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Thread: New York Film Festival 2014

  1. #16
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    Mia Hansen-Løve: EDEN (2014)

    MIA HANSEN-LØVE: EDEN (2014)


    FÉLIX DE GIVRY IN EDEN

    Drugs, women, and song: a subtle hymn to rave music that's a bit too much

    Mia Hansen-Løve’s fourth feature, technically her most ambitious yet, takes her pursuit of the personal a bit far in its beautiful but exhaustive and incident-and-character-rich but major-plot-poor decade-plus saga of her brother (and co-scripter) Sven's experience (he's called Paul here and played by Félix de Givry) as a pioneer DJ of the Paris rave scene, specializing in Garage music. Paul and his friends, including Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter (otherwise known as Daft Punk) are riding a dream of ecstasy (and for a while at least also the drug by that name) in their pursuit of the DJ life. Eventually as the Nineties meld into the 2000's and beyond, Paul, whose girlfriends are too numerous to keep track of (an early one is played by Greta Gerwig), begins to question if he wants to spend his life as a DJ. He also has developed a decade-long problem with cocaine, and encounters financial problems with unprofitable bands and clubs so his mother's checks and his trust fund administrators' generosities dry up. Along the way there are trips to New York and Chicago and visiting black singers who demand suites in five-star hotels and changes in musical tastes.

    It's all in a gorgeous gray haze in the widescreen photography of Denis Lenoir: visually this film is a pleasure from first to last and right at the end there are some scenes of poetic beauty. Hansen-Løve is always a class act, and she and her brother show a full awareness that the world they are remembering was a feast (as well as an overdose) for the senses. Even the intertitles are pretty and tasteful. But she might have been too close to the story of her brother's experience to envision a fully independent film here that might have soared off on its own or had a simpler, more defined narrative shape. Recommended mostly for fans of discotheques and raves and the kind of music they offer.

    The taste includes a certain restraint in the sound: we don't get our brains damaged or our ears blasted. Not that Hansen-Love's DJ world isn't complex and subtle in its awareness of contradicitons: as the Guardian's Paul McInnes says, "Glamour is twinned with mundanity, beauty with boorishness and friendship with selfishness, while artistic endeavour is undercut by self-indulgence." But I longed to see Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco again. For me, though Hansen-Løve’s 2007 first film All Is Forgiven is precocious and elegant, her 2011 memory of teen romance Goodbye First Love/Un amour de jeunesse is poetic and lovely, her 2009 Father of My Children/Le père de mes enfants remains her finest, richest film. Critics seem impressed by the complexity of Eden though, and it has gotten raves. It does not detract from the director's luster as among the most gifted of the young French directors.

    Eden, 131 mins., debuted at Toronto, with big festival showings including San Sebastian, Busan, and London. Screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival (its US premiere). It opened in French cinemas 19 November 2014 to a fair critical reception (AlloCiné presds rating 3.1). Les Inrocks was very admiring, Cahiers disparaging.

    Limited US theatrical release 19 June 2015.


    STILL SHOWING FILM LOOK, FORMAT; THIS FACE IS HANSEN-LØVE IN FOREGROUND
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-17-2015 at 11:51 PM.

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    Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne: TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (2014)

    JEAN-PIERRE, LUC DARDENNE: TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT (2014)


    Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night

    The profound humanism of the Dardennes meets the sublime beauty of Marion Cotillard

    What can we add to our appreciation of the Dardenne brothers' profound humanism and grasp of working class poor hard knocks? The sublime beauty of Marion Cotillard as a woman recovering from debilitating depression who must visit a dozen-plus co-workers to beg them to vote for her instead of a €1000 bonus. Two Days, One Night dramatizes how in modern labor situations if the firm is too small for a union, management pits one worker against another. Hence when Sandra (Cotillard) is about to return to work, she learns owner M. Dumont (Batiste Sornin) and his supervisor Jean-Marc (Olivier Gourmet) have forced her coworkers to choose between the bonus and keeping her on, as if it had to be one or the other. This is a study in courage. It dramatizes the everyday struggle to stay where you are; how, minute by minute, the poor must fight just to hope. Probably in the post-Great Recession world this is a situation more people can relate to, when homelessness or a steep dive from a formerly comfortable lifestyle can lie in wait even for members of the middle class.

    Even by Dardennes standards, Two Days, One Night thrives on its ordinariness and specificity. One by one, with support from her husband Manu (Dardennes regular Fabrizio Rongione, seen also in the 2014 NYFF in Green's very different Sapienza), Sandra visits or calls the others, and each is particular, each much the same. Each in the multi-ethnic crew needs the extra money, feels for her, but must look to themselves. Different only are Timur (Timur Magomedgadzhiev), a spare time soccer coach, who feels so guilty and indebted to Sandra for her covering for him when he messed up as a newbie, met by the soccer field, he bursts into tears; and Alphonse (Serge Koto), not yet hired on full time, tracked down at the laundromat, who simply fears reprisals from the other workers if he votes for her, though doing so is what God tells him to do.

    Otherwise the narrative stays close to these similar one-by-one meetings, avoiding surges of drama -- though there is drama in Sandra's sorrow and emotional pain. She claims to all she is "en forme" again now, but to Manu she constantly pleads she can't go on, feels like nobody. A possible wrong note: she pops too many pills, and when it turns out apparently to be Xanax, you wonder if this would be possible. Then she recovers from a suicide attempt perhaps too fast, too easily.

    Cotillard is the most high-profile actor the Dardennes have used but proves a perfect fit. Their meeting with her near the set of Audiard's Rust and Bone was love at first sight. They could "not stop talking about her, her face, her look." And she was thrilled; had thought working for them was "beyond my reach." Her style is to hide dramatics, and so harmonizes perfectly with their way of working, and her dedication met the challenge of "becoming Belgian." Their last film, The Kid with the Bike, also featured a beautiful woman star, Cécile de France, but she is Belgian (and not the international star Cotillard has become). Cotillard is an actress who can make anything moving. Her presence here deepens an almost unconscious identification one feels, even as the action of Two Days, One Night may be less of a blow to the stomach than films like The Child, The Son, or La Promesse and less high-speed than Rosetta or The Kid with the Bike. Yet I think Two Days, One Night, which compares well with other powerful French-language films about work like Laurent Cantet's Time Out and Human Resources, has an unobtrusive beauty that will slowly creep into your heart and stay there.

    Two Days, One Night/Deux jours, une nuit, 95 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition and opened the next day in France and Belgium (Allociné press rating: 4.0). Many other festivals and international releases; Telluride, Toronto, Vancouver. Screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. US theatrical release by IFC 24 December 2014, in NYC at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas and IFC Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-25-2014 at 11:12 AM.

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    Pedro Costa: HORSE MONEY (2014)

    PEDRO COSTA: HORSE MONEY (2014)



    More of Costa's aestheticized dream world of memory, poverty, exile, and loss]

    I reviewed Costa's previous feature, the nearly three-hour 2006 Colossal Youth, as part of the 2007 San Francisco Film Festival -- my first experience of Costa and a "challenging" and "numbing" one, to use words from Justin Chang's review for Variety. This time the Variety review of Costa's new film Horse Money is by Scott Foundas and it is glowing. Foundas calls the film Costa's "most striking" view yet of the Lisbon Cape Verdean underclass in the slum neighborhood known as Fontainhas and his "muse," the aging former construction worker Ventura, that he has long depicted.

    In between, there was the 2009 New York Film Festival screening I reviewed of Costa's handsome and relatively short musical feature about Jeanne Balibar, Ne Change Rien, in intense contrasty black and white. This film was much easier to take. It also showed clearly that Costa is a filmmaker who likes his documentary elements heavily laced with visual beauty and aestheticism.

    He has outdone himself this time, producing a livelier and more handsome work focussed on the Cape Verdeans of Lisbon than Colossal Youth ( and with a more manageable run-time) -- not that this means Horse Money has appeal to anyone but particular fans and well-primed festival audiences. But if you are patient, there is much to delight the eye and puzzle the mind. Working in color now, with patches of cool sunlight and occasional burnt siennas and bright reds and dark crimsons, and still using the Academy ratio, Costa shows off his keen eye and fine sense of composition within this almost-square space in every shot. The "action" is dreamlike, repetitious, more in the order of tableaux than scenes.

    "Where does [Costa's] astonishing new Horse Money 'take place?" asks Noel Murray in The Dissolve. And he answers: "In the soul-space of Ventura, who has been at the center of Costa’s last few shorts and his 2006 feature Colossal Youth. It is now, a numbing and timeless present of hospital stays, bureaucratic questioning, and wandering through remembered spaces… and it is then, the mid ’70s and the time of the Carnation Revolution, when Ventura got into a knife fight with his friend Joaquim. A self-reckoning, a moving memorialization of lives in danger of being forgotten, and a great and piercingly beautiful work of cinema."

    Costa is expert at using abandoned or unpromising spaces. Initially there is a seeming series of caverns leading to an elevator in a hospital, and at the end there is a long dialogue staged in that elevator space between Ventura and a military man painted gray like a street performing "statue." When Costa shows interior dwellings, they too look like caves, dank, weathered, forbidding and powerful presences. Another sequence is in a small abandoned factory, always with that signature patchy sunlight and shadow, where Ventura's godson, saying he has waited 20 years for his paycheck, has imaginary conversations on out-of-commission telephones, and drags one with him from one room to another, staging a scene in the boss's office. Spaces invade memory and memory invades space. And always there is the striking use of patches of pale sunlight alternating with rich shadows. A group of younger men visit Ventura in bed in hospital and tell him their tales of poverty and exploitation. They may be real visitors, or ghosts. An old woman, Vitalina (Vitalina Varela), speaks about returning to Lisbon from Cape Verde for the funeral of her husband. But there is no plot, no action as such, and the repeated retailing of mumbled biographical details of work, marriage, and immigration is wearying.

    Above and beyond his dwelling upon his special and specific impoverished, used-up people and place, Pedro Costa aestheticizes poverty, sadly, hopelessly, enigmatically, but with decided flair. The world he depicts or creates is claustrophobic and depressing. The etched, well-composed chiaroscuro in which it's filmed is an ironic, finally inadequate compensation. It was particularly thought-provoking to see this film right after watching the Dardennes' Two Days, One Night. The Belgians give us hope. Costa wallows in nostalgia and despair. But he is an artist and an original.

    Horse Money/Cavalo Dinheiro, 103 mins., DCP, in Portuguese and Creole, debuted at Locarno, where it won the Directing prize. Watched for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival, its U.S. premiere (Wednesday, September 24, 2014).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:35 PM.

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    Ossama Mohammed, Wiam Simav Bedirxan: SILVERED WATER, SYRIA SELF-PORTRAIT (2014)

    OSSAMA MOHAMMED, WIAM SIMAV BEDIRXAN: SILVERED WATER, SYRIA SELF-PORTRAIT (2014)


    In Homs Omar collects flowers and amid snipers in Silvered Water

    Horrors of war in Syria from found footage and a Kurdish woman's camera

    Silvered Water, Syrian Self-Portrait is a powerful film, and not for the squeamish, about the civil war in Syria. It's not a conventional documentary, of which a very fine one related to this subject is Talal Darki's Return to Homs (ND/NF 2014). It's a combination of horrific found footage, collected off social media by Syrian exile in Paris Ossama Mohammed, and foootage made in Homs by Wiam Simav Bedirxan, a young Kurdish woman who contacted Mohammed for advice on what to film around her. Mohammed has bonded the whole together with many subdivisions, in Arabic, and his own sometimes formal and poetic Arabic musings. The film is also edited to remind us constantly that much of the found footage (some of it could have come from Al Jazeera Arabic) was shot with cell phones, and that he and Wiam apparently were in touch with each other in live Facebook chats. We also hear her voice. The torture footage Mohammed shows one would like to forget. One can never forget Wiam's film journal, made during the Homs uprising when large segments of the city were destroyed and there was sniper fighting from building to building and street to street. Wiam's footage includes things one has never seen before. Girls who have lost many family members gathered in an impromptu "school" she started, where they smile and laugh. Cats wandering amid rubble with legs shot off, or faces burnt away. A little boy called Omar who has lost his father gathering flowers to place on his father's grave, talking to his father as if he were alive, walking with Wiam through the rubble and saying "We should not go that way: there is a sniper," then climbing a ladder to gather leaves.

    For more detail, I recommend Jay Weissberg's sensitive and eloquent review for Variety from Cannes. I find Silvered Water leaves me speechless, the atrocities collected by Mohammed, the torture of youths, the killing and beating of protesters by government soldiers, hard to describe or comprehend. Return to Homs is perhaps easier to watch (though shocking and visceral too) because it tells a coherent story of a charismatic revolutionary leader. Mohammed's film creates a sense observing of the chaos and hell of war from a distance that can leave one feeling as helpless and depressed as he himself reportedly became after sifting through and editing his vernacular footage films from "1001 Syrians." As with Return to Homs, an understanding of Arabic, with its shifts from the formal and poetic to the colloquial and direct, will add substantially to the appreciation of the spoken narration.

    Silvered Water, Syria Self-Portrait/ماء الفضة/maa' al-fiḍḍ,a, 92 mins., debuted at Cannes (Special Screenings). It was watched for this review in a press screening as part of the Spotlight on Documentary series of the 52nd New York Film Festival.

    Arabic TV news item about the film's presentation at Cannes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MwV2Tm7-VyQ.

    Excerpt from the film and article in Arabic: http://www.alaraby.co.uk/miscellaneo...9-db3dfaa74a58
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:34 PM.

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    David Cronenberg: MAPS TO THE STARS (2014)

    DAVID CRONENBERG: MAPS TO THE STARS (2014)


    Evan Bird in Maps to the Stars

    "Maps" lacks a compass, moral or narrative

    I don't think Evan Bird has anything to be ashamed of in future for his performance in Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars. He plays (with cool aplomb) a nasty little boy TV star who is also the son of a perverted couple, and his lost sister (played by an unappealing Mia Wasikowska) appears, and is temporarily hired as a "chore whore" (the charming term for a Hollywood dogbody/assistant) for the frustrated, declining star played by Marianne Moore. Moore received the Best Actress award at Cannes for this performance. But nonetheless it is a pathetic, melodramatic turn and one might wonder why she committed to it. Because the film was directed by Cronenberg, no doubt. Actors do not always know what they are getting into. Richard Pattinson plays a Hollywood limo driver who picks up Wasikowska when she arrives from Florida and then becomes involved with her. His chauffeur character is a naive would-be writer and would-be actor: the inside joke is that Cronenberg's previous film, a spot-on adaptation of Don DiLillo's Cosmopolis, starred Pattinson as a youg billionaire who rides in the back of a limo throughout. Pattinson brings charm and subtlety to his performance here. As Evan Bird and Wasikowska's mother and father, Olivia Williams and John Cusack are workmanlike. But that doesn't mean this glossy movie works.

    All you can say when you watch Maps to the Stars is "What's the point of this?" The whole movie, whose plot is so nonsensical as to be puzzling, is a misstep. Everyone is egocentric and isolated, but so what? Though the production has a fine polish and the camerawork is smooth, Bruce Wagner's so-called "pitch-black Hollywood satire" has a moldy, pointless quality, despite being updated with references to iPads and "Mad Men." As a neurotic ronde, this pales to nothing much compared to P.T. Anderson's masterful Magnolia. As a busy Tinsel Town gossip film it can't match Altman's richly referential The Player. There's something off-key about the Canadian's sense of spoiled movie people. But most of all the problem is not in the direction but in the screenplay, which just doesn't hang together, doesn't make sense. The glitz is there, but not the meaning. The movie has no point, few laughs, and no narrative thrust. It leads through a serious of devious and nasty gestures, to several successively more violent acts, to a senseless and inexplicable ritual, and fizzles away.

    The two main households, both palatial, cold modern -- a clear sign, as we know from Los Angeles Films Itself, that evil dwells therein, are indistinguishable: you barely know whose house you're in. That's a bad sign.

    Bruce Wagner's previous effort to skewer L.A. is the lame Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills (1989) -- another bad sign, a movie that in his Cannes review of Maps for The Dissolve Mike D'Angelo calls "dismally unfunny." According to D'Angelo, this screenplay actually dates from around the same time. If true, this explains why the whole concept seems out of sync, despite the contempo references. This is also the director's first film shot in the U.S. Like his curiously Classics Illustrated Jung-Freud film A Dangerous Method, Maps will no doubt make sense to some, but not to others. To me, it seemed off-key and inexplicable from the first scene. If for some reason the peculiar plot-line makes sense to you, you may enjoy the action, however crude its satire.

    No matter: as Motherwell said of his paintings, the works that don't succeed are the necessary stepping-stones to the ones that do, and Cronenberg, a filmmaker of much daring and flexibililty, will live to map better stars another day.

    Maps to the Stars, 99 mins., debuted at Cannes, and played at Toronto and other festivals, opening quickly along the way in various countries, including France 21 May (Allocine press rating a very good 3.7). It was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. No US release date yet.

    See also Bill Chambers' review: "time does not sharpen pop-culture commentary."
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:33 PM.

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    Owen Moverman: TIME OUT OF MIND (2014)

    OWEN MOVERMAN: TIME OUT OF MIND (2014)


    Richard Gere, Ben Vereen in Time Out of Mind

    How a star can go unrecognized: panhandling at Astor Place

    As a director the accomplished Israel-born, New York resident movie writer Oren Moverman (he penned the script for the inventive Bob Dylan biography I'm Not There) had hitherto relied on aggressive performances by Woody Harrelson (in The Messenger and Rampart). He chooses a gentler star and a more vérité approach in Time Out of Mind, using the glamorous, sexy Richard Gere (who also produced) as a homeless person. It's stunt casting that in practical terms pays off. The homeless are so faceless Gere "auditioned" successfully by panhandling at Astor Place for forty minutes. Nobody gave him a cent and nobody recognized or really even saw him. Does Gere disappear into the role for us? Not quite. But there's a message in this performance: all homelessness is a reduction, a fall from the grace of a stable life. And there's no doubt Gere loses himself in the role, and in the street and shelter life his character is forced to live in the first scene, when a no-nonsense building manager (Steve Buscemi) throws him out of the trashed Brooklyn apartment an ex-girlfriend has been evicted from. From then on, George Hammond (Gere) is the victim of circumstance, striving merely to get food and drink (he has an alcohol problem) and some place to sleep.

    Unlike the odd romantic couple of young New York street junkies in the Safdie brothers' Heaven Knows What, George is not part of a readymade street culture, but a newcomer. He is defensive every step of the way, trying to get back into any place he's kicked out of (including the initial apartment), and at first we think he's a regular guy who's fallen on sudden hard luck. Only later we realize that George in his own words is "just a fuck-up. Probably always was," has lived off various women for years, has had no job for years either, and is not even quite all there mentally.

    While Moverman hardly develops a plot, Gere gradually builds a character -- out of nothing, because a clearcut backstory is studiously avoided. Time Out of Mind is a fine picture in its way. There is the old problem here of how you depict boredom and monotony without being boring and monotonous. George Hammond (Gere's character) has drunken afternoons and long nights on benches and in ER waiting rooms that bring distinctive longeurs for the viewer. Long subway rides don't have the benefit of our knowing the fugue will end as in the recent Asperger's boy drama Stand Clear of the Clsing Doors. Nor is there the complex plot that develops behind the homeless shelter meeting of father and son Robert De Niro and Paul Dano in Being Flynn. If there can be no back-story there can be no plot history: we must live in the moment -- the life struggling for daily survival forces on a person.

    But there are scenes (encounters with a homeless woman played by Kyra Sedgwick who tells her story, a prolonged relationship with a homeless black jazzman played by Ben Vereen) that add considerable color, besides the documentary realism of depicting a number of nights at the old Bellevue, formerly the city mental hospital, now New York's biggest men's shelter, that provide milieu and human interest. Dixon (Vereen) is a motor-mouth. He becomes annoying (particularly to George) but is also a buddy for George and entertainment for us who brings humanity and laughs to a dreary survival scene. But George is on his own, as is most vividly depicted in his spacey encounters with the bureaucracy seeking to go from nowhere man and nobody to someone with an I.D., a birth certificate, and rights to public assistance. By now we know he needs it.

    The movie is a constant battle between narrative and non-narrative elements, and this is a battle Moverman, whose script is based on a story by Jeffrey Caine, author of the film adaptation of John Le Carré's The Constant Gardener, finally surrenders to narrative. Story arc takes over when George's repeated brief encounters with his estranged daughter Maggie (Jena Malone) lead to a final hint of possible rapprochement. Moverman just couldn't leave his star completely out in the cold. In Time Out of Mind pros like Sedgwick, Vereen, Gere, Geraldine Hughes, and others blend into the documentary-style milieu, but things still tend to feel scripted, and, remembering the pleasure of Being Flynn's intricate narrative, one half wishes narrative had won out earlier here.

    Time Out of Mind, 107 mins., debuted at Toronto. It was screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. At the post-screening Q&A, it emerged that the whole project was begun by Gere, who has long been involved with an organization to aid the homeless. Like the Safdie brothers' Heven Knows What (also in the 2014 NYFF Main Slate), this film is steeped in New York City atmosphere.

    Opening in US theaters Wed., 9 September 2015.


    RICHARD GERE @ P&I Q&A
    [CK Photo]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-07-2015 at 12:59 PM.

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    Lisandro Alonso: JAUJA (2014)

    LISANDRO ALONSO: JAUJA (2014)


    VILLBJORK AGGER MALLING, VIGGO MORTENSEN IN JAUJA

    In Patagonia, chasing a wayward daughter

    Scott Foundas points out in his Variety review that Lisandro Alonso's new feature, a costume piece set in the 1880's, contains more dialogue in its first reel than all of his preceding four films, but there is still a great deal of aimless and wordless wandering around by Viggo Mortensen in the rocky Patagonian wilds. And the words actually distract us, but only temporarily, from a less powerful narrative structure than Alonso provides in his masterful and haunting Los Muertos. There's nothing more satisfying and neat than when a single final shot caps off a film without words. It happens in Daniel Schechter's recent film of Elmore Leonard's Life of Crime, and it happens in Los Muertos. Jauja has a lot of fancy stuff at the end, but it doesn't satisfy. It begins with a Danish military engineer called Gunnar Dinesen (a homage to the glamorous writer-adventurer Karen Blixen's pseudonym, perhaps ). He's all dressed up in a fancy cavalry dress uniform and has the rank of Captain and he's supervising an engineering probject involving deep trenches. There's a very dicey local lieutenant with him, Pittaluga (Adrián Fondari) -- when first seen he's sitting in a pond masturbating, and a young soldier, Corto -- who is going to run off with Dineson's daughter Ingborg (Viilbjørk Malling Agger). Dinesen says she's fourteen. She looks older; maybe it's the 19th-century clothing. What is she doing there? Obviously, waiting for trouble. Dineson seems uncomfortable with the Argentinian men, as well he might be. Their talk hints of a genocidal campaign by the local military against the aboriginal population, whom they call "cabezas de coco" ("coconut-heads").

    Jauja is in a nearly square format (full-frame 4:3 aspect ratio) with curved corners, which reminded me of Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff, a similarly formatted and similarly oddball avant-garde 19th-century western where people get lost. Meek's Cutoff has an ambiguous ending, but it does have an ending. I was hoping -- and it would have seemed Alonso-ish, and true to the way this film was going -- if Jauja had had a totally bleak ending à la Paul Bowles, where a white man winds up up shit's creek without a paddle, like the linguistics professor in "A Distant Episode" who is badly beaten and gets his tongue cut out and is chased away with tin cans tied to his ass. Instead Alonso settles for a fairy-tale meeting with an old Danish woman (Ghita Nørby) living in a cave (but we're still in Patagonia), with a mumbo-jumbo confab confusing whether the old lady is Dineson's mother or his daughter, and he's led there by a lean scruffy dog that rises from another pond, seen from behind and motionless, appearing like a sphinx. That's a stunning visual trick, and clearly Alonso and his dp (the Finn, Aki Kaurismäki's cameraman Timo Salminen) can do striking, sometimes gorgeous things with images here when they choose, apart from the forbidding, lunar beauty of the Patagonian landscape itself.

    And then we inexplicably leap forward to the present day, to a totally different but pretty and summery landscape, a fabulous castle in Denmark World of Interiors must be drooling to do an article on, and a bedroom where a very pretty young girl (prettier than Dineson's daughter by a mile), waking up and going outside to the sun-dappled lawn and garden, finds a little toy soldier that had been in the hands of Ingeborg. What's it mean? You've got me. The only link between the Patagonia finale and the tacked-on Denmark one is dogs, and the toy. (A dog is probably Ingeborg's avatar; she asks for a dog in her first dialogue with her father.)

    Jauja is a polarizing puzzle picture, a dazzler and a snooze young cinephiles and Alonzoites can enthuse over and debate the meaning of. For others it's just an annoying head-scratcher, a waste of 108 minutes of our time. Yes, maybe as Noel Murray said in his Dissolve summary, "Alonso’s style reaches new heights of sensory attentiveness and physicality" in Jauja, but this film's elaboration loses the magic and mermerizing sotrytelling the director achieved earlier with much simpler means. He seems in danger of the same hubris and hermeticism that have led astray that other young Latin American master, Carlos Reygadas. But fans of auteur boldness must watch each new film by either for the times when that doesn't happen and something amazing emerges. Even misfires are not to be missed.


    JAUJA STILL SHOWING ACTUAL FILM FORMAT

    Jauja premiered in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the FIPRESCI Award. It’s also an official selection of the Toronto and New York Film Festivals. Screened for this review at the NYFF, where Alonso has been named this year's filmmaker in residence. Jauja will will open theatrically in the US 20 March 2015 (limited); in the UK 10 April; in France 25 April.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-17-2015 at 05:20 PM.

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    Damien Chazelle: WHIPLASH (2014)

    DAMIEN CHAZELLE: WHIPLASH (2014)


    MILES TELLER and J.K. SIMMONS IN WHIPLASH

    Suffering for their art: a sadistic music teacher

    The 29-year-old Damien Chazelle's simple, effective, technically savvy second feature (his first was the 2009 Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench) is so zippy with its slam-bang editing and shocker moments it goes right through you, but then maybe after an hour or so you may question some of its powerful effects. Would a modern day music teacher at a New York conservatory something like Juliard smack a pupil repeatedly hard on the face in front of several dozen other students and throw a chair at him? Would he repeatedly yell homophobic epithets at the whole band at every session? Would a student playing with a band at the JVC Jazz Festival steal a very prolonged solo when it's only by chance and at the last minute that he's been included in the show? These things, I guess, are not meant to be taken literally. Chazelle, who has based his screenplay (loosely, we hope) on experience of a severe music teacher in his own high school, is exaggerating to get his points across and to make us think. But with things screwed up to such a pitch as this, can we think?

    Anyway, Whiplash, the name of a band composition (featured in the film) that Chazelle hated because its rapid tempo changes are a drummer's nightmare, poses the question: is brutality necessary to bring out musical genius? The filmmaker and crew tossed around the phrase "Full Metal Jacket at Julliard" during the (brutally short) 19-day shoot. Simmons is like the sergeant featured in Kubrick's movie. With his gnarly, muscular body, shaved head and aggressive voice all he needs is a training field and a uniform to evoke the tests and humiliations of combat training. In other ways this is like a conventional sports movie, with the thrills of victory and agonies of defeat leading up to a grand finale when the goal is achieved against all obstacles. Chazelle simplifies and overdoes everything, but does so with such a sure touch and with such economy that it all works brilliantly. And J.K. Simmons as Terence Fletcher, the morally dubious but efficaciously sadistic instructor, and Miles Teller, as Andrew Neyman, the ambitious fledgling drummer, play their respective parts with impressive assurance.

    Andrew is a newbie at the Schafer School. His passion is to become a great drummer worthy of comparison with Buddy Rich, whose solos he studies. (Chazelle doesn't reference subtler greats like Art Blakey and Max Roach: Andrew wants to be a showoff.) Everyone is afraid of Terence Fletcher but wants to study with him and please him. Ironically, he repeatedly tells Andrew and the band to have "fun." Mostly, Andrew's practice and his sessions with Fletcher lead to bloody hands, exhaustion, and a body drenched in sweat. Where's the "fun"? In masochism? Fletcher tells Andrew that Charlie Parker was inspired to try harder and become a transcendently great saxophonist by having a cymbal thrown at him and being kicked off the stage. Would he really not have become the "Bird" without that humiliation? Is "good job" really the worst thing you can tell a beginner, as Fletcher says?

    The brutality of Fletcher's teaching works well, visually at least, for drumming, when the player is beating on his instrument. To help a classical pianist or a violinist one might need a more gentle hand, such as that of the octogenarian New York teacher Seymour Bernstein, chronicled in Ethan Hawke's new documentary Seymour: An Introduction. From watching Seymur we learn things about fingering, selecting the best Steinway, posture, modulation of sound levels. In Whiplash, we don't learn many specific details about music beyond that it involves tempos and bars, and that a musician can spoil the sound of an ensemble by playing off key. (We already knew that.) Since this film is all about Andrew and his ruthless, lonely struggle, there's not much sense of the social life at the school, if there is any.

    Other things are skewed or exaggerated. Andrew's desire to be on time for a performance leads him to pull himself together after an event that should have left him in the hospital. And yet this effort only brings about the dismissal from Fletcher, "You're done!" Andrew is so obsessed with his music that he breaks off a realationship with a girl (Melissa Benoist) that he has barely begun. To show that most of the world's population, in the relentless view of those who pursue excellence, is mediocre, Andrew's dad is branded as an amiable loser, a a would-be writer who has wound up teaching high school and munching popcorn and M&M's while watching movies with his son.

    Whiplash, whose unrolling appropriately shows a precise sense of timing, is full of music, and most of the musicians are real ones. Simmons studied conducting at one time. Miles Teller, a fluid and confident young actor who came to the movie with experience as a rock drummer, shows both deftness and commitment in his depiction of Andrew's many and grueling drum sessions, which finally end in pleasure and triumph. But just as an arts or music student must apparently endure pain and sacrifice and even humiliation on the way to accomplishment, Whiplash sacrifices subtlety and nuance in the interests of presenting its moral dilemma with brutal theatrical effectiveness. It works, but at a cost. Nonetheless it is turning up on many annual best lists, and Simmons is sure to get a deserved Best Supporting Oscar nomination.

    Whiplash, 105 mins., debuted at Sundance, and was made with Sundance assistance based on a short film that previewed the subject. It has shown at other festivals including Toronto and was screened for this review as part of the 32nd New York Film Festival. US theatrical release began 10 October and reviews have been raves (Metacritic 88%).
    __________________


    Whiplash, 105 mins., debuted at Sundance, and was made with Sundance assistance based on a short film that previewed the subject. It has shown at other festivals including Toronto and was screened for this review as part of the 32nd New York Film Festival. US theatrical release began 10 October and reviews have been raves (Metacritic 88%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-13-2014 at 12:10 PM.

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    David Fincher: GONE GIRL (2014)

    DAVID FINCHER: GONE GIRL (2014)


    ROSAMUND PIKE IN GONE GIRL

    Tidy chaos: David Fincher's skillful blend of murder, deception, living in public, and hiding everything

    David Fincher's fascination with America's criminal underbelly and domestic deception makes for a richly detailed and constantly entertaining mystery thriller in his adaptation of Gillian Flynn's 2012 bestseller. What an elaborate, precision twittering machine this movie is! And it blends the director's fascination with police investigation explored in Se7en, Zodiac, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, with more about the media circus' invasion of US bedrooms. This is rich, juicy schlock that, as Eric Kohn said on Twitter, in other hands might be "super campy or super trashy," but in Fincher's becomes classic Hollywood cinema. Underpinning it all is a complicated but tightly constructed screenplay by Flynn herself with a back-and-forth timeline and an overlapping narrative full of jaw-dropping revelations. This is a big movie with an original and well-chosen cast headlined by Ben Affleck (stepping back from his directorial role again after his Oscar for Argo last year) as NIck Dunne, gem-like Brit Rosamund Pike as his ice-queen wife Amy who disappears, Carrie Coon as Nick's comradely twin sister Margo, Kim Dickens as Detective Rhonda Boney, Tyler Perry as ace criminal lawyer Tanner Bolt, and Neil Patrick Harris as Amy’s creepy and rich one-time beau Desi Collins.

    The plot is a borderline indigestible mix of material from horror, noir, mystery story trickery, and Fox News scandal-mongering that is both preposterous and absolutely true to life. Fincher, Flynn, and the well-managed cast conspire to make it all clear and fun. We can't tell too much: like the post-Fourth of July wedding anniversary puzzle treasure hunt Amy constructs for Nick (and for the police and the public) to hide-reveal her plotting, this movie's a game of hide-and-seek and gradual pop-up revelations. But we begin with the day of Nick and Amy's fifth wedding anniversary. Nick returns to the couple's rented McMansion from a walk to find a living room coffee table smashed and Amy missing. He calls the police. And the story, in its various versions, begins getting told, first from Nick's and the public's point of view, and later on in the film from Amy's. When we get to Amy's, the dateline chronology starts back all over again. Flynn just uses a grab bag of old familiar thriller tricks, but they work. This becomes an inventive variation on the mystery story's final revelations of what really happened that instead of being poured out at the end, is, for maximum pleasure, spread all through. When Fincher, in discussing the film, mentions that he thought of Desi as sort of like Claire Quilty in Lolita, you realize Nabokov might have indeed liked the ironic complexity of Gone Girl.

    Amy, however, isn't Nabokov's kind of girl. We don't know who or what she is; she doesn't either. Her life has been warped by growing up with a mother who used her girlish experiences as fodder for "Amazing Amy," a highly successful and lucrative children's and young adult's book series, cannibalizing and improving upon the things she did, so her "reality" (a word Nabokov scorned) was a flimsy simulacrum of her mother's profitable fantasies. When Nick and Amy meet (in flashbacks) it's all romantic playacting and pledges always to be honest. Their married life is nothing but lies, a neurotic nightmare. Both are writers in New York when they meet, but soon after they marry they lose their jobs; and when Nick's mom gets fatally ill, they move back to Missouri and use her trust fund. But money runs low because Amy's mother's book sales dwindle, her parents are strapped, and teaching and running a bar aren't bringing in a lot of dough for the now increasingly unfun couple.

    As the police investigation proceeds, suspicion falls more and more on Nick; the disappearance seems faked. There is a public "find Amy" initiative that feels a little like a political campaign, with Nick a very iffy candidate. Tidbits from a diary kept by Amy are constantly flashed at the audience, contrasting with Nick's completely different versions of the marriage. And then we finally get to what was actually going on with Amy when she disappeared, and after.

    Gone Girl is destined to be popular and critically acclaimed movie, and by no means undeservedly: I've hardly begun to describe its many pleasures. It's sure to emerge as one of the best American films of the year. But in general I am an occasional David Fincher admirer rather than a big fan and that remains true here. His Zodiac is a remarkable piece of precise cinematic obsessiveness. But only when he united with Aaron Sorkin for the much more brightly lit and smarter The Social Network did he provide me with unmitigated and total pleasure. Though Gone Girl, despite its indulgent two-and-a-half-hour length, is very enjoyable to watch, I'd have preferred something more pared down and film noir-ish. This is too much of a muchness. In particular it works the media circus theme too hard. The way Fincher juggles everything is impressive. But then juggling is just an act. What you'll most remember is the dark heart of this warped, strange woman, which Pike chillingly evokes, and her husband's appealing but cheesy good-old-boy machismo, which Affleck comfortably embodies -- and the frightening prospect of the two of them together in that house.

    Gone Girl, 150 mins., had its world premiere 26 September 2014 as the opening night film of the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. A glowing review appeared 11 days earlier by Justin Chang in Variety. Worldwide release by Fox is set for 2 October, 3 October in the US, days later in some countries (8 October in France).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:29 PM.

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    Mathieu Amalric: THE BLUE ROOM (2014)

    MATHIEU AMALRIC: THE BLUE ROOM (2014)


    LÉA DRUCKER, MATHIEU AMALRIC IN THE BLUE ROOM

    A chilly, claustrophobic Simenon adaptation

    The French actor Mathieu Amalric is so busy, active, and good (with 92 current thespian credits) it's hard to see why he even bothers to try his hand at directing, but his (reportedly) pretty faithful adaptation of the eponymous Georges Simenon short crime novel is his fourth time as réalisateur. And while his previous, On Tour/La tournée (SFIFF 2011) was a big long blowsy ensemble piece The Blue Room/La chambre bleu is as tight and economical as you could imagine. And it has pleasures, in its claustrophobic 1.33:1 aspect ratio images shot brightly with a fine eye for composition by Christophe Beaucarne; in its sometimes Bernard Hermann-esque use of Ravel in Gregoire Hetzel's movie music; in the clinical precision of the fussy investigating magistrate/juge d'instruction -- because this is a crime, in fact a murder, story -- played with pale obsessiveness by Laurent Poitrenaux. But in this short 76-minute quickie production (shot in three weeks, with the director costarring) there's the feel of a rapid exercise by a crack crew who, however, could just as well have been doing something else. Despite the neatness and elegance -- and in its way this is a brilliant shattered-mirror puzzle-piece -- something gets lost: what's meant to be an erotic thriller with strong sexual and emotional content comes out in Amalric's version as fragmented set of memories intercut with a police procedural. The two are neatly intertwined. But the film is uninvolving in the stingy way it unreels its mysteries.

    If it ever does: one may walk out wondering what actually happens. Amalric pares down the story to action elements and the wild passion gets lost. As Guy Lodge puts it in his Variety review, Amalric has adapted "Georges Simenon’s slender mystery novella with fidelity to its bleak narrative but indifference to its disquieting erotic and psychological subtext." The effect, despite a crack crew at work on the film, feels chilly and academic, though in its French release Blue Room got excellent reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.9).

    What does happen? We begin with a pair of childhood friends who've been suddenly reunited as adulterous lovers, Julien Gahyde (Amaric), a married local businessman involved with agricultural equipment, and Esther Despierre (Stéphanie Cléau), wife of a pharmacist who's not at all well. When they're seen early on in the titular Blue Room of a travelers' hotel that's the site of their several months of trysts (only briefly shown), she says something telling to him: "If I were suddenly free, could you free yourself too?" He's typically noncommittal, but obviously not only Esther's pharmacist husband but Julien's wife Delphine (Léa Drucker) is in the way of their love (if he cares).

    We get it. But from then on, in the busy account via memories and elaborately documented questioning by the examining magistrate, it gradually emerges what happened, except that Esther and Julien are rarely seen together again except wearing handcuffs, and Julien hardly says anything. Did he do anything, and if so does he know what he did? Definite possibilities only emerge toward the end, though it's soon clear Stéphanie is suspected of poisoning her husband while the town doctor is away and making it look like heart failure. As Guy Lodge points out, in general the setting is updated, but some elements from the 1964 book, notably the crucial role played by letters, are out of sync with today.

    The Blue Room/La Chambre bleue, 76 mins., debuted at Cannes in the Un Certain Regard category. French theatrical release the next day 17 May 2014 with fine reviews, as noted. Various other festivals, including the 52nd New York Film Festival, as part of which it was screened for this review. US release 3 October.


    AMALRIC @Q&A [CK Photo]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:28 PM.

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    Bertrand Bonello: SAINT LAURENT (2014)

    BERTRAND BONELLO: SAINT LAURENT (2014)


    Gaspard Ulliel in Saint Laurent

    Bonello's freer, sexier, more original angle on the couturier genius' life

    Bonello's sumptuous previous film House of Tolerence/L'Apollonide, souvenirs de la maison close (2011) promised lush decadence for his dip into biopic. And decadence is what Saint Laurent has lots more of than Jalil Lespert's authorized but limp Yves Saint Laurent-- plus an amazing cast. Free, hallucinatory, and original it is, but you can't say this film escapes from the limits of biopics -- it jumps forward to old age and death and looks at a loft lock of baby hair -- but the choice of only one key (and druggy) period from 1967-76 for the main action helps make for a dreamy and successively dreamier interlude. Whether or not Gaspard Ulliel looks more like the designer than Pierre Niney is debatable, but he's sexier, a more attention-grabbing actor; and getting Louis Garrel to play YSL's lover Jacques de Bascher was a coup, as was having Jérémie Renier selflessly play Pierre Bergé, the business partner/lover, another one, and having Léa Seydoux as Loulou de la Falaise, yet another. The legendary beauty Dominique Sanda plays the couturier's mother. The interesting actors just keep on coming, like champagne at a posh party. One mustn't forget to mention the casting of the striking blonde Aymeline Valade as YSL model Betty Catroux.

    Bonello soaked himself in information about the designer, and then improvised freely. Thus we get some wonderful sequences devised just to get across a point, or liven up the data. Thus, knowing YSL had a series of French bulldogs all called Moujik, he created a scene where Moujik gobbles down spilled pills from the piles of them the designer was always taking, and dramatically died: hence the need to find lookalike Moujiks II, III, and IV. In another iconic scene, YSL discovers Betty Catroux in a disco, letting down her long blond hair and flailing about, and then begs and begs her to leave Chanel and come to him. (In the next scene she has.) And there's a marvelous sequence with former real life Louis Garrel girlfriend Valeria Bruni Tedeschi as a wealthy client Yves has dressed in a suit. She's uncomfortable, but in a few minutes just by adding and moving around a necklace and letting down her hair he remakes her, and teaches her to enjoy her new image.

    Bonello is quietly shrewd and decisive, and using Helmut Berger for the older YSL, with the aging actor's own associations with drugs and decadence and with Visconti, was a cool and effective way of avoiding the artificiality of heavy "aging" makeup on a lead actor that stars the makeup man instead of the star. Making a virtue of necessity, since he was not authorized to use the museum-piece YSL dresses Lespert was given access to by Bergé, he set up a period-style dressmaking workshop and made new creations that are fresher and livelier than the perfect artifacts in the other film. This particularly comes out after a long fugue of drugs and depression from which Yves emerges with a flood of multicolored drawings, and the result is a salon of turbaned exotic models in a show that is prismatically displayed on screen in a set of rectangles mimicking Mondrian, and effect that's more original than Lespert's display of the YSL Mondrian-inspired dress show.

    Though there is nothing exactly overtly sexual, there is a semi-erect frontal nude of Ulliel, and various scenes of homoeroticism involving mainly YSL, Jacques de Basher, and miscellaneous rough trade in the bushes. This too, the "official" YSL film could not have. The sometimes sad and disturbing Saint Laurent has many felicities, and its free-form second half and lack of rigid biopic formalities makes the reels drift by smoothly, though its two-and-a-half-hour run-time could have used some cutting. A musician himself, Bonello did the music for this film, and its use of soul, Beethoven, and Callas is unusually rich and intense, another bold stroke. Quality of personnel is further indicated by the co-screenwriter being Thomas Bidegain of Audiard's A Prophet and Rust and Bone.

    Saint Laurent, 146 mins., debuted at Cannes in May. Screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival Main Slate. It opened in France 24 Sept., receiving fine reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.0 vs. Yves Saint Laurent's of 3.0). Bonello's film was purchased by Sony Pictures Classics before its Cannes debut, and has been selected as the French entry in the Oscars Best Foreign competition. But it seems unlikely to fare well with the Academy: judging by Metacritic, neither this (51%) nor Lespert's film (51%) register on the radar for Anglo critics, and they miss the dramatic difference that French reviews note.


    Bonello at P&I Q&A [CK Photo] ]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2014 at 11:28 PM.

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    Frederick Wiseman: NATIONAL GALLERY (2014)

    FREDERICK WISEMAN: NATIONAL GALLERY (2014)



    A lot of rich old paintings and a lot of wordy gallery talks from Wiseman off Trafalgar Square

    Last time he turned his cool eye on the University of California in At Berkeley. This time Frederick Wiseman goes to London's National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. Founded in 1824, this great palace of art, originally funded, one docent points out, with money from the slave trade, houses over 2,300 paintings that date from the mid-13th century to 1900. The rest of art history is in the British Museum (for the ancient part) and the Tate Gallery and Tate Modern (for post-1900 and modern art). So in the world of art, this first look by the octogenarian documentarian is only a glimpse, and winds up being a verbose one. As Jay Weissberg says in his Cannes review for Variety, Wiseman "studies paintings and bears witness to staff meetings, curatorial discussions and gallery talks." Lots and lots and lots of gallery talks, some better than others, and lectures by experts and curators, ranging from highly articulate (by a master restorer) to stumbling (by a frame-builder talking about ebony frames). It's a mixed bag, and the view offered of the 2,300 paintings is limited and somewhat arbitrary.

    The National Gallery's most famous works include Da Vinci's Virgin of the Rocks, Holbein's The Ambassadors, and Turner's The Fighting Temeraire. These are featured in filmed gallery talks recorded here. Van Gogh's Sunflowers is briefly mentioned by a lecturer to teachers, and the articulate restorer (he's the American Director of Restoration Larry Keith, though in Wiseman's non-obtrusive method, nobody is identified on screen) talks interestingly about varnishes and under-painting and ground color and restoration in relation to Rembrandt’s Portrait of Frederick Rihel on Horseback and Caravaggio's famous Boy Bitten by a Lizard. Stubbs's Whistlejacket is discussed in some detail, appropriately because Stubbs is such an English painter and this is the masterpiece of his remarkable equestrian paintings. Michelangelo's Entombment gets a quick look for its bold frontal nudity of Christ.

    Wiseman misses some notable works in the museum, Van Eyck's iconic Arnolfini Portrait., for instance, another painting among the museum's most famous. One might have liked more of a look at the museum's works by Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Bellini, Pollaiolo or Bosch. But Wiseman ends with a silent series of Rembrandt portraits as if they are the culmination of the whole show. Are they? That's perhaps his taste, which seems to run to the Germanic and the blowsy (Rubens), or what docents have something colorful to say about. One older docent tells a joke about Moses bringing the tablet with the ten commandments and saying: "There's good news and there's bad news. The good news is I got Him down to ten. The bad news is Adultery is still there." There is a long and interesting docent talk about the painting Samson and Delilah, identifying with Delilah as experiencing the conflicts of an espionage agent. No mention, though, of the fact that the attribution of this to Rubens, and the painting's merits, have been contested since it was acquired in 1980. A website presents evidence against the attribution. It's an interesting painting, but it does't look like a Rubens. These gallery talks lean heavily on the paintings' storytelling side. It's even hinted that a painting "must" tell a story. It would all be different at Tate Modern.

    It is good to be taught to look and look, cooly, withholding judgment. But in this film Wiseman comes off at times as a somewhat naive and uncritical observer. The material he gives us is, as Weissberg also notes, repetitions, more so than in the longer but more varied At Berkeley (NYFF 2013). Mere length in any case isn't proof of thoroughness. In At Berkeley, about a great university, students were never shown in an informal setting, studying, drinking beer, in their dorms. Wiseman seems to like giving an institutional impression that is on the chilly side. In both films there are administrative meetings where policy is discussed. But the life of the museum goers' experience is missing here. A great museum comes through more as a living, throbbing thing in Jem Cohen's fine film Museum Hours, admittedly only semi-documentary; but that is its beauty. Cohen's film takes us to Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum, where we get to know one of the guards, and he befriends one of the visitors, a Canadian woman temporarily in the city to visit a sick friend. Museum Hours gives us a sense of the Kunsthistorisches Museum as a living place, and of the individuality of its staff, and its visitors.

    I waver back and forth on Wiseman. Sometimes he seems a diehard and a bore, and sometimes he draws me in and I'm fascinated. The latter effect happened with the four-hour At Berkeley, even though it left those key things out. With National Gallery, despite the beautiful paintings and the (half the time) interesting talk, he becomes a bore again. There's one thing about this new film that's great, though. Wiseman photographs the spectators a lot, showing them often in closeups and in small groups, and the more we see them, the more we realize they could be the people in the paintings, and the people in the paintings could be them. Faces have not changed. But the world has, and that's why an important topic in the film is how to make the public aware of the National Gallery's contents and their worth.

    National Gallery, 180 mins., debuted at Cannes' Directors' Fortnight. It was screened for this review as part of the Spotlight on Documentary sidebar series of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It's included in many other festivals. US theatrical release in NYC 5 November 2014 (Film Forum). San Francisco Landmark Opera Plaza 19 Dec. Released in France 8 October, it received excellent reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.2).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-06-2014 at 10:10 AM.

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    Abderrahmane Sissako: TIMBUKTU (2014)

    ABDERRAHMANE SISSAKO: TIMBUKTU (2014)


    Toulou Kiki, Ibrahim Ahmed, and Layla Walet Mohamed in Timbuktu

    Sissako's intimate, poetic look at the jihadist takeover in northern Mali

    Abderrahmane Sissako, born in Mauritania and educated in Mali, is an African director whose concerns and outlook are broader and loftier than most. In Timbuktu, when he looks at the way the temporary jihadist takeover of northern Mali by the Ansar Dine group in 2012 quickly undermines the human dignity and way of life of the people, he does so with a surprising serenity that is at once poetic, gently ironic, ferocious, all-encompassing, and brave. Timbuktu is a political thriller with philosophical overtones and soaked in cultural awareness. The violence and devastation are here, but in a muted form that respects the dignity of the various victims and avoids demonizing the foreign invaders, who are, in the end, neighbors who've gone wrong. We see them up close. They are destroyers. They symbolically violate cultural artifacts in the opening sequence, shooting up wooded statues. But they are also fallible and foolish. One of the Ansar Dine leaders Abdelkrim (Abel Jafri) is reminded by his son that he's not perfect: he can't learn to drive a truck properly. And they pose as Islamists, but can't speak Arabic properly either.

    Timbuktu is a film of many languages. Tamasheq is spoken by the Tuareg Berbers, with their wrapped heads, quiet nomads living in tents. One of them, Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), is a modest cattle and goat herder whose tragedy is at the center of the film. He tells the orphan boy Issam (Mehdi A.G. Mohamed) whom he parents and who helps with the herding that the reason he's alive is that he's a musician and not a warrior like Issam's father. Kidane's greatest joy in life is his daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed), and his relations with his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki) are placid. Issam loses control while watering the cattle and a most prized cow, "GPS," damages the net of the fisherman Amadou, and in a rage Amadou spears GPS and she slowly dies.

    This leads to a partly inadvertent act of violence by Kidane, and he falls into the custody of the jihadists and subject to their ruthless, arbitrary interpretation of sharia law. His wife had said they should move away to be closer to other people. His friends have. Others have been killed. Not it's too late. When he is "tried" by the jihadist elder (Salem Dendou) the conversation has to be translated back and forth between Tamasheq and the sometimes shaky Arabic of the Ansar Dine men. The Tuareg are pan-African people, ranging between Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso. Arabic too is of course a pan-national language, a much more widespread one. And yet the elegant Qur'anic Arabic of the local imam (Adel Mahmoud Cherif) is in quietly stark contrast to the jihadists' clumsy approximation. His words of disapproval over everything the jihadists do are couched in language that is a living reproach to these fools of God.

    As in Sissako's Bamako (NYFF 2006), Timbuktu is choral, moving around among different people. There is the flamboyant eccentric woman Zabou (Kettly Noel), who wanders about. Her days of freedom are numbered as the jihadists bellow warnings over a loudspeaker in French and Bambara, the Malian language, that women must cover their heads and wear gloves -- an absurdity for a woman fishmonger -- and there is no music, no singing, no standing around outside: hardly anything is allowed. “We are the guardians of all deeds,” says one jihadist to the imam, wiping away the balance and logic of Islamic teachings. The jihadists try to make commitment videos but the younger ones lack real commitment and their effort is comically feeble. In a scene both beautiful and heartbreaking, boys forbidden to play football run around a playing field enthusiastically mime the game without a ball.

    This is, fundamentally, a fable of despotic rule but set not in the bureaucratic mazes of Kafka or with the ironies of Nabokov but in a land of soft robes, yellow desert, sand hills and small lakes, a place of gentle ways and lovely music. Music hovers around, and the jihadists are tracking it down, finding four playing and singing at night. They're arrested and the singer, Fatou (Fatoumata Diawara), is sentenced to 40 lashes. This is a typical Sissako scene: Fatou draped in a black abaya, suffering and softly singing as she's whipped, tears pouring down her face. The sequence recalls the iconic poster image of the singer with tears streaming down her face in Bamako, but this is a film that's more "showing" than "telling," likely to appeal to some for being far less polemical than but quite as political and thought-provoking as the previous film. While Bamako was a remarkable ensemble piece, both serious and funny, Timbuktu has a memorable poetic beauty that suggests the already profound and thoughtful Sissako has reached another level of maturity.

    Timbuktu, 97 mins., in Arabic, Bambara, French, English, Songhay, and Tamasheq, debuted in Competition at Cannes, where it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize. It has been selected as the Mauritanian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. Though set in Mali it was filmed in Oualata, a town in south-east Mauritania. Sissako's starting point was a shocking video he saw of a couple being stoned to death for adultery by jihadists in Aguelhok, in eastern Mali, an incident he dramatizes and briefly glimpses here. Eighteen other international festivals are listed on IMDb. Theatrical release in France is set for 10 December. Release in Germany, Belgium, Norway, Portugal and the UK are also scheduled. In his eloquently admiring review Jay Weissberg of Variety predicted that "The film’s Cannes berth and critical acclaim will translate to strong Euro arthouse play with niche Stateside appeal." Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian's enthusiastic review has some interesting different angles.

    Screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. Screened for this review as part of the 52nd New York Film Festival. The film opens 10 Dec. 2014 in France, to excellent reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.2; though Cahiers du Cinéma reduced it to a cliché). US release 28 January 2015, New York (Lincoln Plaza Cinema & Film Forum) and Los Angeles; 22 May in the UK.




    Abderrahmane Sissako at P&I Q&A [CK Photo]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-19-2014 at 09:29 PM.

  14. #29
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    Albert Maysles: IRIS (2014)

    ALBERT MAYSLES: IRIS (2014)



    Style never grows old

    As the percentage of citizens who are older increases, more attention is drawn to their activities, one of which appears to be dressing up. Hence there is a new film by Lina Plioplyte called Advanced Style, about Ari Cohen, a blogger and photographer who focuses on older women he finds stylish. A couple of years ago there was Bill Cunningham: New York, about the tireless octogenarian New York Times lensman with the old-fashioned Bostonian accent who snaps stylish men and women on the streets of Manhattan and at chic galas, as he has done for decades. Cunningham makes several fleeting appearances in the New York Film Festival's documentary sidebar film Iris, which not only spotlights the remarkable eighty-something fashionista Iris Apfel and her loving husband, who celebrates his hundredth birthday in the film, but is shot by the veteran documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who himself is eighty-seven.

    Iris is about style as flamboyance. Nothing understated; nothing modest, but asserted by a simple pin, in Iris' looks, which involve bright-colored ensembles, mixing clothes from the famous designers with secondhand finds. But the key to her effects is something she says her mother taught her: accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. And does she ever. Iris piles on heavy necklaces and bracelets that must weigh as much as her small frame. She's a slight woman, with close-cropped white hair and signature big round glasses. Their shape never varies, though the frame colors do and the lenses shift from dark to clear.

    Albert Maysles (whose brother and filmmaking partner died in the Eighties) chose a good time to cover Iris Apfel, because she seems to move from being known in the fashion trade to becoming downright famous during the period documented. In the film, we find that a show put on about her by the Metropolitan Museum, which went on tour to other locations, each in her view better than the last, is as a result living the life of a celebrity, despite her husband's increasing age and her own health problems (a broken hip, which she conceals from her husband). She is frequently interviewed, is photographed by the likes of Bruce Weber (a longtime admirer) leactures to young women about fashion, and is seen shopping and bargaining for clothes and accessories, including in Harlem. More about this than about Iris and her husband's business careers, though passing mention is made of her company making reproductions of old fabrics, and her interior designing. These must have been profitable? At least they have impressive, richly jumbled digs on Park Avenue and in Palm Springs, in addition to a huge storage warehouse for her endless accumulations in Long Island City.

    It is a basic principle for Iris that being "pretty" isn't important, and is ephemeral. Though images of her earlier in her sixty-six year marriage show she was quite a good-looking woman, she is an eccentric peacock rather than a swan. Style (and ego) are excellent preservatives. The other message of the film is positivity. Iris's good humor and wit are evident in her every utterance, and also in her husband's. Clearly their attitudes and their loving marriage have added life to their years that anyone would envy, or take as a role model.

    As Maysles documentaries go, this is a minor one, enjoyable though it is. The Maysles are most famous for Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter [/i](1970) and Grey Gardens (1975)[/i]. They beautifully documented Christo's Valley Curtain (1974) and Running Fence (1977) and Christo in Paris (1990). There are several films showing the older Horowitz, The Last Romantic (1985) and Horowitz Plays Mozart (1987) But there are many others. Not to be confused with D.A. Pennebaker (which I was doing), who is famous for the iconic 1967 Boy Dylan movie Don't Look Back, as well as Monterey Pop.

    Iris, 73 mins., was screened for this review as part of the Spotlight on Documentary series of the 52nd New York Film Festival, the film's world premiere; it subsequently showed in nearly two dozen film festivals. Albert Maysles passed away in March 2015 and this was his second-to-last film; the final one is In Transit, a coming documentary that explores the stories of passengers aboard the long-distance train The Empire Builder. Iris opened in US theaters Wed., 29 April 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-07-2016 at 09:39 AM.

  15. #30
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    Gabe Polsky: RED ARMY (2014)

    GABE POLSKY: RED ARMY (2014)


    The "Russian Five," Fetisov top right

    A quick and personal history of Russian hockey and hockey players from the Cold War through Glasnost and beyond

    Anyone interested in the nexus of sports and politics during a key period of the modern era must want to watch Ukrainian-American Yale hockey player and filmmaker Gabe Polsky's Red Army. But bear in mind: archival footage and hockey reels, tight editing, and humor notwithstanding, this is a standard talking-head documentary.

    The story is interesting and the principal talking head is an impressive guy. At 56 Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov, who takes over the film in the first few minutes, has led a richer life than most. For thirteen years 1976–89) he played for the Red Army Russian national ice hockey team, the best of the best. Then he quit the team because of conflicts with the coaching, and played in the US with the NHL (1989–98), pioneering in this sports immigration process that had been strictly forbidden under Soviet rule. Former teammates came to the NHL, which enabled him for a while to play again as part of legendary Russian Five, one of the most powerful units in hockey history, including himself, high-scoring right-winger Sergei Makarov, left-winger Vladimir Krutov (AKA "the Tank”), tough and wiry center Igor Larionov (“the Professor”) and fellow defenseman and best friend Alexei Kasatonov. He helped win two Stanley Cups in '97 and '98. Then he coached for four years (1998-2002) -- leading his American teams to great successes. In 2002 he returned to Russia with his wife, going on on to coach the Russian national team in the totally different post-Soviet world, under Putin serving (till 2008) as the Russian Minister of Sport.

    The villain of the piece is coach Viktor Tikhonov, a cruel task-master who hardly treated his players as humans, insisting on having them live apart from family eleven months a year and forbidding Fetisof from visiting his father on his deathbed. Tikhonov was brought in after the notorious defeat of the Russian national team by a group of relatively green US college players in the Winter Olympics at Lake Placid in 1980. The benevolent, and more complex, spirit of the film is legendary coach Anatoly Tarasov, who introduced metaphors from chess and ballet into play, along with imaginative and fun training methods that were at the same time rigorous and grounded in socialist concepts of placing teamwork over individualism. The great players were like brothers and somehow fundamentally the same.

    A shortcoming of this fast-moving film is that despite describing the unique features of classic Russian hockey style -- intricate, complicated, inventive, balletic, relying a lot on passing back and forth -- this is never satisfactorily contrasted with American (or European) style, not in a manner than anyone not thoroughly familiar with the game would perceive. A major strength and a key to its warmth and life is the friendly, humorous, almost father-son relationship between young Polsky and big shot Fetisov -- whose gently Russian-accented but articulate English dominates the film and who tends to use talking on his cell phone as an excuse when Polsky asks him an uncomfortable question. Fetisov never defected, and he represents Russia, despite his years in the US. He is critical of the chilly Tikhonov, but never of the Russian system. He has been involved recently in managing the many hirings of Russian hockey players abroad, but seems even more proud of having supervised establishment of a wide infrastructure of hockey stadiums throughout Russian during his Sports Minister tenure. In some ways he is clearly nostalgic about a Soviet system that pointed him, as an anointed national athlete from age 16, toward an illustrious career. Back in the day, after that freak 1980 defeat, his team smashed Gretsky and his Canadian team.

    Red Army, 85 minutes, debuted at Cannes, and has played in over a dozen international festivals. Screened for this review at the 52nd New York Film Festival as part of its Spotlight on Documentary series. At the Q&A Fetisov and Polsky were both present, and Fetisov began by calling Polsky "a good boy." A Sony Pictures Classics release. Releases are set for 14 Nov. 2014 (NYC) and 22 Jan. 2015; 9 Feb. in San Francisco and 19 June 2015 in the UK.


    Fetisof at the 52nd NYFF
    [CK Photo]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-03-2014 at 03:50 PM.

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