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Thread: New Directors/New Films and Film Comment Selects 2015

  1. #16
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    SHORTS Program 2

    SHORTS PROGRAM 2

    Blurb descriptions in italics are followed by my comments.


    HEARTLESS

    Icarus
    Nicholas Elliott, USA, 2014, DCP, 16m

    Desire and emotion pervade this enigmatic hangout film in which a procession of
    mystery men emerge ex nihilo and seek shelter in a young woman’s cabin. World
    Premiere
    This seemed like a self-indulgent, opaque film whose symbolism of naked men out in the snow and bags with mens' names on them, men kissing, etc., made no sense. Tiresomely arty.

    The Chicken
    Una Gunjak, Germany/Croatia, 2014, DCP, 15m

    Bosnian with English subtitles
    Six-year-old Selma is forced to confront the realities of life during wartime after she
    decides to let go of her birthday present.
    Set in Sarajevo in 1993, this does make sense and is well edited for movement, if with unnecessarily shaky camera. It concerns two women and a little girl in a war-torn city trying to enjoy a meal, though holding onto the main course could be life-threatening. This does tell a story. Promising material.

    Heartless
    Nara Normande & Tião, Brazil, 2014, DCP, 25m

    Portuguese with English subtitles
    These sun-kissed fragments of a coming-of-age tale follow a boy who, while on vacation
    at a fishing village, finds himself entangled with an enigmatically nicknamed local girl.
    U.S. Premiere
    The rough coverage of semi-feral boys at the beach (effective kid-wrangling) reminded me of the French-Algerian film Bloody Beans shown in the FSLC's Art of the Real last summer. But this is more conventional, if also at one point needlessly vulgar. Just okay.

    I Remember Nothing
    Zia Anger, USA, 2015, DCP, 18m

    A student, unaware that she is epileptic, tries to get through another day. Structured in
    five sections after the phases of a seizure. World Premiere

    This has needless distractions and makes little sense. The lecture on stages of epileptic seizures is interfered with by pointless extra material. Annoying.

    Discipline
    Christophe M. Saber, Switzerland, 2014, DCP, 11m

    French, German, Arabic, and Italian with English subtitles
    In this biting comedy of manners, it really does take a village. Set in a Swiss convenience store run by an Egyptian, with another Egyptian, a Moroccan, and others. A well-off woman starts a fracas because a man slaps his little girl for disobeying him, and things get crazy. Comedy of cultural cross-currents and jumble of action in a small space is amusing, but pushed too far eventually so it becomes simply a mess.

    We Will Stay in Touch About It
    Jan Zabeil, Germany, 2015, DCP, 8m

    After the shock of impact, reality suddenly seems out of reach. North American
    Premiere
    Yes, this is haunting, if the spooky music and panning camera bit has been done a million times before. Accomplished.

    Odessa Crash Test (Notes on Film 09)
    Norbert Pfaffenbichler, Austria, 2014, DCP, 6m

    An iconic moment from Battleship Potemkin, remixed and reimagined. U.S. Premiere
    This takes a great sequence in the history of cinema and reduces it to a sliding baby carriage and a falling baby, carried to a terrifying and sadistic, but basically repetitions and annoying, extreme. Avoid and watch Eisenstein's classic film instead.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2015 at 09:50 PM.

  2. #17
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    Chaitanya Tamhane: COURT (2014)

    CHAITANYA TAMHANE: COURT (2014)


    VIRA SATHIDAR IN COURT

    A cool, yet humanistic, look at "justice" in India

    Indian director Chaitanya Tamhane's distinctive debut revolves around the legal case of a 65-year-old folksinger and political activist called Narayan Kamble (Vira Sathidar), who sings socially aware songs in working class districts. He is arrested on the preposterous charge of inciting a sewage worker to kill himself after listening to one of his songs. The film doesn't so much stay with Narayan as with his defense attorney, Vinay Vora (Vivek Gomber), and even the state attorney, Nutan (Geetanjali Kulkarni), a woman, and the judge, whose cut-rate vacation ends the film, underlying its ironic, neutral eye, which may owe something to the new Romanian cinema. I was reminded both of Crisiti Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (NYFF 2005) and of Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective (NYFF 2009). Like the Romanians, Tamhane's work is a tough, unyielding watch, but it constitutes a devastating critique of India, even while showing its richness and complexity and its ordinary people's ability to have a good time. Vira Sathidar, performing two songs as Narayan, proves a terrific singer, by the way.

    Working with a well organized ensemble of professional and nonprofessional actors, Tamhane delivers a cool succession of perfectly authentic-feeling scenes. His signature moments are of courtroom routine (the camera always with its eye first on the whole crowded spectacle), in which the prosecution lawyer reads off archaic laws and uses 40-year-old "offenses" of the leftist defendant, who has been jailed and tried for one trumped-up charge after another, plainly just a victim of government bullying.

    As Jay Weissberg points out in an enthusiastic review in Variety, this film gains its dimensionality (and its style) from the way it looks at Vora and Nutan, showing Nutan to be a mindless right-winger who can't wait to be a judge, while Vora is "firmly a member of India’s globalized elite," doubtless with the connections to have a far better-paying position and choosing to be a public defender for idealistic reasons. There is also the aforementioned final glimpse of the judge's shabby group summer holiday trip, and at one point even a look at the wife of the man whom Narayan is accused of inciting to suicide, a man who was a victim not of Narayan's songs but his own awful life, who probably succumbed to toxic fumes while drunk, working in the sewers. Her dull stare tells a tale of miserable poverty too sad to contemplate.

    The Indian legal system as glimpsed here is archaic, quaint, and laughably cumbersome, as well as pretty primitive, with the official court record consisting only of what the judge periodically chooses to dictate. And it is designed for gridlock, so that Narayan's current case, constantly put off another month or two to consider some minor detail, is likely to go on for years. This is very bad for the defendant since his health is shaky and it's hard to get him out on bail. When Vora does get him out, Narayan doesn't take his advice to lay low. Instead he performs and writes a pamphlet about his mistreatment, leading him to be arrested again.

    Seeing this movie is like watching a train wreck. You can't look away from its display of the power of class and the intentionally life-mangling effects of drawn-out judicial incompetence, but you just go on watching, no matter how painful, even excruciating, it is to do so. Weissberg suggests this is "Possibly too cerebral for the Lunchbox crowd," in need of more festival exposure to make its way "onto speciality screens." All the romance has been drained from our vision of India by the time we've experienced this complex, mind-boggling, convincing film.

    Court, 116 mins., from India and in Marathi, Gujarati, and Hindi, debuted at Venice (Horizons series Best Film and Luigi De Laurentis Award) in Sept. 2014; with top prizes also at Mumbai, Singapore and Hong Kong; included in ten other festivals. Screened for this review as part of the FSLC/MoMA New Directors/New Films series, March 2015.

    US theatrical release began Wed., 15 July 2015 in NYC at Film Forum.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-16-2015 at 08:56 PM.

  3. #18
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    Lukas Valenta Rinner: PARABELLUM (2014) + Evan Johnson: COLOURS (2015)

    LUKAS VALENTA RINNER: PARABELLUM (2014) + EVAN JOHNSON: COLOURS (2015)



    Ordinary people prepare for post-apocalyptic life

    Michael Haneke meets Carlos Reygadas in this post-apocalypse how-to film about a motley crew of middle-class folk taken out to a survivalist training program in an undisclosed location. Blindfolds worn on the trip in, breakfast served to everyone with optional morning classes in camouflage, botany; classes for all in firing and assembling weapons, hand-to-hand combat, constructing handmade explosives. This is an Austrian shooting in Argentina, in Spanish. It's an odd combination, and makes for an intriguingly dislocated, disorienting film. It doesn't fully engage with the viewer, but that is the point, if you want to take it that way. Is there more or less here than meets the eye? That's not easy to say.

    There's a certain shock value in the lack of glamor. The people are mostly out of shape and un-chic. This could be Lonely Plenet/Rough Guide version of Club Med. But all signs are the world is actually going apocalyptic, so if they really are acquiring extreme survivor skills (the demos are a bit superficial), they're going to need them.

    Writing about this film in Variety from Rotterdam Jay Weissberg noted how Rinner shifts "from comically surreal to absolutely serious" but "is something of a one-trick pony." He's referring to the irony of a depicting middle class people thinking they can pay their way to survival taught by "experts," while real cataclysm is rapidly approaching. But the serious turn comes when the trainees have to throw away "ethical constraints" (and at least one goes batty). But still the film is "pleasingly unpredictable." It's extra clear cinematography, cast in a pale gray-green that favors the many widescreen shots of lush leafy wilderness, alienates us effectively. Weissberg spells out what's indeed obvious about the opening sequence: that its starry sky, dawn, panning camera over the horizon with animal sounds, echoes Reygadas' openings of both Silent Light and Post Tenebras Lux, though less striking then either, in keeping with the film's generally deadpan manner. Take as you will Weissberg's comment that the film's short running time is "a plus." Ultimately it's all suggestion. And there's something to be said for merely provoking thought. However the DIY half-jokiness of the training camp action sits ill with the portentous interpolated quotes (on flaming red backgrounds) from the invented Book of Disasters -- the Little Red Book for survivors after The End? How serious is he, and should we be worried?

    Parabellum, 75 mins., debuted at Gothenberg Jan. 2015; also Rotterdam Feb. Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films, joint series of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Museum of Art, New York, March 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-06-2015 at 10:58 PM.

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    Julie Lopes-Curval: High Society (2014)--FCS

    JULIE LOPES-CURVAL: HIGH SOCIETY/LE BEAU MONDE (2014)


    ANA GIRARDOT, BASTIEN BOUILLON IN HIGH SOCIETY

    Film Comment Selects

    Limits of social mobility

    High Society/Le beau monde has been described as Blue Is the Warmest Color without the lesbianism or the sex. This is more delicate and refined French art house cinema, with some nice specific observations, but surprisingly generic, and generally lacking a pulse. The story is a traditional one: a provincial Frenchman (here, French 20-something girl) succeeds in Paris, but at a price (here, an emotional one). A girl from unimpressive origins, Alice (Ana Girardot, who plays Sophie, the serial killer's friend in the R-V The Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart) gets involved with a boyfriend from a well-off family, Antoine (Bastien Bouillon), and they are uncomfortable with each other and their families. Antoine's elegant mother, Agnès Barthes (Aurélia Petit), helps Alice get into a sophisticated fashion trades school. Antoine drops out of business school to become a photographer.

    Alice and Antoine are continually uncomfortable with their own families and each other's, and with each other, and with their careers, or at least the shy, insecure Alice is with hers. An obvious guide for her is an associate of Antoine's mother, Harold (Sergi López), a perfume maker she meets up with from time to time who offers a lecture on the Bayeux tapestry (Alice comes from Bayeux, in Normandy), and advice as one who, like Alice, comes from unprepossessing origins yet has found a career in "le baau monde," the French title of the film, which suggests as much elegance as social status. But the film is also about how hard it is to "make it" at a snobby school. We have to listen to Alice's snooty teacher's repeated pompous dismissals of her embroideries in class. Does she listen to an audio book version of Proust while doing her embroideries to refine her sensibility? These high-culture references do not make up for the anaemic scenes.

    Alice's mother Christiane (Stéphane Bissot) is earthy, and pretty too, but overweight, and her ten-year battle to get compensation for being unjustly laid off seems pathetic to Alice. Her stepfather has a stall in the town market. Alice used to "détricoter" (unravel) old sweaters and redye them and make her own special sweaters and scarves. She is wearing such a sweater in a beautiful blue when she first meets with Antoine's mother about her CV, and gives her a scarf she has made, which, typically, the insecure girl is then ashamed of.

    Antoine is annoyed and whinny twoard his mother for her intrusion and helping out, her noblesse oblige; and indeed she is blatantly intrusive; a conversation between her and another woman is heard where they are cruel and condescending toward Alice and her mother, a moment where the film makes its social points extremely bluntly. But when Antoine, with breathtaking speed, turns into a serious photographer -- and a surprisingly successful one; but of course he is well connected -- he particularly excels at shooting working class women and neighborhoods. In the first show of his photographs a portrait of Christiane is central, but he neglects to invite her to the opening. This show is the scene of a decisive fight between Alice and Antoine.

    Lopes-Curval is keen on showing social, artistic, and emotional details -- the snobbism, jealousy, and shame that have been the stuff of such stories since Balzac and Stendhal. She is not so good as they at telling a story. And though Antoine is made out to be very into Alice -- he is always grabbing her and kissing her, which the big, boyish Boillon, with his broad shoulders and floppy hair, makes dramatic -- it's not even clear what they're feeling, other than awkward. The film resorts to a 3-years-later postscript of the couple, no longer one, again on a deserted French beach handsomely photographed by DP Céline Bozon as at the outset (Bozon's landscapes, the Barthes' casually elegant residences, and other Paris interiors are eye candy throughout) -- to do a post mortem explaining Alice was crazy about Antoine but couldn't show it. We should have known.

    A most admiring description of this film by Amy Taubin appeared in ArtForum. Gavin Smith, editor of Film Comment, felt it was one of the highlights of 2014's Toronto Festival. Their enthusiasm was not shared by many of the French critics, who could appreciate the social details but also observed that the contrasts were schematic and obvious and the love story was flat. AlloCiné press rating: 3.2.

    High Society/Le beau monde, 95 mins. Watched for this review at a public screening of Film Comment Selects at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center. Introduced by Gavin Smith.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-07-2015 at 10:08 AM.

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    Christian Petzold: PHOENIX (2014)--FCS

    CHRISTIAN PETZOLD: PHOENIX (2014)



    Film Comment Selects

    What the war made of us

    Using his muse Nina Hoss for the sixth time, Christian Petzold takes on a Forties or Fifties genre picture topic that's ridiculously far-fetched, but his treatment is so brilliant, weighty, and haunting, that doesn't matter. A woman arrives in Berlin in a car, a Nazi death camp survivor, evidently, with her face all wrapped in bloody bandages. She is accompanied by her friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), a clerk in the Hall of Jewish Records. Later she has reconstructive plastic surgery where she's given the option to be made to look like a popular actress, but chooses to look like her old self. Facial bones were shattered with bullets. When Nina Hoss's face emerges it doesn't look much different, just darkly bruised around the eyes. She seeks out her husband, Johnny (the soft, sensuous, pretty Ronald Zehrfeld). It seems she was a known cabaret singer, Jewish, he a pianist. She finds him at a nightclub in the American zone called Phoenix, working as a busboy. We are to believe he thinks she looks like his wife, Nelly Lenz, but does not know it is really her. He wants to exploit her to claim Nelly Lenz's now substantial accumulated wealth. This in spite of the fact that he may have betrayed her to gain his own freedom just before she was taken away.

    As Scott Foundas suggests in his Variety review, Petzold likes to take us into the complexities of German contemporary history through American genre films, and does so this time through "the rich strain of doppelganger psychodramas (A Woman’s Face, Vertigo, Seconds)." We might think of Franju's Eyes Without a Face too. Not much is made of the miracle of reconstructive surgery. Nelly looks at a photo of herself and others. She is there. Some survived, others are dead. We follow her. Though there are always noises -- voices, shuffling, vague music -- around in the background, every scene is of Nelly. And there is not much movement. Johnny is brutal, strange. He wants to keep Nelly a virtual prisoner, to reappear on a train coming into Berlin, surprising everyone. He wants her in a red dress and Paris shoes, despite the absurdity of arriving from Auschwitz in such attire.

    The point is, neither Johnny nor Nelly is in possession of her self. Nor is it sure if she is alive or dead. What happens later to Lene clarifies this point. Lene has plans to live in Palestine; there's even an apartment in Haifa. But she is not sure if she is closer to the future or to the past, to the living or the dead. To strengthen this feeling, Nina Hoss moves with preternatural stillness, almost a zombie. The actress always maintains a Zenlike focus, immobile, ineloquent, yet radiating emotion and intelligence. This is a film that doesn't have to say anything. It ponders the imponderable: the radical alterations that occurred to Germans and Jews in the War. The mystery of Nelly's attraction to Johnny, despite the fact that neither has a fix on their own identity or the other's. There's a desperate grasp for meaning, or simply security, in a world that has lost all meaning.

    Petzold directs Zehrfeld, Hoss, and an eccentric period-looking group of secondary actors representing friends and associates of the couple in a final sequence, and a final scene, and a final shot, that sums up all the mystery in a moment of hypnotic solemnity and shock that shows what a serious and masterful filmmaker this man is. Foundas thinks Phoenix (which refers to Johnny's nightclub but also the theme) is "the fiercely talented Petzold’s most broadly accessible work to date, and should reach his largest international audience."

    Phoenix, 98 mins., debuted at Toronto 2014, and showed at twenty-odd other international festivals. It opened in Paris 28 January 2015 to rave reviews (AlloCiné press rating 4.2). Screened for this review during Film Comment Selects at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center, 28 February 2015. IFC release in US theaters via Sundance Selects Friday, 24 July 2015. Metacritic rating 91%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-24-2015 at 12:28 PM.

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    Charles Poekel: CHRISTMAS, AGAIN (2014)

    CHARLES POEKEL: CHRISTMAS, AGAIN (2014)



    Christmas, Again, a wistful and sweet piece of midwinter sadness, is a small observational film that's unambitious but well-constructed. Charles Poekel calls "Method writing" his creation of a scenario out of his own direct personal experience doing just what his protagonist does. He spent three years "hustling evergreens to hipsters in Greenpoint, Brooklyn," as Peter Debruge puts it in his Variety review -- and the setting is exactly at the tree lot Poekel himself ran. These are the last days before Christmas as lived by Noel (Kentucker Audley), a tight-lipped construction worker from Upstate who's spent the pre-Christmas season this way for five years. Only this time his girlfriend isn't with him. So he is lonely, cold, sleeping in a trailer, and a bit strung out: he keeps taking pain killers and stimulants to get him through the 12-hour night shift that's his task. A young couple takes the day shift, another reminder that Noel's solo. A lesson in how unjoyful the season to be jolly can be if you're not actually jolly and are a young man out on your own, not in the bosom of a family any more (if you once were).

    What Christmas, Again gives us as much as anything is a realistic and knowledgeable look at the Christmas tree-selling process. The kinds and sizes of trees, the big and little wreathes, decorated and plain, the stands, lights, the way to water them -- and how clueless or irritating some of the people are. Noel is polite to them, but harsh with the couple working the day shift, obviously not in the best of moods. Once he goes for a swim, and he goes on taking the pills. There is no drama about this, just a sense that he's making it through the days bundled up sleeping in the trailer and the nights awake.

    All that happens is this: Noel rescues a pretty girl passed out drunk on a park bench (Hannah Gross). He brings her to the trailer to sleep through the night. This has plusses and minuses. She bakes him a pie in thanks, then when he speaks too loosely to her boyfriend later without knowing who he's talking to, he winds up getting socked in the jaw. And then she returns again and accompanies Noel on some Christmas Eve deliveries. Surprise: the flirty woman is actually running a retirement home. A few little other touches provide a wistfully romantic finale. As Debruge puts it, the film "offers modest, VOD-scale pleasures, but is probably best viewed in the warmer months as the curious indie-movie anthropology study that it is." This is a first feature introduction for Poekel, and another example of the 16 mm. color craft of cinematographer Sean Price Williams (who recently shot among other things Listen Up Philip and Heaven Knows What (both in the 2014 New York Film Festival) and editor Robert Greene (who cut Listen Up).

    Screening in ND/NF with: Going Out
    Ted Fendt, USA, 2014, 35mm, 8m. ND/NF blurb: "Liz thinks she’s going on a date with Rob to see RoboCop, but things take an unexpected (and inexplicable) turn. World Premiere." (Inexplicable indeed.)

    Christmas, Again, 79 mins., debuted at Locarno. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 FSLC-MoMA series New Directors/New Films. Theatrical release (NYC) and VOD (iTues) from 4 Dec. 2015.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-01-2015 at 09:31 AM.

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    Yohei Suzuki: OW (2014)

    YOHEI SUZUKI: OW (2014)




    Be careful where you look

    Like pater familias Ryûhei in Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata, the dad in Yohei Suzuki's Ow has been hiding he's out of work, and the rest of the family has no options. But director Suzuki plays more abstractly with Japanese stasus. Within the first few minutes the slacker son Tetsuo Suzuki and his girlfriend Yuriko Tsuda become immobilized by looking at a large round alien object floating on the ceiling in an upstairs bedroom that causes all who look at it to freeze. Ironically just then father Jun comes up to reveal his secret to Tetsuo and gf and, being too embarrassed to look at them, doesn't notice their frozen condition. But then he looks where they're looking, and freezes, standing up.

    Suzuki doesn't have, or seem to need, a great deal of plot to offer after this. Events just keep spinning out of the original ones. Another family member gets zapped, then cops come and a police captain freezes. This causes a Detective Nakagawa to go a bit berserk and blood and subsequently scandal follow.

    Tetsuo and gf sometimes budge slightly, and the hangdog female family members scoop them up and push them around in wheel chairs. Journalists are called in to report on the events, one of whom, Ryuichi Deguchi, becomes obsessed. He cannot believe the frozen people aren't just pretending, only later confessing he has realized how "really serious" the situation is.

    The virtue of Ow (Maru) is its uniquely bizarre Japanese atmosphere, which covers the spectrum from the spooky and strange to the comical and seems able to spin out a seemingly endless series of tiny non-events without ever breaking the spell. Sparingly dished out music from Samon Imamura is a great help. Stay tuned for a late confrontation between journalist Deguchi and Tetsuo, who comes menacingly to life and identifies himself with the manga figure and Shinya Tsukamoto cult movie subject "Tetsuo the Iron Man."

    The gimmick of something that's dangerous or fatal to look at is a regular feature of Japan horror, such as the videotape in the "Ring" films. Because the victims in Ow are semi-alive (at times), there is an aura of the zombie about them too. There seems to be a consensus among viewers that Suzuki, whose first feature this is, has delivered a brilliant first act, but gets tangled in a dead-end plot maze thereafter of scandal, police controversy, and journalistic competition while the family stumbles along and we know what originally happened better than the characters do, though we don't know the explanation. The only pleasure of the film's final act is its sheer grotesque absurdity, and how all this happens in the messiest, most humdrum of Japanese houses.

    Ow was reviewed in the sci-fi horror review Moria based on a Vancouer viewing. David Bordwell commented on dp Yohei Kashiwada's shrewd use of camera positions. But it is not yet listed on IMDb.

    Cast: Kaoru Iida, Masatoshi Kihara, Shu Ikeda, Sari Kaneko, Hitomi Karube, Rock Murakami, Shoji Omiya, and Shigeko Tanaka.

    Ow/丸(Maru="nothing"), 89 mins., premiered at Osaka 14 March 2013, rebooted March 2015 at Vancouver IFF. Screened for this review as part of the MoMA-Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series, March 2015.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2015 at 10:48 PM.

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    Nadiv Lapad: THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2014)

    NADAV LAPID: THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER (2014)


    Sarit Larry and Avi Shnaidman in The Kindergarten Teacher

    Dangerous child

    The child is dangerous for the kindergarten teacher in Nadav Lapid's second feature. She loses all restraint in the face of five-year-old Yoav Pollak's ability to compose strange gnomic "poems." She becomes envious and adoring and possessive toward the boy and his productions (drawn from the director's own childhood compositions). Lapid's first film, Policeman (NYFF 2011), was assured and powerfully staged but its separate parts didn't cohere. No such problem here, with all the focus on Sarit Larry as Nira, the teacher, and Avi Snaidman as the boy. People and events are so vivid and so over-the-top that it's hard to say if he means them to be taken literally. But he goes for a hyper-real effect from the start, shooting faces of Nira's schoolchildren in extreme closeup, and close to her. Set in Tel Aviv and the resort of Eilat to which she takes the boy when she kidnaps him, the images are bright and sunlit.

    It turns out Yoav's father is a powerful, important and busy man, and the boy is under the care of a nanny, Miri, who is also an actress. For this role Lapid has enlisted the talented Ethiopian-Jewish Israeli singer Ester Rada. Miri performs Yoav's poems for auditions, claiming them as her own. Meanwhile Nira is in a poetry class, and starts doing the same thing, turning Yoav's poems in as her compositions -- getting generally favorable responses.

    You can tell when Yoav is about to enunciate one of his compositions. He will begin pacing back and forth. Nira runs with notebook in hand to copy them down. Once she gets a longer poem from him over the phone. From time to time she takes the boy aside and once at the beach she gives him a lesson on Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic Jews. He always seems preternaturally calm and bright (Avi Shnaidman excellent in the role, natural and understated). Along the way there are scenes with a writer uncle of Yoav; with Nira's husband, an engineer with a good salary (solid and macho like the super cop in Policeman); at her writing class; and a scene of Miri emerging from the water and singing one of Yoav's poems (quite beautifully).

    Things reach the tipping point when Nira takes Yoav to an evening adult poetry performance attended by her poetry teacher and gives away her previous deception by having Yoav perform. Yoav's father has already expressed his complete lack of interest in the boy's presumed special talent -- part of the theme all along that this is an age when poetry is not appreciated. Nira seems to want Yoav treated as a genius and a national treasure; his dad wants him to grow up as a normal boy. Her unprompted use of the boy at the poetry slam leads to severe consequences and her most erratic behavior. Lapid pushes his plot into thriller territory.

    The power of Lapid's film and its ability to disturb is that it's never quite clear if poetry is a good thing (even assuming the boy's utterances are "poetry," harder still to tell relying on English subtitles) or if it is something dangerous, since it seems to be driving Nira mad. Is the film an assertion of the importance of poetry and of the arts generally -- within the context of a war- and military-obsessed nation focused on technology and machismo -- or is it presenting such things as dangerous and disruptive? One has the impression that Lapid works impressionistically, that he's an instinctive writer and not a rational one. Anyway, he has narrowed down his scope here from Policeman but produced something more troubling. Jay Weissberg in Variety calls this new film "more artificial than the helmer's debut" (certainly true) and "a cool-headed denunciation of crass contempo life," and indeed its absurd, grotesque dancing, loud disco-style music, and jingoistic chants in kindergarten surely must be taken as ironic. But if this is a defense of poetry, why does it feel so harsh and insensitive? This film is vivid but also crude. Its success seems dubious; it makes one wonder about Policeman. Nonetheless there's no doubt it's powerful, vivid work.

    The Kindergarten Teacher, 119 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2014; 8 or so festival showings since. Theatrical release in France received universal acclaim (AlloCiné press rating 4.0). Screened for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Lincoln Center and MoMA), March 2015.

    Screening at New Directors/New Films with: Why? -- Nadav Lapid, Israel, 2015, DCP, 5 mins. French and Hebrew with English subtitles. A filmmaker is asked by Cahiers du Cinéma to choose the image that made him believe in cinema. North American Premiere. [i]He depicts how he was deeply impressed by Pasolini while doing military service. US theatrical release 2015 (Kino Lorber): 31 July Film Society of Lincoln Center; and 6 Nov. 2015 at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CA.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-21-2015 at 11:01 AM.

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    Laura Citarella, Verónica Llinás: DOG LADY (2015)

    LAURA CITARELLA, VERÓNICA LLINÁS: DOG LADY/LA MUJER DE LOS PERROS (2015)


    VERÓNICA LINÁS IN DOG LADY

    Ms. Robinson Crusoe?

    In Argentinian co-director Laura Citarella and Verónica Llinás' Spanish-language (but almost wordless) film Dog Lady, actress Llinás apparently becomes her character in this observational study of a woman with eight or ten dogs living on the pampas at the edge of Buenos Aires through four seasons. She occupies a shack composed of found objects, covered with sheets of discarded plastic -- if this shows anything, it's that the world's detritus is dominated by plastic -- curled up with her friendly canines, and survives somehow on the fringes of society. Identifiable as a cousin of the protagonist of Agnès Varda’s much better and more complexly plotted Vagabond (memorably embodied by Sandrine Bonnaire), this unnamed character forages for and sometimes steals food, and candles from a church (during a service), has sex with a gaucho she may or may not know who fumbles at reading his own makeshift poetry. She goes to a hospital for an unexplained problem and is given two prescriptions that she throws away, presumably because she has no money to pay for the meds. The nurse-practitioner has advised her, amusingly, to get more exercise (we see her constantly on the go) and avoid fatty foods.

    With a pleasing, sparing bass-heavy musical soundtrack by Juana Molina and handsome, mostly unobtrusive fly-on-the wall (or dog's back) cinematography by Soledad Rodriguez, this is in its way a satisfying and atmospheric film, frequently beautiful in its general avoidance of urban mess in favor of a life in nature -- though designed only for the more patient moviegoer, for sure. But it should not go unquestioned as a vision of anybody's reality. It neither explains things about a self-sufficient existence in the wild (as Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe so elaborately does, or as Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild describes the failure of) nor does its wordless showing convince us that the co-director, camera, and backup crew aren't always there making the illusion work. This is drama that is immersive, but still not totally convincing or complete. How does she feed the dogs? Doesn't she ever talk to them? In the interest of artiness, the Dog Lady is kept wordless, and many necessary details of her existence omitted.

    Jay Weissberg's Rotterdam Festival Variety review describes this film as "an observational arthouse study from the collective El Pampero Cine (Extraordinary Stories" that's "notable for its understatement and a sterling lead turn by co-helmer Llinas (Mount Bayo)." But the understatement also means that a hundred details go unexplained that, in a realistic study of such an existence by a non-actor, would need explanation.

    Dog Lady/La mujer de los perros, 95 mins., debuted at Rotterdam. Screened for this review as part of he FSLC-MoMA series New Directors/New Films. Citarella's second directorial effort and Llinás' first. Neil Young also reviewed the film at Rotterdam for Hollywood Reporter.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-11-2015 at 07:26 AM.

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    Benjamin Crotty: FORT BUCHANAN (2014)

    BENJAMIN CROTTY: FORT BUCHANAN (2014)


    ANDY GILLET AND ILIANA ZABETH IN FORT BUCHANAN

    The woes of being a military wife, gay version

    Fort Buchanan is the feature directorial debut of an American who lives in Paris and it's a French production, marked by the idiosyncrasy French financing can make possible for small films; this one is based on a short made two years earlier. More idiosyncratic than most, in fact, this feels like a series of spirited jottings, using pretty people. How pretty they are makes up to a degree for the fact that the jottings don't evolve into a much of a story. A mood is set, of sensuosity and budding sexuality, as well as sexual frustration. And then Crotty goes off on an interesting but abrupt tangent, with a new character, and things just come to an end, with a funeral, and a new flirt from a hunky guy who had been there all along.

    The frustration is that of Roger (Andy Gillet, the porcelain beauty of Rohmer's The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (NYFF 2007), the husband left behind when his mate Frank (David Baiot) is sent off to Djbouti, in the Horn of Africa. He consults with other military brides, Justine (Mati Diop), Pauline (Pauline Jacquard), the ruby-lipped Judith Lou Lévy, the more mature expatriate American Nancy Lane Kaplan, and others who offer more experienced and sometimes ribald advice to Roger about how to deal with horniness, though he, at first, is bent on being faithful. Roxy (Iliana Zabeth of Bonello's House of Telerance, who has a Vie d'Adèle aura), Frank and Roger's buxom, overblown 18-year-old 'daughter', is a temptation for the horny ladies, who all seem gay in this "deliciously queer utopia," as a Slant reporter from Locarno, James Lattimer, calls it.

    Then when Frank is back, he gives Roger the brush-off even when Roger tries ruses suggested by Les Girls -- a new short haircut and short shorts -- and is emboldened for the first time to take the sexual lead with Frank. No dice. There is a dance sequence.

    The story from left field is that of Trevor Levy (Luc Chassell of Nicolas Klotz's experimental Low Life (R-V 2012). Chassell, who plays Trevor, has a haunting, sexy face. Someone tells his character that even when he smiles, he looks sad, and it's true. And so perhaps it's no surprise when he tells his young son he's going to California, and it's a euphemism. Trevor is seen, in (says Lattimer) one of "the oddest, most striking images in the entire film, as it wordlessly watches a solitary man in the forest" (Trevor) "climbing to the top of the tallest tree." It is indeed an odd and rather terrifying image, one of the throwaways of this very sui generis effort.

    The hunky replacement who was there from the first pugnacious scene is played by Guillaume Palin, member of a rugby team. Lattimer says Crotty's film "does stumble somewhat in the third act, briefly leaving the main characters behind as if bored by its own comparative conventionality." That's one way of putting it. Crotty throughout has a situation, not a story. With Trevor perhaps he has an interesting character. These are all sketches, done with bold strokes and the bright color of 16mm film.

    Fort Buchanan, 65 mins., debuted at Locarno. It was screened for this review as part of the 2015 iteration of the joint Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series, New Directors/New Films.
    _____________________
    Screening with: Taprobana Gabriel Abrantes, Portugal/Sri Lanka/Denmark/France, 2014, DCP, 24m. Portuguese and French with English subtitles. "A sensuous and debauched portrait of Portugal’s national poet Luís Vaz de Camões teetering on the borderline between Paradise and Hell. U.S. Premiere." A witty costume drama with beautiful baroque music. One learns who Camões is and his importance in Portuguese language and culture, thought how seriously this is to be taken is uncertain.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2015 at 11:53 PM.

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    Salomé Alexi: LINE OF CREDIT (2014)

    SALOMÉ ALEXI: LINE OF CREDIT (2014)


    NINO KASRADZE (RIGHT) IN LINE OF CREDIT

    Road to financial disaster paved with wishful thinking

    Salomé Alexi's Line of Credit is a drama of financial ruin and it tells a story, one that is both classic (it has tinges of Dostoyevsky and Chekhov) and contemporary: it refers to the 2008 financial meltdown. The film is shot in bright, flat digital imagery with interiors so stark they seem like stage sets, the dry approach perhaps influenced by the new Romanian cinema, but the artificial look undercutting the deadpan realism of the Romanian style, with touches of humor. Alexi focuses on Nico (Nino Kasradze), an attractive forty-year-old woman, formerly resident in Russia, now returned to her native Tbilisi, capital of post-Soviet Georgia, who tries to deal with her and her family's financial woes in a time of financial crisis from which there is no hopeful way out. Day after day she pawns, sells, or borrows to pay bills, help relatives, pay off debts -- and then spends money on entertaining or an expensive pocketbook, as if pretending to be well off would make the erosion of her family's economic base go away. She suffers a death by a thousand cuts that ends in ruin, and the seizure of the comfortable family house and all its contents by authorities. This happened recently to 14% of the homeowners of the country, end notes tell us, following mortgages, some of which, surely, as in the US, were bad or fraudulent ones.

    The trouble with Line of Credit is its repetitiousness. Alexi is telling a story. But does she know what a story is? As Vassilis Economo, writing from Venice, pointed out, Line of Credit deals with "a key issue," with a potentially disastrous "impact on Georgian society," but she does not "evolve her initial idea." That's to say, her protagonist just keeps doing variations of the same thing day after day. There's not much suspense or narrative drive. The story also is universal, but wastes its universality by adopting a foolish protagonist. Or if Alexi wanted to focus on her protagonist's tragic foolishness she should have made that aspect more dramatic. However, despite the stark style, Alexi does keep returning us to the post-Soviet Tblisi's rows of sleazy money lenders, pawn shops, and other exploiters of the round of debt, borrowing, and more debt that has characterized the life of the new poor.

    Her debut feature saw the light in the 2014 Venice Festival's Orizzonti series ("The new trends in world cinema"). She studied at the prestigious Paris film school La Fémis and has made her film in the Georgian language, like the Oscar-nominated Tangerines (2013), Corn Island , Brides-- indeed Google provides a whole surprising row of colorful recent film posters of Georgian films. Whether this is a wave or a style remains to be seen. See a well-informed review by Arsaib Gilbert in Letterboxed that expresses a much more positive view of this film than mine and suggests a wave may indeed be on the way. She sees a link between Alexi's dry depiction of Nino's failing day-to-day financial strategies and the sardonic humor (and whimsy?) of French-based Georgian cinematic master Otar Iosseliani's films. She notes that many of the new Georgian directors are women, and that Alexi herself is even the third in a line of female directors beginning with her grandmother, Noutsa Gogoberidze, the first female Georgian director. So whether or not Alexi's film is a complete success, her pedigree and its topicality recommend it for festival audiences.

    Line of Credit/ლიმიტი კრედიტი/Kreditis limiti, 85 mins., the first feature of Salomé Alexi, debuted at Venice in its Horizons series. Screened for this review as part of the FSLC-MoMA 2015 New Directors/New Films series.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-11-2015 at 12:07 AM.

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    Virgil Vernier: MERCURIALES (2014)

    VIRGIL VERNIER: MERCURIALES (2014)


    ANA NEBORAC, PHILIPPINE STINDE IN MERCURIALES

    Nubile young women wandering in search of . . . something

    Virgil Vernier works with interesting documentary elements and exceptional access to intimate situations to put together a sketchy fiction that ultimately does not cohere in Mercuriales, a film that starts out with a big twin tower high-rise apartment building in the Parisian suburb of Bagnolet, and fans out from there to a sex club, a mall, employment-hunting by several nubile young women, Eastern Europe and a romance that gorws out of working as receptionists at the high-rise.

    Vernier's venture into feature length is enhanced by beautifully processed 16mm images by cinematographer Jordane Chouzenoux and an original electronic score by James Ferraro. Vernier claims to have taken a cue from Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her (1967). But that was a long time ago and times have changed, and these soulless, aimless young women looking for jobs, status, and a purpose in life but showing no signs of finding them are little like the youth discovering a wealth of new possibility in the Sixies. This is a festival film for those who will find something in it. Potentially rich material fails to cohere. A disappointment, and Vernier's male fascination with nubile female bodies, even a young girl's, verges on the voyeuristic and exploitive, the more so in view of the failure to generate a meaningful narrative context.


    Mercuriales, 100 mins., was screened for this review as part of the 2015 New Directors/New Films series, jointly sponsored by the FSLC and MoMA.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-12-2015 at 07:18 AM.

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    Sarah Leonor: THE GREAT MAN (2014)

    SARAH LEONOR: THE GREAT MAN/LE GRAND HOMME (2014)


    RAMZAN IDIEV AND SURHO SUAIPOV IN THE GREAT MAN

    A wild leopard, a boy, and two fathers

    Sarah Leonor is a gifted and idiosyncratic director. This is her second film. Her first, A Real Life/Au voleur, featured the fascinating, tragically short-lived son of Gérard Depardieu, Guillaume. Here arguably she tells more of a story, one of friendship, heroism, loyalty, fatherhood, and a boy's search for his father, in the context of being an immigrant without papers. It's a richly emotional tale that's told both in a fable-like, poetic way and in the terms of a breathless thriller. Seen as part of an edition of New Directors/New Films disappointingly thin in good stories, The Great Man/Le grand homme is a tale and slice of life that offers meaty rewards. It's no harm that the terrific Jérémie Renier gives un unusually vigorous and committed performance here as the bosom Foreign Legion war buddy who becomes a surrogate father for the boy who's cut off by the crossfire of global politics, war, and bad luck.

    Jordan Mintzer reviewed the film at Toronto for Hollywood Reporter, speaking of the way it evokes memories of Claire Denis’s Beau Travail "with its stylistic flourishes and hardworking French Legionnaires," and also "Michael Haneke’s 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance with its splintered portrait of illegal aliens scraping by in the big city."

    It's hard to get one's head around the events that Leonor skillfully weaves together in her film -- sometimes in a crabwise fashion that evokes Claire Denis further. We begin with the voice-over spoken by a youth. He turns out to be the Chechen boy, Khadji (Ramzan Idiev) son of Markov (non-actor Surho Sugaipov). It is clear he is idolizing his father. The background event, almost legendary, is when Markov and his fellow Foreign Legionaire Hamilton (Jérémie Renier) are tracking a wild leopard in a desert war zone, at the end of their posting in Afghanistan. When there's an ambush, Markov saves Hamilton, but this is considered an abdication of the Legion's rigid code, which Markov later recites to Khadji. An ambush results in an abdication of duty—despite it stemming from an act of fidelity. Hamilton is sent to France for treatment, and Markov is mustered out, though both are encouraged to reenlist.

    We jump forward to France, where Hamilton is recovering from two bullet wounds and Markov finds Khadji, whom he hasn't seen for five years. Perhaps the best sequence in the film is the one where Markov, speaking first Chechan, then French, struggles to win back Khadji's trust, while the angry boy refuses to speak anything but French, as they ride a Seine Bateau Mouche. The film is shot through with the mystique of the French Foreign Legion, through which Markov, Hamilton, and eventually Khadji, share: macho idealism and hope that provides a substitute for the lost mother and homeland, presumably. If these ideas don't feel quite digested, and Renier's acting seems a bit overemphatic at times, it all fits with the film's primary loyalty to the unrealistic but passionate sensibility of the young boy who has lost, regained, and then again lost his father, and then found another. In these circumstances and with this point of view, the film can be a melodrama that's over-the-top, and yet seem perfectly right for the devastating, touching subject matter. Surho Sugaipov is touching as the Chechan father, Ramzan Idiev even more so as the boy, who quietly shoulders the film's central role. A compass, a motorcycle, a deluxe hotel, train rides, a tent, and trips inside and outside Paris are skillfully used to build up the boy's picture of events and the 24 hours of urban thriller that are the film's key third act.

    The Great Man/Le grand homme, 107 mins., opened in Paris 13 August 2014 to very favorable reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.4). It debuted at Toronto's Discovery section in September 2014. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 FSLC-MoMA series, New Directors/New Films. A Distrib Films release.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2015 at 11:47 AM.

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    Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy: THE TRIBE (2014)

    MYROSLAV SLABOSHPYTSKIY: THE TRIBE (2014)


    Yana Novikova and Grigory Fesenko in The Tribe

    School of hard knocks for the deaf seen in gestural tableaux

    Those looking for movie novelty will certainly find it in Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy'snew Ukrainian film The Tribe, a hit at Cannes 2014 and with festival reviewers. The initial gimmick, and it's a strange and original one, is that all communication in the film takes place between predominantly young deaf people presumed to be at a boarding school who speak only in sign language. In Ukrainian. And there are no subtitles provided. I say "presumed," because this is like no boarding school you've ever seen, not even the borstals of Alan Clarke's realistic films. After a new boy Sergey (Grigory Fesenko) arrives following some sort of (silent) graduation ceremony, he's sent to a class where the government's pre-Maidan anti-EU decision seems to come up. After that, Sergey is not seen in a class. He's much too busy being hazed and tested; then being involved in the school's drug and prostitution activities, which seem to involve a wood shop teacher (Alexander Panivan), and two girls, Anya (Yana Novikova) and Svetka (Rosa Babiy), who are taken to work at a truck stop. Sergey pays for a session with Anya, and then they become lovers. The girls seek visas to Italy, which becomes complicated. The plot gets quite complicated after that, in a series of events leading up to a violent finale.

    Writers about this film have called its events "shocking" and "vivid," and perhaps they are if taken literally, notably a series of brutal murders and, before that, a crude anesthetic-free abortion suffered by Anya, during which she cries out long and pitifully in pain -- an ugly moment all the more striking because the actors rarely make sounds in this film. The trouble is that the young deaf non-actors enlisted by Slaboshpytskiy for the film's scenes, who are enthusiastic, to say the least, seem to be miming rather than literally enacting events. The sex scenes are obviously faked. The other scenes are much the same, except that the boys do hit each other pretty hard at times when acting out fights or physical abuse. But they seem to be exaggerating everything, and sign language seems itself to involve much over-emphatic gesturing.

    It is not that such activities as these couldn't take place in a school; only the film fails to establish and maintain the atmosphere of a functioning school, focusing on the sex and moving of drugs (a lot of plastic bags stuffed with littler bags), the mugging of locals for money and booze, the beating up of one or two boys, and Sergey's quick ascent from newbie nobody to functioning unit in the "school's" bad behavior. These events often happen at night. But when does the school happen?

    It therefore ultimately seems a stretch to call this a school, because it is only partially established as one. But it likewise seems a bit over-imaginative to refer to what goes on here, as Justin Chang, writing from Cannes for Variety, does, as "a violent cesspool of organized crime." It's just not realistically enough staged to seem that. One of the key elements, and a serious limitation, is that Slaboshpytskiy stages his action in the middle distance, without closeups. He doesn't get close to his actors, or delineate his characters. Images that appear sensuous and beautiful in stills never emerge as such in the actual film. This puts us at a further emotional distance from events that we're already cut off from us due to never understanding any of the things that are said. To argue that "actions speak louder than words" or say this returns us to the power of silent film is to forget that silent film (which did have title cards) was deeply emotional but simpler and cruder than sound, and things are being said in every scene here that the filmmaker's stylized choice makes mute for us. Chang is surely right in saying The Tribe would be "a significant conversation-piece at every festival it plays," but that leaves in doubt how these two hours and twelve minutes of Ukrainian sign language without subtitles will play for the larger art house audience, and whether ultimately this will seem anything other than a vivid curio.

    The idea of The Tribe stimulated the imagination. The film itself proved to be the biggest disappointment of the March 2015 New Directors/New Films series.

    The Tribe/Plemya племя), 132 mins., debuted at Cannes 2014 winning the Critics Week prize. It opened in Paris in October to good reviews but with some strong dissenters (AlloCiné press rating 3.5). Set for US theaters as a Drafthouse Films release.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-17-2015 at 10:51 PM.

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    Stevan Riley: LISTEN TO ME MARLON (2015)

    STEVAN RILEY: LISTEN TO ME MARLON (2015)




    Well rounded but not ground-breaking documentary portrait of Marlon Brando

    Making use of all sorts of conventional documentary material, Listen Up Marlon has so much archival footage, including interviews, and newly unearthed tapes Brando made extensively for himself, it has no need for the boring convention of talking heads. It is as well-rounded, complex, and fair a portrait as he might have wanted. It's just a shame that it feels so conventional in some aspects, worst of which is the use of loud and ordinary background music in a hundred places where it is not needed, or should be downplayed.

    Riley incorporates all kinds of previously unseen errata, including behind the scenes, promotional, and TV appearance videos, home movies, early snapshots, and other personal memorabilia to fill out a portrait of the man and artist. There are news reports and tabloid headlines about the more scandalous and unfavorable moments of Brando's life.

    But most of all there is a portrait of the fabulous but uneven career, and of the difficult and troubled personality, with explanations of the early family history that explains why Brando was troubled, angry, untrusting, a bad father, unable to love and, in his own words, seeking love "in all the wrong places," because he was never loved by his alcoholic and unavailable mother and alcoholic and abusive father -- who sent him off to military school.

    There are beautiful clips of Brando's films, and first of all of his performance, which looks like the greatest of his career (as well as the one that made him famous) as Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire on stage. The good and the bad are here: not only the famous lines from On the Waterfront (the Oscar-winning role he later thought embarrassing), The Godfather, and so forth, but also bad, cheap, or failed projects like the Chaplin-directed The Countess from Hong Kong.

    When you watch Brando's onstage Kowalski, which he says made him feel "like a million dollars" every night, but also took an immense amount out of him, following the principles form his teacher (whom he moved in with) Stella Adler of the New School -- you see the hunkiest, sexiest, most vibrant, most exciting, most astonishing actor ever on a 20th-century American stage. You understand why Brando was called "the greatest actor of his generation," though this is an estimation the bright, self-conscious, initially very shy Brando always dismissed or dodged.

    When you see Brando's first Hollywood screen test, when he simply smiles and turns around showing all angles of his head to the camera, he looks like Warren Beatty, and more. He had that kind of irresistible handsomeness, that beauty, that charm, that sex appeal, that glittering smile. When he was young, he had it all.

    When you see him talking to Dick Cavett, you realize Brando's intelligence, how articulate he could be, what a good vocabulary he had, and how angry he was. And you gradually learn the focus of his anger, doubtless inspired by the meanness of his father and the lovelessness of his childhood, on political injustice in America, and notably on the mistreatment of Native Americans, signaled when he "very regretfully" turned down the Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, sending the Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather to do so, protesting Hollywood's portrayal of Native Americans in film.

    Riley's documentary is successful particularly in its organization and its arc. (It is a work of skillful compilation, not innovation.) It interrelates Brando's acting career and his complicated, troubled personality, and it shows the up, down, and up of his career. It shows how his early poor self-image connects with his frequent deprecating of the acting profession (but also his acknowledgment that acting was the best thing he could ever have done: he said his becoming an actor was a stroke of luck, and if he'd not been an actor he'd have become a con man). Best of all while redeeming the character of the man through a fair depiction of his political activism -- despite his poor performance as a father and troubled family life -- the documentary also shows how Brando redeemed his acting career after a period of trashing it with bad, commercial films and indifferent roles, with the brilliant, rich, and career-capping roles of the Godfather films, Last Tango in Paris, and Apocalypse Now. The genesis of Brando's performances in each of these films is well shown in Brando's own words. Coppola doesn't come through well here, since he's depicted as blaming Brando for production problems of Apocalypse Now that were his own fault, and Brando says he rewrote the entire script.

    Listen to Me Marlon (the title comes from a self-hypnosis tape Brando made to calm himself) was reviewed at Sundance for Variety by Dennis Harvey and in Hollywood Reporter by Todd McCarthy. They point out what is new or notable in the footage here. McCarthy points out that shots of the interior of Brando's demolished Mulholland Drive house are false, studio recreations, but perhaps, he suggests, "the only things 'false' here."

    In the end, given the impressive (if in style conventional) coverage of Brando's complex and important career, the "new" element of the private Brando tapes (not to mention the digitalized face of Brando speaking some of these taped words) comes across as the least important element, adding not so much that is substantial and also, incidentally, marred by poor sound quality that makes some words difficult to distinguish. However, for the record, Todd McCarthy summarizes: "What comes across is a man with identifiable and specific psychological issues, which, thanks to both extensive psychotherapy and even self-hypnosis, he was able to articulate better than anyone else could. Yet he was never able to conquer other demons and baggage." We know that, but this film is as impressive a review of the great career and complex man as you could get in 100 minutes.

    Listen to me Marlon, 100 mins., debuted at Sundance 2015. Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art series, New Directors/New Films. A Showtime presentation. Not exactly clear why this needed to be included in the "New Directors" series: Rilen has done four previous documentaries, and the material here is not new or presented in an innovative way. Theatrical release by Abramorama begins 29 and 31 July (NYC and LA), opening in the San Francisco Bay area 9 August at Landmark’s Opera Plaza Cinemas in San Francisco, Landmark's Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley, Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, and Camera 3 in San Jose.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-10-2015 at 06:24 PM.

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