-century short story transposed to the 20th century. Angelica is an original idea of Oliveira's from the Fifties transposed -- partially -- to now. The interiors, which this time are more austere, have nothing modern about them, and the young Sephardic Jewish photographer, Isaac, uses a Fifties Leica camera. Ricardo Trêpa, who takes the role of Isaac, also played Macário, the disillusioned protagonist of Blond, only now he is pale and beardless.

    Macário and his girl loved each other, only he was repeatedly frustrated in his attempts to marry her, finally discovering that she was not worth marrying in the first place. Isaac falls in love with a dead girl, and his love-longing follows the classic pattern of the Arabic and medieval platonic mythology of insane sublimated passion. His behavior becomes increasingly disturbed and strange, and he finally collapses under a grove of olive trees. (If this links him with Oliveira, as the director admits, he also denies any Jewish family ties.) Ultimtely Isaac winds up flying through the sky linked with his beloved, Angélica (Pilar López de Ayala).

    She has died shortly after being married, and her wealthy family calls upon Isaac to take the picture of her in death, more famous photographers being absent at the time. As he is taking the photographs with his Leica, he looks through the rangefinder to focus and sees Angélica's face come to life, and she smiles, he is electrified, and he is henceforth obsessed.

    Isaac lives in a rooming house by the side of the Douro river, subject of the director's first short, Labor on the Douro River (1931), and he crosses the river to photograph men digging in a vineyard because working by traditional methods interests him. There are other threads. The rich family is somewhat dominated by a "pretentious" servant (Isabel Ruth). At key moments, including the night of Isaac's photographing the dead Angélica, it is raining heavily. Two well-dressed old men and a mostly silent woman sit at the table at the boarding house at breakfasts, where the landlady worries about Isaac's working too hard, and then his acting more and more strangely. But there is a visitor, a designer from Brazil, and they discuss such contemporary issues as global climate change, economic collapse, and antimatter. The landlady's caged sparrow dies from eating egg, and this disaster causes Isaac to run out of the house. The conversation is stilted and repetitious. Isaac rarely speaks. He has strange dreams and howls at night. When he flies off with the spirit of Angélica in amorous metempsychosis, the image is reminiscent of many Chagall paintings. Music throughout is successive excerpts from Chopin, mostly a sonata, in a restrained performance by Maria João Pires. The film is pleasant to watch, but a little slow, and a little repetitious. Even at only 95 minutes it feels somewhat long. But it captures a mood, and the restrained F/X works for the soaring souls with sublime simplicity. But I should add that this F/X, as various writers have noted, is of a sort that might have seemed crude in the earliest days of film.

    The lines between necrophilia and spiritual love or between insanity and sublime passion are thin in The Strange Case of Angélica, which, as many have noted, could as well or better be called The Strange Case of Isaac. The mise-en-scène is simpler and creates an air of fable or dream rather different from the worldly storytelling of Eccentricities of a Blond Haired Girl. This is utterly different from Oliveira's absorbing, but somehow unsuccessful sequel to Buñuel, Belle toujours; but to speak of only a trio of films by a director who's made some 60-odd, short and long, over an 80-year period, is to say little. Not many of us have a grip on the oeuvre of this long-lived cinéaste but for one who has you may consult an article by Jonathan Rosenbaum, "The Classical Modernist," available online from the Film Comment of July/August 2008.

    Shown in the Un Certain Regard segment at Cannes, and seen and reviewed by this writer as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2010. It opens in theaters in New York and Los Angeles in November. The distributor is Cinema Guild.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-15-2010 at 03:54 PM.

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    Abdellatif Kechiche: BLACK VENUS (2010)

    ABDELLATIF KECHICHE: BLACK VENUS (2010)


    Yahima Torres in Black Venus

    True dilatory history of an epically abused woman

    Tunisian-born, French-resident filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche has focused on French-born Arabs in his acclaimed earlier films (two of them swept the French Oscars and he has won top prizes at Venice and elsewhere). This time he has turned to an historical study of brutality and intolerance. It's the story of Saartjie Baartman, the so-called "Hottentot Venus," a women born in South Africa and brought to Europe in the early 19th century to be paraded as a carnival wild woman because of her measurements. She was pursued by racist French scientists, who could not get her to show them her genitalia but made casts of them and her body and kept her skeleton on display on the pretext that "Hottentots" were proven through her to be closer to monkeys than Europeans and therefore of an inferior race. These relics were displayed at the Musée de l'Homme in Paris until the Seventes, and finally, in response to protests, returned to Saartjie's native South Africa in 2002 and buried close to where she was born.

    A brave performance by Cuban-raised Yahima Torres anchors the film, which shows exhaustively how Saartjie was humiliated in performances first in London, where she and her minders are taken to court for slavery or abuse, but her testimony leads to dismissal. The trial is shown in detail -- too much detail, like everything else. Then she is taken to Paris for similar performances. Kechiche reports having extensively studied the records, but much is not clearly known; in some cases where it is known, such as her age, he has made changes. In his imagining, Saartjie is abandoned by her erstwhile protector, Caezar (André Jacobs) for lack of cooperation, and turned over to an animal trainer associate, Réaux (Olivier Gourmet), who uses her for "sex slave" shows to aristocratic French libertines along with a rough carnival woman and whore, Jeanne (Elina Löwensohn). It is at one of these, which rival Pasolini's Salo for shock value, that she is spotted by anatomist Georges Cuvier (Francois Marthouret), who decides her negro head shame and facial features and her steatopygic thighs (much exploited in the shows) make her good material for his racist studies. When the French sex show opportunities dries up, partly due to the old suspicion that Saartjie or "Sara" is being abused, Réaux turns her into a simple prostitute. Eventually, Saartjie, who has continually taken refuge in drink, is turned out of the brothel on suspicion of venereal disease, and dies, probably of that and pneumonia, whereupon the scientists get her body to dissect and make a cast of -- also shown in detail.

    This is essentially a period, costume biopic, and while Kechiche's work is still strong in the many ensemble scenes -- the French scientists in the prologue; the English and French carnival crowds; the particularly disturbing French libertine sequences -- and in directing the hitherto inexperienced Torres in a performance full of strength and forbearance, there is, overall, little to set this apart from other films about exploited performers, circuses, and sleazy manipulators except for the excessive length of Kechiche's repetitious sequences, which are all allowed to run to two or three times the necessary length to get their point across, and then get it across again. Kechiche seems out of his element here, and despite the intensity and richness of scenes there is a generic quality his films never had before.

    It also seems that Kechiche crosses the line in too bluntly showing the "Hottentot Venus'" cruel objectification, or, if you grant that may have been necessary, he blunts the point by illustrating this objectification too repetitively. Is the film painful to watch because it needs to be, or because the filmmaker didn't know how to present his information with economy and true force?

    Abdellatif Kechiche has won extraordinary acclaim in France and internationally since 2000, the year of his first film, Blame It on Voltaire (La faute à Voltaire, 2000). His second film, Games of Love and Chance (L'Esquive, 2005) won Césars for best film, best director, and best scenario. His third, The Secret of the Grain (Le grain et le mulet, 2007), again won Césars for best film, best director, and best scenario. And there have been other awards at Venice and elsewhere. Black Venus/Venus noire was received with less enthusiasm at Venice this year. It was recognized as a brave and important project that went astray. Despite much disturbing and raw material, the film is likely to be widely seen, and its complicated message about racism, human degradation, and exploitation of women can't fail to make an impact. But coming from Kechiche it is a disappointment and seems a wrong turn. I hated this film.

    Introduced at Venice September 2010. Seen and reviewed at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it was scheduled for one showing October 7. Released by MK2, Venus noire is scheduled for release in France October 27.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-15-2019 at 09:47 PM.

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    Pablo Larraín: POST MORTEM (2010)

    PABLO LARRAÍN: POST MORTEM (2010)


    Alfredo Castro and Antonia Zegers in Post Mortem

    An eerie horror show that evokes real political events by indirection

    Alfredo Castro plays the kind of sleazy creep you'd like to scrape off your shoe. The Chilean director Pablo Larraín, who is interested in how politics seeps through to the unpolitical, has twice now made him his protagonist. In the 2008 Tony Manero Castro was a petty thief, accidental murderer, and would-be Travolta imitator during the Seventies military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. In Post Mortem, which takes place earlier, he's morphed into a morgue worker (based on a real person) named Mario Camejo, who types up autopsy reports and was present when Allende's body is brought in. The film begins with a prologue of military vehicles roaring over the rubble of wrecked streets. Larraín's cool, arresting images evoke a vaguely surreal world of dead-end spaces-- you half expect some insect creatures out of William S. Burroughs to pop out around a corner.

    The world is not very different, as Larraín depicts it though Alfredo Castro, before and after Allende. Larraín was born three years after the coup, and he's only imagining the atmosphere of the time, but he revels in a uniquely clammy kind of moral rigor mortis. It may be that Mario Camejo is just coming to life at the end of the film, when he slowly constructs a barricade trapping his would-be girlfriend and neighbor with the younger man she's been hiding with. He holds with the opinion favored by the military (and the official view now), that Allende, who was shot point-blank, committed suicide: in other words, he favors the military. When Nancy prefers Victor (Marcelo Alonso), a young long-haired leftist, Mario in effect buries the couple alive, blocking them in their hiding place with the little dog he has rescued earlier.

    The special pleasure of the film is the macabre alienness of its principals. Two meals Mario shares with Nancy earlier, in the period of his doomed courtship, are feasts of dry non-communication. Watch how they decide what to pick from the menu of a big Chinese restaurant, and how they share an egg fried in a little pan at Mario's grim lodgings. "Nice place you're got here," says Nancy. "I like the furniture." They sit at his table dishing up the egg, and she slowly begins to cry. Then he cries too.

    Larraín's protagonist this time leads a less eventful life than the violent, striving anti-hero of Tony Manero but he conveys a full sense of the world turned upside down just outside the frame. Mario is taking a shower and barely hears when much of his street is torn apart and Nancy's house is demolished. We hear it, though Larraín need only show Mario showering, and the effect is much more disturbing that way (rich sound design is as essential as cinematography in creating the film's world). Nancy's father hosted union meetings. So her parents are never found after the coup.

    This event is depicted by rubble, burned automobiles in front of the Bim Bam Bum Club from which Nancy was expelled and the piles of bodies that come to the morgue. Mario's coworker Sandra (Amparo Noguera), who does the cutting, and their coroner Dr. Castillo (Jaime Vadell), who does the autopsy reports, are instructed to speed things up and simplify. Sandra later goes haywire and the captain in charge fires into the corpses to show her rescuing people is forbidden. She and Mario had tried to save several people who arrived not yet dead.

    Much of the style of both these films is due to the contribution of the cinematographer, Sergio Armstrong, who used grainy 16mm film to create a washed-out, seedy Seventies atmosphere. With his long straight gray hair, small thin frame, sepulchral pallor, and dedicated neutrality, Alfredo Castro is a memorable figure. When he's joined on screen by a vast accumulation of corpses Post Mortem comes very close to becoming a a horror film. While this, Larraín's third feature, seems less compelling than the deliciously repellent Tony Manero, he has again shown his considerable knack for crabwise depiction of Seventies Chile, and a sense of how civil disorder invades behavior and consciousness. Not exactly fun stuff; big box office is not to be expected.

    Ultimately it's a narrow, limited way of seeing the world -- what about the good people? Families? -- but it's an extremely evocative one. You can't get it off your shoes, and will find it still sticking to them weeks or months later. For me, however, the creepiness of Tony Manero was greater, partly because Larraín's visual style and his use of Alfredo Castro were fresh then, partly because the focus on the coup lessens the impact of the personal realm. Larraín has a unique vision, though his sense of a low-keyed ghoulishness resembles Matteo Garrone's portrait of a man with a similar occupation in The Embalmer. Both films are dripping with vague eeriness.

    Larraín was inspired by a news story mentioning an actual Mario Camejo as present for the autopsy on Salvador Allende. What might he have been like? the director wondered. And he imagined this film. Post Mortem debuted at Venice on September 5, 2010. “If you read the autopsy of Allende, which is public, it’s on the Web, you will find a very powerful text. It is the autopsy of Chile,” Larraín said in a Venice interview. Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, October 2010.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-13-2012 at 10:33 PM.

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    Charles Ferguson: INSIDE JOB (2010)

    CHARLES FERGUSON: INSIDE JOB (2010)


    Eliot Spitzer in Insider Job

    Bad Economics 101

    Charles Ferguson's Inside Job, filled with interviews and graphic illustrations and narrated by Matt Damon, is a documentary film that describes and analyzes the world financial crisis, its roots, its key events, and prospects for the future. Anyone who saw Ferguson's 2007 No End in Sight, about the lack of planning behind the US 2003 invasion of Iraq, will expect a clear, incisive, devastating account, and that's what we get. Ferguson has established himself, along with Errol Morris of The Fog of War, Alex Gibney of Taxi to the Dark Side, Adam Curtis of The Power of Nightmares, the team of Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott of The Corporation and a very few others, among the best of the new investigative political filmmakers who lay out a large, controversial topic for us in terms so compelling and lucid that the result becomes a definitive film statement.

    Some of these films might not have gotten as widely seen, or perhaps even made, without the influence of Michael Moore since his Bowling for Columbine won the big prize at Cannes, but they have a different approach. In his Capitalism: A Love Story Moore uses his by now somewhat tired shtick of bearding participants at the gates, asking them to explain what a credit default swap is, just to suggest the ordinary guy doesn't know what all this stuff means. Inside Job is for smart people who want to become a little smarter, so while it subtly confronts many of those complicit in the financial meltdown in interviews, it doesn't throw up its hands about the complexity of it all but instead sets out to help us understand. The film simply explains what credit default swaps are, as well as other things like derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, predatory loan practices, subprime mortgages and other financial terms that enable us to understand historically how the financial system post-Reagan became more and more able to feed on itself, deriving greater and greater profit even from the unwisdom and illegality (in classic terms) of its transactions, turning the entire world economy essentially into one big Ponzi scheme, till the collapse of the housing bubble brought the investment banks and the world's economies to the brink of disaster.

    Ferguson, whose team assembled a wealth of material and who's said his two editors, Chad Beck and Adam Bolt, performed a more complex than usual function to make sense of it all, begins with an account of Iceland, a whole country that went under because it chose to privatize its main banks and deregulate investment. Iceland got so quickly and thoroughly into the Ponzi scheme its deregulated banks borrowed a total worth ten times the GNP of the country, and for its size as a country Iceland's banking collapse is the largest in history so it's a nice (using the word in neutral terms) illustration of the situation which in the USA makes us think more of tent cities of people who lost their homes with unemployment and predatory loan practices and of CEO's belonging to the richest tenth of a percent of a country in history who paid themselves multimillion-dollar or billion-dollar bonuses after the 2008 collapse.

    Beck and Bolt and Ferguson have organized Inside Job so tightly it's hard to summarize but we can note some points of special interest. There are several devastating interviews with economics professors (Glen Hubbard, Frederic Mishkin) whose involvement in government and consulting makes their teaching suspect (the point is the universities are part of the problem: they taught that all the dangerous practices were good). These guys fall apart on camera and these interviews are coups. Certain people we don't know, like Lee Hsien Loong, current president of Singapore and Charles Morris, author of The Trillian Dollar Meltdown, show unusual wisdom. There are experts who warned us, like financier George Soros, economist Nouriel Roubini, and Allan Sloan of Fortune magazine. New York ex-governor Eliot Spitzer persecuted wrongdoers before his own high-roller pleasures forced him to resign. Speaking of which, there are details about Wall Street's involvement in drugs and prostitution, and Kristin Davis, a madam whose home base was blocks away from the big financial houses, explains how her girls' very expensive services were billed to the companies, and investigators didn't want to know the details. A shrink who services the CEO's attests that these sleazy pursuits are favored right up to the top.

    Which brings us to the final, sad story: where we are now. Of course the financial markets were saved but average Americans paid for it, and millions lost their homes, and the 1999 Glamm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and allowed banks to be investment banks, commercial banks, or insurance companies simultaneously, thus endangering everybody's money -- we're still stuck with that. Why? Because the Obama presidency is "a Wall Street administration." Obama brought back key players in the crisis to mind the store, Geitner Treasury Secretary, Summers director of the NEC, reappoints Bernanke as chairman of the Fed, and appoints many Wall Street executives to senior regulatory and economic policy positions. Guess what? With that setup nothing is essentially going to change.

    Ferguson's film has an elegant restraint. Note the title, however, which denotes crime. It is not implicit but explicit that the financial world is manned by well-dressed and enormously overpaid criminals, whose errors we are all paying for, even as they are richly reworded for committing them.

    The San Francisco-born Ferguson has a BA in math from UC Berkeley and a Ph.D. in political science from MIT. He has been a consultant to government and the high tech industry, founded a software company he sold to Microsoft, spent several years as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a visiting lecturer at MIT and UC Berkeley. Then he became a filmmaker. Let's hope he remains one.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center with public screenings of the film Oct. 1 and 4, 2010. Sony Classics release. Limited US theatrical release begins Oct. 8 (New York) and Oct. 15 (Los Angeles). The DVD will be of particular value because some of the wealth of additional material can be made available in that format. At the Q&A Ferguson wished he could have included more of the many interviews, and the press kit includes photos with brief bios of 35 people, pages of glossary, and a six-part time-line. It's a keeper.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-13-2015 at 09:22 PM.

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    Jorge Michel Grau: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2010)

    JORGE MICHEL GRAU: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE (2010)


    Carmen Beato, Francisco Barreiro and Alan Chávez in We Are What We Are

    Guess who's coming for dinner

    Mexican first-time director Jorge Michel Grau's We Are What We Are/Somos lo que hay is another movie that pumps fresh energy and rich implication into a tired genre, this time the horror film, cannibal division. The Swedish Let the Right One In comes to mind because again the ghoulish protagonists are an impoverished family, struggling just to stay supplied with their daily nutrition, and the younger ones are lonely, alienated, and confused. This time cops are investigating and there's a violent finale. It's the surprising violence and the visual flair of continually murky greenish bluish images that makes this take on flesh-eating curiously pleasurable, and the convincing focus on desperation, corrupt surroundings, and a power struggle in the family adds food for thought.

    In the opening sequences two youths lose their permission to run a sidewalk watch shop because one of them attacks customers. Meanwhile the pater familias (Humberto Yanez) whose sole source of income was fixing watches wanders like a zombie -- or just a homeless man at the end of his rope -- in a posh Mexico City shopping mall. After longingly grasping at girl mannequins behind a shop window, he vomits and drops dead on the sidewalk -- and is swiftly swept away. An autopsy that reveals a human finger in his stomach leads a couple of low level cops to want to investigate, mainly in hopes of making money if this brings them notoriety. Meanwhile in the dingy cellar of the family's slum projects home, wife and mother Patricia (Carmen Beato), her self-confident and beautiful daughter Sabina (Paulina Gaitán of Sin Nombre) and two young sons Alfredo (Francisco Barreiro) and Julian (Alan Chávez) are frantic and argumentative. Dad, who they gradually realize is dead, has been the one who's brought home the human flesh, which had to be consumed according to special ritual, presumably Satanic, whose importance Patricia must continually remind the kids of. Now one of the sons has to be the new leader. The sulky, dark Julian is a loose cannon given to bursts of sudden anger and cruelty. The buttoned-down Alfredo is recessive and conflicted. Sabina has more confidence and authority. But Patricia insists it's Alfredo, as the elder son, who should take over, despite her gradually evident dislike of him.

    And family dynamics are more complicated still. Alfredo turns out to be a closeted homosexual. Julian and Sabina have incestuous desires for each other. Patricia is long suffering: her husband spent all his time with whores. But didn't he bring them home to dinner, as the entree? Now she seems more concerned that the streetwalkers stay away from her sons, and she creates a kind of class hostility by depositing the corpse of a whore in front of a bunch of her colleagues as a warning.

    At first the boys repeatedly fail at efforts to bring home the bacon, first clumsily attacking a gang of homeless boys under a bridge. That attempt is a washout because Julian is too violent and Alfredo is too timid. Next they lure a prostitute. Then either in a gruesomely extreme expression of homosexual panic or else an act of very bad judgment, Alfredo spends an evening following a group of young gay men and brings the boy he's most attracted to home from a disco -- thus likely to wind up as dinner. Meanwhile several opposing teams of cops are closing in.

    Sometimes Grau makes nice use of a withdrawn camera, as when cops, or the family, shut a door on the lens to have a private conversation, or a long shot, as when Julian is shown from a distance on the highway moving a victim from the back seat into the trunk, as people go by unconcerned. Alfredo's sexual confusion adds a plaintive element. He can't master either his sexuality or the role of family leader being thrust on him. Julian's inner conflicts may be even greater, given his constant explosions.

    The director's references to Mexico's poverty and moral corruption are clear without being overstated -- though when a guy at the morgue says "You'd be surprised how much people eat each other in this city" the social message is pretty blunt. Mostly the family members, on the other hand, are circumspect. They don't overtly say what their need is, though toward the end Patricia blurts out, "We're monsters."

    The violence at the end is crazy, which is not a bad thing. However, this does not have the subtlety of the Swedish film's wonderfully scary swimming pool revenge. And there are obvious lacunae in the whole conception. What exactly did the father do? How did he go about bringing home the family meal? What is the ritual and what's the midnight rule? What was life in the family like, before things fell apart? It might help if one character were more positive and seen in more depth. However, other elements compensate. The cast is an interesting and potent combination of opposing elements: the harried Patricia; seething Julian; imploding Alfredo; serene, mysterious Sabina. Santiago Sanchez's deliciously dark widescreen compositions and smooth tracking shots are excellent. He nicely alternates static shots with hand-held closeups. Enrico Chapel's sparingly used, attractively screechy chamber music creates an original mood. Grau is also good at making the horror clear without actually showing much. His shrewd balance of understatement with clear enough references to classics of the genre means not only more sophisticated devotees but also mainstream audiences can find satisfaction in the film, just as with Let the Right One In. Jorge Michel Grau is another new Mexican director to watch.

    Introduced at the 2010 Cannes Directors' Fortnight series, We Are What We Are was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center and shown to the public Oct. 7 and 8, 2010. Also already included in five other festivals. In the US IFC has the distribution rights.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-30-2010 at 08:16 PM.

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    Julie Taymor: THE TEMPEST (2010)

    JULIE TAYMOR: THE TEMPEST (2010)


    Helen Mirren in Julie Taymor's The Tempest

    An overwhelming feast of sight and sound -- and fury, signifying not quite enough

    Julie Taymor, who has proven her skill at exotic and spectacular staging both in theater and the movies, has said that The Tempest is Shakespeare's "most visual" play. And this, along, presumably, with the play's significance as a great final statement, is her reason for committing it to the screen (her first return to the Bard since the 1999 Titus). Herein lies both the strength and the complication of Tayor's Tempest, because if the play is Shakespeare's most visual, that's because images are most vividly conveyed in words. And if Taymor creates a dazzling visual spectacle to recreate the play, as she has done, she overwhelms the words, particularly the most important ones. Besides which, Shakespeare didn't want us just to visualize. He wanted us to think.

    On the other hand, the play draws implicit parallels between its master of revels, Prospero, and the playwright himself, as a creator and simulator of marvels, and Taymor herself, with all the technical wonders at her command as a contemporary American director, successfully usurps that role. Modern stage and opera designer-directors are like some contemporary architects: in the supreme wisdom of their egos, they create works in which form dazzlingly overwhelms function, and image, to the delight of promoters, dwarfs meaning. Taymor's Tempest is a beautiful thing to watch (though there are plenty of more beautiful films), and it shows a thorough familiarity with the play, as it would, since she has directed stage productions of it. Though she has cut the text, as one must, she has not radically twisted it. She has just competed too much with it, while adding too little spin to the performances.

    This is not to say that the language of the play is impossible to hear, or poorly delivered, or that the acting is dwarfed by special effects, though of special effects there are aplenty. It's hard to find fault with Ben Whishaw as Ariel. This Ariel is a creature of pale see-through imagery, who flits away and shrinks into deep space in an instant and leaves behind multiple shadowy after-images in the air as only CGI could allow, and still he is a fine Ariel, his performance as mercurial and delicate as the effects (which some think could be better, particularly in coordinating Whishaw's in-studio greenscreen acting with Mirren's). The visual airiness of Whishaw's Ariel is appropriately balanced by the earthy Caiban of Djimon Hounsou, who is coated in mottled brown and white and what looks like cracked mud, but whose powerful, vivid performance is not at all aided by CGI. Nor is there any CGI about Russell Brand's very Russell Brand Trinculo, whose garish outfit looks quite 16th-century, and yet quite like the way he actually dresses. If this is "stunt casting," still Brand has never been better, and his scenes with Hounsou and Alfred Molina as a convincingly, embarrassingly proletarian Stephano are the film's most entertaining. When these three, Caliban, Tephano, and Trinculo, are together, notably on a pretty barren landscape, fireworks happen, and it's all in the acting and the dialogue. This is only a foil to the main action, but it's an element that works.

    Things get off to a bad start, however, with the earsplitting storm, which of course in Shakespeare's time could not have been staged very powerfully. In Taymor's film, we are rocked about with a floating camera that zeroes in on turbulent figures -- and so much noise of artificial tempestuousness that we can't hear a word of what they are saying. Maybe it doesn't matter. It's just prologue. (But then why are they yelling speeches at each other?) The film has done in this opening sequence what movies too often do nowadays. It overwhelms the senses and practically causes a heart attack before things have even begun. This is unlikely to have been how Shakespeare wanted to lead his audience into the calm scene of exposition that follows, where Prospero -- here (adding a superficial feminist touch) changed to Prospera (a worn-out looking Helen Mirren) -- explains to Miranda (Felicity Jones) what happened before she was conscious of things.

    Felicity Jones and young Reeve Carney as Ferdinand are to be the young lovers. Carney is also to be the star of Julie Taymor's Broadway musical of Spider-Man. He is a musician who has a somewhat androgynous young ingenu quality. Neither Carney nor Jones is an actor of great distinction. A certain arbitrariness is characteristic of Taymor's usual castings. Using Mirren is the most obvious of these, but the feminism and genre-bending seem unexceptional given Mirren's universal acceptance as a great actress nowadays. Using a black man, Djimon Hounsou, as a slave was, in Taymor's view, a daring, and politically incorrect, bit of casting. But that depends on how the character of Caliban is presented in the production, whether as a savage sent packing by civilized colonists, or as a wronged native to be liberated. It's not quite clear what Taymor has in mind, but anyway, an actor as powerful as Hounsou has no trouble justifying and transcending the possible stereotyping of his casting. Whether his performance is part of a coherent concept of the character or the play is another matter. Whishaw, Hounsou, Molina, and Brand are outstanding. Mirren seems as usual articulate and intelligent, but otherwise uninspired. As the "court," the shipwrecked Alonso (David Strathairn), Gonzalo (Tom Conti), Sebastian (Alan Cumming) and Antonio (Chris Cooper) are highly competent, but not memorable.

    The particular irony of Taymor's Tempest is that Shakeapeare's late romances are profound, outwardly simple in some ways, but subject to complex multilayered interpretation and rich in philosophical import. The Tempest has implications about the nature and power of art, the spiritual vs. the physical, new worlds, colonialism, the function of learning, morality and politics, and other themes, as well as perhaps being meant as Shakespeare's own swan song. Glitzing up the imagery, casting a bunch of big names, mostly from movies, and some total lightweights, and giving colorful landscapes (shot in Hawaii) and dazzling CGI free reign but not imposing much discernible interpretation in the direction is not the way to deliver material that requires serious thought. In short, Taymor has given us a very pretty, at times pleasing, at times over-loud, sometimes wonderfully and other times merely competently acted version of The Tempest that is intellectually unimpressive when it should have been the opposite. This is a Tempest for sensualists, not for smart people.

    Julie Taymor's The Tempest was introduced at Venice Sept. 11, 2010. It was seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it was presented as the Centerpiece film Oct. 2. This is a Touchstone Pictures and Miramax Films release that will open in US theaters December 10.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-30-2010 at 09:26 PM.

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    Mike Leigh: ANOTHER YEAR (2010)

    MIKE LEIGH: ANOTHER YEAR (2010)


    Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen in Another Year

    The kindly ones

    In a New York Film Festival 2010 "critic's notebook" survey, Manohla Dargis of the NY Times says of Mike Leigh's Another Year that it "schematically and too tidily follows, across the seasons, a late-middle-aged couple (Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen) and the usual collection of Leigh twitchers (including Lesley Manville in a hate-it or love-it turn)." Traditionally it has seemed that Leigh's actors work together extensively, developing their characters' "back-stories," and then hone a series of scenes through improvisation. It is hard to believe Another Year is improvised. The dialogue dovetails too perfectly. Every word is in place, and there are no surprises or non sequiturs.

    Yes, Another Year -- the title signaling both the four-season division of sequences and Leigh's spotlighting a couple who're getting older -- is well organized. But the counter to Dargis' accusation of schematic structure and excessive tidiness is the wonderful acting -- a given with Leigh, but even more notable here. Focusing on two of his finest actors, Jim Broadbent and Rugh Sheen, and giving a central role to his most frequent collaborator, Lesley Manville, is a guarantee of satisfaction. As the geologist Tom and therapist Gerri, a long-happiy-married couple, Broadbent and Sheen build a sense of ease, warmth, and mental health that is uncannily natural. One almost wants to reproach the actors for fooling us so successfully, but one also loves and admires the couple they represent.

    Manville's "love-it or hate-it turn" is a splendid and complex meltdown. At first (in the "Spring" sequence) Gerri and Mary (Manville) go for a drink at a pub after work and Mary seems a fun person, just lonely, and disappointed when the man who's been staring at her is met by a girlfriend after Gerri leaves. Then Mary later on comes for dinner with Tom and Gerri and gets so drunk she has to sleep over. It begins to seem that she's not just a bit sad and lonely, but depressed and desperate.

    Later (in the "Summer" sequence) we meet Ken (Peter Wight), an old friend of Tom's who comes to visit and also gets drunk, smokes too much, and is lonely and maudlin. He is an older counterpoint to Mary, and when Mary comes for a party she rebuffs Ken's overtures and instead pushes herself upon Joe (Oliver Maltman), Tom and Gerri's much younger, still unattached son, a community lawyer. Mary has been talking about buying her first second-hand automobile, and she arrives greatly flustered because now that she has bought a car she finds driving terribly stressful. The car is going to be the symbol of Mary's meltdown, a disaster from the start, ultimately taken away months later in return for only twenty pounds.

    "Autumn" brings the discovery that Joe has found Katie (Karina Fernandez), a physical therapist who's the love of his life. Joe and Katie turn up to surprise Joe's parents, on an afternoon when Mary is invited for tea. Mary is horrified to find Joe paired off and is rude to Katie. And her car troubles have gotten worse. Her bad behavior alienates her from Gerri, who was her chief confidante.

    In the "Winter" sequence, rather obviously shot through a blue filter, a certain dourness counterblancing the celebration of Joe and Katie is established by a sequence in which Tom and Gerri go north for the funeral of Tom's older brother Ronnie's wife. Ronnie (David Bradley) is a laconic individual, whom they take home for a while to ease his adjustment to widowerhood. While Tom and Gerri are off tending their allotment garden -- a theme throughout -- Mary comes to the door, not having been in touch for some time, and is let by in by Ronnie in a distraught, much deteriorated state. She has not slept, and got drunk on a twenty-pound bottle of champagne she drank by herself following the demise of her car. The film ends with the happy couple, Joe and Ketie, at the table with Tom, Gerri, Ronnie and Mary, with a fade-out on the face of Mary, contemplating the wreckage, it would seem, of her life.

    The best parts of Another Year are the "Spring" evening when Mary is alone with Tom and Gerri and gets very drunk, and the various moments of intimacy when Tom and Gerri are alone together. When one describes the plot one realizes that in the way of working with all these characters, each with occupation, personality, back-story and relationship with the principals, a certain rigidity sets in to organize how they all fit together into the film. Curiously there is an analogy between this film and Woody Allen's. Both directors get together a group of good actors and let them do their thing, but the difference is that Leigh's attitude to life, though mature and partly rueful, is not as negative and pessimistic as Allen's has become. After one has watched Another Year one is conscious of having had a very good time, and yet somehow there is nothing crucial or climactic enough about the action to make it all truly memorable. Just as with Woody Allen. Except for the big difference that Another Year is full of homely but very warm observations about life.

    The central theme of Another Year, or a central one at least, is helping people, which is obviously what Tom and Gerri do -- Gerri, even, as a profession. Because they are happy and stable they give back to the community of their friends and relatives the help they are capable of giving and that the others need. Their challenge is to decide how much to trust and how much to give. They trust Joe to find a good woman, and trust that Katie is one. They rue the decline of Ken but send him on his way. They help Ronnie when his wife dies, but they are unsure about Mary. They would like to kick her out. She has behaved badly toward Joe and Katie. But they let her stay for dinner. They are a little like Edward and Lavinia in T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party. Their mission is not to become martyrs in Africa like Edward's mistress Celia, but to, in effect, give a party, to welcome people and give them a little help without turning their own lives upside down in the process. The acting is wonderful, the structure is a little superficial and obvious, but the film is full of wise humanity and offers food for thought.

    Another Year debuted at Cannes and played or will play at Toronto, Telluride and London. It is a Sony Pictures Classics release and opens in US theaters December 31. Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2010, where its public screenings were Oct. 5 and 6.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-04-2010 at 07:27 PM.

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    Kelly Reichardt: MEEK'S CUTOFF (2010)

    KILLY REICHARDT: MEEK'S CUTOFF (2010)


    Paul Dano in Meek's Cutoff

    Native guide

    Nothing new here for Kelly Reichardt, the respected Amerindie director of Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy. Meek's Cutoff, like them, is a quiet, meandering tale about people lost and confused in the Pacific Northwest. Except that this time she's made a minimalist, politically emphatic western, which labors solemnly with the issue of the white racism of the people who settled the American West in the mid-nineteenth century, while following three wagon-training Oregon Trail traveling families relying on a hirsute mountain man (and Indian killer) to lead them over the Cascade mountains. He gets lost, and they find an Indian. The kicker is that for all we ever know the Indian, who takes over guiding them, may be lost too. While Meek (veteran nasty Bruce Greenwood, a bit better than in his clunky recent turn in Mao's Last Dancer) wants to execute the Indian from the first, the sensible liberal who mends his moccasin by way of conciliation and wards Meek off is Emily Tetherow (Michelle Williams), one of three plucky, laconic young wives in bonnets, whose long cotton dresses seem like armor against the ravages of a cruel desert that progressively smudges everybody's faces with dirt because they haven't enough water to wash.

    Reichardt certainly approaches the Western, or more accurately the world of American school history books, with a fresh eye. This is as startling a look at the 19th-century West as E.L. Doctorow's in Welcome to Hard Times, though instead of a verbal picture of a dead-end frontier town and a lawless destroyer, this is primarily a matter of visuals, specifically the striking 1.33 aspect ratio natural-light imagery (which lends an old-timey quality) of Chris Blauvelt, and of a cool, remote approach where the dialogue among men is often imperfectly audible in the middle distance, as if this were all from the women's point of view, which it mostly is. "What are they saying?" one lady asks another, of the men. It's a given that if the ladies are to prevail, it must be outside the posturing and debates. Nobody really lets on much how scared, desperate, or worn out they are, though the water is getting low and the prospect of ever seeing the sought-for Willamette Valley is growing remote. But it is consistently Mrs. Tetherow who first casts doubt on Meek's competency, and then defends the Indian (stunt man Rod Rondeaux). If they'd only had an interpreter. The Indian talks plenty, in his language. But there is no verbal communication possible between the whites and the Indian and little real communication among anybody.

    Sometimes the stilted redundancy of Jon Raymond's dialogue seems downright silly, as in exchanges like: "I am doubtful."--"I too have doubts." And Paul Dano's habitually pompous manner (which made him well cast for P.T. Anderson's fraudulent preacher in There Will Be Blood) doesn't help any to moderate the absurdity here. Ultimately the individuals on the trip are barely delineated. There's also only bare-bones action, though there are several serious mishaps, and that is the point. The film is about the gathering dread of a journey where nobody is really in charge and nobody knows anything. Sometimes the meticulous images and the sense of a strangely confined-feeling space really are enough, and sometimes the whole fantasy threatens to vanish into thin air. Maybe a slight air of conscious absurdity, such as Jim Jarmusch achieves in the opening sequences of Dead Man, helps protect an original interpretation of period better than a deadpan manner.

    You don't get close to anybody here -- Reichardt is normally at one remove from her characters -- but unlike the director's previous two films, this plays out on a broader canvas in every sense. There are many more characters in play. The wide open spaces of the desert scenery (especially dramatized in two striking shots of night sky dotted with palpable clouds) provide a sense of openness and possibility despite the harsh prospects of the travelers. There is a chance of appeal to a broader audience, and Reichardt has used ia bigger and more known and seasoned cast. Besides Michelle Williams from the last film, there is Greenwood, Will Patton, emerging newcomer Zoe Kazan, and other experienced actors, including Brit Shirley Henderson. Even 13-year-old Tommy Nelson as Henderson's son, is an acting vet.

    Meek's Cutoff is an odd mixture. The images are textured and beautiful, and the feel of the pioneer experience has authenticity about it even though characters and incident are underdeveloped. But the film is heavy-handed, sometimes unintentionally comic, in its handling of nineteenth-century sexual roles and prejudices. This is not a situation for subtlety, perhaps, but when the dialogue is sparse it ought to have been better. The ending is both lame and blunt. Reichardt's stories are about people going nowhere, but this time she's approached an adventure story and drained all the excitement out of it (retaining only a touch of dread). Since the genre is so familiar, it's hard not to think of other directors who'd have made something more powerful or more subtle -- or both -- out of these raw materials. Nonetheless the whole concept is unique, the cinematography is fine, and Jeff Grace's very sparing music is one thing that really is subtle.

    Debuted at Venice, included in Toronto, London, and other festivals, seen and reviewed at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it was scheduled to be shown to the public Oct. 8 and 9. Oscilloscope is the North American distributor, but a US release date has not been announced.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-05-2014 at 10:48 PM.

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    Omnibus film from Mexico: REVOLUCIÓN (2010)

    OMNIBUS FILM FROM MEXICO: REVOLUCIÓN


    Isaac Figueroa Borquez in Gael García Bernal's Lucio

    Ten short films to commemorate, and ruefully comment upon, the Mexican revolution

    A collection of 10 min. short films directed by: Mariana Chenillo, Patricia Riggen, Fernando Eimbcke, Amat Escalante, Gael García Bernal, Rodrigo García, Diego Luna, Gerardo Naranjo, Rodrigo Plá & Carlos Reygadas, 2010, Mexico, 105m.

    Omnibus films are hard to write about -- to be thorough, you must write eight or ten reviews just about a film that may last little over an hour and a half -- and harder still to describe when you don't get to see them all. A problem with the sound track caused the NYFF P&I screening to be halted after four segments, so as a stopgap I will summarize with quotes from Leslie Felperin's coverage from the Berlinale in Variety. I would concur with his evaluations of the first four. My comments: Eimbecke's film The Welcoming is very nicely photographed and its humor is redolent of promises not kept and rural backwardness. One might question his heavy use of long blackouts in such a short film. Riggen's Beautiful & Beloved indeed is highly conventional, though its references to a dream deferred, however obvious, are well taken. García Bernal's Lucio promises a great deal with its hint of revolution in the very young character, Omarcito, who takes down the crucifix from the wall, and his young actors are lively and attractive. The ending is a little weak, perhaps from the improvised nature of the film Felperin assumes. Amat Escalante's The Hanging Priest begins with spectral, haunting images (one is in the world of Bueñuel or Cormac McCarthy) and ends with the priest and two children appealing to real people on the street (their faces blurred out) for help and being turned away. Pretty strong stuff. This is as far as I can go from personal observation. The projection was halted a few minutes into This Is My Kingdom.

    Felperin notes that the ten-film collection was initiated by the production company Canana's funders Gael Garcia Bernal, Diego Luna, and Pablo Cruz. Films by García Bernal and Luna are included. There is some unevenness in quality both artistic and technical, but "a subversive streak throughout" augurs well for the future of Mexican filmmaking. A running theme is to question what the revolution has achieved and suggest that ceremonial platitudes about it are pretty hollow at this point in the country's history. There is a considerable coherence in the unfolding of the films.

    The Variety review notes that Einbecke (of Duck Season and Lake Tahoe) seems to have shot his black and white film with "proper film stock," with images in "soft, pencilly grays." The film focuses on a rural tuba player (Ansberto Flores Lopez) practicing to perform with the town band at a ceremony to welcome an honored guest who, in the event, does not arrive. The tubista has to juggle farm chores and caring for a baby with late-night solo practice. When the event comes next day and the local official gives up and lets citizens and band alike go home, the tuba player stays and waits longer, but to no avail. In what follows I am often, or wholly, summarizing from Felperin's Variety review of the collection written when it was shown earlier in the year at the Berlinale.

    Riggen's Beautiful & Beloved is a "schmaltzy but well-intentioned segment about an American-reared woman (Adriana Barraza) who finds "an inventive way to get her father's corpse (Ramon Duran) across the border so he can be buried in his hometown." Felperin says the film provides "another spin on themes of family and migration at play in Riggen's feature debut, Under the Same Moon." Line deliveries are "stilted."

    In contrast Gael Garcia Bernal's Lucio "appears to be improvised" -- having no screenplay credit and showing "spontaneity" in the young cast, some kids who are visited by a slightly older cousin called Omarcito (Isaac Figueroa Borquez), who startles the kids by declaring Catholic rituals undesirable (though he believes strongly in God) and at bedtime taking down the crucifix from the wall and sliding it under the bed. This is discovered by the kids' "devout grandmother (Samantha Mayer)" who punishes them. Felperin feels the "accessible tale" is "let down by patchy digital lensing."

    The powerful The Hanging Priest is the narrative of a pair of lost children (Hector Cortes Barrientons and Ambar Sixto Marroquin), "whose whole village has been wiped out." They rescue a priest hanging upside down from a little tree in a desolate field. All three ride a donkey to safety; the donkey does not survive. The film was written, directed and edited by a pupil of Carlos Reygadas, Amat Escalante (The Bastards). His film carries themes of violence and despair that resonate with and set the stage for the next entry.

    The next short film, This Is My Kingdom, was directed by Reygadas himself. It's a" kind of quasi-docu," Felperin notes, recording a wild rural fiesta "at which Mexicans and the odd Anglophone first get smashed, and then smash stuff up (mostly cars), while in one disturbing cutaway, a family of peasants looks on impassively from outside the party." As Felperin points out, Reygadas, the most internationally respected of the directors of this omnibus, deviates here from the tranqulity of his recent feature Silent Light (shown in the 2007 New York Film Festival), and goes back toward "his notorious sophomore outing, Battle in Heaven to again make reference to the prominent roles of violence and exces "within the nation's soul" and to point to the significance of class differences.

    With The Estate Store, according to Felperin, the director Mariana Chenillo (of Nora's Will, a "local hit") fantasizes how workers in a Walmart-like big box store might behave if they were paid partly in vouchers redeemable only at the store, as in fact was "a policy in practice before the real revolution." Felperin feels the segment's screenplay "lacks subtlety" but has a good performance by its lead Monica Bejarano "as a cash-strapped store employee."

    R-100 is "a taut but fragmentary mini-action film" about a man (Noe Hernandez) who "resorts to desperate measures on a remote desert highway to get help for his wounded friend" (Manuel Jimenez). The director is Gerardo Naranjo, whose I'm Gonna Explode was in the Main Slate of the 2008 New York Film Festival. I saw his rougher Drama/Mex at an earlier London Film Festival, in 2006.

    30/30, by Rodrigo Plà, is a "strong" segment, Felperin writes, that suggests "with pointed irony that the Revolution's legacy is often used as a meaningless vehicle for empty rhetoric by politicians." Rodrigo Plà's previous films are La Zona and The Desert Within) Here, Francisco (Justo Martinez), the elderly grandson of Pancho Villa, is seen "arriving in a town for the centennial parade and party. The local honchos want him there only as a figurehead and never give him a chance to read his carefully prepared speech."

    Felperin notes that Diego Luna's feature debut as a director, Abel, was well received at Sundance this year, but his segment here, Pacifico, is "one of the complilation's weaker contributions." It tells a "schematic story of a would-be property developer (Ari Brickman) arriving at a coastal town to find he's been conned, prompting a re-evaluation of what's really important in life." The "tech credits" are "subpar."

    Variety's review concludes that the best is saved for last. This is Rodrigo Garcia's 7th Street and Alvarado, a tableau in super-slow motion without dialog, depicting a troupe of "exhausted, sad-eyed revolutionaries in period dress, riding on horseback down the colorful streets of the titular Los Angeles intersection, unnoticed by the residents walking by." The scene is accompanied by a "swelling, plangent musical score by the Newton Brothers." This is shot on "luscious color stock." The horsemen's "disappointed expressions mutely speak volumes."

    The implied message of several of the films is that not only has Mexico today after a hundred years reverted to violence, corruption and chaos as bad as anything in the old days, but it all becomes rather irrelevant when so many of the breadwinners drain off to El Norte as illegals or Green Card holders supporting their families and villages by providing the backbone to the US economy. This does indeed seem like an unusually good omnibus film, and one that would introduce me to several important new Mexican directors whose work I am unaquainted with. Too bad about the sound track of the copy at the Walter Reade October 5. The film is scheduled for public showing at the New York Film Festival October 9, 2010, and was seen in part and reviewed in part at Lincoln Center.

    Upadate after re-watching the whole anthology in Paris in May 2011 here.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-01-2011 at 11:22 AM.

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    Sebastián Silva, Pedro Peirano: OLD CATS (2010)

    SEBASTIÁN SILVA, PEDRO PEIRANO: OLD CATS (2010)


    Bélgica Castro, Claudia Celedón, Catalina Saavedra, and Alejandro
    Sieveking in Old Cats


    Growing old with a good husband and a bad daughter


    Old Cats has a wonderfully lived-in setting and the cast feels right. The writing is a bit extreme and you will not be surprised to learn that the favorite plays of the screenwriter (co-director and regular collaborator Pedro Peirano) are Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Sometimes it feels as if the dialogue is an obstacle to the wonderful acting, especially of Bélgica Castro, who plays opposite her real-life husband, Alejandro Sieveking, in their apartment, with their own wise and patient and overweight cats. (The filmmakers not being beyond a bit of symbolism, we're meant to see that everybody is some kind of "old cat.")

    Thirty-something Chileans Silva and Peirano have teamed up for three films, Peirano generally doing the writing and Silva the directing. They've worked with these same actors, famous in Chile. This time they turn from a upper-bourgeois family's abuse of their live-in servant in The Maid to the perils of aging along with ne'er-do-well offspring. The main focus is on an old couple. Isadora (Bélgica Castro) is becoming forgetful and having strange episodes of zoning out, mainly when she's around water. (Men dressed as bees also seem to have an odd effect on her.) Isadora and second husband Enrique (Sieveking) are visited for tea by their abusive, tiresome daughter Rosario (Claudia Celedón, the mistress in Silva's 2007 The Maid), who's just back from a trip to Peru. Understandably, they don't want to see her. Nor are they happy to receive Rosario's butch lesbian lover, who now calls herself Hugo (Catalina Saavedra, the stony-faced maid in the previous film).

    Rosario, herself not getting any younger, is a perpetual freeloader. This time she wants the old couple's apartment, an unpretentious but lovely one, with many nice decorations -- and the cats. Isadora is supposed to sign the place over to Rosario and move into something smaller and at ground level. That part makes sense: Isadora has bad hips and the flat is seven flights up. When the elevator is on the blink, which it often is, she's trapped there. Isadora is not meant to be left alone with Rosario, but Enrique and Hugo run off to get some pastries, and an emotional fight between Isadora and her daughter leads to trouble, and then a kind of resolution.

    It's nice to live in a small country where you can engage the services of some of the best actors in your films. Such are Claudia Celedón and Catalina Saavedra, who are even more arresting as lesbians than they were as mistress and servant; (Saavedra has a more minor role here, and Celedón a bigger one as the daughter from hell.) Bélgica Castro and Alejandro Sieveking are veritable national institutions -- Castro is an acting giant who has played great roles and established her own national theater; Sieveking is a well-known playwright as well as an actor. Their generosity in lending their own digs to the production (and those emblematic cats) is a huge contribution. When they wake up in their own bed as the film begins and take their pills, well, it's beyond authentic. The hardest thing is to play yourself, but Castro and Sieveking are equal to the task. More than that, Castro shows further generosity in so convincingly embodying an old woman who is much more challenged than she is in real life (though her trouble with the stairs, it seems, is real).

    The daughter is not so well conceived. It is the language of Rosario and her and Hugo's coke-snorting in the bathroom that seem strained and a little irrelevant. Her words and actions spoil the slow developing sense of what Isadora is going through. The partly ironic feel-good conclusion additionally seems a bit forced, and reminds us that so much of the talk has been unreal.

    The young Silva and Peirano may have only an inkling what it's like to grow old, but they do deserve credit for knowing how to hold our attention. And a lot of us would be lying if we said our family lives hadn't been a horror show at one time or another. Whatever Became of Baby Jane? may be camp, but Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is simply heightened reality.

    Seen and reviewed as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, October 2010. Details of other releases and festival screenings unknown.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-07-2010 at 02:07 PM.

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