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Thread: New York Film Festival 2015

  1. #16
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    NO HOME MOVIE (115m) - Chantal Ackerman 2015)

    CHANTAL ACKERMAN: NO HOME MOVIE (2015)


    CHANTAL ACKERMAN'S MOTHER NATALIA IN NO HOME MOVIE


    Economy or emptiness?

    When one considers that the topic of this film, Chantal Ackerman's mother Natalia, nearing the end of her life, is at the center of her large multi-media body of work, it is disappointing to find ourselves spending most of nearly two hours looking at the interior of a comfortable Brussels apartment. Occasionally here are brief conversations between Chantal and her mother, in person and by Skype. The Skype ones are the worst, but also are a touching indication of how interactions with the elderly can be reduced to repetitious platitudes when both speakers would rather be saying important, significant things.

    Ackerman's mother was a Polish survivor of Auschwitz who married and started a family in Brussels. The filmmaker follows her usual observational style, which means that the camera sits there. Sometimes people move, and sometimes they don't. Several long interludes of the camera sitting there watching a windy desert landscape are not explained. They may be taken as an objective correlative of her mother's hard early life. What we learn explicitly from conversation about Ackerman's mother is basic.

    Taking a hint from Peter Debruge's Locarno review for Variety, we can say this film makes frequent references to her, Chantal's, own rootlessness, while at the same time reaffirming her closeness to her mother, and incidentally Natalia's closeness to her own mother. Debruge says (but this film does not explicitly state) that Chantal no longer considers Brussels her home; and at one point she is Skyping Natalia from Oklahoma.

    It reminds me of my other father in his last days that Natalia at one point says Chantal never talks to her about the interesting things she is doing. Indeed Chantal seems confined to simplistic "interview" type questions and affectionate banalities. This, the material of family footage everywhere, is touching but not interesting.

    What of the title? It may be in a similar category with Panahi's This Is Not a Film. This film may be "formally demanding" (Debruge), but it is pretty much a home movie, if by a famous avant-gardist filmmaker studiously eschewing charm or conventional polish. But Debruge reports that this film "was booed by some at its press screening in Locarno, where critics fully expect the lineup to test their limits."

    No Home Movie, 115 mins., debuted 10 August 2015 at Locarno; also shown at Toronto, and at the New York Film Festival; it was screened as part of the latter for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-24-2015 at 09:14 PM.

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    DON’T BLINK - ROBERT FRANK (Laura Israel 2015)

    LAURA ISRAEL: DON’T BLINK - ROBERT FRANK (2015)


    ROBERT FRANK IN DON'T BLINK - ROBERT FRANK

    A worthy and vibrant tribute, if not a full portrait

    An entertaining tribute, more than a documentary, by someone who for the past 25 years has worked for Robert Frank on his films, but decided to turn the camera on him. The center of the film is a running recent interview with Frank himself, today, shot by cinematographer Ed Lachman, who also occasionally appears. At 90, the man clearly still has the vigor and iconoclasm.

    The anchor and establishment of his career is Frank's seminal collection of 35 mm. black and white photos of America published as the book Les Américains/The Americans 1958. The photos were shot on a nine-month, 10,000-mile trip around the country by the Zurich-born Frank while on a Guggenheim Foundation grant. He chose 83 out of 28,000 shots he made. The book, whose importance is hard to overstate, forever changed the way we see the country and the way photographers framed its people and places. But originally it was badly received, seen as negative, ugly, and over-critical. In fact Frank says he loved America. And this Swiss-born artist stayed and became his own kind of emphatic American. The film shows a vintage print of one of the most famous photos from The Americans, of people in the windows of a bus, being sold at auction for $500,000. This remains probably the most influential photography book of the twentieth century.

    Frank's book had an introduction by Jack Kerouac, and he associated with the Beats, and led a bohemian life. Though he was hired by Vanity Fair, Frank ultimately chose not to continue working primarily as a still photographer as did other similar influential practitioners of the art, like Cartier Bresson, Lee Friedlander, or Gary Winogrand, instead turning to short films that have not been much seen, though the names of some, like Pull My Daisy and the never released Cocksucker Blues, are famous. He also went to live with his long-time second wife in a primitive house in Nova Scotia.

    Frank lived in a messy, wild, bohemian style all his life, and Israel captures the messy, wild, bohemian quality of that life and the work in this film, which is loud, fast moving, and a compendium of many of the enormous number of things that Frank has done and lived through, including the sad early deaths of his two children by his first wife, Mary Frank. An anchor to the film consists of moments from an earlier interview (from the Eighties?) by someone not very perceptive, whose conventional questions Frank scorns. This marks him as not only an iconoclast but one who despite his geniality does not suffer fools gladly.

    In a Q&A for Don't Blink's 2015 New York Film Festival premiere, director Israel admitted she made some of that interviewer's mistakes at first while working on this editing-intensive film -- whose black and white images, fortunately, have a voluptuous richness starting with those wonderful The Americans photos. She thought after so many years of working with Robert Frank that she she knew enough about him, but realized in time that there were many subjects she needed to brush up on. (Naturally, since his life spanned so many more years than hers.) This film, which amounts to a whirlwind tour of Frank's life and work, is strong in its depiction of short films on which she has collaborated with him.

    You could do a documentary just on The Americans. And it's always debatable, despite the richness of Robert Frank's life, whether anything else he has done matters by comparison. Ever since I saw Frank's rough-hewn 37-minute film The Sin of Jesus at a Cinema 16 presentation in New York in 1961 I have wished he'd stuck to still photography and felt in some sense that he has thrown his life away. He has certainly done so with vigor, and while involved with a great many interesting and famous people. Israel's film captures the style of the man with appropriate images, sound, and editing rhythms, but at the cost of not filling us in on all the facts.

    Don't Blink, 80 mins., is a new film making its debut at the 53rd New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it was screened 23 Sept. 2015 for this review.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-05-2016 at 08:49 PM.

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    THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (120m) - Guy Madden & Evan Johnson

    GUY MADDEN, EVAN JOHNSON: THE FORBIDDEN ROOM (2015)


    STILL FROM THE FORBIDDEN ROOM

    An impressive display for its own sake of what Madden does best, rich and idiosyncratic pastiches on silent film

    It begins with a submarine crew trapped under water, then shifts to a a lumberjack looking for companionship and a lost lady. Then scenes and characters multiply with jaw-dropping frequency for the rest of over two hours. According to Madden in the 2015 NYFF P&I Q&A, there are 17 story lines explored (or initiated) in his new film, The Forbidden Room. These are not simply "the entirety of Maddin’s oeuvre collapsing in on itself," as Jordan Hoffman said in the Guardian's Sundance review, but evocations of Saturday short serial films of the early days of movies. As the Winnepeg, Ontario native and art film celebrity's Wikipedia bio points out at its outset, his "most distinctive quality is his penchant for recreating the look and style of silent or early-sound-era films." The Forbidden Room, however virtuoso it may be in new digital processing and editing techniques (in part due no doubt to Madden's young collaborator Evan Johnson), is above all a triumph of silent film pastiche, with color (in lurid tints) and sound (in booming rich musical rumble) added in the Canadian's inexhaustible sui generis manner. Part of this is flickering image, shifting light, a crafted, distressed-film texture to every shot. Despite constant shifts of narrative and introduction of new characters (with relentless, but structurally helpful, silent-film-style on-screen titles giving their name and the actor's), The Forbidden Room is above all wonderfully unified in look and style. Madden may have only a small coterie of true fans, but it has grown to fit an international celebrity, and the work, even to a jaundiced eye, is that of a master of what he does at the top of his form.

    Madden explained in that Q&A that the majority of the initial work on the film was done in Paris on small artificial and claustrophobic sets at two locations, including the Musée Ponpidou, where ostensibly he was presenting installations, but he was also shooting digital film. (The Wikipedia bio also notes, "A number of Maddin's recent films began as or developed from installation art projects.") The French locale explains some of the cameos, like Adèle Haenel, Charlotte Rampling, Jacques Nolot, Matthieu Almaric, Jean-François Stévenin, Marie Brassard, Geraldine Chaplin, Maria de Medeiros, Victor Andres Turgeon-Trelles, et al. -- though there are native English speakers as well, and legendary cult electro-pop duo Sparks, and muses Louis Negin and Udo Kier, and more. Each cast member, whether cameo celebrity or beautiful unknown (and there is no shortage of attractive young men) has a role to play and and often a new narrative to introduce. The collection of stories-within-stories is bookended with a boisterous disquisition on "the bath" drawn from a poem by John Ashbery.

    The NYFF press screening was populated with its share of fans: giggles and whoops of glee could be heart at the film's humorous bits. Non-fans like myself, less charmed by the quirky humor, could find the footage hard going at times. The rule for the performances seemed to be simply: whatever you do, overact. And the imagination, like the humor, seemed to be that of an imaginative and bookish (in old-fashioned child lit) small boy. I wish the magnificent "look" could have been put to the service of a single involving, coherent action, like a regular feature film. How silly I am. But Madden has done that more in some other films, though none perhaps has looked so colorful and flickeringly rich-textured as this one. An admirer in the screening audience expressed surprise to me that a filmmaker as offbeat and limited appeal as Madden had now become so famous. But he is a virtuoso. (My least favorite Madden film: The Saddest Music in the World. My favorite, to me the most accessible: My Winnepeg.)

    The Forbidden Room, 120 mins, debuted at Sundance Jan. 2015; nearly two dozen festival showings, US premiere 28 September 2015, at the NYFF, where it was screened for this review. A Kino Lorber release. US theatrical release begins 17 October NYC (Film Forum).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-16-2015 at 07:09 AM.

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    MIA MADRE (Nanni Moretti 2015)

    NANNI MORETTI: MIA MADRE (2015)


    NANNI MORETTI AND MARGHERITA BUY IN MIA MADRE

    'Son's Room' director Nanni Moretti approaches death in the family again, with more mixed results

    Moretti dealt with the loss of a son in the gut-wrenching 2001 film The Son's Room/La stanza del figlio, which was showered with awards, including the Palme d'Or and FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes. Inspired by the loss of his own mother, a Latin teacher like Ada here, mortally ill in hospital, affectingly played by stage actress Giulia Lazzarini, Moretti has approached the death of a mother in a more crabwise fashion, though Brechtian effects do not keep out the sentimentality, for this would seem an exercise in what Manohla Dargis in a Times NYFF preview calls "tear-soaked comedy." As Dargis also says, Moretti has (always had) "a habit of crossing the line from pathos to bathos." Distractions are provided in the form of a pair of quite different adult siblings, with Margherita Buy as Margherita, Giovanni's (Moretti's) film-director sister, and with the film she's making, on an unrelated subject, a factory strike -- and above all with the major distraction, which arguably may bring down the movie or pull it out of whack -- an uncontrollable, badly miscast American actor played by John Turturro brought in to play a new factory administrator in the strike movie.

    Make no mistake, Mia madre/My Mother (nothing indirect about the title, either) has its share of sentimental moments eventually, like the scene where Margherita's teenage daughter Livia (Beatrice Mancini) sobs uncontrollably and pulls the covers over her head in bed, or (most touching to me) the former student who turns up unknowing when Ada has just died at home and recounts how she was a touchstone and inspiration to him and someone he visited whenever he was in town -- and so on: the tributes and memories are economically and touchingly sketched in at the end.

    How death derails a family -- the focus of the whole second half of The Son's Room -- is depicted here before it happens, while Ada lies in hospital and Margherita and Giovanni are still struggling to get their heads around the fact that she is not long for this world. Giovanni gets it, or would appear to: he's the one who points out the hard facts to Margherita. But on the other hand, it also derails Giovanni: he can't cope with his job, at least, has taken a leave of absence, and tells his boss (the nature of the work left vague) that he is resigning for good. As for Margherita, her behavior on set is consistently peculiar.

    I have a couple of reservations about this film. Margherita's derailment is indicated by not only her odd manner while working with cast and crew, but also by a series of real-seeming nightmares she has. The trouble with them is that it becomes hard to separate reality from confused daymare -- which blends with Ada's growing confusion, the latter not necessarily senility. She has at least one sane Latin lesson with Livia after she returns home. It's just what being in a hospital does to an older person (and I saw this in my own very sane mother).

    But the derailment of the film and film-within-film is Barry Huggins (John Turturro). True, this is intended. And Turturro (but why should this obviously Italian-American actor be given an Anglo name?) performs his function as disruptor of the film with panache. Though he understands and speaks Italian, he has enormous trouble remembering his lines of Italian dialogue for the film. Every time he has a scene to do he comically, but also annoyingly, makes a complete mess of things. And he is arrogant, ultimately declaring his lines shit, the screenplay shit, and the movie shit (after declaring Margherita "a great director"). Barry is a disaster. And meant to be. But the absurdity of this character walks away with the film and sits ill with its topic of adjusting to the decline and death of a parent. I was never sure if Turturro was playing a bad actor or just is one, and by the end I leaned toward the latter. There is no subtlety in his performance.

    Furthermore, let us note that although Lazzarini is fine and the most real person in Mia Madre and her scenes are affecting, the film slights Ada's point of view. You may want to shake Margherita and tell her to get over herself. Her confusion and daymares are also a kind of self-dramatization that seems unbecoming. When interviewed Moretti has said that he's more Margherita than her brother; that Giovanni is the wise and grownup person he'd like to be but is not.

    The greatest contrast one could think of is Michael Haneke's Amour. Doesn't Haneke play it more or less straight? And could any film about the death of an elderly loved one be more real, true, and tough-minded? Mia Madre is an interesting film in its way, but however original and inventive can't touch Amour or the authentic feeling of The Son's Room. As Jay Weissberg says in his Variety review, "Moretti’s exploration of loss is unquestionably affecting, and My Mother has powerful moments, yet they’re not always well integrated with the broadly pitched moviemaking scenes, featuring a caricaturish John Turturro."

    Mia Madre, (My Mother), 106 mins., debuted in Italy 16 April 2015, and at Cannes 16 May, winning the prize of the Ecumenical Jury and subsequently a raft of Davide di Donatello awards in Italy. Showing 27 Sept. in the NYFF, where it was screened for this review. An Alchemy release. U.S. Premiere. French release set for 2 December 2015. (It received raves, AlloCiné press rating 4.4.)

    US theatrical release by Music Box Films was 19 August 2016, now NY and LA 26 Aug.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-22-2016 at 12:38 PM.

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    THE WALK (Robert Zemeckis 2015)

    ROBERT ZEMECKIS: THE WALK (2015)


    Image from The Walk

    High above Seventies NYC on a wire -- a time when CGI and 3D make perfect sense

    It happened early in the morning of 7 August 1974. Philippe Petit, the French high wire performer, then just short of his twenty-fifth birthday, appearing out of nowhere in lower Manhattan atop the highest buildings in the city of New York, carried out the greatest exploit of his career. Working with accomplices, he secretly strung a wire between corners of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, then barely completed, and astonished the world by walking back and forth gently and playfully between them, eight passes, in the stratosphere, an act of sublime beauty and insane boldness. This was done illegally. He did not have a permit, and had he applied he wold never have got one. It was a bold and secret operation. It was also a dazzling performance, a work of art, a reaching for the infinite and the void and a defiance of death.

    It is astonishing and thrilling to contemplate this exploit. James Marsh's wonderful 2008 documentary Man on Wire allows us to do that and explores how Petit did it in the greatest detail, filling us in on his life, his training, the long planning and practice, his collaborators, and his loves and the materials used, how they were spirited into the building and up to the rooftops -- all of that is in Marsh's film. Why should Zemeckis want to make a feature film about it? Two reasons, basically: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and 3D (plus CGI). Joe is a bold and confident young actor (not as young as Petit was, but that's okay) -- bold enough to speak French convincingly in the film and narrate it all through standing on the Statue of Liberty's torch (working from Petit's memoir, To Reach the Clouds) with a plausible fake French accent, which is pretty much a tightrope act in itself. He carries it off. He looks and sounds convincing. And he does the high wire walking, or a lot of it, himself, and beautifully.

    The thing that Marsh's fine documentary could not do is show "The Walk" in motion from above. There is no actual film footage of Petit's "coup," only stills. Zemeckis provides us with a dazzling bird's eye view of Petit walking on the wire with the city below -- in 3D. I've never been a fan of 3D. But when we get to the spectacular shots of the wire, the man, the Towers, and the city below recreated in CGI, this format makes sense and greatly enhances what is most essential, the sense of space the breathtaking, scrotum- tightening excitement of The Walk -- or as Petit calls it, "the coup," as elegantly depicted in the film. This is a movie making a wild dream come true, and Zemeckis' use of current film technology simply realizes the dream.

    Along the way, there are good performances and much Seventies atmosphere through recreated New York cityscape, men's hairstyles and clothes. Notable among the subsidiary performances are Ben Kingsley as Papa Rudy, the tight-rope mentor, and Charlotte Le Bon as Annie, Petit's girlfriend and collaborator of the time who, however, went back to France when the exploit was over and Petit decided to remain in New York. Gordon-Levitt begins the film (after a sequence of young Philippe played by Soleyman Pierini) showing Petit's life as a juggler and street performer in Paris who made international news by tightrope-walking across the towers of Notre Dame. But the overriding topic is the Twin Towers walk. Don't expect more. It should be enough. (See Debruge's Variety review for details of the accomplices and the actors who play them. Debruge feels the iMax film slights details in the wire-to-ground shots. I was looking at the space, and did not care.)

    Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is now thirty-four, looks like a little guy, not a leading man, but since his childhood in Los Angeles he has had an astonishing and slowly growing career that exhibits originality, taste and panache, running from TV and A River Runs Through It as a child actor, Angels in the Outfield and 10 Things I Hate About You, playing Tommy in the TV series "3rd Rock from the Sun" and taking a break to attend Columbia University (when he went up in the Twin Towers). Joe's been one to watch, always with interesting choices and various films like 500 Days of Summer, Inception, Hesher, 50/50, Premium Rush, The Dark Knight Rises, Brick, Looper, The Lookout, Manic, Lincoln, Mysterious Skin and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra -- roles notable for boldness and variety. And a couple years ago, Joe wrote, directed, and starred in his own first film, Don Jon. Next he will be seen as the star of a film about Edward Snowden -- another kind of rule-breaking maverick -- by Oliver Stone. Joe has earned the right to play a true original like Philippe Petit and he owns this role.

    The Walk, 124 mins., 3D, premiered at the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. It was the festival's opening night film, presented Saturday, 26 Sept. 2015 (delayed by one day from the original starting date of the 25th due to Pope Francis' New York visit). Also in Rome and Tokyo festivals according to Debruge. It opens in NYC theaters at three locations beginning Wed., 30 Sept. A Sony Pictures release. See P&I Q&I here.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-29-2015 at 05:08 PM.

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    THE LOBSTER (Yorgos Lanthimos 2015)

    YORGOS LANTHIMOS: THE LOBSTER(2015)


    COLIN FARRELL AND RACHEL WEISZ IN THE LOBSTER

    Hell is being forced to mate, say they

    Greek cinematic provocateur Yorgos Lanthimos delivers his third collaboration with friend and co-writer Efthymis Filippou in The Lobster. It is a funny but also very, very cruel satire on the way society puts pressure on people to live in couples. But does it? Don't they want to live in couples? What's the point, really? Anyway, Lanthemos and Filippou take a premise and then play with it. In their future world those who lack or have lost a mate are sent by The City to The Hotel, really a kind of minimum security prison, where they live under strict rules. Above all they have 45 days to find a mate, and if they fail, are turned into the animal of their choice and cast out into The Woods to survive or be killed. Protagonist David (a paunchy Colin Farrell), sent to The Hotel to find a new mate as a result of a recent divorce, chooses that if he must be turned he will be a lobster because they live 100 years and remain fertile life-long.

    From the beginning, when we follow a lady we never see again on a car ride to a field where she shoots a horse, The Lobster is strange, disquieting, and chillingly sure of itself. Somehow Lanthimos seems working with a broader palette here than in Dogtooth or Alps (also done with Filippou), and due, some think, to acquire a wider audience as his austere festival rep grows, and given that this time he's working in English (with a bit of French) and has gathered a name-actor cast (including Léa Seydoux and Rachel Weisz).

    Because it's a Hotel whose rules are enigmatic and a film that is artificial I was reminded of Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad. The Lobster is similarly arid -- but without the haunting, rhythmic elegance, of course. In fact this comparison was grasping at straws, because Marienbad is a dreamlike Neverland one might in some fantasy like being lost in, but The City, The Hotel, and The Wood are Orwellian Hells. Or, as Guy Lodge more positively puts it in his Variety review, Lanthimos "takes his ongoing fascination with artificially constructed community to its dizziest, most Buñuelian extreme to date" with The Lobster. Ah yes, Buñuel.

    Coupling doesn't seem to happen very often at The Hotel and in two examples we see, they're on desperate false pretenses. Ben Whishaw tries to fake habitual nosebleeds to connect with a young woman with this ailment. David pretends to be completely without emotion to link up with a woman who's utterly cold, but she uncovers his pretense through a deeply nasty gesture. Don't critics who praise this film's sardonic wit not see how profoundly repellent it is?

    This is a conceptual game whose crude absurdities indeed are, at first, amusing -- the fact that most people chose to be turned into dogs, for instance. David has arrived with one, which turns out to be his (former) brother. Likewise oddly droll is the fact that couples can only pair off if they share a common fault, like a limp (Ben Whishaw) or a lisp (John C. Reilly), or a lack of any feeling, or a tendency to nosebleeds. Sex is referred to crudely, masturbation forbidden. Preposterously, female Hotel employes come to rooms to fellate "guests" like David with their buttocks.

    "Guests" are sent out every day to The Wood with rifles to kill escapees from this system who're called Loners and are led by a stony-faced Léa Seydoux. Loners can't mate or love, but they can have conversations. Living as a Loner in The Wood is the only alternative to coupling or being turned to an animal. David winds up out there and falls in love with Rachel Weisz. The ending is, after all, an abandonment of cold-hearted rule-making in favor of desperate love, and perhaps a last-minute effort to make up for all the preceding nastiness.

    I found the world of The Lobster even more off-putting than those of Lanthimos' two previous films. But devotees of puzzle-pictures may enjoy re-watching and pondering the film's many enigmatic incidents whose meanings may grow in retrospect. My feeling is that Filippou and Lanthimos' construction is something they made up as they went along, and internal consistency and overall logic take second place to playful provocation.

    The Lobster, 118 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes May 2015 and included in many other international festivals since. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival. Coming to US theaters as an Alchemy release.

    A24 is releasing the film in the US starting May 13, 2016.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-26-2016 at 08:12 PM.

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    MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART (131m) - (Jia Zhangke 2015)


    ZHANG YI AND SHAO TAO IN MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART

    Lost generation - or lost touch?

    Continuing his preoccupation with changes in modern China, which he delineated so richly in Platform, Unknown Pleasures, The World and Still Life, Jia Zhangke divides his new feature Mountains May Depart into segments set in 1999, 2014, and 2025, advancing toward a dystopian future where spoiled Chinese sons (represented in (represented in Dollar, played by the interesting but somewhat marooned Dong Zijian) can only communicate with their fathers through an interpreter and electronic devices have alienated people who once were alive to each other in the old fashioned ways before the Internet and cell phones came. A long-contemplated project (like other Jia works) this contains saved video footage of discos leading to three different, progressively larger but more alienating, aspect ratios.

    The idea of it is fascinating and the explanation given by Jia in interviews (at the New York Film Festival Q&A's, with an superb interpreter who never dropped a nuance) absolutely clear. But the fact of the film itself is less exciting filmmaking than his individually rich and dense, if overall patchy, previous film A Touch of Sin (NYFF 2013)

    To begin with it is obviously schematic to give Shen Tao (Zhao Tao) two contrasting suitors, a rich entrepreneur (Zhang - Zhang Yi) and an honest man of the people (doomed Liangzi - Liang Jin Dong, who goes far away and gets lung disease working in deplorable conditions). The segment about Liangzi seems tacked on and sentimental, everything about Zhang overblown and crude. Then, what can he be getting at in giving the grown up son of divorced Zhang and Shen Tao, Dollar (Dong Ziian, an interesting actor but marooned here) a lover old enough to be his mother? And can we really believe that in the fifteen years from age seven to age twenty-two, living in Australia, he could have completely forgotten how to speak Mandarin, and require Mia (Sylvia Chang), his teacher-girlfriend, as interpreter to communicate with his own father? For that matter what has his father been doing in Australia all this time if he has not learned the basics of English? The final Dollar sequence seems like a bold and crude B-picture.

    The early scenes between Shen Tao, Zhang and Lianzi, in square format and bright color to signify a simpler, pre-Internet pre-handheld device, pre-mega-capitalist China and to fit with Jia's earliest saved disco videos, read like silent film, but without any real beauty. Jia appears to have forgotten how to convey the rich kitsch of transitional China as he did in Pickpocket, Platform, and Unknown Pleasures and, as perhaps The World showed, his concept of how things are now may be a bit artificial -- because different eras coexist in "real life," and things aren't so schematic as he now wants to make them. Highly developed concepts and ideas are getting in the way of the the filmmaker's native instincts.

    In the interesting Q&A at Lincoln Center after the press screening, Jia explained that he did a lot of interviews in different countries as a basis for this film. But can life be made up out of interviews?

    Mountains May Depart/Shan he gu ren/山河故人, 131 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-29-2015 at 07:52 AM.

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    CAROL (Todd Haynes 2015)

    TODD HAYNES: CAROL (2015)


    ROONEY MARA IN CAROL

    Glamorous prison of conventionality

    Carol, Todd Haynes' adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's early novel The Price of Salt, is a swoon. Despite its edge of late Forties-early Fifties homophobia and otherwise rigid convention, the movie is rapturously beautiful, beginning with Highsmiith's declared inspiration, a glamorous blonde lady in a fur coat appearing in a department store just before Christmas who meets a young clerk and they fall in love. Cate Blanchett appears to Rooney Mara like a dream. She has a slightly fuzzy glow about her like old Hollywood publicity portraits. Haynes revels in period costume, set, and those invaluable vintage cars. (It looks as if everybody drives a Packard, a Cadillac, or a Hudson.) You need to fall right away under the aesthetic spell of the movie's lovely images (they are a combination of splendid mise-en-scène and the Super-16 film magic of Ed Lachman). If you don't, watching Carol will be no fun at all. It will be like plodding through marshmallow, or honey. It is appropriate that in the story Carol's young beloved is an aspiring photographer. We are aware of photographic images from first to last. There are some hazy street images that could have been the early color work of Saul Leiter.

    When Carol and Therese run away together to motels like Lolita and Humbert Humbert one is reminded of the Italian countess cited by Salvador Dalí in his Secret Life eating ice cream, when it had first been invented, who declared that if only it were a sin it would be perfect. Carol (Blanchett) loses custody of her little girl because Harge (Kyle Chandler) proves she is involved in unnatural behavior. This is a time when same-sex relations were shrouded in mystery and unknowing and also had the dangerous excitement of being forbidden. Gay artists may be occasionally allowed the wicked nostalgia of reveling in that lost naughtiness. This is not the dangerous transgression of Brokeback Mountain but a rich lady and an essentially unattached young woman (her tie to boyfriend Jake Lacy is frangible) in the sophisticated world of New York city.

    Let us qualify the statement that Carol was Highsmith's first novel by pointing out that it was published at first under the pseudonym Claire Morgan. It is also not like most of her other fiction, which generally concerns evildoing. But then, remember the countess. At this time, the love of Carol and Therese could be seen as a crime, and they are being followed by a detective, from whom they escape after he catches up with them, like something Tom Ripley would do. But it's not easy or necessary to connect this novel to Highsmith's other work. The connection is that Highsmith herself was a lesbian, and she was working in a department store like Therese when a woman in a fur coat came in, and she ran home and wrote out the scheme of the novel. For the way the rich lady's husband uses her lesbianism to skew the divorce in his favor Highsmoth drew on the experiences of her own former love, a Philadelphia socialite.

    And voilà! You have the very simple setup on which an elaborate and wonderful edifice of teasing and expectation is built. The devil is in the details, the delays, as Therese and Carol navigate their way toward each other past convention, prohibition, and inexperience. Blanchett and Mara work wonders together. Both are terrific, though only Mara got the acting prize at Cannes. This is a wold of underplaying, where atmosphere allows period to bloom so the touch of a hand brings a frisson and Carol rushes to put on her shoes when Harge appears and finds her with Therese -- because removed shoes with a guest is négligé. It is nearly an hour of unhurried screen time before that first kiss. This too like the beauty of Ed Lachman's images you must tune into, or you are lost and instead of swooning, will yawn.

    As for the images, Mike D'Angelo declares in his Dissolve Cannes review that the "vivid retro look" can be clearly distinguished from both the "Technicolor lushness" of his other period same sex study Far From Heaven, and the "drab claustrophobia" of his Mildred Pierce miniseries, all shot by Ed Lachman. The Carol images are the most unabashedly exquisite as the film is the most celebratory. Carol doesn't really suffer. Though "just when things couldnt be worse" she runs out of cigarettes. That's as bad as it gets. She adores her daughter, and yet she is willing to give her up if necessary. This may be essentially a "problem" picture like Far from Heaven, but I don't have the same problems this time. Carol is unquestionably one of the best and most unique American films of the year and one of the most enjoyable. Its images, its lead performances, and the Carter Burwell music are to be savored.

    Carol, 118 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015; about a dozen festival showings including Telluride and London. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival. US theatrical release date 20 Nov. 2015; UK, 27 Nov., France, 13 Jan. 2016. Weinstein Company release.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-17-2015 at 02:38 PM.

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    THE WITNESS (James Solomon 2015) - Spotlight on Documentary

    JAMES SOLOMAN: THE WITNESS (2015)


    KITTY GENOVESE

    Spotlight on Documentary

    Obsessive investigation of a sister's death falls short of a sense of closure

    Bill, younger brother of Kitty Genovese, a favorite of hers and sixteen when she died, is filmed in this documentary by writer-producer James Solomon, who covers Bill's tireless effort fifty years later to investigate the famous case of his sister's murder. On 13 March 1964 in Kew Gardens, Queens, below the Mowbray apartments, Kitty was robbed, raped, and stabbed to death with many watching and doing nothing, so a New York Times story said. The case became universal symbol of modern urban anomie, human coldness and indifference. Bill investigates this legend and exhaustively ferrets out details about the crime and Kitty herself in search of closure that proves elusive.

    Solomon stays out of the picture, with Bill Genovese the narrator and protagonist, missing both legs (lost as a Marine in Vietnam) but vigorously active, contacting sources and visiting them. Bill's first question is whether the Times story was true. Were there really 38 witnesses who did nothing? Yes and no, and maybe not. It is not clear that it happened that way. Very few saw anything, others only heard, and some may not have understood what the sounds meant. Some apparently did do something, called the police, more than one, at least according to one interviewed witness. But if so, why was she not saved? The auditory witnesses seem to ahve been confused by the the fact that the perpetrator, Winston Moseley, fled the scene for twenty minutes or so and then returned to finish off his victim.

    A surprise discovery is that Kitty did not die alone: a woman friend (heard from near the end) rushed down to her and Kitty died in her arms. There was nothing of this in news stories or police reports.

    Next comes the investigation of Kitty herself. Her death had clouded a sense of her life. It's said that she was not a barmaid as first reported, but a bar manager. She sometimes handled illegal betting in the bar, and it turns out the photo shown above was a police mug shot from a time when she was arrested for this activity. She was smart, a maverick who often cut class in high school, yet popular and a leader of the pack. We see numerous film clips of her, a lean, lively life of the party who drove a red FIAT. Bright though she was she chose not to go to college. When the family moved to Connecticut to be in a safer place she chose to stay in NYC. Perhaps an explanation is that -- a surprise to Bill Genovese, perhaps to all her family -- it turns out that though briefly married, Kitty was a lesbian. Her supposed roommate in the Mowbray apartment was her lover (also heard from). Her sexuality may have had much to do with her choosing to remain in the freer atmosphere of the big city where she could live with her girlfriend.

    Later Bill/Solomon delve deeply into press coverage as well as later TV reexaminations of the murder case, revealing that author of the original front page Times story consciously overstated the indifference of witnesses to make a better story. The film is excellent in the thoroughness of its investigation of this, with numerous interviews, including one with the late Mike Wallace.

    Finally we learn about Winston Moseley, the diminutive light-skinned black man who confessed to this and another murder, and also later escaped from prison, committed more crimes, and was caught. He was bright, with an IQ of 130, and eventually got a correspondence degree in sociology. Prosecutors and lawmen are interviewed. The word for Moseley's personality is "ice." He is clearly a sociopath who might, if he'd remained at large, have turned into a serial killer. Apart from his escape he has remained in prison for fifty years and every parole application has been denied. Bill meets with one of his sons, a man of the cloth, in compensation, perhaps, who nonetheless appears to believe false justifications for his father's crime. The rapist-murderer himself unfortunately refuses to meet with Bill. But later he sends him a preposterous letter inventing a story according to which a mafia gangster perpetrated the crime in his presence. It's a sad way for things to end, with lying and delusion, and at this point I began to wonder if The Witness provides enlightenment or only confusion.

    All this aside, the Kitty Genovese story remains a tenacious modern myth of human indifference, even if it's a distortion of the facts it was originally based on. James Solomon and Bill Genovese's film represents an impressively thorough investigation. Alas, it does not leave one feeling enlightened about the crime or the legend it credated. There are many versions of the Kitty Genovese story in fiction, film and TV, and some are alluded to in this film. One I recently reviewed was Lucas Belvaux's 2012 feature film 38 Témoins ("38 Witnesses"), from a French novel, starring Yvan Attal, and focused on the subsequent tormenting sense of guilt felt by one of the witnesses to a parallel scene of murder and indifference set in Le Havre. This film is not satisfying either, but it represents an important topic that The Witness, despite its title, doesn't provide access to: the guilt the witnesses may have felt in Kew Gardens when they learned a horrible crime had happened that they might have stopped.

    Solomon's film is an interesting portrait of a family member's tireless investigation of his sister's legendary death. At one point I was thinking it might turn out to be one of the best documentaries of the year, perhaps even comparable to Nathaniel Kahn's extraordinary investigation of his father, the great architect but very flawed father Louis Kahn in the 2003 film My Architect. But The Witness, though about a worthy topic, leaves us, like Bill Genovese, without ultimate closure. Its over-thoroughness becomes under-revealing. It lacks My Architect's emotional rewards and beautiful shape. The investigation itself is at fault, but also the vagueness of Solomon's role.

    The Witness, 96 mins., debuted at the 2015 New York Film Festival (6 Oct.) as part of the sidebar Spotlight on Documentary series. A Submarine release. It is to open in NYC 3 June 2016. At Roxie Center, San Francisco 29 July 2016.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-07-2016 at 08:18 AM.

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    HEART OF A DOG (Laurie Anderson 2015)

    LAURIE ANDERSON: HEART OF A DOG (2015)


    LOLABELLE IN HEART OF A DOG

    Special Events

    A good-natured mélange of thoughts, anecdotes and whimsy

    Dogs have clearly become an avant-gardist’s best friend. First Jean-Luc Godard delivered a funny 3D valentine to a pooch named Roxy Mieville in Goodbye to Language, and now the New York-based musician/performance artist Laurie Anderson has woven a tide of personal stories, insights and visual-musical riffs into a more accessible but no less singular consideration of the species in Heart of a Dog. While this alternately goofy, serious, lyrical and beguiling cine-essay serves primarily as a loving tribute to the memory of Anderson’s rat terrier, Lolabelle, its roving, free-associative structure brings together all manner of richly eccentric musings on the evasions of memory, the limitations of language and storytelling, the strangeness of life in a post-9/11 surveillance state, and the difficulty and necessity of coming to terms with death.--Justin Chang, Variety
    I can't add much to what Justin Chang said about this genial, meandering film. It partakes of the spirit of Laurie Anderson's performances that go back to the early Seventies. This one is dedicated to the memory of her husband Lou Reed who died in October 2013 at the age of 71 -- though there is not much of or about Lou Reed in Heart of a Dog. Most of this film is in the first person, and dominated by Anderson's voice, which almost never lets up. An interlude of silence, a grove of winter trees with light snow falling, is one of the most memorable parts of the film.

    From her photos and citations of neighbors we learn Anderson lived on West Eleventh Street, in the same block as Julian Schnabel's pink "Palazzo del Popolo" -- within breathing distance of the World Trade Center and, she tells, confronted with a roadway and land along the West River near her street covered with white dust. The two overriding themes of Heart of a Dog are 9/11 (and its aftermath) and her dog, with some philosophizing and several digressions to talk about major events in her early life. Notable among these is a long period spent in hospital with a broken back after jumping off a diving board and hitting the pool's cement edge, and the time when when she took two little brothers out on a lake in winter and they fell through the ice and she saved them.

    Lolabelle, Laurie's rat terrier, turns out, pushed by the artist-filmmaker's whimsy, to have surprising talents. Though she may have been pushed to reveal them, the dog learns to "make art" and "play" the piano. Seeking to escape 9/11 paranoia, Anderson took Lolabella on a trip to Northern California. She tells us rat terriers are said to be capable of mastering 500 words, and she aimed to discover "which words they were." But this project she abandoned in favor of simply enjoying the beauties of the hills and coast.

    The music is powerful, though for complexity and richness of images Godard's Goodbye to Language has the edge. Anderson's film is "more accessible" but also less complex, less intellectually challenging. Her observations, sometimes relying on her Buddhist teacher, are on the obvious slide. There is a reminiscence of the unique, short-lived artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who was a friend, and died at only 35. She tells how he invited his friends to the hospital in his last days and read to them. This is a good-natured work that it's impossible to dislike.

    Heart of a Dog, 75 mins., debuted at Telluride. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival where it was presented as a Special Event. Anderson designed this year's New York Film Festival poster. A US theatrical release of the film begins in NYC 19 Oct. 2015 (Film Forum).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2015 at 10:45 AM.

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    MAGGIE'S PLAN (Rebecca Miller 2015)

    REBECCA MILER: MAGGIE'S PLAN (2015)


    GRETA GERWIG AND ETHAN HAWKE IN MAGGIE'S PLAN

    The independent doormat

    Rebecca Miller's sort-of rom-com Maggie's Plan is a bit too into itself and its Manhattan settings, but it has some new things to offer. Miller's turning from drama to comedy. "Vikings" star and former Calvin Klein underwear god Travis Fimmel as a pickle entrepreneur sperm donor (to Grata Gerwig's character). Tragic drama queen Julianne Moore showing how ridiculous and funny she can be as a Danish professor married to Ethan Hawke. (She could as well be Icelandic, with her weird accent and her outfits that might have be on loan from Björk, but that's the point: she's from outer space.) Ethan Hawke for the first time working with a woman director -- and with three women, essentially, since Maggie's Plan is dominated by Georgette (Moore) and Maggie (Gerwig), whom his character, John, gets tossed back and forth between.

    The tossing is what bothers me, because Maggie's Plan -- which is as intentionally messy in plot as Maggie herself, a self-reliant, centered young woman with a Quaker background, is organized -- does what too many American rom-coms do today. It loses all sense of narrative structure. And then again, that it winds up where it started out is quite intentional too.

    The premise is simple and clear enough. Maggie, wanting to have a child but aware she can't seem to stay with one man more than six months (which, by the way, doesn't quite fit the stable, organized Quaker), looks for a sperm donor (the long-bearded Fimmel). And it's good she calls on a Viking, because all this happens in New York in wintertime -- with a side trip to Quebec for an academic conference. But then she meets John in Washington Square and winds up agreeing to read the manuscript of his novel. She is an administrator at the New School where he is a hottie new teacher. And one thing leads to another, with John's iffy marriage to Georgette derailed by his love affair with Maggie, who falls in love with him as well.

    Georgette is an absurdly self-centered academic star herself. The arcane academic specialties of this couple are tossed out for laughs, but they went over my head. ( Something about anthorpology and commodities, for John.) John and Georgette have a couple of noisy, bratty little darlings and an older, grown-up girl who can talk. Wallace Shawn has a one-line appearance, and Bill Hader, who's in touch with his feminine side and delivers lines well, is that rom-com staple, Maggie's longtime pal, with advice.

    Jump ahead three years. John and Maggie are married and have their own little girl (what happened to the pickle entrepreneur's Viking's sperm? It got dumped for an early meeting with John). Maggie is so good at organizing things and caring for the three kids, both Georgette and John can pursue their academic work and John can continue with his novel -- except that the novel isn't getting anywhere. And life with Maggie is too perfect. Maggie realizes that John needed to deal with the craziness and self-absorption of Georgette. It kept him from being too absorbed in his work or his novel. We can't really believe in the brilliance of Georgette (only her oddity) or of John, they're just givens. John doesn't sound bright to me. He uses "fuck" a lot, like any ordinary dude.

    So Maggie's Plan, the main one, is to get John back with Georgette. And so it turns out that the independent young woman played by Gerwig here is the perfect doormat. As the only stable, responsible partner, that's the role she winds up playing.

    I did not find any of this believable, or engaging. Julianne Moore is droll, and Greta Gerwig is, as usual, smooth and natural. Ethan Hawke is glib, but one feels no emotion. I thought of that famous early scene for Hawke in Dead Poets Society where Robin Williams struggles to make his young preppie character learn to emote. It seems he has lost the shyness of that young Hawke but still can't emote. Well over half the movie is devoted to talking about getting Georgette and John back together again. It gets beyond tiresome. But the Lower Manhattan atmosphere and in-jokey stuff about academe make this an original treatment of the kind of confusion of relationships that might be dealt with in a more conventional, less into-itself comedy, like the current Sleeping with Other People. This may be, as they're saying, Rebecca Miller's most successful, widely appealing film, but I liked her less successful ones. This is based on an unpublished novel. Hmmm. . .

    Maggie's Plan a longish 96 mins., debuted at Toronto, where Miller apologized for its appearing without a distributor (but isn't that what festivals are for, to find them?). It was also part of the 2015 New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. The inclusion in the NYFF Main Slate is explicable given its family resemblance to Noah Baumbach's work and inclusion of Baumbach's girlfriend, together with lots of very natural photography of New York whose realistic color contrasted, not unappealingly, with the gloriously dreamlike Ed Lachman Gotham images of another, much better NYFF 2015 film, Todd Haynes's Carol. Maggie has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.

    (Release date 20 May 2016. Metacritic rating a fawning, deluded 75%.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-30-2016 at 01:05 PM.

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    THE TREASURE/COMOARA (Corneliu Ponumboiu 2015)

    CORNELIU PORUMBOIU: THE TREASURE/COMOARA (2015)


    TOMA CUZIN, CORNELIU COZMEI AND ADRIAN PURCARESCU IN THE TREASURE

    Digging, finally finding and then (partly) giving away

    In the Romanian director Cornelieu Porumboiu's deadpan new film, Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), who's lost his publishing business and is badly behind in his mortgage payments, lures his neighbor Costi (Toma Cuzin), a real estate worker who's having trouble paying his bills too, into a venture to find treasure he suspects is hidden on inherited property. At first Adrian just says he is strapped for cash and asks to borrow 800 euros. When Costi says no, Adrian explains about the treasure and offers to go halves on whatever they find if he'll put up the money. It's needed for a metal detector. Apparently you can't just buy one in Romania; you have to hire a specialist. To round up the cash, Costi must persuade his wife (Cristina Toma).

    "This idea might have made for an amusing half-hour short," Mike D'Anelo commented from Cannes, where The Treasure debuted; " at 89 minutes, it feels extremely shaggy-dog." Indeed, a lot of screen time is devoted to watching two men dig a hole in a garden, with a pretty anticlimactic result. The ending, a sort of punchline, like the finale of Porumboiu's Police, Adjective (NYFF 2009), is perhaps just more peculiar (and vaguely symbolic) than shaggy-dog, but indeed the film feels dragged-out, a long trek to a small payoff.

    Like Police, Adjective this new effort from Porumboiu, who made the more self-consciously modernistic When Evening Falls on Bucharest two years ago (NYFF 2013), is a curious combination of the doggedly realistic and the didactic. This time, Porumboliu chooses to scrub out the local color of Police, Adjective, posing characters in front of blank walls or bare ground for his Asian-style static middle-distance shots. The men do dig in real dirt, though, and they have to go pretty deep. As it dragged on, I wondered if the actors were actually doing this digging.

    One fellow viewer thought the whole film was a joke; I could not see that, but there is some humor about a boss who insists Cristi must be cheating on his wife because he lies about his arrangements for the metal detector. After the treasure is found -- its exact nature a bit of a surprise, its cashing in full of bureaucratic detail, Costi, who's been reading Robin Hood to his little boy (Nicodim Toma), gives some of his cut away to children in the form of handfuls of valuable jewelry. This odd behavior seems inspired by his son's expectations from Robin Hood and the word "treasure." Much is made of the fact that under remnants of communist law, any valuables found must be shown to police and if determined to be part of the "national heritage," only a third goes to the finders.

    When it gets late and the digging goes deeper and deeper with no results and Adrian and Costi doubt that Cornel, the metal detector specialist, knows what he's doing, the three start to quarrel. It's beginning to look as if things might turn homicidal, as in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. No such luck. Porumboliu is too humorless and deadpan for that -- and he is moving on, laboriously, to his Robin Hood finale. What it means is anyone's guess. A viewer of Serbo-Croatian origin with whom I spoke after the screening thought it too was a reference to communism -- a longing, perhaps, for less selfish days. The film's obviously opens with a focus on today's economic woes.

    There are some ideas hovering around here somewhere, but The Treasure winds up as yet another variation on the minimalist current Romanian filmmaking style, short on entertainment and not long on sense.

    The Treasure/Comoara, 89 mins., debuted in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes May 2015, winning the Certain Talent prize; also shown at well over a dozen other international festivals. Screened for this review as part of the Main Slate of the 2015 New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-01-2015 at 10:12 AM.

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    RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (Hong Sang-soo 2015)

    HONG SANG-SOO: RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (2015)


    KIM MINHEE AND JUNG JAEYOUNG IN RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (FIRST MEETING)

    He said, she said? Or she said, he said?

    Right Now, Wrong Then, simpler in plot than some of Hong Sang-soo's earlier films, begins with his standard situation of an art film director, an ironic version of himself, not making movies but on a professional jaunt and doing some drinking and womanizing (or flirting, anyway). Ham Chunsu (Jung Jaeyoung, of Hong's 2013 Our Sunhi) has come to Suwon, south of Seoul, to attend a special screening of one of his films and answer questions afterwards. He's a day early. Flirtation and drinking take precedence; the film screening comes in second.

    Going to a peaceful pavilion , the historic "Blessing Hall" palace, Ham spots a beautiful young woman, Yoon Heejung (Kim Minhee), sipping banana water. He is immediately attracted and invites her for coffee. She appreciates his attention, thrilled to learn who he is, even though she's never actually seen any of his movies. She's a fledgling artist, and invites Ham to her studio, and then to a cafe where they both get drunk. She remembers she's got a date to spend the evening with a woman she knows who runs a restaurant. They both go there, and get drunker. The next day, the hungover Ham meets the audience at the screening.

    More and more Hong is into rhythmic repetition, sometimes to surreal effect, but he varies the forms this repetition takes every time. In his 2011 The Day He Arrives, for instance, which has similar bar scenes, the director protagonist, Seong-jun (Yu Jun-sang), keeps running into the same situations and the same people. In that film, the parallelisms are overlapping. In the 2009 Like You Know It All (FCS 2010) the film is divided into two parts twelve days apart, where similar things happen.

    Right Now, Wrong Then resembles Like You Know It All in being divided into equal two halves, with the movie titles coming in the middle to divide them. But this time they are flat-out alternative versions of the same sequence of events I've outlined above. Both versions begin very similarly in the pavilion where Ham and Heejung first meet; then things develop differently. In the first version, Han praises Heejung's painting, but in the second he is more critical. In the first version there is a man at the restaurant who is only seen outside in the second version. In the second version, the drunken Ham takes all his clothes off for two socked strangers at the restaurant; Heejung only learns of this when Ham is with her near her house. She laughs and excuses it and kisses him, saying she will go home and greet her mother and let her go to sleep, then sneak out to spend more time with him, though she never does, and it's cold so he leaves. In the first version, hardly anyone turns up for the next day's screening, and the moderator is, in Ham's vehemently expressed view later, a conceited creep (an idea that has come in earlier films). Ham, still drunk from the night before, gives a wild speech and stomps out. In the second version, the screening is well attended and goes well and people express admiration and gratitude to him outside afterward.

    With Nobody's Daughter Haewon (NYFF 2013) Hong presented his story from a woman's point of view. In Right Now, Wrong Then, he may be presenting first the man's then the woman's memory of events -- though which one is which may be debatable, and an irate young French woman with a feminist bent after the NYFF screening complained that this new film is just the celebration of a womanizer. Well, that Han has the repetition of a womanizer is brought up in both the first and second versions of events; on the other hand, unlike some of Hong's films, no sex takes place and Ham's relationship with Heejung seems quite chaste, his declaration that he would like to marry her rather sweet.

    Mike D'Angelo says in his review of Hong's 2012 Another Country that "Hong tends to make the same movie over and over." True indeed, but always with variations, naturally. To compare and classify these repetitions with variation would require the kind of careful study an academic researcher might do, and a more precise memory than I can muster now. On Letterboxd D'Angelo calls this new film the "Hong diptych" he's "been waiting for," and calls it "Mulholland Dr. in reverse: grim reality first, wish-fulfillment fantasy second" -- but then he admits he doesn't quite know for sure if the two halves are her memory, and then his; or the reverse. Either way, he finds this one of Hong's most enjoyable films. He's right to want to see it again. There is much to puzzle over this time, though since this is the ninth Hong film in a New York Film Festival and I've seen one or two of his films elsewhere, it's getting harder for me to remember all the different parallel and overlapping story lines. Last year's NYFF Hong film, Hill of Freedom, includes (as I recall) recurrent sequences in a guest house with Ryô Kase that parallel the ones in the pavilion this time. There was a haunting sense of déjà vu even though what happens in the two spaces is quite different. A jaundiced viewer may say the director didn't have enough material and filled up two hours by running the same story twice. But I am a Hongista and am happy to observe the nuances. (See my Hill of Freedom review for links to all my other Hong Sang-soo reviews. Boyd Van Hoeij's enthusiastic review of the new film for Hollywood Reporter provides insights.)

    Right Now, Wrong Then / 지금은맞고그때는틀리다, 121 mins., debuted at Locarno Aug. 2015, where it won three prizes, including the Golden Leopard (best picture) and Best Actor. Other festivals, including Vancouver, London and Toronto. It was screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival (US premiere, Oct. 9 & 10). US theatrical release beginning 24 June 2016.


    KIM MINHEE AND JUNG JAEYOUNG IN RIGHT NOW, WRONG THEN (IN THE RESTAURANT)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 06-17-2016 at 12:32 PM.

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    THE MEASURE OF A MAN/LA LOI DU MARCHÉ (Stephane Brizé 2015)

    STEPHANE BRIZÉ: THE MEASURE OF A MAN/LA LOI DU MARCHÉ (2015)


    VINCENT LINDON IN THE MEASURE OF A MAN

    How much must one compromise to have a job?

    This is an issue film and a character study that treads Dardenne brothers territory but without the final uplift. Judging by the other two Stéphane Brizé films I've seen, Not Here to be Loved, about an ultra-dour bailiff (Patrick Chesnais), and Mademoiselle Chambon (with Vincent Lindon and Sandrine Kiberlain), concerning a lonely schoolteacher's brief romance with a married man, Brizé likes his stories a bit down at the mouth. And this is the flaw of his new film, with its rock-solid performance by the always impeccable Lindon that won him the best acting award at Cannes. The film is so unrelentingly grim it leaves you feeling more worn down than enlightened. But its lesson about the moral limits of compromise for a man seeking employment in a down economy is a dose of medicine that can't be pushed aside or forgotten.

    Thierry (Vincent Lindon)is a laid off factory heavy equipment operator who's wasted 20 months taking training courses that turn out not to qualify him for a new job. And we see him being advised to take out life insurance; unable to get even near the market rate for his mobile home; informed in a Skype interview that his chances of being hired for a job like his old one are very slim, though not zero. The first part of the film shows us a series of bureaucratic humiliations patiently endured by Thierry, and we're introduced to his wife and son Matthieu, who has cerebral palsy (requiring expensive special care). After all the grim lessons of the heartless "Law of the market" (the French title) of the depressed economy, we suddenly see Thierry in a job unworthy of him -- suited up as a security guy in a big box store. Here the title's second meaning is applied: he must now impose the ruthless law of this market, an internal one, both cruel and kind, based on a surveillance-state system using dozens of cameras to monitor every inch of the store.

    Except the first, a cocky young Arab guy who steals a charger for his smart phone, the shoplifters are poor and unfortunate, the climactic one an old man who has pocketed two pieces of red meat to add to his small bag of groceries. By store policy he goes free if he can pay for the meat, but he's spent the last centimes of his monthly dole on the small bag of groceries. But the unkindest cut is what follows: the store spies on its own employees, especially the cashiers, and one of them, a hard working 20-year employee with a drug addict son caught out for hoarding store coupons, commits suicide.

    This movie not only lacks final uplift; it contains nothing that's remotely fun. Even dancing lessons Thierry takes are somehow mechanical and sad. But Vincent Lindon embodies his character so well we strongly feel his feelings in the scenes with shoplifters even though he's barely saying anything because another security staff person does most of the talking.

    Most of the scenes throughout are improvised, and many feel like simulations, which give a somewhat artificial sense of realism. That's except for Lindon. He owns and fully inhabits every role he plays, even when cast wildly against type in Benoît Jacquot's 1998 School of Flesh as a prissy transvestite. I like what Mike D'Angelo said in his Cannes report on this film for The Dissolve, that Lindon "fairly oozes rugged masculinity." (Except maybe as a transvestite.). And to do that and seem authentic isn't so easy. So three cheers for Lindon's Cannes award . I'll go with Scott Foundas' Variety review: Lindon as Thierry gives us "a veritable master class in understated humanism." This performance is a nice parallel, as others have also said, for Marion Cotillard's in Two Days, One Night. But I'm reserving judgment on this film.

    The Measure of a Man/La loi du marché, 93 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition, wining for Vincent Lindon the Best Actor award, arguably long overdo given the depth of Lindon's many performances. French release AlloCiné pres rating 3.8. A Kino Lorber release. North American Premiere. US theatrical release begins 15 Apr. 2016 NYC (Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, Metrograph).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-12-2016 at 06:29 AM.

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    MY GOLDEN DAYS/TROIS SOUVENIRS DE MA JEUNESSE (Arnaud Desplechin 2015)

    ARNAUD DESPLECHIN: MY GOLDEN DAYS/TROIS SOUVENIRS DE MA JEUNESSE (2015)


    QUENTIN DOLMAIRE AND LOU ROY-LECOLLINET IN MY GOLDEN DAYS

    A first love, in its elaborate setting

    Though he has reported being energized in making this new film by the idea that it might be considered a "prequel" to his most notable early one, My Sex Life. . . or How I Got into an Argument (1997), it turns out he only keeps a few characters and makes up the rest. The main one is still Paul Dédalus, now an anthropologist, still played, now as a middle aged man, by Matthieu Amalric, who appears relatively briefly as the subject of the frame sequences and narration. Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse (given the saccharine new title My Golden Days in English) doesn't strictly adhere otherwise to its "source." Desplechin is telling a typically elaborate story here with plenty of characters and three stages of Paul's early life: as a young boy, in early adolescence, and as a lyçée student (Quentin Dolmaire) pursuing a long-lived if fruitless affair (it goes on for years, well beyond the lyçcee into Paul's time at university) with the love of his life, Esther (Lou Roy-Lecollinet). (Esther appears in My Sex Life... embodied by Emmanuelle Devos; neither of the older actors particularly resembles their younger versions.) It's that third (and surely most important?) "souvenir" that we care about. The rest seems elaborate filler. Trois souvenirs, then, goes from complicated and unsatisfying early segments to the simpler and more successful last part -- the latter a classic, if nicely detailed, story of young love.

    But we begin with the middle-aged Paul (Amalric), a world-traveller returning to work in France after years abroad, called in for questioning by a venerable French government official (André Dussollier), just as he is about to take up a post at the Quay d'Orsay (the French foreign ministry). There's a problem: that Paul appears to have loaned his identity to someone living in another hemisphere. He has also lived in several far-flung, almost unknown, hence vaguely suspicious places (though they turn out to be explained by his researches as an anthropologist).

    The double identity turns out to go back to Paul's early teen years, and an elaborate deal arranged by his father for a brief school trip to Russia, to help Jewish "refuseniks" wanting to get out of the country. I'm not convinced it was worthwhile to enact this episode in so much loving detail.

    In a press interview Desplechin describes Ether as "eating up" the film once she arrives on the scene. As a character (and perhaps this is true of the 17-year-old actress, who plays her, Lou Roy-Lecollinet) she is an intriguing combination of timid on the one hand and theatrical and egocentric on the other. She strikes poses, looks into space, showing off her big eyes and pouty lips. (Roy-Lecollinet is striking looking, but Quentin Dolomaire as young Paul, with his porcelain skin and his cheekbones, is prettier.) The best part of the film is the way the Esther-Paul relationship is handled, through its various stages. Once they meet, it is so clear that they are going to be a couple (despite the fact that all the boys desire her and Paul is a lousy "dragueur," date-maker) that it doesn't matter what either of them says or does. And yet for that very reason, what they say an do can be unconventional.

    This is early enough in time so that no one has a phone and there is no email. This may not be Desplechin's life, but it's the time when he was this age. They communicate, constantly, by letter, and at one dramatic point Esther, who's several years younger, sends Paul a telegram. It's delivered to him while he's at a university lecture and everybody thinks it's bad news, but it's good news from Esther that she's passed her "bac" exam and gotten her lyçée diploma.

    It's true that the on and off love of Paul and Esther isn't treated condescendingly at all, and this seriousness and respect are partly French and partly Desplechin who, no mater how elaborately he handles his storytelling, generally manages to maintain a light touch too.

    The subplots work well in the latter parts, notably Paul's relation to a Sorbonne professor of Benin culture (Eve Doe-Bruce), whom he charms into taking him on by saying the other students need a dumb guy like him to feel smart. Esther is wildly unpredictable. Desplechin engagingly depicts their years together, D'Angelo puts it, "as a series of gorgeous fragments, employing his usual arsenal of meta-cinematic gimmicks (split screen, silent-era irises, characters reciting letters directly to the camera) to convey the sense that everything shown is being freshly remembered." She betrays him more than once but it is he who leaves her. I end watching this somewhat over-complex but frequently engaging film wishing somehow it had been framed in a less distracting and irrelevant-seeming way. It's nonetheless a worthy and not untypical panel in the director's oeuvre. His repetition of the Paul character naturally invites comparison with Truffaut, and Amalric/Bonaire with Jean-Pierre Léaud. A typical French review ends by saying "a new Desplechin film is always an event."

    My Golden Days/Trois souvenirs de ma jeunesse, 123 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2015 in the Directors Fortnight section, it opened theatrically in France to enthusiastic reviews 20 May (AlloCiné 4.1); included in eight other international film festials. Screened for this review as part of the 2015 New York Film Festival (2 Oct.).


    THE YOUNG ACTORS HAVE SOME VIVIS SEX SCENES
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2015 at 08:41 PM.

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