Pablo Giorgelli: Las Acacias (2011)--ND/NF
PABLO GIORGELLI: LAS ACACIAS (2011)--ND/NF
GERMAN DE SILVA AND NAYRA CALLE MAMANI IN LAS ACACIAS
Sweet little uneventful road trip across Argentina
Pable Giorgelli, an editor and documentary filmmaker, has chosen for his first feature the quiet matter of a woman and her five-month-old daughter riding from Paraguay to Buenas Aires with a lonely truck driver and a load of lumber. In this very slow burner, there is hardly any conversation for a long time, and when there is some, it's laconic. But the seemingly gruff driver, who lives alone and hasn't seen his own son for eight years, turns out to have a kind heart that begins to throb a bit for his two passengers. A more conventional, less art-house film would end with wedding bells. This only finishes with a vague promise of meeting to ride together again. Dry though this is, under the surface there's a layer of saccharine. The pair are played with understated but pitch-perfect appealingness by Germán De Silva, as Rubén, the driver, and Hebe Duarte, as Jacinta, the Guarani-speaking mother. The baby girl performs perfectly too. The camera caught the right moments.
Not much external scenery, though, in this road picture -- if there were any to catch -- because the camera spends most of its time inside the cab of the truck. The lensing by Diego Poleri is smooth and unobtrusive. Music is locally occurring only. The smiles are slow to appear but very natural. The virtue of the long time taken for the two adults to warm up a bit and start talking (a bit) is that when they do there is the feel of actual shy people slowly unwinding in real time. But I found myself longing for what I would consider the much more distinctive Patagonian understatedness of the little films of Carlos Sorin. Maybe Giorgelli, who is doubtless well acquainted with Sorin, will open things up more next time; what he gives us on this outing may be smoothly executed and a very mild charmer but it's pretty thin soup. The impression one comes away with is of perfectly managed modulation from tepid to lukewarm.
Not everything feels naturalistic here, either: baby Anahi (Nayra Calle Mamani) goes for an awfully long time before needing to be changed. Practical details (other than Rubén's sit-down meal at a way-station and a couple of showers) are ignored as rigorously as the scenery out the window.
Others have been more enthusiastic. Las Acacias debuted at Cannes in May 2011 and received the Caméra d'Or award for Best First Film. It has subsequently been shown at a dozen other festivals. It has had commercial releases in Spain, Argentina, the UK, Ireland, France and Greece. The French critics were highly receptive (Allociné 4.0). However there are those who feel as I tend to that in this particular example of minimalism there is not enough passion or ambition, almost no there there. Or at least hardly any. But mind you, there are no wrong notes. Giorgelli's feature debut was screened for this review as part of the March 21-April 1, 2012 MoMA-FSLC New Directors/New Films series, where it will be shown to the public at these locations on these dates:
Thursday, March 22nd | 6 PM | FSLC
Saturday, March 24th | 4 PM | MoMA
Las Acacias opened theatrically in the US September 7, 2012 (Quad Cinema, New York). It received generally favorable reviews (Metacritic: 72).
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-08-2012 at 09:23 AM.
Lee Kwang-kuk: Romance Joe (2011)--ND/NF
LEE KWANG-KUK: ROMANCE JOE (2011)--ND/NF
DAVID LEE AND KIM CHO-HUI IN ROMANCE JOE
A plot that mocks plot
Romance Joe/Lo-maen-seu Jo, an intricate 115-minute puzzler written and directed by young Korean filmmaker Lee Kwang-kuk, has an interconnected plotline. It begins with the parents (Kim Su-ung, Park Hye-jin) of a longtime assistant director coming to Seoul to see him but learning from his friend Seo Dam (Kim Dong-hyeon) that he has become depressed by the suicide of the actress actress Wu Ju-hyeon and has disappeared. He recounts the plot of his own screenplay and tries to sell it to them. Meanwhile filmmaker Lee (Jo Han-cheol), maker of the hit film The Good Guy, has been dumped by his producer Gwon (Baek Ik-nam) in the countryside Mt. Godong Motel to force him to finish his next script. Lee is blocked, so when he gets into conversation with the tea-house "hostess" Re-ji (Shin Dong-m) when she brings coffee, he takes up her offer to tell him some good stories if he will hire her for the night.
Re-ji tells about coming upon a guy known as "Romance Joe" (Kim Yeong-pil), a longtime assistant director who became depressed as the result of the suicide of popular actress Wu Ju-hyeon and has come to her little town to commit suicide himself. She stops him. He in turn recalls to her when he was a young boy (David Lee), rescuing a schoolmate, Kim Cho-hui (Lee Chae-eun) who had been about to slit her wrists in the woods after sleeping with a classmate. He later spent time with Kim and fell in love with her.
Meanwhile, to pass the time, as mentioned Seo Dam is telling his friend's parents the story of a script he's working on, It tells about a boy (Ryu Ui-hyeon) who came looking for his long-lost mother Cho-hui at the Arirang Teahouse run by Re-ji. Meanwhile, in Re-ji's story to director Lee, Romance Joe and she meet again when drunk one night and end up in bed together. Romance Joe also ran into a feisty kid who is looking for his mother, having been for some time raised by a relative. In a restaurant the boy meets a small-town hooker, Re-j, who slightly knew his mother. Romance Joe eventually learns that the boy's mother is his first love, Cho-Hee (Lee Chai-eu). I'm telling this badly. The various scenes and stories interconnect, but perhaps not quite. They intentionally leave one somewhat puzzled. (I'm indebted to former, recently fired, Variety film critic Derek Elley, whose knowledgable summary in Film Business Asia clarified plot details for me.)
The movie director decides to turn Romance Joe's story into a movie, but the story doesn't turn out the way he expected.-- a festival blurb.
It may come as no great surprise to hear that Lee Kwang-kuk worked as first assistant director with Hong Sang-soo, on such films as Tale of Cinema, Woman on the Beach, Like You Know It Al, and Hahaha, from 2005 to 2010. The focus on heavy drinking and love affairs and on film directors with ego, writing, and women problems is familiar from Hong. So is the focus on talking indoor scenes that are mostly one-on-one, and the straightforward shooting (in this case by Jee Yune-jeong). And, more importantly here, so is the use of what Gavin Smith, of Film Comment, in a Rotterdam comment on this film, calls "Hong’s blindsiding structural gambits." Smith says Lee "takes them at least one step beyond into a mise en abyme of nested stories and characters. . . The beauty of this playful kudzu-like proliferation of story strands," Smithh concludes, "is that while there are obvious links and connections to be made, it leaves the viewer pleasurably dangling in a no-man’s-land of irresolution in which the remembered and the made-up can’t quite be reconciled into a coherent whole. It’s a shaggy-rabbit-hole story, so to speak."
Certainly Lee carries things narratively further than Hong. In describing his process in making Romance Joe, he asks (in the press notes) why we need stories, why we're so dependent on them. In this film he seems to seek to abolish stories by telling stories. While Hong Sang-soo's narrative lines sometimes seem rambling and unexpected, Lee's here are, in the words of Jeon Chan-il, the programmer at the Pusan International Film Festival, in his commentary on Romance Joe, "monumentally complex" and "even more disjointed, even more abstract, than his teacher's" (Hong's). Jeon finds "severe irony" in Lee's questioning of the need for story while doing nothing but playing with storytelling. Jeon also notes the similarity to Hong in the meta-film approach of a film about a filmmaker seeking to write or complete a screenplay. But he concludes that this film "doesn’t really come across like ‘an imitation of Hong Sang-soo’." Indeed this is fair to say. Lee is not a mere copycat. Hong has given Lee a ready-made vocabulary and grammar, but the sentences Lee forms using them are his.
The scenes in Romance Joe are lively and engaging, for example the ones with the waitress and the filmmaker, who seem to achieve instant intimacy, and the feisty boy looking for his mother. Despite the liveliness of individual scenes, it may be harder than with Hong to watch the film with an overarching comprehension, hard to understand the relation between them, and I'm not the only one who thinks so, if Pusan programmer Jeon Chan-il finds the plotting "monumentally complex" and "even more disjointed, even more abstract" than that of Hong Sang-soo. In fact it's hard not to think that Lee is trying to baffle the viewer, and probably make fun of the viewer's desire for a coherent plot line. But he doesn't seem to have quite achieved that. One Rotterdam commenter felt the film appeals to the mind too much and not to the heart. Lee's effect is arguably even more intellectual than Hong's. Hong's greater narrative consistency lets one develop more feelings toward main characters, ironically viewed though they may be.
But Derek Elley, an astute critic, thinks just the opposite. He thinks that though "the game element is still present" as in Hong, Romance Joe "resonates on an emotional level much more than many of Hong's lighter films, thanks to a tip-top cast that manages to draw characters who are not simply marionettes in an elaborate directorial game." Elley acknowledges that Romance Joe "often requires major concentration to keep all three interlocking stories in one's head as the film freely cross-cuts between them." But he insists (and has proven, pretty much) that "it does all (kind of) finally make sense, and Lee's direction matches the precision of his writing." Elley wants to emphasize his interpretation that Lee's film is rigorously logical and interconnected and so he calls the last sequence, which casts doubt on the reality of what's gone before, "throwaway" and "unnecessary in the circumstances."
That is a bit arbitrary on Elley's part. It seems to me the "meta" element is primary to Lee, and though his scenes are clear, lively, and emotional, what he's doing with them is very much meta-fiction, narrative about narrative -- something that happened in literature in the Sixties, and has come to cinema later in this kind of sophisticated and dense form.
Is Lee's film radical, or just a screenplay in need of further editing? In any case, Lee seems to know very well how to work with actors (including the boy) and the individual scenes are entertaining to watch. They would just be more entertaining if they developed a more coherent rhythm or followed a more meaningfully interconnected structure -- a structure that could be better perceived as one watches. Hong Sang-soo's last couple of films have seemed increasingly self-indulgent, as if he is reaching a self-referential dead end. Lee Kwang-kuk may have taken a flying leap beyond that dead end, if he can sustain the local audience's interest, as the audience prize at Pusan suggests he did this time.
Romance Joe debuted at Pusan in early October 2011 and was shown in the Tiger series at Rotterdam in January 2012. It is also part of the joint MoMA and Film Society of Lincoln Center series, New Directors/New Films, where it was screened for this review. The public ND/NF screenings of the film are scheduled at these two places and times:
Saturday, March 24th | 6:15 PM | MoMA
Monday, March 26th | 8:30 PM | FSLC
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-11-2012 at 08:14 AM.
Joann Sfar, Antoine Delesvaux: The Rabbi's Cat (20110--ND/NF
JOANN SFAR, ANTOINE DELESVAUX: THE RABBI'S CAT (2011)--ND/NF
A talking cat and a wandering story set in 1920's Algiers
This charming and benignly crazy tale about the adventures of an unorthodox rabbi, his cat, his daughter, and assorted other characters comes to us from a popular French comic strip. The creator, Joanne Sfar, bases people and events, set in the 1920's, on his own family background. He comes from Algeria and is a Jew of dual Sephardic and Ashkenazi heritage. This must first be seen as a lovingly executed work of visual art. The images are delightful and colorful. And there are many witty incidents. But the film suffers from the same weakness as Sfar's debut live action feature, the Serge Gainsbourg biopic, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life. Wonderful, inventive episodes, but an inability to meld them into a coherent whole. It comes from forming his sense of structure while working in the comic strip format, perhaps.
The soon-to-be talking cat (voiced by François Morel), first of all, is an African breed with a long gray body and pointed snout and big pinted ears. He looks like a king-size comic strip mouse. The first scenes are the best, in which we meet rabbi Sfar (Maurice Benichou), a lusty roly-poly, quite unlearned chap with a white fringe beard and an ancien-régime look unlike the conventional image of a Jewish cleric. His daughter Zlabya (Hafsia Herzi, Kéchiche's discovery in The Secret of the Grain) is voluptuous, and adored by the rabbi's cat, which jealously devours a pet parrot, whereupon he begins to speak.
The cat's conversations with the rabbi are droll. He wants to become a Jew, so as to be sure of remaining with Zlabya, and if he can't be circumcised, he'd at least like a bar mitzvah. This doesn't sit well with the rabbi's rabbi (Daniel Cohen), who's as mean and severe as rabbi Sfar is easy-going. This is 1920's Algiers, and Algeria is under French colonial rule, so it turns out rabbi Sfar has to take a dictation test to prove his French is up to par. The cat is better at spelling, and wants to take it for the rabbi. The cat invokes the Almighty to get the rabbi a good grade, but in doing so loses the power of speech again himself. It all sounds silly, but it's congenial to watch.
Later when Sfar & Co. introduce other characters, a Russian lady, a blond guy escaped from a pogrom, and they all go off in a Citroën truck to find the Abyssinian jews, getting into a fight with a desert prince (Mathieu Amalric) along the way, the narrative starts seeming more and more pointless. I wanted to loe this -- I really did. I'd been looking forward to it for over a year since I heard about the project, and more so after June 2011 when it opened in France to rave reviews (Allociné 3.6). I couldn't really see (as Eric Loret wrote in Libération) that this "like its comic strip original" is a "didactic poem" that is "both ecumenical and anti-religous." This tendency appears in the early discussions between the cat and the rabbi and the rabbi's rabbi, and the rabbi's relationships with muslims show a benign and ecumenical mood, but the episodic meanderings across Africa keep this from cohering into "a didactic poem." After its great beginning this animation (shown in pointless 3D, which adds nothing since the images are flat) unfortunately goes nowhere. But don't forget: the images are rich and individual, which stood out after having just watched the musically fine Chico & Rita, whose animation drawing (despite some nice detail in its period backgrounds) is too generic. Here the images are a continual pleasure even when the narrative begins to lose its grip. And the voicings and music are fin.
Le chat du rabbin (100min.) was released in France June 1, 2011, after winning a Crystal award at the 2011 Annecy animation festival for best animated feature; it won the equivalent award at the 2012 Césars. It was screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films. It will be shown during that March 21-April 1, 2012 series at the following places and times:
Sunday, March 25th | 11 AM | MoMA
Tuesday, March 27th | 6 PM | FSLC
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-12-2012 at 07:20 PM.
Kleber Mendoça Filho: Neighboring Sounds (2011)--ND/NF
KLEBER MENDOÇA FILHO: NEIGHBORING SOUNDS (2011)--ND/NF
IRMA BROWN, W.J.SOLHA AND GUSTAVO JAHN IN NEIGHBORING SOUNDS
Menace and isolation in a Brazilian city
This new film about class, disorder, and environment in Brazil reminded me of Celina Murga's very original study of children abandoned completely by their parents in a wealthy compound in Argentina, called A Week Alone/Una semana solos (Film Comment Selects 2009). Those children are in a gated community, and they are the ones who gradually take the law into their own hands. Kleber Mendonça Filho's film takes place mostly in contemporary Recife, the fifth largest city in Brazil, whose exploding economy has led to increasingly luxurious but soulless tower apartment buildings clumped in the built-up downtown. And they are in protected areas. Filho skillfully builds up a sense of menace and disorder, skipping around among various inhabitants of such a building, some of them from the same well-off family; their servants; and a newly arrived security firm whose real aims are clearly suspect, though the reason for their presence remains dark -- until the final frames. Kleber Mendonça Filho, has done a number of related short films, going back to a video in 1997. In this first feature, he succeeds in integrating many separate sequences because he knows his milieu so well.
Mendoça neatly pulls everything together, as the title warns, with "neighboring sounds." These can be an invasive stereo playing loud music, a dog's persistent howling which one of the main characters battles throughout (using drugs, a high-pitched electronic device, and firecrackers), or the scary drumbeats of the soundtrack warning of hostility or a strange interloper around the corner. Obviously Filho has used sound and music, as well as skillful editing and a narrative line that seems to ramble but knows very well what it's dong, to draw his portrait of city, society, and neighborhood that is rooted in the problems and dark history of a single family. Servants in some scenes seem intimate members of the families they work for, but the rooms the new apartment houses still provide for them are still hot and dark, and they can be dismissed or abused with ease. Plus there are layers of resentment because their parents were even worse used.
At least half the street belongs to the handsome, silver-haired Seo Francisco (W.J. Solha), who lives in a luxurious duplex. When a private security team arrives headed by Clodoaldo (Irandhir Santos), Francisco coldly gives him the brush-off, annoyed that they already know who he is, and saying that his main interest now is in his plantation in the country, which appears ruined but is evidently the source of the family wealth. Francisco warns Clodoaldo to steer clear of his grandson Dinho (Yuri Holanda), evidently a young, directionless bad boy who steals things for kicks. His other grandson, João (Gustavo Jahn), has spend the night with a new girlfriend, Sofia (Irma Brown), and Sofia's car CD player turns out to have been stolen during the night by Dinho.
A central figure of the film to whom it keeps returning is Beatriz (Maeve Jinkings), who is always in her apartment, not as nice as Seo Francisco's by a long sight but comfortable. Her family, a young son and daughter who have Chinese and English private lessons besides school and a hardworking husband, is firmly middle class. Mother has her little helpers. A water delivery service man brings her her regular supply of marijuana, and she uses a loudly spinning washing machine as a giant motorized dildo. We keep returning to Beatriz. She isn't going anywhere. Of the film's characters, as Jay Weissberg of Variety points out, only Seo Francisco gets far afield, going down to the nearby shark infested ocean waters for a night swim, and relaxing in the country plantation. João also goes to the country place with Sofia and they wanter aimlessly in an abandoned school and a now grass-filled cinema. This sequence shows the ruins of a time when the underclass was exploited, as is hinted in a series of old black-and-white stills shown as the film begins. The way João and Sofia wander aimlessly recalls the upper bourgeois uselessness of the couple in Antoinioni's L'Avventura. Sofia lived in an apartment nearby the Recife building that is now about to be demolished to build another highrise tower. She and João visit it and its empty swimming pool. It's no surprise that Sofia disappears from João's life: she seems obsolete (though Francisco urges them to marry when they visit him in the country).
While all this is going on, the little private security company brought in by Clodoaldo is setting up shop under a canopy down on the corner. With just a few men at the periphery and cell phones (which also are video cameras), they turn out to have the area very well covered indeed. But are they interested in protecting the well-off inhabitants, or do they have a more sinister aim in view?
Plainly Filho has built up a richly thought-out sense of this world, its class strictures, and its people from his earlier short films, elements of which, according to Weissberg, are seamlessly incorporated here. This is another socially astute, hauntingly assembled, highly original film from Latin America, and a thoroughly contemporary view of Brazil in which the word "favela" is used only to point out that this is not that. And while the director in a Statement for the film has spoken of an aspect of class relations being "a crippling fear of urban violence," no such generalizations are ever overtly or crudely made.
Neighboring Sounds/O som ao redor won the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize at Rotterdam, where it debuted. It has been picked up by Cinema Guild for US distribution, and will have its North American premiere at the MoMA and Film Society of Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series March 21-April 1, 2012 (where it was screened for this review), with the following showings:
Saturday, March 24th | 9:15 PM | MoMA
Sunday, March 25th | 7:15 PM | FSLC
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-17-2012 at 09:43 AM.
David France: How to Survive a Plague (2012)--ND/NF
DAVID FRANCE: HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE (2012)--ND/NF
ACT-UP ACTIVIST AND TAG FOUNDER PETER STALEY IN HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
An important film about the AIDS struggle in its early, key years
France's documentary, which is intense, passionate, but clearheaded, concerns the fight in the US to get research and treatment for AIDS and HIV. It focuses on two organizations, ACT-UP and TAG. The fight was in New York, when in 1987 a group of HIV-positive gay men, gay women, and others teamed up to do something about the lack of urgent action to provide medication to prevent people from dying of AIDS. This story has been told before, but France neatly organizes old footage to present a historical picture that is clearer than ever before and follows through to the point when medication and care were being provided to enable people to live with AIDS, a point first reached in the late Nineties. The key development was the move to protease inhibitors shifting from monotherapy to combination therapy, bringing a massive decline in AIDS-related deaths in the U.S. and transforming HIV into a manageable chronic illness.
A key activist element in this development was TAG. TAG, the Treatment Action Group, founded by young former bond trader Peter Staley, developed when there was a period of disenchantment and split in which some Act-Up members moved away from street demos and entered highly technical fields of medical and scientific research to force an end to the disorganized, slow, and limited progress among medical and governmental organizations responsible for dealing with AIDS.
France, a journalist who has been following the AIDS crisis since the beginning, uses ACT-UP footage to follow some of the leading activists, who include Peter Staley, Jim Eigo, Garance Franke-Riuta, Mark Harrington, Spencer Cox, Larry Kramer, Bill Bahlman, David Barr, Gregg Bordowitz, Gregg Gonsalves, Derek Link, and Iris Long. The film leaves to the end the answer to the question of which HIV-positive men involved in the fight survive to today, though in some cases their appearance as present-day, talking heads answers that question. Of course the film fills in the background of lousy initial NIH support, a President Reagan who did not even mention the name of the disease, a Bush Senior who claimed the government was doing just fine, a Jesse Hems who said it was God's punishment for evil behavior. But the living, strong part of this film is its depiction of how a group of activists fought successfully to change the whole way the plague was being fought. The notably included activists and patients' being on boards of organizations and consulting directly with drug companies.
How to Survive a Plague captures the revolutionary fervor of the early ACT-UP period with particular energy and vividness. It was a time when desperation and anger were turned into effective action. There was excitement in the air. People were dying left and right, life was tragic, but people had a palpable sense of the need to go for broke, and the leaders were heroes who were the best they could be. As the Hollywood Reporter review puts it, this serves as "a sequel of sorts to seminal AIDS works like Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart or Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On." The film has been picked up by IFC Films sister division Sundance Selects for US distribution. It debuted at Sundance in January 2012 and is included as part of the New Directors/New Films series of MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It was screened in connection with ND/NF for this review. Public ND/NF showings of this documentary at Lincoln Center and MoMa were held March 24 and 26, 2012.
How to Survive a Plague opens in the US Sept. 21, 2012 in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco.
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-04-2012 at 04:34 PM.
Júlia Murat: Found Memories (2011)--ND/NF
JÚLIA MURAT: FOUND MEMORIES (2011)--ND/NF
THREE VILLAGERS POSE FOR RITA'S PINHOLE CAMERA IN FOUND MEMORIES
Memories that smell of old age and magic
In her Found Memories/Historias Que So Existem Quando Lembradas Brazilian Júlia Murat has woven a visual poem, delicate, meditative and beautifully tinted in sepia yellow. It's part enhanced documentary, part magic realism. A young woman comes briefly to invade the life of an old lady living in the country. It's a place that declined long ago in the last century due to a coffee crisis. The train doesn't come there any more. Everything is in a photogenic state of natural decay. Which is fine, because Rita (Lisa E. Fávero) is a photographer. She has brought two cameras, one modern with buttons and lights and the other a pinhole camera that is just a tin can. (She seems to favor the latter for the rough hewn effect it gives.)
Every morning the old lady, Madalena (Sonia Guedes) receives an old man, Antônio (Luiz Santos) and they engage in Beckettian ritual squabbling as he fixes coffee and she lays out the rolls she has baked the night before. Sitting on a bench out in front of Madalena's big old ramshackle former shop and house, they squabble like an old couple, talking of loss and rain. But they are not married. They're both widowed.
Rituals continue. Antônio and Madalena go to a service conducted by a grizzled Padre (Josias Ricardo Merkin) and attended by other old people, perhaps a dozen in all, who inhabit this lost, sealed-off village. Later they have a communal lunch, preceded by a long silent prayer. Madalena tends flowers at the entrance of the cemetary -- which is padlocked.
Though it's not spelled out, this was inspired by the director's once coming upon a town whose cemetary really had been sealed off, so that when people died they had to be taken on a long trip down river to be buried elsewhere. Murat toys with the notion that here, due to the cuttoff of names of deceased persons and the locked burial ground, the old people linger on, unable to die. Toward the end Madalena tells Antônio she's afraid of dying, and he snaps back, "Then don't die." But then Rita, who has won Madalena's confidence and affection, photographs the old lady naked from the waist up. Soon afterward, as if this naked photo was preparation for the hereafter, Madalena dies. It's not clear what this means or how it's handled. (Where will she be buried? Has a spell been broken?) Antônio just says, "Now there's nobody to bake bread."
The beauty of Found Memories is that, like the films of Lisandro Alonso (whom this picture's dp Lucio Bonelli has worked for) or Carlos Reygadas, Júlia Murat uses unusual authentic settings to weave a special magic. Plotwise, the film is a little thin. Any more morning squabbles between Madalena and Antônio over rolls and coffee and we might go bonkers. But it's amazing how introducing a new young character with a project changes everything. The everyday things, the dark corners, lamp lights, kitchen objects, that seemed merely accoutrements of decline now suddenly as subjects of Rita's camera are beautiful and picturesque. Or at least artsy: Rita's pinhole photos don't seem like masterpieces. But that may be just as well, because when drawings, paintings, or photographs done by a character in film are too professional, they just seem fake. Rita seems a little smug and annoying, but at least she is real. And Madalena greatly brightens, after an initial stonewalling period. with Rita around.
Being young, Rita has a nightlife, even here. She goes and drinks with an old but still feisty black man, Carlos (Antônio dos Santos), and she even dances out there with iPod music. When all the old people dance one evening to the music of an ancient gramophone, that is "magic", not real. When Rita announces she's leaving, Madalena insists she can't -- and perhaps it's by virtue of Rita's visit and departure that Madalena becomes ready to die.
Found Memories is a beautiful slow film, a genre increasingly rich in Latin America. Viewers with patience will find much to enjoy here. It is like a staged photograph, using existing elements judiciously to create a new reality. But its picture of old age as repeated rituals, though not far from the mark, is not quite the whole story. Nor in this first feature does Murat manage a story that is as as specific or as profound as it might have been. With its weathered buildings and locals and its chiaroscuros it's a pretty picture, but it doesn't make much of an impression. It risks not being remembered, and therefore not existing. Though not a direct translation, Found Memories is a good title for the film. But it reminds us of something: memories that are found somewhere and appropriated may not always feel as authentic as one's own.
Emad Burnat, Guy Davidi: 5 Broken Cameras (2012)--ND/NF
EMAD BURNAT, GUY DAVIDI: 5 BROKEN CAMERAS (2012)--ND/NF
GIBREEL AND SETTLEMENTS IN 5 BROKEN CAMERAS
A boy grows up with village protests
This film -- by a Palestinian videographer whose images are collected and narrated by him here -- tells much the same story as Julia Bacha's awarded 2009 documentary Budrus, only in a more personal and rather sadder way. Both films are about Palestinian villagers protesting against Israeli settlements, walls, encroachment of their land, destroying their olive groves, ruining their lives in piecemeal fashion year after year. Emad gets a video camera when Gibreel is born, his youngest of four sons. Then he gets the habit and becomes a documentary filmmaker, covering marches and protests and endless encounters with the Israeli army in which friends and brothers are arrested, wounded, and finally killed -- and the shooting is so rough, five of the cameras he's using get destroyed in the space of five years.
Budrus, which focuses on another town and its actions and activists, provides more information about the community organization that went into the protests, the negotiations, the identity of the Israeli soldiers engaged in protecting settlements or walls, the effect of the involvement of Israeli and foreign activists in the demonstrations, and the dimensions of the non-violent struggles, which over a period of several years joined together from town to town.
The unique feature of 5 Broken Cameras is that it literally depicts events that Emad Burnat himself covered with his cameras, which generally lasted less than a year before they were wrecked in a demonstration. This is a sort of DIY documentary filmmaking manual: if you've got a camera and what's happening in your world is as significant as the Palestinian-Israeli struggle, and you haven't much else to do (Emad was robbed of any livlihood other than olive cultivation), you become a filmmaker. He covers the shooting, the wounding, the tear gas. He shows how spirited demonstrators Phil and Adib inspire others to maintain hope and keep returning to protest. But at the same time he is still using his cameras to record Gibreel, whom we see learn to walk, and talk and grow up. It seems his first words include "wall" and "army." Gibreel has enormous innocent dark eyes and an open spirit. He sees and experiences everything. He grows up in a world of encroachment and protest. It's all he knows..
Emad's narration is simple and direct. He doesn't provide an elaborate historical picture or fill us in on the politics of protest as Budrus does. But on the other hand he gives us a more direct sense of what it's like to be an average guy in a Palestinian village on the edge of the Israeli settlements, المستوطنات الإسرائيلية (a personal note: I followed the narration closely; it was unusually easy for a student of Arabic to follow, showing how simple, direct, and forthright it is). This film conveys a sense of Palestinian robustness. Their situation is demoralizing beyond words but in the eye of Emad's cameras they remain hardy and vigorous -- and they keep on coming. Emad speaks of anger, of how it deepens as the sorrow sinks in for example when one of the village's inspirations is killed, the man whom the children loved to gather around. But his spirit is determinedly non-violent -- and as Budrus shows, that's an approach that works.
Guy Davidi is an Israeli filmmaker who collaborated with Burnat in producing this film. They were much helped by the editor Memmo Borema, and the film is gently enhanced by the music of Trio Joubran, an oud group. French television gave its support, and the finishing touches on the final edit were done by Véronique Lagoarde-Segot. Thanks to this expert help Burnat's "amateur" camerawork becomes brilliantly effective. The simple narrative preserves the filmmakers' aim of avoiding "traps" and clichés. Needless to say, the chronology of the five cameras, plus the first five years of young Gibreel's life, with "Happy Birthday" and ritual cake-blowing included, provide not only a neat structure, but a sense both of how personal and of how dangerous the circumstances of this film's progress were.
5 Broken Cameras debuted at Sundance. It won the World Cinema Documentary Directing award there and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It has recently been part of festivals in Mexico, Sweden, and Greece. It is also included in the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center series, New Directors/New Films, in which it was screened for this review. Public showings at ND/NF will be:
Monday, March 26th | 6:00 PM | FSLC
Tuesday, March 27th | 8:30 PM | MoMA
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-13-2012 at 09:59 PM.
Jason Cortland, Julia Halperin: Now, Forager (2012)--ND.NF
JASON CORTLAND, JULIA HALPERIN: NOW, FORAGER (2012)--ND/NF
TIFFANY ESTEB AND JASON CORTLAND OF NOW, FORAGER
Man finds mushrooms, loses wife
This serious foodie feature is anchored by its focus on the problematic marriage of a thirty-something couple, both of whom are more than capable of playing a key role in the kitchen of a hip restaurant. The wife would like to do just that, take over a kitchen when she can. The husband, who is a mushroom specialist, is more of a counter-cultural persuasion. He would rather live by foraging alone, if he could, and selling the findable eatable wild American fungi he knows so well, giving up apartment and car if necessary to follow that pursuit. This clash over lifestyle and material goals ultimately causes the somewhat reluctant breakup of the couple, leaving them in the spring with the wife working in a restaurant in Manhattan and the husband housesitting a 35-minute drive from Brooklyn and -- planning to gather some portobellos that afternoon.
The subtitle is "A Film About Love and Fungi." It's really a slow-food and slow-film movie, an intelligent little American indie that's ironic and knowing and notable for the sharp specificity of its people, places, and specialities (casting and settings are tops, and so are details about food), shown off in a series of carefully located scenes.
That the filmmakers know whereof they speak shows all the way through, but there are two excellent sequences in particular that make this film worth watching. And they provide a nice contrast. The first occurs when wife Regina Echevarría (Tiffany Esteb) takes an opportunity found for her by Mas (Almex Lee), the hot chef whose octopus restaurant she's been working in, to become chef of a Basque restaurant "outside of Providence." "That's the whole state," says the often grumpy Lucien (Jason Cortland) when awakened in the middle of the night to hear this news. (Both are of Basque origin.) This sends Regina off to Rhode Island, where the restaurant turns out to be a real dump where hamburger balls with rice and thousand island dressing are key menu items and the "Basque" designation is meaningless. Her Rhode Island chef-ing gig is a disaster: the unsophisticated restaurant regulars can't accept her authentic Basque substitutes.
The second great sequence comes when, with Regina away, Lucien decides as it turns colder to drive down to gather wild mushrooms still growing south of New York State. Life is harsh for Lucien away from Regina. In a Maryland forest his afternoon's foraging is robbed from him by a couple of gangsterish Russian rivals (possibly courtesy of the Polish co-production on the film). But real fun happens when -- following another dicey reference from a restaurant friend -- he tries to cater a big party for a fabulously demanding and rich DC lady with a "think tank" husband. The pinioning of the spoiled and the overly well funded here is truly delicious, and as the insufferably bitchy hostess, April Garrison, Gabrielle Maisels is insanely annoying. Casting is spot-on throughout.
Except that in his review in Variety Jay Weissberg has a point when he claims "zero chemistry between the leads." The couple's splitting up doesn't so much carry a high emotional charge as seem an excuse for the separate sequences they act in thereafter. Consequently Weissberg's also right, good though the episodes are, in saying the film plays "like a compilation of episodes rather than a flowing narrative." Pleasure is to be derived more from the technical details, which are exceptional. Mas's hip restaurant and Mas himself, the unsophisticated Rhode Island restaurant folks and their setup, as well as all the details of kitchen prep work and mushroom-hunting (plus details of looks, taste, texture, and how to prepare each species) are done with a sense of accuracy and detail such as one rarely sees in a feature film -- not to mention one of those warm fuzzy Mostly Martha -type food sentiment-fests. But this is so much true that the details may have taken up space that should have gone to character and story. Cortland shows his passion for fungi with what The Hollywood Reporter calls "additional fungi cinematography, [himself, in addition to writing, starring, and editing] crafting the beautifully immaculate close-ups of choice mycological specimens that punctuate a season-hopping narrative." Clearly this is destined to be the ultimate mycophile movie.
This seems a slightly new kind of "precision" small indie American film that, despite the somewhat downbeat turn of this feature, has great possibilities for precise satire if Cortland and his co-director Julia Halperin want to continue in this vein but lighten it up a bit. And turn to other topics. There is probably room for only one cult feature on mushroom gathering.
This 93-minute American indie film, first feature for the directors, debuted at Rotterdam. It is also included in New Directors/New Films (a series from March 21-April 1, 2012 co-sponsored by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center), and in was in this connection that it was screened for this review. The ND/NF public screennigs of Now, Forager (the name humorously adapted from Walt Whitman) :
Friday, March 30th | 9 PM | FSLC
Sunday, April 1st | 4:30 PM | MoMA
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-17-2012 at 09:58 AM.
Song Chuan: Huan Huan (2010)--ND/NF
SONG CHUAN: HUAN HUAN (2010)--ND/NF
DR WANG AND HIS WIFE CHUNFENG DINE IN HUAN HUAN
Having a child in rural China
The story told here is of a young woman, Huan Huan, who is having an adulterous affair with a boyish-looking married doctor called Wang. Huan Huan herself is married to a fat, brutish gambler, Yue Lin, a squirmy little man who sits around smoking cigarettes. Dr. Wang is married to Chunfeng, who can't seem to produce a child. Yue Lin winds up taking bribes from Wang for keeping mum about Wang's affair with his wife. Wang also gives Huan Huan pocket money and pays a large fine to the local family planning committee so Huan Huan's brother can return to the village.
When Yue Lin is humiliated by the police and Wang's clinic is shut down by the local government so he has no more money for payoffs, Yue Lin beats Wang to death. Now Huan Huan is pregnant, evidently by Dr. Wang. As the film draws to a close Chunfeng and Huan Huan are out by the local lake talking about Chenfeng raising Huan Huan's baby as her own. All along Huan Huan has wanted to leave her village to work in a big city, but it's looking as if she won't.
This first feature feels like student work of a rather stiff kind. The choppy editing and lousy acting reminded me of Ying Liang's Taking Father Home (SFIFF 2006). If the latter looked even cruder that's because video cameras keep getting better. While static camera setups are poetic in the hands of Asian artists like Tsai Ming-liang or Hou Hsiau-shen, they just seem like the easy way out here.
Song Chuan's version of rural China is a place of petty corruption, mutual blackmail, a life without beauty or grace. People ignore the "one child" law, and the local police exact bribes for having this overlooked, and for other things. Punctuating the film are excerpts from very curious song and dance videos (real, not made by the filmmaker) in which men and women apparently advertise prostitution, or maybe just sex. These are shown at public gatherings that include not only old folks, but kids. The characters of Huan Huan often use obscene and abusive language.
You wouldn't think any of this, which by the way has none of the style or penetration of the films of Jia Zhang-ke or his generation, was the sort of thing the Chinese government would want shown as part of contemporary reality, and yet this was shown at the UCCA (Ullen Center for Contemporary Arts) in Beijing, and was supplied to the Film Society of Lincoln Center by the Chinese Consulate General in New York. The 32-year-old Song's film was nominated for best feature at the second China (Hangzhou) Youth Digital Film Contest. And he is a graduate of the National Academy of Chinese Theater Arts, has worked in films and TV since 2006 and worked on his own films since 2002.
Huan Huan may have been chosen for festival showing as an artifact of the modern China and again, as with the (far more accomplished) filmmakers from Iran, some films are sought by international festivals to encourage underground work challenging the status quo in their repressive country of origin, regardless of artistic accomplishment.
Huan Huan was watched for this review among screenings for the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center March 21-April 1, 2012 series New Directors/New Films, and will be shown to the public in ND/NF at these times and places:
Tuesday, March 27th | 9 PM | FSLC
Wednesday, March 28th | 6 PM | MoMA
Joachim Trier: Oslo, August 31st (2011)--ND/NF
JOACHIM TRIER: OSLO, AUGUST 31ST (2011)--ND/NF
ANDERS DANIELSEN LIE AND HANS OLAV BRENNER IN OSLO, AUGUST 31ST
Last voyage home
In this wonderfully accomplished second film Trier attempts something that's different from the generational portrait of his debut, Reprise, but also has many points in common, starting with the star, Anders Danielsen Lie, the protagonist Anders here, and a key figure in Reprise, (SFIFF 2007) whose arc has a strong point in common. Again Trier's inspiration in the French New Wave is clear: this is an adaptation of the novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle that was the basis for Louis Malle's The Fire Within. And there's a lightness of touch and imaginativeness of camerawork and editing that invoke the New Wave. The big difference is in focus, a turning inward. Reprise was more an ensemble piece, about a generation of young men on the rise. Oslo zeros in on one man, a doomed thirty-something who's finishing drug rehab, who once had everything going for him, but now doesn't seem like he's going to make it.
Lie is an extremely watchable actor, not handsome exactly but sexy somehow (his character defined here as a magnet for women), a live wire with a quality both chiseled and sensitive. In Reprise he is the first of several young writers and best friends who becomes a big success, but then has a psychotic episode from which he does not completely recover. Anders begins this last day with what the Variety reviewer calls "an unsuccessful morning of the Virginia Woolf variety." He is at the rehab center, in a big house out in the country. Today he has a job interview and in an early recovery-type group session he expresses uncertain feelings, or no feelings, about that appointment. The film takes us through his entire day, to the bitter end. There are no flashbacks. A lot of background comes from conversation with Thomas (an appealing, complex Hans Olav Brenner), Anders' best friend, whom he has time to visit because he gets to Oslo early. He and Thomas used to party wild together, but Thomas is a respectable family man now with kids and a wife and a solid academic career.
The talk goes from that table at Thomas' to a stroll through a park and this might seem too talky except that Trier's dialogue is so interesting and his editing and shooting are too fluent for that to matter. Anders makes clear to Thomas that he's suicidal; Thomas argues and pleads with him and yet when he sums up his own life frankly none of the negatives are left out (he admits he and his wife waste evenings playing "battlefield" -- a game that comes up ironically during Anders' long night).
Trier's shooting seems more straightforward here than in his first film, but there are great little touches, like a quick repeat-frame as Anders and Thomas part, that sum up the complexity and uncertainty of the two men's relationship with wonderful subtlety. Likewise a "virtuoso" (Variety) passage as Anders sits in a big modern coffee shop and hears snatches of a lot of conversations, which the camerawork skillfully weave in and out, keeping focus on the protagonist, so the triviality and ordinariness of what's said show both Anders' alienation from quotidian life and the way life seems to him: pointless and silly.
In the interview for a magazine editing job, sharply handled like every scene here, the editor quickly melts from cold to sympathetic and even though Anders levels and admits the 6-year blank in his CV is due to being a drug addict, he has the editor in the palm of his hand but walks out and throws away his application. The blade cuts deeper when he goes to meet his sister and is met by her girlfriend, and learns she is unwilling to see him. His parents have left the big family house and are selling it, because of financial problems his addiction caused. He will go to it later. He goes to a birthday party he initially rejected when Thomas mentioned it. He pours himself a glass of wine.
We know with a kind of sinking feeling where this is going, but the trajectory is never obvious because Trier's scenes are so specific and well realized. And notably, things have a light touch. Anders is going under, but with a flourish, because when he begins to party, he is natural and in his element, never showing excess, enjoying the company of beautiful women, and while in the back of his mind there may be desperation, he frequently flashes his winning smile. When he goes to a kind of rave Trier not surprisingly finds a new way to shoot this dangerously hackneyed kind of sequence, using fast white flashes that are of an almost brain-damaging intensity.
There are many things to like and enjoy in Trier's new film starting with his generally absolute command of the medium, but what appeals most to me is the handling of the addiction, relapse, suicide theme. Nothing is conventional or obvious. Everything is balanced. Anders is or was a winner, but not spectacularly so. He was just a good writer. The script conveys with cold accuracy the effects of throwing away six years of a life, and the collateral damage to family and loved ones. Anders is not beaten down or haggard. He is sharp and healthy. The damage is inside. And as always in "real life," the problem is not the drugs. With this dangerous subject, Trier has exercised exquisite tact. And his film is a thing of beauty. Trier's first film was brilliant; this one is being called a masterpiece and a work of genius. He deserves wider exposure and recognition.
Oslo, August 31st debuted at Cannes (Un certain regard), and has shown at thirteen other festivals. The film has been picked up by Strand for US release. It was seen for this review at a screening in connection with New York's New Directors/New Films series, where is will be shown to the public at these locations and dates:
Wednesday, March 28th | 8:30 PM | MoMA
Thursday, March 29th | 6 PM | FSLC
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-11-2013 at 06:40 PM.
Karl Markovics: Breathing (2011)--ND/NF
KARL MARKOVICS: BREATHING (2011)--ND/NF
KARIN LISCHKA AND THOMAS SCHUBERT IN BREATHING
Breathing is the superb writing and directing debut of Karl Markovics, the well known Austrian stage and screen actor who starred in the 2008 Best Foreign Oscar winner, The Counterfeiters. This is a coming-of-age story that's also all about breaking out of bondage. Its protagonist, Roman Kogler (a gradually more and more sympathetic Thomas Schubert) is in a juvenile prison outside Vienna, and is seeking parole after serving half his sentence. It obviously is not a short one. Later on we learn what his crime was. But Roman has never known anything but institutions. He went directly from an orphanage to here. And his way of winning the confidence of a judge is by making it as an employee in the municipal mortuary, where he is given a uniform, including shoes. In between hard days learning to deal with corpses, the youth swims laps in the prison pool, pool workouts a coming-of-age routine as in the recent Welcome and the earlier Gaspard Ulliel vehicle The Last Day. The film is full of rituals -- the laps, the body searches by a guard on return from work, the commute train, the mortuary uniforms, the time cards. Through all of this Roman is alone. He is in a solitary cell, he talks little and unwillingly to his patient but harried parole officer (Gerhard Liebmann). Working closely with his cinematographer, Martin Gschlacht, Markovics weaves all this into a mesmerizing whole, in which the few words spoken, rules broken, and schedules overridden are riveting -- important steps toward Roman's establishing an identity for himself and gaining his own respect. The film may seem grim, but it's positive, and it's ultimately quite beautiful. Its grayness can't hide its artistic perfection and its emotional truth.
"Breathing" is a theme throughout, symbolic of both entrapment and freedom: it happens under water when Roman swims his laps in the prison pool. It's done a special way when around corpses that may stink. It might have ended, as the boy's mother Margit Kogler (Karin Lischka) reveals when he finds her. (At the job he sees the naked corpse of a woman with his name and he thinks it may be his mother. But he locates the right mother and follows her into an Ikea store, where they meet.)
With his institutional life, Roman must find any escape from ritual exciting. Drinking a (forbidden) can of beer on the city commute train with an American girl is a huge thrill. So must be following his mother, who does not know him, into the store. He has never seen a corpse. But has he ever gone shopping? Ha he ever been kissed? We as viewers gain pleasure from learning the processes of the mortuary employees, which are precisely observed, as are the in-and-out prison routines. But for Roman his life is all about finding a place to breathe.
Breathing is a small, tightly woven film. It's largely wordless, and the sparse dialogue assumes greater life for this minimalism. What the American girl says on the train is comically simple ("You-going-where?") but must be outlandishly fresh for Roman. Roman hasn't much to say to the harried juvenile officer in charge of his case (Gerhard Liebmann), or to the older co-workers at the mortuary and they haven't much to say to him, but the little changes in tone as he learns the ropes and becomes more positive are big on screen. This is a simple tale, but Markovics makes every minute count. Gschlacht conveys a symmetry and lyrical beauty with the bleak settings through which he follows Roman, car, bus, train, mortuary truck, hearse. A big travel poster in a subway station is strongly used, and so is the pulling away of the train that leaves someone, importantly, still on the station bench. Breathing breaks out of its almost clinical style by making Roman Kogler's tough tests and cruel world humanize rather than harden him. Markovics avoids either a saccharine happy ending or a miserablist dark tunnel.
Breathing/Atmen won the Directors' Fortnight prize for European film at Cannes and was included in 14 other international festivals, where it won five other awards. It has had theatrical release in Austria, Germany, in France March 14, 2012 (critically very well received there: Allociné 3.5), and will be released in April in the UK April 20. It was screened for this review in previews for the MoMA-Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series.
Released in New York August 31, 2012. It has received generally favorable reviews (Metacritic score: 71).
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-31-2012 at 08:25 PM.
Anka, Wilhelm Sasnal: It Looks Pretty from a Distance (2011)--ND/NF
ANKA, WILHELM SASNAL: IT LOOKS PRETTY FROM A DISTANCE (2011)--ND/NF
A STILL FROM IT LOOKS PRETTY FROM A DISTANCE
For rough Polish rustics, a neighbor's property is fair game
Wilhelm Sasnal is an acclaimed Polish painter and comic strip artist, who in collaboration with his wife Anka has now made a (77-min.) feature following up on several short Super 8 films and his first feature Swineherd (2008). It Looks Pretty From a Distance (2011]) is a film that up close tends to look as harsh, rude, and disorganized as its human subjects, a group of sub-trailer park people living in rural Poland who live by collecting scrap metal and scavenging for other things and swim in a nearby river. Once again fimmakers, this time a couple of them, ask us to believe that life is nasty, brutish, and short, and seen not from a distance but up close, the life depicted here, . And so it is for Pawel (Marcin Czarnik), Mother Muraw (Elzbieta Okupska), Mirek Kotlarz (Piotr Nowak), Grandfather Kotlarz (Jerzy Lapinski), and -- should I go on? But if you are not Polish you will not be able to keep track of these names. "This is a difficult, irritating and unsettling film, which is exactly how it was supposed to be. It should not be ignored,” wrote (Zdzisław Pietrasik in Polityka).
In fact Polish critics have commented that this is a necessary film, which unveils certain dark Polish secrets, such as the plundering of Jewish property after the devastation of the Warsaw ghetto. But all admit that the minimal plot leaves much open to interpretation. Indeed the Sasnals, a husband and wife team who have art backgrounds reflected in a sensual feel for the physical milieu here, seem to assume too much on the part of the viewer, which may burden non-Poles more. They have filmed their somewhat brutish cast as if we already knew them, and given the paucity of dialogue, it can be hard, particularly for non-Poles, to tell what is going on.
It seems that Paweł, a fleshy, tall, scrap metal guy, wants to live with his girlfriend but the growing senility of his mother is an obstacle. His girlfriend lives with her parents and brother with the bitter knowledge that – when her father dies – his meagre belongings will go to her sibling leaving her with nothing.
Meager the possessions are for all the locals, and there's an unwritten law, apparently, that when someone vacates premises, his possessions are fair game. When Pawel disappears for an extended period without explanation, people keep snatching his stuff here and there, and then one night come in and take out everything, and make a bonfire of most of it in the back yard. They also finish off the chickens and the dog. When Pawel comes back, they won't let him return to living in his house. At this point Pawel may have fair cause to bring in the authorities, if there are any, and so somebody has to finish off Pawel off. There are hints that murdering each other was the custom as far back as the war, when some people drowned their own children and then themselves in the river. Locals tend to be unfriendly -- to each other -- and begrudge each other swimming privileged in the ill-fated river. They also like to smoke, drink bear, and smash car windows in preparation for cutting out the metal. Car parts? That would be too subtle for them, or useless to the country.
The point of the title is that while the characters live in rural squalor, the landscape is fairly lush. To call the the lensing "sumptuous cinematography" as one review does seems, however, a stretch -- or perhaps it is just that the squalor makes it hard to see the sumptuousness. But this does have the kind of raw, intense color you get from 16mm transferred to 35 mm, which this is, with some good handheld work. But the Sasnal's might benefit from greater polish in future in their scripting and editing. If this is a diamond in the rough, it is hard sometimes to see the diamond under the rough.
To search out a similar social and moral level one might think of this as a much too real and less humorous version of Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers. Katarzyna Taras of Stopklatka wrote, "It is not a movie about frustration but about selfless evil that may reveal itself in any time and space regardless of political system. "
Their film was nominated for a Tiger award at Rotterdam, and won the New Polish Film award at the 11th New Horizons Festival at Wrocław, Poland. Zsuzsanna Kiràly's online review seems a well-informed assessment and makes some useful comments on Wilhelm Sasnal's paintings. Lawrence Boyce has a review of the film in Screen Daily.
Apart from the Rotterdam and Polish festival presentations, It Looks Pretty from a Distance/Z daleka widok jest piekny is also included in the New Directors/New Films series at MoMA and Lincoln Center in New York (where it was screened for this review), with the following public screenings:
Tuesday, March 27th | 6 PM | MoMA
Wednesday, March 28th | 8:30 PM | FSLC
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-15-2012 at 08:23 PM.
Mads Matthiesen: Teddy Bear (2012)--ND/NF
MADS MATTHIESEN: TEDDY BEAR )2012)--ND/NF
KIM KILD AND LAMAIPORN HOUGAARD IN TEDDY BEAR
Hulk leaves home
This character study by Danish first-timer Mads Mathiessen (not be to confused with international Danish leading man and villain Mads Mikkelsen of Casino Royale and Susanne Bier's After the Wedding) focuses on an unusual protagonist, Dennis (Kim Kold), a hulking 38-year-old body builder who has never had a girlfriend and is stuck in a highly unhealthy relationship with his tiny, domineering mother Ingrid (Elsebeth Steentoft), with whom he lives in a suburb of Copenhagen. Using ultra-simple methods and documentary-like settings Matthiessen gets us and Dennis out of this dilemma, through a series of cringe-worthy sequences. Non-actors predominate here, except for Steentoft, a veteran actress. Matthissen has expanded a short (entitled Dennis) into this film -- without adding quite enough for a feature. The cringe-worthiness is what makes the film hold the attention, temporarily, anyway, becaue in the moment things feel painfully real -- often like excerpts from some strange TV dating show. Linking details and subtleties, however, have been omitted and this somewhat plodding tale doesn't ultimately hold up to scrutiny.
Kim Kold is a real international body builder. No actor, no matter how dedicated, could build up those muscles and put on those tattoos for a role. His deep, gruff voice toots out like the horn of a train engine. He has no fancy lines to deliver. Dennis is shy and inarticulate. This Kold can handle, and his imposing physical presence helps us to accept him as a character. He is what he is. At the film's outset Dennis is on a date from Hell with a local girl that's a miserable failure -- which his mother nonetheless strongly objects to when she hears of it. The unhealthy intimacy is indicated by how mother and grown son use the bathroom together. When Dennis attends a celebration for an uncle who has found a bride on a trip to Thailand, he gets the same idea. But he has to hide his trip to Pattaya from his devouring mother by telling her he's going to a competition in Germany. She still throws a tantrum.
In Pattaya everyone assumes Dennis is a sex tourist, which makes for several embarrassing evenings with women for hire, arranged through a local bar owner, Scott (David Winters), who claims to have introduced his uncle to his wife. Dennis' non-performance in these setups, and his rapport with co-trainers in the body building gym, plus Thailand's gay sex trade, make you wonder if Dennis is of another persuasion, but this possibility isn't raised. All these scenes involve non-actors who provide a tacky realism. Then when Dennis goes to a local body building gym and meets Toi (Lamaiporn Hougaard), the widowed proprietress, and she takes him around town, mutual romantic feelings develop. This situation is awkward too, but Toi nonetheless winds up coming to Copenhagen to live with Dennis some time after his return home. How he is going to manage his mother's furious reaction when she sees through his deceptions is something viewers will have to wait and see.
Matthiesen manipulates us and his characters through his sequences somewhat awkwardly, but a sympathy for Dennis is inevitable. He is too simple and needy not to feel for. His mother is surreal. Details are left dangling by Matthiesen and his co-writer Martin Zandvliet, however. Dennis' financial situation and Toi's prompt move to another country when she owns a business are unexplained. How Dennis and his mother work things out also lacks credibility. For that matter Dennis is not a wholly believable character. Could he really have lived all this time with his mother and not be as twisted as she is? Writer-director Matthiesen grabs our attention, but doesn't justify holding onto it.
Teddy Bear (93 min.), whose Danish title is 10 Timer til Paridis or "10 Hours to Paradise," is in Danish and English. It debuted in January at Sundance and in Denmark. It is slated for showing at several other festivals, including the MoMA-Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series, New Directors/New Films, in connection with which it was screened for this review. Public showings at ND/NF are scheduled as follows:
Thursday, March 29th | 6 PM | MoMA
Saturday, March 31st | 8:45 PM | FSLC
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-16-2012 at 08:07 PM.
Vincent Ginzburg: Generation P (20110--ND/NF
VINCENT GINZBURG: GENERATION P (2011)--ND/NF
MIKAIL EFREMOV AND VLADIMIR EPIFANTSEV IN GENERATION P
Publicity, politics, and drugs in Nineties Russia
A wealth of witty ideas, mostly from the much admired source novel by Victor Pelevin, enliven this fantasy about advertising, media, politics and business in Nineties Russia, This Brazil-like miasma is admirable for a degree of ceaseless invention in preposterous "what-if" and "wow factor" scenes that, despite deep immersion in matters locally Russian, may gain the film some western cult value. Rich period detail and elaborate production values are big pluses: some real time and substantial rubles went into this production. But this is a virtually plotless film -- except for sticking with its amiable but neutral protagonist (who narrates) and being pulled together by some far-fetched business about the worship of Ishtar. The consequent lack of clear direction tends to make P wearying, at least for non-Russian viewers.
As with many overly energetic films this one is probably most memorable at the outset, when we meet aspiring poet and recent university graduate Babylen Tatarsky (Vladimir Epifantsev) taking what advantage he can on his own from the fall of the Soviet Union. What he learned in college is useless so what this means is selling contraband cigarettes and condoms and other trinkets behind a keyhole window in a dark kiosk controlled by Chechen mafia. He learns to up his profit by short-changing customers selectively according to how he sizes them up. Into this bleak world his old pal Morkovin (Andrey Fomin) appears and introduces him to the grandiose prospects of building an advertising business reframing American product promotion and brand names for the Russian customer base. It emerges that for some reason the whole nascent free market Russian media world is controlled by followers of the cult of Ishtar.
The symbolic product inspiring the generation of nouveau-capitalists is a bottle of Russian-made Pepsi, because it was originally given to "Bab" and his generation as Soviet Young Pioneers as a symbol of the possibility of a better world coming, if the nightmare ever ended. Presumably that better world doesn't come, only a succession of governments and product knockoffs and absurd promotion campaigns for both. This is the story of Generation P (for Pepsi). In the ad world, Bab's and his colleagues' game is to get paid by their customers before they go bust, because gangsters are taking over everything and nothing lasts.
As one absurd and sometimes hilarious advertising campaign after another unfolds on screen, there is also stuff about the impeachment of Yeltsin and his attempt to take over the Russian Parliament, cleverly interwoven with alternative ad campaigns for Parliament cigarettes. An ad for a Christian church promotes it as “a first class Lord for first class people.” A funeral parlor Bab sells with the slogan, “Diamonds are not forever.” The recreation of a suitably gruesome medieval Russian beheading drives home a pitch for Head and Shoulders with the punch line, ”Keep them together.” The interweaving of ad ideas and political events is intriguing but hard to follow, and things aren't much helped by the fact that Bab consumes massive events of alcohol, mainly vodka (and a fake political candidate is marketed under the name of Smirnoff) with other mind and body altering substances including cocaine, super-strong Acid, and piles of magic mushrooms provided by another school friend, Gireev (Sergey Shnurov), which lead the hero with his oddball spiritual guide toward eastern mysticism. Acquisition of a Ouija board leads to communication with a mad Che Guevara. The cult of Ishtar being Babylonian, Babylen's odd name makes him feel a special connection -- aiding his rise in the Russian media world. Reaching the apparent peak of that world, Bab joins Azadovsky (Mikhail Efremov), head of The Beekeeping Institute (cover name for a mysterious publicity syndicate), who has the peculiar habit of appearing on the TV under different identities, and is so rich he's quite indifferent to the fact that he's wearing a $170,000 Patek Philippe watch.
The combo of tongue-in-cheek ad campaigns, politics, drugs and spirituality causes the film very quickly to lose all contact with the real world. Even rides in Mercedes Benz's and Labmorghinis can't bring it down to earth. This seems unfortunate in a story that aims to comment on recent history in some detail. Ginzburg, who partly grew up and was educated in the US, West, is tireless in recreating fantastic sequences from the novel, but the story line doesn't make enough cohesive sense, especially not to anyone non-Russian. It doesn't help that most of the cast isn't particularly memorable, including the appealing but bland Epifantsev: Ginzburg has put most of his eggs into the mise-en-scène basket, at the expense of plot, argument, and character. Given a novel source of this complexity and all the wonderfully absurd scenes to recreate, that was perhaps an inevitable compromise.
Ginzburg, who is a graduate of the School of Visual Arts in New York, has done music videos, documentaries and short films. This is his feature debut. Generation P has been shown at several festivals, including Moscow and Toronto, and it was watched for this review in a screening for the MoMA and Film Society of Lincoln Center joint series, New Directors/New Films, whose public showings for the film are:
Friday, March 30th | 6 PM | FSLC
Sunday, April 1st | 1:30 PM | MoMA
Djinn Carrénard: Donoma (2011)--ND/NF
DJINN CARRÉNARD: DONOMA (2011)--ND/NF
VINCENTE PEREZ AND SALOMÉ BLECHMANS IN DONOMA
Djinn Carrénard'S Donoma might invite comparisons with Eric Rohmer, Andy Warhol, or John Cassavetes. He claims to have made his film for pennies, using a digital video camera and a handful of young actors who improvise their lines. Much of the film takes place in St. Denis, the ghetto-esque main "banlieu" or suburb of Paris. The cast includes Salomé Blechmans, Emilia Dérou-Bernal, Sékouba Doucouré, Laura Kpegli, Matthieu Longuatte, Laetitia Lopez, Benjamin Mayet, Amélie Moy, Marina Pelle, and Vincente Perez.
To begin with in a small, claustrophobically photographed banlieue lycée Spanish class, one student, Dacio (Vincente Perez), is disruptive and disobedient and his teacher Analia (Emilia Dérou-Bernal) behaves after class in a totally inappropriate way, rapidly masturbating him through his pants to embarrass him, which she later gleefully recounts to her young female colleagues. But who is the winer on the battlefield of love here? Dacio turns out to be on the make for Salma (Salomé Blechmans), a bourgeois girl who is not a believer but has become obsessed with religion. Salma resists Dacio's advances, though not completely. Meanwhile a black virgin, Chris (Laura Kpegli), originally from Ghana but raised by rich diplomats, now a serious photographer, decides to take as a lover the first stranger she finds in the Metro, and to bring him in to live with her, requiring that they speak only in writing and sign language. The lucky man is Dama (Sékouba Doucouré), a handsome, slim young black man, who later turns out to have just broken up with a (white) photographer, Leelop (Laetitia Lopez). In her search for religious belief Salma eventually takes up with an apparently devout young man, Raîné (Matthieu Longuatte) spotted on an inter-urban train.
This is not all, because there is a social services employee, who interviews both Salma and Dama when he was with Leelop, and Salma gets into difficulties because she insists on caring for her sister, who has terminal cancer. She also thinks she has stigmata and levitates. At a later meeting, the social worker concludes Salma is deranged and needs to be institutionalized. She rejects this and finally meets up with Raîné, in a church. In an intense and challenging encounter he puts her in her place and reveals he is a born again skinhead, who used to be a criminal but now leads a good life.
These scenes and the elaborate choral plotting are often fascinating, the young actors are remarkably vivacious, and the focus on love as couples pair off or break up has a strong link with Rohmer, though the confrontational improvisation more closely resembles Cassavetes. The sexual explicitness at some points justifies the Warhol link. So does the fact that the whole film runs on too long, and could be better if relieved of a solid chunk of its 135 minutes. It is tonally all over the map, moving from the Bruno Dumont-esque religious questioning sequences to the cringe-worthy teacher-student hand-job to the sharp satire of the social worker's polite interview with the couple Dama and Leelop who insist on pretending they're not. Whether this shows the young Haitian-born Carrénard's multiple talent or simply a lack of discipline remains to be seen but he is certainly a talent to watch. Needless to say despite the various comparisons this film isn't quite like any other, and this is why is has been heralded with joy in France.
This film was released in Paris November 23, 2011 and received raves (Allociné 3.9) from the likes of Cahiers du Cinéma, Les Inrockuptibles and Libération, and many of the French critics heralded Carrénard as a breath of fresh air in the world of French cinema. The actors are almost uniformly as talented as they are attractive. Carrénard left Haiti at 11, then after living very briefly in Togo spent two years with his family on the coast of Normandy in France, followed by four years in French Guyana, and then she came to Paris to read Philosopy but says that when "Unlimited UGC cards" arrived (allowing low cost cinema attendance) he dropped out in 2004 to focus on the "moving image," much as Chris in Donoma reports quitting the lycée to focus on using her camera. English subtitles apparently were much improved from the "misspellings and grammatical errors" reported at Pusan, but seem awfully free at times. The tech features are rough and ready: the images work, though some dialogue is marred by uneven sound quality.
Thursday, March 29th | 8:30 PM | FSLC
Saturday, March 31st | 4:15 PM | MoMA
A virtuoso passage from the film on video from which the still above is taken. A girl (Salma) is turned on by seeing a boy (Dacio) picking pockets on the Metro. She takes her valuables out of her wallet and puts in her name and address, and leaves the wallet in her bag so the boy can steal it. It's all observed by Chris, who narrates the sequence.
Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-19-2012 at 10:25 PM.