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Thread: New York Film Festival 2016

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    New York Film Festival 2016




    The Walter Reade Theater

    For the General Film Forum Filmleaf thread click here

    Links to reviews:
    13th, The (Ava DuVernay 2016) - Opening Night Film
    20th Century Women (Mike Mills 2016) - Centerpiece Film
    Aquarius (Kleber Mendonça Filho 2016)
    B-Side, The: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography (Errol Morris 2016) - Documentary Series
    Billy Lynn's Halftime Walk (Ang Lee 2016) - Special Presentation
    Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt 2016)
    Death of Louis XIV, The/La mort de Louis XIV (Albert Serra 2016) - Explorations Series
    Elle (Paul Verhoeven 2016)
    Fire at Sea/Fuocoammare (Gianfranco Rosi 2016)
    Gimmie Danger (Jim Jarmusch 2016) - Special Event
    Graduation/Bacalaureat (Cristian Mungiu 2016)
    Hermia and Helena (Matías Piñeiro 2016)
    I, Daniel Blake (Ken Loach 2016)
    Jackie (Pablo Larrain 2016) - Special Premiere Presentation
    Julieta (Pedro Almodóvar 2016)
    Lost City of Z, The (James Gray 2016) - Closing Night Film
    Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan 2016)
    Moonlight (Barry Jenkins 2016)
    My Entire High School Sinking into the Sea (Dash Shaw 2016)
    Neruda (Pablo Larraín 2016)
    Paterson (Jim Jarmusch 2016)
    Personal Shopper (Oliver Assayas 2016)
    Quiet Passion, A (Terence Davies 2016)
    Rehearsal, The (Alison Maclean 2016)
    Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu 2016)
    Son of Joseph, The/Le fils de Joseph (Eugène Green 2016)
    Staying Vertical/Rester vertical Alain Guiraudie 2016)
    Things to Come/L’Avenir (Mia Hansen-Løve 2016)
    Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade 2016)
    Unknown Girl, The/La fille inconnue (Jean-Pierre, Luc Dardenne 2016)
    Yourself and Yours (Hong Sangsoo 2016)


    [Photo by CK]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-28-2017 at 12:39 PM.

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    AQUARIUS (Kleber Mendoça Filho 2016)

    KLEBER MENDOÇA FILHO: AQUARIUS (2016)


    SÔNIA BRAGA IN AQUARIUS

    Diva v Developer

    This is a less stylistically radical film than Neighboring Sounds (ND/NF 2012), Kleber Mendoça Filho's debut, and differs in focus. But the two films, both firmly set in the director's native eastern seaside town of Recife and around a specific neighborhood, have in common a growing menace, an edge of evil, and keen awareness of class, race, color and habitat. In contrast to Neighboring Sounds' multi-voiced, crabwise narrative, Aquarius, though, focuses headlong on one person, a single apartment, and one issue. The imperious Clara (a magnificent Sônia Braga) has lived in the same flat much of her life, raising her three now grownup children, and though everyone else has left, she won't sell it to developers waiting to tear down the forties building and put up a big garish high rise. Braga is tremendous, and fills every scene with her subtly intuitive diva-hood. The movie isn't otherwise as intriguing or mysterious as its predecessor. But it has made waves at home, and looks like a potential sleeper hit for sophisticated mature Stateside audiences. In this more conventional format the movie yet has its own complexity, visiting Clara in other locations and times and establishing how the apartment has acquired through decades of human use the quality of baraka as Robert Graves defined it in his Oxford Addresses on Poetry. The movie's deeper theme is the pursuit of profit as an enemy of human value.

    Her apartment isn't big, but its ocean views, lovely light, and elegant comforts make you want to move in. (The glorious widescreen images of Pedro Sotero and Fabricio Tadeu are bright and delicious.) At first they ask her nicely, and she just tears up their offers and refuses to talk to the developer, Bonfim (Fernando Teixeira), or his ingratiating but scarily large grandson (Humberto Carrão), fresh from US business school. So then they're not so nice. Notice the sly unity of Mendoça Filho's invention, which once again plays with the auditory. Clara is a retired music critic and public intellectual, Catholic in taste and adaptable to new technology, a user of MP3 in her smartphone, but protected by a wall of vinyl records, whose value over digital as time capsules she points out to a pair of young women come to interview her.

    She will be assaulted by her own alien "neighboring sounds": a porno movie starts being made, and a crowd parties in the apartment overhead into which Bonfim has moved a slew of mattresses. She responds by pulling out a disc to blast back with "Fat Bottomed Girls." (At Cannes Mike D'Angelo wrote for AVClub he was the only one to laugh, recognizing the album cover and guess at once this would be the cut from the Queen album Jazz she would play.) It's touches like this moment that make Aquarius more specific, yet more universal, than the usual.


    Original "Jazz" album w/ "Fat Bottomed Girls"

    What's a Brazilian movie without music? or a Mendoça Filho film without complex sound design? Alas, the English subtitles fail to explain for us some key Brazilian song lyrics at other points. Anyway, despite her vinyl riposte, the porn has a clear positive effect on Clara. It amuses her, and prompts this lonely, sensual woman to hire an escort for an evening of hot sex the film illustrates with a stylish mix of boldness and restraint.

    The risk is that Mendoça Filho's slow burn (and similar two-hour-and-twenty-minute length) may work less hauntingly in this more straightforward story and just seem like dawdling. But the compensation is that the socio-economic and personal story lines are equally vivid and strong. An early scene celebrates Clara's Aunt Lucia (Thaia Perez) turning 70 in 1980, in the same building, and looking at a humble chest, flashes back to a man going down on her there long before: this is also a celebration of older women as boldly sexual beings. Clara is elegant and attractive, but she is a longtime cancer survivor with a mastectomy, and a man she charms at a dance club with girlfriends (they're lively too, but Clara radiates beauty as if under a spotlight), takes her home the minute he discovers the surgery. What is it like to be so admired and then so rejected? Clara's relations with family and friends are similar. They adore, but are peeved by her. She is sensual, she can charm, she can be a snob, she can throw her long black mane around grandly or menacingly or tie it up in a tight stylish bun.

    As the battle between diva and developer climaxes the film rises to mythical, ex machina, levels, becoming a metaphor for corruption in the whole country that's at once too neat and at too pullulatingly creepy and maybe, as Peter Bradshaw wrote in the Guardian at Cannes, not an ending at all. But Kleber Mendoça secures his position as one of today's most interesting and poignant directors.

    Aquarius, 146 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes May 2016; 18 other international festivals, including Toronto, New York (9 Oct.), London and finally Mill Valley, coinciding there with its limited US release 14 Oct. 2016 (Angelika Film Center, Paris Cinema NYC).

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-21-2016 at 10:10 PM.

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    THE 13TH (Ava DuVernay 2016)

    AVA DUVERNAY: THE 13TH (2016)


    ANGELA DAVIS IN THE 13TH

    US prisons as an extension of slavery

    Ava DuVernay's ringing and dramatic The 13th is the first documentary to grace a first night of the New York Film Festival; it's in theaters and also on Netflix, who produced it. Last year saw the release of the director's Selma, a historical film seeking to dramatize key events in Martin Luther King's struggle for equal voting rights, focused on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. The effort was received with acclaim, though it unnecessarily slurs President Lyndon Johnson, a great champion of civil rights, and some of its characterizations were lackluster. The 13th is arguably a more forceful piece of work. Though much of the information it presents is not new, its scope is sweeping, its connecting of the dots so clear viewers may be shocked and enlightened.

    Perhaps surprisingly for the NYFF's spotlight choice - but they've not always been strongest in doc choices - The 13th iis really not original investigative work as was Laura Poitras' Edward Snowden film that debuted at the festival last year, Citizenfour. It's simply a collection of talking heads (though well-chosen and sometimes nicely contrasting ones), statistics, and archival footage, with animated captioning and music to liven things up. Inclusion of DuVernay's film in the top NYFF spot seems mainly aimed at making a strong political statement in an election year (it contains clips stunningly exposing Donald Trump's retrograde racism), when the events addressed by the Black Lives Matter movement are in the forefront of minds.

    In some ways though handsomely crafted, The 13th can also annoy with its jumpy multiple-angle shots of the talking heads and its ADHD-level cross-cutting between speakers and clips. It's an affectation of the film that speakers are rarely seen looking right into the camera, and onscreen IDs of speakers are withheld till they've appeared repeatedly. Some speakers are presented in grand settings, some not. It all takes some getting used to. But when you do, it contains much important information. Even if you may know a lot of it already, it's interrelated in a thought-provoking way.

    Begin with some statistics: the US has 5% of the world population but houses 25% of the world's prisoners; 40% of them are black. One in three blacks will serve prison time; one in 17 white men will. And how did this come about? The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution - to which the title alludes - has a clause in it that clearly excepts prison. "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." If you're in prison, it's okay for you to be treated as a slave. Rather astonishing, but that's what it seems to imply. Given this proviso, the logical purpose of DuVernay's exposition is to show that the lives of African Americans since the abolition of slavery, through various means, but increasingly over the last three decades through imprisonment, have involved slavery by another name.

    It's all economics, the film points out. Slaves played a key role in the southern economy, and their removal left it in disarray. The result was to re-enslave them by other means. They were jailed for long times for trivial charges and the prisoners were farmed out as labor. The 2.2+ million incarcerated in the US today are a massive slave labor force, their maintenance itself a highly profitable industry.

    D.W. Griffith's huge hit The Birth of a Nation fed a picture of blacks as dangerous criminals and marauders and rapists. In the wake of this mood, the KKK thrived. Jim Crow rules extended exclusion and humiliation. In this atmosphere the incarceration of blacks was looked on as inevitable. Revolt was difficult. Civil rights leaders during the Sixties were targeted by FBI chief J.Edgar Hoover, and were jailed, executed in their beds, and driven from the country.

    Fast forward to Richard Nixon, then Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. "Law and Order" and the "War on Drugs" are explained as code words or pretexts for incarcerating blacks. The film points out the familiar fact that crack cocaine, which predominated in the ghetto, led to extreme punishments while involvement in the white suburban powdered version was treated much more lightly in US law. Here the film grows more relevant and contemporary, referring to Hilary Clinton's support of her husband's Draconian "three strikes" law and "mandatory sentencing" as a major factor behind the way since Reagan the US prison population has increased by 50% or even doubled every five years.

    Returning to the economic factor which motivated slavery, the film describes the key role of the wide-ranging conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (or ALEC), which has had a many-layered role in increasing the incarceration rate and profiting by it, including the privatization of prisons. Now that public awareness of the prison issue is heating up, the new move is toward home incarceration - spreading the prisons among us - using ankle bracelets and GPS to confine people outside the formal prison system. The film touches on how privatized "detainment centers" for undocumented immigrants are really just prisons too.

    It's plain the film isn't enthusiastic about Hilary Clinton, given her links with her husband's Draconian policies vis-a-vis imprisonment and welfare and her use of the term "superpradator," but the vicious moments - clips of many of them - from Donald Trump at rallies that have a distinct racist flavor makes the message clear: the "least worst" by far is Hilary.

    Given its thorough, forceful nature, The 13th certainly is a film worth seeing, and probably of special importance to young people. It's just a shame that it's more in the order of a summary of what's known than new investigation. The film doesn't steer us otherwise toward a way out, or provide a very positive message, except that "Black Lives Matter" (even without the great black political leaders of the past, including Angela Davis, whom we've directly seen and heard from) is a strong and viable movement for reform.

    The 13th, 100 mins., debuted 30 Sept. 2016 at the New York Film Festival; also LFF. Limited release UK and UK and internet (Netflix) starting 7 Oct. 2016.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-07-2016 at 06:50 PM.

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    FIRE AT SEA/FUOCOAMMARE (Gianfranco Rosi 2016)

    GIANFRANCO ROSI: FIRE AT SEA/FUOCOAMMARE (2016)


    SAMUELE PUCILLO TAKES AIM IN FIRE AT SEA

    Rosi's crabwise look at Lampedusa's refugee crisis packs a gentle wallop

    The star of this documentary, which is of the quietly "observational" kind, is a 12-yer-old oddball kid called Samuele Pucillo, who lives on Lampedusa, an island of fishermen. Samuele, however, considers himself a born hunter, not a fisherman, and therefore a misfit on the island. Samuele is small, with a lazy eye, as he finds out in a visit to the oculist, but nonetheless an ace with a slingshot. He has a droll manner, his replies well considered. The island's longtime principal doctor, Dott. Pietro Bartolo, calls him "il vechierello," the little old man. We patiently observe Samuele's amusements and hobbies and shaky attempts at being seaworthy to suit his fisherman father: he throws up just riding in a rowboat. Slurping spaghetti diligently, he promises he'll rack up time out on the pontoons, to gain sea legs.

    We also visit Giuseppe Fragapane, known as Pippo, the local DJ who plays old Sicilian ballads as requests on his show, "Canzonissima." Samuele's grandma reminisces about sea battles during the war, "Fire at Sea," she calls it -- also the name of an old song ("Fuocoammare," tracked down by an Italian writer Valeria Brigida) whose words nobody remembers. It's all very quiet and quaint and traditionally Italian.

    But Lampedusa, a mere eight square miles between Sicily and the coast of Libya, is also something else: the Italian territory boatloads of desperate refugees most often sail toward when they escape from Africa. It is Rosi's alternating coverage of Samuele & Co. with quietly searing observation of the arrivals of refugees on overcrowded boats that gives Fire at Sea the impact, at once direct and metaphorical, that led to Rosi's receiving the Golden Bear at Berlin this year for this film. The refugees are received out in the water, with care, efficiency and kindness, by the looks of it. But the inhabitants of Lampedusa barely see them. Where do they go?

    Gianfraco Rosi is a documentary filmmaker who would not seem to seek the limelight. His last film, Sacro GRA (Open Roads 2014), loosely connected to Rome's ring road but mainly a gallery of oddball portraits, won a prize at Venice but was a snooze for some. Obviously he continues to come at his subject matter indirectly in Fire at Sea, but his crabwise and personal look at the urgent problem of mass immigration is bringing him controversy and a sense of relevance as well as a US distributor, Kino Lorber.

    Though chatty and ebullient in person, and fluent in English from having studied at NYU Film School, Rosi is self-effacing and shy as a filmmaker. But he is also persistent, and perhaps braver than at first may appear. He also has a sense of humor and a sense of poetry. What impresses is how invisible he appears following Samuele's and his familiy's lives and yet how close he gets to the desperation and vibrant life of the mostly African immigrants he films arriving on boats, dead or alive. Dott. Bartolo, seen at one point attempting to detect the sex of an immigrant woman's unborn twins with ultrasound (he has no idea what her native language is), also recounts his experiences, looking off into space, as the doctor who must not only examine the sick and the healthy foreign arrivals but take samples of the bodies of the many who arrive dead.

    The boatloads arriving from Syria, Chad, Niger and who knows where we come back to repeatedly, see them arrive, be patted down, the sick or dying (of dehydration and heat) from the holds of the boats removed as Dott. Bartolo describes. A group of young men play wild makeshift soccer. The dark faces coming off the boats looking into the camera. Another group from Niger chant a "hymn" while one yells a rhythmic voiceover description of their odyssey in English. Dott. Bartolo speaks of pregnant women or women who have just given birth arriving dead. Many, many die in the horrible conditions on board the overcrowded vessels. Or arrive covered with serious burns from the dangerous diesel oil permeating the hold. Once, briefly, we glimpse a hold that is a pile of dead bodies. An inferno. They are like slave ships. It's a relief to return to Samuele and his sliing shots. His life seems simple and fun. But be warned: he tells Dott. Bartolo he has trouble breathing, and the doctor thinks it is not cardiac disease, but anxiety, stress. That's odd, because he seems utterly self-possessed.

    Three years ago a boat nearing Lampedusa carrying 500 Eritrean men, women and children caught fire and capsized. Only 155 people survived, and 364 bodies have since been recovered. Dott. Bartolo alludes to this, but Rosi's film is not explicitly factual or informative. It may leave you with many questions. It makes the human details it shows real enough so the questions may linger; but an article in the Guardian will show that Rosi's film is an artificial construct, if one had not figured that out by oneself. For one thing, it leaves out all the details of what happens to the refugees after they're taken off the boats -- though it does seem that in humanitarian terms, Lampedusa has an unusually clean slate.

    Fire at Sea/Fuocoammare, 104 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Feb. 2016, winning the Golden Bear and three other awards there; some other nominations and awards. Nearly two dozen other festivals, including Telluride and Toronto, and the NYFF Main Slate, as part of which it was screened for this review. It is also Italy's entry for the 2016 Best Foreign Oscar competition. Limited US release 21 Oct.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2016 at 02:16 PM.

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    THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN'S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY (Errol Morris 2016)

    ERROL MORRIS: THE B-SIDE: ELSA DORFMAN'S PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY (2016)


    ELSA DORFMAN SHOWS A 20X40 OF HERSELF WITH GINSBERG IN THE B-SIDE

    A casual portrait

    Elsa Dorfman is an old lady of 79 and also a friend of Mr. Morris. They both live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Of this film, an unpretentious gesture of a 25-year friendship, Morris said, in a NYFF Q&A, that with a subject like her "you just have to get out of the way," and for good or ill that is pretty much what he did. He lets Elsa ramble on, filming her in her garage-archive at a large drafting desk pulling out one photograph after another from ranks of flat files containing nearly fifty years of work, or decades anyway. Morris adds some illustrative material, but mostly his film is her talking and her work. So presented, it turns out to be thin material, and the 76 minutes feel like more than enough.

    Two things are fascinating: a network of notables, artistic and intellectual, and a unique large view camera "instant" photographic format, doggedly pursued. Elsa, who married a civil rights lawyer, knew a lot of Beat era writers and poets as well as some rock stars and Harvard big shots,and was a good friend of Allen Ginsberg from his most creative period up to the end, and made many portraits of him, including huge nude ones. One of Morris' best ancillary moments is two phone messages from Ginsberg and a friend when he was about to die. The other thing is Elsa's long and faithful association with the big format Polaroid cameras, the 20x24 and the more rare 40x80, though she points out that to Polaroid she was no one special: other photographers got preferential access to the special cameras. It was only by persistence and renting a large space that she was able to have regular access to one of the cameras and use it to shoot paid portraits. Surely Richard Avedon's use of large format view camera portraits in his In the American West series blows Elsa's big Polaroid efforts away for artistry and drama, though he probably could never have achieved her funky down home charm either, and her work, though unpretentious, has a consistent positivity and warmth Avedon's attention-getting oddities lack. As she explains, she doesn't do unhappy people. Her arbitrary, thrown-together shots, however, despite their charm, don't set her with the great, penetrating artists of photographic portraiture.

    Elsa's rambles provide a somewhat sketchy picture of her life, a job with Grove Press in the sixties, and other connections after she left New York that brought her in touch with Beats and other notables. Details, lacking here, are partly filled in by her Wikipedia bio, which says she organized a "Paterson Society" that gathered Beats and kept up a correspondence with them afterwards "as they traveled the world." Maybe she met more of them through Ginsberg, or even her husband; who knows? She managed to photograph Bob Dylan at a concert when others were excluded. She also is shown selling her (smaller) photos on the street from a cart; apparently her husband's civil rights expertise helped her evoke her Second Amendment rights against police harassment when doing this.

    As with all photography just as a record of people and their times it is interesting to see Elsa's photographs, even the "B-side" ones, which she explains are those out of two big Polaroids made that clients chose not to keep, and left with her. A more efficient presentation might have included a panorama of them, carefully photographed; seeing Elsa manhandle and pull them out randomly adds little but a sense that there are many and she has not seen them for a long time. Learning more of what she has to tell would have taken a lot more interviews, edited into the best moments, and including a more complete picture of her life and of her relationships with the notables.

    At the New York Film Festival presentation of the film, a special surprise was an appearance of Dan Stern, President of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, with one of the 20x40 Polaroid cameras he arranged the Society to buy, along with a stock of the necessary film and other supplies that Polaroid no longer makes. For some years now the FSLC has had several photographers do portraits of filmmakers and artists it has featured using the big camera. They are displayed in Film Society lobbies and hallways at the Walter Reade Theater and the new film center across the street. On this occasion the camera was set up for Elsa to shoot Errol, and the results were shown to the audience. But when all is said and done, as Walter Chaw also has commented from Telluride, Morris' portrait of Elsa Dorfman, while it has touching and exciting moments, is too careless an effort to rand with Morris' best work.

    The B-Side: Elsa Dorfman's Portrait Photography, 76 mins., debuted at Telluride 4 Sept. 2016, also showed at Toronto, New York, Chicago. Screened for this review at the New York Film Festival.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-10-2016 at 04:57 AM.

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    MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins 2016)

    BARRY JENKINS: MOONLIGHT (2016)


    ASHTON SAUNDERS, ALLEX HIBBERT, TREVANTE RHODES (LITTLE, CHIRON, BLACK)

    Blackness and gayness

    In Moonlight, a movie set in south Florida, Barry Jenkins has made a humdinger of a sophomore feature eight years after his debut Medicine for Melancholy. The latter, very ruminative, urban, and middle class black, was surprisingly original and intelligent, though I quoted Karina Longworth's comment: "Medicine for Melancholy offers a self-contained rebuttal to claims that precious, naturalistic dramas about the existential dilemmas of hipster singles are exclusively a white man’s game." It takes place in San Francisco, by the way. Well, forget all that. Moonlight is visceral and intense and very black. It shows a boy who grows up in the depths of the ghetto with a crack whore mamma and a drug dealer de facto foster daddy, and can still be gay. Maybe everybody knows this, but it's new to the screen, and with this film Barry Jenkins level of accomplishment has made a great leap forward. Moonlight is a deeply original and memorable black gay coming-of-age story.

    But it's more complicated than that, because Moonlight focuses on three different intense periods of the young man's life, and he's three distinctly different people (and three different actors). First he's shy, silent ten-year-old "Little." At the next stage he's intense, angry high schooler Chiron. Finally after prison time he's a big muscular brute called Black. He had all these names as a boy but he grows into each of them and each stands for the different person he's become - while he's also all these and other people. He does not know who he is, but whatever he is, is intense.

    It's hard to overstate the passion and accomplishment behind the scenes that unfold in this picture, which sometimes feel hurled at you, or hurled across the screen. The language makes no concessions to cliché or to what white people may expect to hear. Some dialogue at least in the third episode is hard to follow and may require repeated viewings.

    The story of Moonlight takes place over the course of fifteen years or so, and is based on the playwright and fellow Miamian Tarell Alvin McCraney's short theater piece, "In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue." There is a poetry and an unmistakably earnest epic quality in the film, with its classical music and James Laxton's elegant Steadicam cinematography which gives even violent, precipitous action a studied look. Rapid camera moves, rapturous moments, bright color, intense pop songs show a clear debt to Wong Kar-wai.* Jenkins and his crew do beautiful things with big old cars, the glint of metal, and water: a great scene is the one in which the boy takes a luxurious ghetto bath using dishwashing liquid and a big tub of boiled water. Camerawork is panoramic, adding sweep to the boy's confinement.

    Each manifestation of Little-Chiron-Black also makes no concession to good looks or gay sensitivity, though the small runt of a boy (played by Alex Hibbert with silent composure) and the two other iterations each has an intense, palpable beauty in his blackness that mocks the conventions of commercials and TV casting. Right from the start other boys mark the boy as "soft" and he's chased into a crack house, rescued by Juan (Mahershala Ali), the mentor-to-be who takes him back to his girlfriend Teresa (Janelle Monáe) to get him to talk and becomes his protector. The time will come when he asks Juan what "faggot" means; he gets a kindly, tolerant answer. What the boy has to contend with all the time besides the bullies is his mamma, who keeps descending into drug dependency and scrounging for money, so as a tall, skinny teenager played by Ashton Sanders he tells Juan he "hates" her.

    The one he will love-hate is his continuing "friend" Kevin (Jaden Piner at 9; Jharrel Jerome at the crucial moment of 16; André Holland as the adult Black seeks out a decade or more later). These are the moments that are the emotional heart of the film and of Little-Chiron-Black's experience, and though it's not that kind of story or relationship there's the same kind of heartbreaking longing hovering over Kevin as in Brokeback Mountain. Moonlight is another gay tragic epic love story that has the possibility of making its way to a mainstream audience and perhaps even into their hearts, but this time with the addition of blackness. As embodied by Jharrel Jerome, the high school Kevin who is Chiron's only friend and only betrayer, is a weak young man; he will admit to that weakness, to only doing what other people wanted him to do, as a grown man and a cook. But he has one important thing: the ability to reach out and touch Chiron, which makes all the difference. Jerome's weakness is heartbreaking; when he returns as André Holland, he's an eager charmer. His weakness now impresses, and his chattiness may need Black's (like Chiron's, and LIttle's) silence, which may be wounded but is also strong. One of the beautiful moments is when Juan teaches Little to swim; this is a time when we can see his strength, also when the 9-year-old Kevin teaches him to fight back.

    When Chiron has returned as Black, and is played by Trevante Rhodes, he's an astonishment. The audience has to accept the transformation isn't what you'd expect, as must Kevin. This final sequence makes sense if you conceive of it as growing from a Brokeback kind of longing and loneliness, and in those terms, it's beautiful, strengthened by the intense presence Trevante Rhodes provides. It's an intensity of blackness, which Jenkins revels in, and Moonlight yields its remarkable pleasures only if we revel in it too. In which case it becomes one of the year's best films.

    Moonlight, 110 mins., debuted at Telluride, Sept. 2016; also at Toronto, Edmunton, New York, London, Vancouver, Hamptons, Mill Valley, Rome, Philadelphia, Chicago in close succession, US theatrical realese 21 Oct. 2016.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-11-2016 at 03:24 PM.

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    GRADUATION/BACALAUREAT (Cristian Mungiu 2016)

    CRISTIAN MUNGIU: GRADUATION/BACALAUREAT (2016)


    VLAD IVANOV, MARIA DRAGUS IN GRADUATION

    Shit hits fan

    The doctor protagonist, Romeo (Adrian Titieni) falls into a world of trouble in Cristian Mungiu's new film, Graduation, which centers on his daughter, Eliza (Maria Drǎgus), who's about to take her final exams when she's sexually assaulted by a stranger and breaks her wrist fighting him off. In typical style for Romanian cinema, the film is ferociously unfun, without an ounce of humor. But it enmeshes us in its troubles. The Romanians make films that are like police procedurals that want to be soaps, but are more intricate and patient. Mungiu has written and crafted this film with care, though intentionally paying little attention to arc. Resolution would be a cop-out and dampen down the multivalence of plot too much. So Eliza graduates from high school, but without our learning if she's aced her exams, which Romeo has cared so much about he was willing to throw away his moral reputation to fix the outcome. We don't know if she'll attend university in Cluj with her easygoing jock boyfriend Marius (Rares Andrici) or go to England on a prestigious fellowship at Cambridge as Romeo's been preparing her for her entire life.

    Artists aren't always the best judges of what their work is about but Mungiu has been definite that this film is about the age when your best years and your dreams are behind you. This is what Romeo's struggle is about. He's presumably a respected doctor, but there's nothing about his achievements or reputation. He's having an affair with a foreign coworker, Sandra (Mǎlina Manovici), his marriage is on the skids. He tries to belittle the attack on Eliza - tests show she was not technically raped, but when she gets a lower score on her Romanian exam when she needed a 9 or a 10 he persuades a corrupt official to arrange it to be altered. The point is Eliza has become his hope, the dream he lost by choosing to stay in the country, but she's slipping away.

    Mungiu is a Cannes darling and hence a director with global cred, having won a Palme d'Or for his corrupt abortionist drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, And 2 Days nine years ago, as well as lesser but respectable Cannes awards for his 2012 Beyond the Hills and for this new one. But writing from Cannes, Mike D'Angelo (who gave a much more detailed account of the film in his AVClub review than I do here) suggested that this time Mungiu's thinking has lost its urgency. Mike wrote that if he'd seen Graduation a dozen years ago its story of a moral "slippery slope" would have "mightily impressed him" but less so now.

    Watching Graduation I felt its source is in the Seventies, in Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Dekalg," the Polish master's series of studies of moral crises encountered in the nightmare of Eastern Europe. Mungiu's work here is serious and absorbing but hasn't Kieslowski's economy or elegance of construction. As I say, the Romanians almost seem to eschew construction altogether. What they excel at is providing endless poignant details of the long littleness of former Soviet Union life. Maybe my favorite Romanian film was really the first I saw, at the 2005 New York Film Festival, Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. It's a film that just goes on and on and on, till it ends. But it is a dazzling as well as numbing illustration of bureaucratic incompetence and corruption with fatal results. The action is mundane, but urgent, and in the end, the title comes true.

    But if Mungiu is playing with corruption, and yet it's not his main subject, that's confusing. And in his discussion of the film at a NYFF Q&A he suggested audiences have seemed confused about what it's about. Is Romania getting more honest? Is what Eliza tells her father at the end a sign of improved morals, or cheating in new, or even more old-fashioned ways? Graduation is heartfelt material that provides much food for thought, but it is neither as artistically satisfying nor as intellectually coherent as it might be.

    Graduation/Bacalaureat, 128 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2016, showing at at least 15 international festivals, including the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. US theatrical release by Sundance Selects coming in NYC 7 April 2017, followed by a national rollout.


    Cristian Mungiu @ NYFF
    Q&A 11 Oct. 2016
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-14-2017 at 10:49 AM.

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    NERUDA (Pablo Larraín 2016)

    PABLO LARRAÍN: NERUDA (2016)


    GARCÍA BERNAL IN NERUDA

    Larraín's metafictional tale of the famous fugitive poet and his unknown usurper

    The Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín built a career out of depicting his country's dark time in the Pinochet dictatorship, into which he was born and lived most of his teens. Allende was killed and Pinochet took over in 1973 and reigned till 1990; Larraín was born in 1976. Best are Tony Manero (2008), technically Larraín's second film, and Post Mortem (2010), both starring great Chilean actor and man of the theater Alfredo Castro. Castro made these two pictures, singlehandedly defining Larraín's picture of the slime and gloom of the regime. They're simple, low-keyed films. And they're great.

    Something more positive and diffuse came next in the director's 2012 No, featuring Gael García Bernal as an ad man whose publicity campaign was instrumental in PInochet's losing a plebiscite and giving up power. With The Club (2015) Larraín returned to creepiness in a vaguely contemporary depiction of corruption and repression in the Catholic church.

    Larraín is busy and productive. No and his latest film, Neruda, are more elaborate productions. But the truth is nothing he has done has the authority and originality of Tony Manero and Post Morten. Granted the energy of its surreal visuals and many tableaux, Neruda, a grand and glossy metafictional phantasmagoria about the famous Chilean communist poet on the run, is on the overblown and repetitious side. The same formulas and the same lines of poetry ring out over and over. Neruda's ambitious but ineffectual young police nemesis Óscar Peluchonneau is played by Garcia Bernal. His perhaps imaginary presence and his tiresomely insistent voice-overs take over the screen from Luis Gnecco as Neruda, a less interesting actor than Alfredo Castro, the poet coming off as a blowhard.

    But he is an audacious one, certainly, whose following among vast elements of the general public is made clear. This Neruda is many people, poet and senator, loving husband, "bigamist" (since he has a foreign first wife who's dredged up unsuccessfully by the government) and denizen of brothels. This links him with Peluchonneau, who is or imagines himself to be the illegitimate but ultimately acknowledged son of the founder of the police department, represented by a giant-sized statue, by a woman who worked in a brothel for thirty years. Peluchonneau keeps repeating that he is not a supporting player. (Vadim Repin has suggested that Peluchenneau is in a love-hate relationship with his prey just as Larrín is with Pinochet, whose regime has been so fruitful for his work.) And this is another uncertainty of the film, an intriguing one: who is the protagonist, the pursuer or the pursued, the great poet fleeing over the Andes into lifetime exile, or the nonentity who narrates the film and seeks to become its protagonist? García Bernal is the internationally famous artist, of course, so for non-Chilean audiences his character attracts more attention.

    The film has gotten raves in festival showings. Typical of those is the reaction of Justin Chang in a Toronto roundup for Variety, calling it "the most inventive, freewheeling movie about an artist since Todd Haynes' 'I'm Not There.'" Critics like that it's not "an ordinary biopic" but instead (in Chang's words) "a richly inventive fantasia on the poet's themes." What are "the poet's themes," though? The phrase is troublingly vague. Departing from history and seeking a historical figure's "essence" is doubtless welcome; we're all tired of conventional biopics. But for all the cinematic flourishes, it doesn't work here. Maybe Neruda is a grand and epic failure, but it's a failure for sure - one that wears out its welcome early on. For all its fantasies and changes rung on the actual life of its subject, Neruda looks more like a conventional big budget picture than anything Larraín has done up till now.

    The fundamental problem is an uncertainty of tone. From the start, a (typically) elaborate scene in which Neruda and the President of Chile trade insults, in a set that seems part seat of government, part urinal, proceedings seem the have more than an edge of satire, but to also be pretty serious. It looks like Neruda is about to get into bad trouble. This becomes more problematic for the gringo viewer whose knowledge of the history is limited. We can understand the Seventies. Dictatorship is an easy thing to grasp. But these are the Forties (signaled more by the cars than anything else), and we don't know what was going on in Chile then. Neruda boasts of being a communist - the thing that's going to lead to orders for his arrest (and the real or imaginary Óscar Peluchonneau's setting out to find him). But at the same time he doesn't seem to take being a communist seriously.

    I do like the idea of this relationship between a noble victim and García Bernal's dapper little mustachioed martinet of a cop who keeps almost finding him, and ends falling down in the snows of the Andes. These scenes and many others are gorgeously photographed: snow has rarely looked prettier. The mock-serious, deadly dangerous yet laughable, setup is one that Nabokov used in a number of his novels, and I can best understand what Larraín was trying to do by seeing this as a Nabokovian tragicomedy. I also liked seeing pretty-boy García Bernal play a more mature, and less flattering, role. Peluchonneau's's lonely scenes are in stark contrast to the more cluttered sequences involving Neruda and entourage, as they must since the two men never come directly into contact.

    Neruda, 107 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2016; at least 14 other international festivals including Telluride, Toronto, New York and Mill Valley. It is to be Chile's entry in the Best Foreign Oscar competition. US theatrical release to begin 16 Dec. 2016. In NYC at the Film Society at Lincoln Center and IFC Center.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-15-2016 at 01:46 PM.

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    STAYING VERTICAL/RESTER VERTICAL (Alain Guiraudie 2016)

    ALAIN GUIRAUDIE: STAYING VERTICAL/RESTER VERTICAL (2016)


    DAMIEN BONNARD AND INDIA HAIR IN STAYING VERTICAL

    Country life

    Gay-oriented French director Alain Guiraudie, whose Stranger by the Lake/L'inconnu du lac in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2013 won him a lot of prizes, made it for the first time into Cannes Competition with this year's Staying Vertical/Rester vertical. Having seen only his last two features (he's made eight) I can hardly generalize, but the New York Film Festival Q&A brought out that Guiraudie often makes a new film that contrasts with the last. Staying Vertical's changes of location and wild unpredictability are indeed in sharp contrast with Stranger by the Lake's tight police procedural structure and strict limitations of time and place. The last film could be seen as a grimly realistic critique of cold gay sex. The new film is notable for its comically free-flowing sexuality. It also has an element of the surreal and of fable, and a mythological beast, the wolf, which may have its parallels in the male cast members.

    Vertical's narrative follows its strapping main character Leo (Damien Bonnard), a screenwriter wandering homeless around southern France in his Renault. He keeps asking his producer (Sébastien Novac) to wire him 3,000 euro advances, but he hasn't written a line. He meets a feisty young shepherdess called Marie (India Hair) and they have tender (and realistic) sex and a baby is born (fast forward, obviously, and also realistic). Guiraudie handles the impulsive and natural sex very casually. Marie has post-partum depression and runs off to town with her two young sons, leaving Leo with the baby. Leo also has to contend with Marie's ogreish father Jean-Louis (Raphaël Thiéry), who seems to be dangerous, and also predatory. And from the start he has kept coming back to an old man by the roadside, Marcel (Christian Bouillette), for whom age has never lessened his pleasure in Pink Floyd played at top volume, who slings homophobic abuse upon the pretty young man who lives with him, Yoan (Basile Meilleurat), whom Leo propositions, but who has no use for Leo. Leo goes repeatedly for some kind of plant therapy in a swamp, just as he keeps going back to Marcel and looking for Yoan. He takes care of the baby, but this becomes increasingly shaky as he runs out of money and is attacked by homeless people and left naked. He is fascinated by wolves, who are a real menace in France these days. At one point Jean-Louis uses the baby as a bait for them.

    As D'Angelo writes in his Cannes report for AVClub, Guiraudie makes all this outrageous stuff work through rhythmical repetition, and there is a tonic quality about the flow of freedom and responsibility. This film neatly skates the line between what could make you cry and what could make you laugh, though in the Q&A the director said he'd have liked to have achieved that to a greater extent and will strive to in future. One of the jokes is how Guiraudie reuses existing characters for new functions instead of introducing new ones. It's a process film and the process is Leo's gradual decline, but at the end in a stunning final scene it seems Leo has been transformed and elevated into a shepherd and saintly wolf whisperer. But apart from anything that happens the pleasure of the film is its continual sense of unpredictability, hovering between tragic and comic, and its country earthiness, the directness of its passions. Guiraudie grew up in a farming family, according to French Wikepedia, and in the Department of Aveyron where much of this film takes place. One might think of Bruno Dumont for the brutal bluntness of the sex, but this is sweeter. Not for everyone, but a great palate-cleanser for the cinephile who's been watching more conventional festival entries like Neruda and Graduation.

    Staying Vertical/Rester vertical, 100 mins, debuted at Cannes May 2016 in Competition. Ten other festivals including London and New York in October. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival. US theatrical release by Strand Releasing coming in LA on 20 Jan. 2017 at Laemmle's Royal Theatre and in NYC 27 Jan. 2017 at Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center.


    Alain Guiraudie @ NYFF (CK photo)
    Q&A 12 Oct. 2016
    .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-20-2016 at 07:49 PM.

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    THINGS TO COME/L'AVENIR (Mia Hansen-Løve 2016)

    MIA HANSEN-LØVE: THINGS TO COME/L'AVENIR (2016)


    ISABELLE HUPPERT IN THINGS TO COME

    Embracing life's hard knocks

    In Hansen-Løve's Things to Come/L'Avenir, a film designed with Isabelle Huppert in mind, her character Nathalie, a fiftyish Paris professeur agrégée of philosophy, faces one challenge after another with the kind of aplomb only the seemingly indestructible Huppert can carry off. It's summer, and a lot of the action takes place in northeastern Paris around the sunny Buttes Chaumont. Braving political strikes against government rises in retirement age is the first, and mildest, of her worries. Her husband Heinz (André Marcon), also a prof of "philo," is leaving her for a mistress. Her publisher is dropping her. Her daughter is leaving the nest. Her favorite graduate, a dreamboat, and someone she's probably in love with, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), is moving to a remote leftist commune whose denizens mostly speak German, which she doesn't. Most urgently, her aging mother (iconic actress Édith Scob) is having daily panic attacks and threatening suicide; the firemen are called in every day. Nathalie is saddled with her mother's overweight cat, Pandora, and she's allergic.

    This is, in Mia Hansen-Løve's distinctive manner, a realistic "comédie de moeurs" that takes some jumps through time, and hits upon life crises with naturalism, style, and a moral seriousness that yet manages a light touch. Nathalie declares to Fabien that losing her mother, her husband, her daughter, her publisher, she has never been so free, and it's wonderful. One admires her panache. But does one believe her? She collapses in tears more than once.

    An awful lot happens in under an hour of this 102 minute film, delivered with such rigorous French elegance, so cooly acted by Huppert, that it's a little hard to take it all in. On the one hand this has been called "the richest" of Hansen-Løve's five features, maybe because the protagonist is going through a classic series of major post-midlife crises. Her other films are more limited in focus, the addict parent of Tout est pardonné , the tragic film benefactor whose suicide leaves his family in the lurch of The Father of My Children, the young couple who part before the girl would like of Goodbye First Love, the music impresario brother with drug issues of Eden. But these also arguably are more particular, less schematic, than the latest film.

    Fans of the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis will note that here too, a protagonist adrift is saddled with a cat. It's her panic at Pandora's temporary disappearance when Nathalie lets her loose at Fabien's country place that shows the disquiet under her façade of outward calm and assurance. One is also reminded as the plot unfolds of the line spoken by Bodhi in Point Break: "Life sure has a sick sense of humor, doesn't it?"

    I was not so moved by Things to Come as by the director's previous films (except for Eden, which seemed a little too spread out and panoramic), but a friend whose opinions I respect declared that she "loved, loved, loved" it, and it just may take more time to sink in; this was true for me of Tout est pardonné. An angle to reconsider is how well Nathalie's "philo" instruction works for her, whether there is an ironic disconnect between text and life (as Nathalie's text books are declared defunct), or au contraire her conduct - something Isabelle Huppert, past 60 but still beautiful, elegant, and girlish, can carry off - may truly reflect the heroism life requires of us on a daily basis.

    Things to Come/L'Avenir, 104 mins., debuted at the Berlinale, winning the Silver Bear for Best Director and nominated for the Golden Bear for Best Film. French theatrical release 6 Apr. 2016, to very strong reviews (AlloCiné press rating 3.9/27 critics). Shown at nearly two dozen other international festivals including the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review 14 Oct. 2016.

    US limited theatrical release begins 2 Dec. 2016.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-29-2016 at 10:14 PM.

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    ELLE (Paul Verhoeven 2016)

    PAUL VERHOEVEN: ELLE (2016)


    ISABELLE HUPPERT IN ELLE

    My rapist

    It is a uniquely disorienting and confusing pleasure to watch Isabelle's two latest movies - Mia Hansen-Løve's Things to Come/L'Avenir and Paul Verhoeven's Elle - one after another, as I just did in New York. Both were playing in the city's premier annual cinematic event, the New York Film Festival. Some young journos who slogged through them with me joked that if neither one quite was a great film, a mashup of the two might be a zinger. Actually either one of them is a zinger by itself. Isabelle Huppert is simply an amazing actress, the most prolific and quite possibly the most brilliant in movies today.

    In the first, Huppert plays Nathalie, a Paris university "philo" prof, who's more or less an ordinary human being, though exceptional in her aplomb in the face of hard knocks. She is dumped by her academic publisher and her longtime husband; left in the lurch by her handsome favorite student; faced with her mother's dramatic aging and death, her daughter's leaving the nest, becoming a grandmother, and rescuing a cat.

    In the second, Verhoeven's Elle, Huppert plays Michèle Leblanc, the owner-manager of a successful video game company with a very, very strange past and an equally weird present. She's not really remotely a normal human. She's an Isabelle Huppert superwoman-monster. This is a mystery, a comedy, and a horror movie. It also confusingly meshes with the previous film. Here too she becomes a grandmother, must contend with a trying aging mother. And in both there is a cat, and the Huppert protagonist weathers a series of literally very hard knocks with, well, this time, super-human aplomb.

    Verhoeven hasn't made a movie for a decade and this is his first made in France. It happened because Huppert latched onto the project before Verhoeven did, and Hollywood rejected it, after American David Birke had adapted Philippe Djian's French novel for the screen. The rejection, Verhoeven has explained, was because in Hollywood, if a woman gets raped and pursues the rapist, there's got to be revenge. But there was no revenge in the book, or Birke's screenplay. Instead, the raped lady, a successful businesswoman of unsinkable froideur, gets involved in a tricky game of cat and mouse with the rapist. The "mystery" soon ends, though, as she discovers the rapist (Laurent Lafitte) close at hand - but does nothing to have him apprehended.

    Michèle Leblanc gets raped in the first frames, by a tall masked man in black (we'll revisit this scene again, and again). They fight, violent blows are exchanged, a table full of china crashes onto the floor of Michèle's suburban mansion. Violent intercourse occurs, with panting and yelling. The masked man flees. Michèle then gets herself up, and sweeps away the mess. She tells her boyfriend the big bruise on her face is from a fall off her bike. She goes about her business. It's only later she tells friends and family she was assaulted. She does not tell the police. This is because she does not like police, for reasons we learn later.

    Elle seems trashy, but Verhoeven's movies always do, even at their best, and this time it's trash with an elegant French gloss. The mixture of violence and blood and murder in a bourgeois French setting reminded me of Chabrol; and, of course, Huppert worked for Chabrol - six times. Even Chabrol would probably not have filmed a story with trappings as lurid as these. Michèle's mother (Judith Magre) is a disgusting old crone, her face a bumpy mélange of crude cosmetic surgeries and with the occasional "petit botox." She has a paid muscular young lover called Ralf (Raphaël Lenglet). Her father is in prison for life for a series of lurid murders when Michèle was a girl - and may have participated.

    The video games Michèle's company makes are lurid, sexual, and violent too, and the company is mostly cocky young men, who mock her. There is a version of the latest game mocked up to amuse the team in which Michèle is sodomized by a tentacled digital monster. There are other subplots. Michèle has a lover (Christian Berkel), who is the husband of her best friend (Anne Consigny), and her ex-husband (Charles Berling) is still in the picture. She has a strapping young doofus of a son called Vincent (Jonas Bloquet), who's expecting to have a baby with his girlfriend, Rebecca (Virginie Efira), who's crazy; the baby clearly is not his, and the father is black. Yet Michèle considers herself a grandmother. Her parents do not fare well. The protagonist masturbates watching her rapist, and a Christmas crèche; religion provides more than one form of conciliation. Some of this stuff would get in the way of a Chabrol plot, but it's all grist to Verhoeven's energetic gin mill.

    Half the pleasure of Elle is seeing Huppert sail through the turbulent, convoluted action. Michèle Leblanc was a character she had to play. Elle has an excellent cast with plenty of depth, but it is Huppert who makes it work. She is indestructible. We don't really know who Michèle Leblanc is or what makes her tick, but with Huppert, it can happen. This movie is another expansion of the repertoire of the inexhaustible actress, and as noted in a NY Times article, writer "have noted that Elle includes sly references to her formidable filmography, including Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher (2002); Christophe Honoré’s My Mother (2004), a story of incest; and Claude Chabrol’s Madame Bovary (1991)."

    No doubt Huppert has been through many vicissitudes on film, but Elle reminded me of Catherine Breillat's bravely honest autobiographical film, Abuse of Weakness, in which Huppert also stared, and was brilliant and convincing. It depicts how Breillat had a stroke, and the disreputable man who became her "helper" took over her life, and her bank account, wiping her out financially. Here too, the Huppert character is Teflon-coated, knocked down, but unbowed. That was real life. Elle is ghastly fun.

    Elle, 130 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition May 2016 and was nominated for the Palme d'Or; 20 other festivals, including New York, where it was screened for this review 14 Oct. 2016. Released theatrically in France 25 May 2016, it received raves (AlloCiné 4.4/37 reviews). US theatrical release 11 Nov. (English-language reviews ecstatic: Metacritic score 90; UK release coming 24 Feb. 2017.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-13-2016 at 02:41 PM.

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    CERTAIN WOMEN (Kelly Reichardt 2016)

    KELLY REICHARDT: CERTAIN WOMEN (2016)


    MICHELLE WILLIAMS IN CERTAIN WOMEN

    Lost women in Montana

    This time Kelly Reichardt, the respected Amerindie director and chronicler of women (and sometimes men) in states of aimlessness, has combined stories by Maile Meloy about three women living in the same rural town in Montana and a fourth further flung, filmed with an eye for the poetry of the ordinary in handsome earth tones. The first two segments are connected by James Le Gros, who's the lover of small town lawyer Laura Wells (Laura Dern) and husband of Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams). Three tales unfold, but though the first has crime drama elements and even a kidnapping and police stakeout (low keyed, of course), only the third, about a lost young lawyer, Beth Travis (Kristen Stewart), who attracts the hopeless affections of Jamie, a lonesome cowgirl (first-timer Lily Gladstone), is emotionally touching. Maybe Jared Harris, as Laura Dern's client and an injured carpenter who's lost a workman's compensation case, gets the prize for most pathetic, ranging from tears to threatening mass murder, winding up in prison abandoned by his wife for a convict in another state. But it is hard to care about him, or about Laura Dern's guilt at failing to save him. But as Jamie, Lily Gladstone is remarkably real.

    In the middle segment, where James LeGros immediately reappears as the husband of Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams), she is preoccupied with building a house out in the country, and we follow a singularly unfulfilling trip withRyan ( Le Gros) and their boyish, hostile daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier) to persuade an old man to sell them his pile of sandstone blocks. The old man agrees - maybe; but Le Gros uses passive-agrressive comments to make sure the commitment isn't clear. Seeking to interpret the film, A.O. Scott wrote in the NY Times, "Those rocks are at once symbols of transience and of permanence." Okay. So what? Similarly Laura (Dern) spends time with the exploding (or imploding) Fuller (Jared Harris), but without really helping him. The episode when Fuller kidnaps a Samoan guard and Laura is sent up to reason with him wearing a bullet proof vest is the most excruciating of the lot. We submit to lengthy delays, Fuller forcing Laura to read passages from his case that confirm he was screwed, only to have Fuller taken away to jail. Her visit to him in prison later provides a dreary, inconclusive fullow-up.

    On the other hand the third segment has the quality of an actual narrative. Beth Travis (Stewart) is a young lawyer who's taken a side job teaching the night course in "school law," about which she admits she knows nothing. The students are all local teachers whose real interest is just complaining about injustices or limitations in their jobs. A tentative, distant, but fraught relationship develops between Beth and Jamie (Lily Gladstone), who has just wandered in, and keeps coming for a few classes (while they last) to accompany Beth to the local diner and chat. Jamie learns something of Beth's background but Beth's main concern is she miscalculated how bad the drive was, four hours each way. When it's announced Beth isn't coming any more, Jamie makes the long drive to her town and stalks her, waits up all night. She can't declare her love and it wouldn't help if she could, but the long held shot of Jamie's face as she drives away empty handed is heartwrenching. The rest of the film, touching back on the two other stories, is anticlimactic. And we note that while Jamie remains in her Brokeback Mountain world of pretty horses and lonely pining, the third, more resonant, tale has become hers and not Beth's.

    If Reichardt achieves authenticity and a sense of real time in these sad, dreary tales, there's also a lack of economy and a lack of verve, almost a stubborn clumsiness. And so this time it's tempting to side somewhat with Rex Reed in the Observer, who commends the acting in this film but condemns Reichardt's style. "Nothing ever happens in her movies," Reed says, "but a handful of critics rave, they end up on the overstuffed programs at film festivals like Sundance and are never seen or heard from again." That isn't really true. But this is a failed movie with one powerful thread, and I wish Reichardt's 2013 Night Moves had gotten all the attention that her 2010 Meek's Cutoff did.

    Certain Women, 107 mins, debuted at Sundance Jan. 2016, and was shown at 17 other international festivals, including London, Mill Valley, and New York. Screened for the review at IFC Center 16 Oct. 2016.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-17-2016 at 02:43 PM.

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    THE UNKNOWN GIRL/LA FILLE INCONNUE (luc, Jean-Pierre Dardenne 2016)

    LUC, JEAN-PIERRE DARDENNE: THE UNKNOWN GIRL/LA FILLE INCONNUE (2016)


    LOUKA MINNELLA AND ADÈLE HEENEL IN THE UNKNOWN GIRL

    Another dogged pursuit, harder to care about

    The Belgian directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne are masters of about moral awakenings and obsessive pursuits of a task. Here is another one of those, if more of the latter than of the former.

    In La promesse, which put them on the map, it was a teenage son (the start for the great Jérémie Renier) in defiance of his mean father (the equally great Olivier Gourmet) keeping a pledge to do right by an abused immigrant. In Rosetta, a teenage girl (Émilie Dequenne) is in desperate, tireless pursuit of a decent job to escape her alcoholic mother. In The Son/L'Enfant, a carpentry teacher (Gourmet again) pursues the boy who killed his son, with ambivalent motive but a final moving shift toward forgiveness. In The Child (Renier again) a young man seeks to sell his own baby, but comes to see the wrong of this desperate and ignorant act. Lorna's Silence is far more complicated, but involves the protagonist's desperate struggle to open her own business The Kid with the Bike, starring another young discovery, young firecracker Thomas Doret, with the luminous Cécile de France, follows a boy's desperate (and useless) effort to reunite with his father (Renier, grown up now), who has abandoned him.

    The Dardennes used a big star, Marion Cotillard, for Two Days, One Night, typically about a desperate pursuit during the allotted time in the title to persuade a group of coworkers to vote against a bonus so she can be allowed back to work after a nervous breakdown. It's a dogged, exhausting story, but an actress as good and as appealing as Cotillard and a suspenseful plot, it holds our attention till the last.

    The Unknown Girl/La fille inconnue is typical Dardennes material. But both because of the theme and the lead actress, despite attentive craftsmanship to every scene, the whole film feels less involving or moving. It's about young Liège general practitioner Jenny Davin Adèle Haenel), who attempts to uncover the identity of a would-be patient who has died after she has ignored her desperate effort to be admitted after hours. This is a task not involving moral development so much as perhaps an act of penance, and relief of a guilty conscience. Adèle Haenel has shone in dry, feisty roles, and that aspect is tamped down here, but she lives up to expectations: convincing as the businesslike young doctor, she is relatable, if not adorable, and Jenny achieves her goal. She has the necessary convincing dedication and tireless intensity. But as written, the character does not significantly change.

    The story is neatly told; one scene rapidly follows another. And yet, since Jenny is juggling doctoring with crime investigating, the narrative proceeds unevenly. Sometimes it's hard to see if she is doing her job as a doctor, or pretending to as an excuse to contact various people and press them for details of the unidentified woman, showing her photo on her smart phone. The latter was African, a prostitute, connected with drug dealers, and so Jenny winds up sticking her nose into places where she isn't welcome. The film starts to seem like a police procedural conducted ay an amateur - without the suspense such tales normally involve. The cops even approach Jenny at one point to tell her she's marring their process by spooking potential sources. And then there is the case of Julien (newcomer Olivier Bonnaud), an intern working with Jenny whom she pursues with equal doggedness after a child having an epileptic fit apparently shocks him so much he decides to give up training in medicine. She even goes to see him out home in the country to have a heart-to-heart talk. It apparently succeeds, she learns from a phone call. However involving, this story seems tacked on. As has happened sometimes before, this is an unmistakable Dardennes film, but not one that shakes you to the core as the best ones do.

    The Unknown Girl/La fille inconnue, 113 mins., debuted at Cannes in competition May 2016; 13 other festivals; French theatrical release 12 Oct. 2016, also included in the main slate of the New York Film Festival; US premiere that day. French critical response mild (AlloCiné press rating 3.2/30).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-22-2016 at 10:20 PM.

  14. #14
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    TONI ERDMANN (Maren Ade 2016)

    MAREN ADE: TONI ERDMANN (2016)


    SANDRA MÜLLER AND PETER SIMONISCHEK IN TONI ERDMANN

    Maren Ade's festive comedy

    In Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann, which is more special and original than it may seem, a goofy, slightly over-the-hill father teaches his ultra-serious corporate daughter some lessons about life. In two words, he teaches her to lighten up. The film is rambling, and may seem overlong. It may indeed contain some unnecessary longeurs. But it needs to be this way. It's teaching viewers about the kind of patience and alertness in life's most boring times, leading to transcendence, that David Foster Wallace talks about in his famous 2005 Kenyon College commencement address titled "This is Water." And the film builds and builds, slowly. There needs to be a moment when you think it's just tedious and pointless. Because Ade avoids making her "points" (except that it's a simplification to denote them so) in any obvious way.

    Reports of this film came from Cannes, where it was the European critics' favorite and thought a contender for the top Competition prize, but it didn't get that. It's not a movie everyone will like. Mike D'Angelo, whose Cannes reports I've been following since his arresting "Open Letter to Lars von Trier" from the festival in 2009, loved Tony Erdmann and reported it had gotten unusual spontaneous applause (as had Holy Motors and a few others in his Cannes years) because it has a number of "glorious moments" that are "designed to blindside you," and are "in keeping with the first character we meet, Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek)." Simonischek is a big, shambling man with a shaggy-dog mop of grey hair, which is important)." He's the father, a devotee of practical jokes (think Lord of Misrule). When his beloved dog Willy dies, he takes a long vacation from his job as a schoolteacher. We've seen him there leading a celebratory song where he and all the students are wearing fright mask makeup, with ugly fake teeth.

    Winfried doesn't take off the makeup for a while. He decides to pay a surprise visit to his daughter Ines (Sandra Hüller, wiry, tough, and fearless), in Bucharest, where she's currently working. At first he really annoys Ines. His jokes are invasive and out of place, though there's something touching and sweet about him, and them. Gradually his behavior gets through to Ines, in a good way. Ines has a key position - she lives in a large, glamorous apartment and is her boss's most important staff member, but she must also always struggle against male chauvinism in the business world, working twice as hard. A key aspect of Ade's film is that she, like Winfried, is viewed with kindness and understanding. She is heroic and tireless, going from dealings with staff to a big presentation, juggling shifts from English to German, supply always seeming to agree with criticisms to maintain the upper hand.

    Ines' heroism shows particularly in how she handles her father, especially when she tells him he must go (not just a woman executive's reaction: anyone would be upset by a father like this) and he says goodbye - then reappears in a fright wing with the fake teeth calling himself "Toni Erdmann," and saying he's a "life coach." Indeed Ines has one, whom she consults with via Skype, but Toni Erdmann's sense of the title is broader than how to win at business; it's really how to live. So anyway Ines remains patient with him. His imposture is too outrageous to expose to associates and colleagues; it would be too embarrassing; but she also shows remarkable forbearance and discipline in managing to fit him in. And as she does this, gradually his touching excesses of humor (and they are excesses: he has little control over them) show her how much she's been destroyed by an excess of the seriousness and self-discipline she's marshaled to perform her demanding job; that it's not worth it. That she's become cold and unkind, soulless.

    None of this is spelled out, though. It's embodied in a long succession of bizarre incidents interwoven with the fractured details of Ines' high-pressure, accomplished, unfun life, incidents in which her father shows her how good will and human kindness, the willingness to do good spontaneously, to act outside a plan, are missing from her life.

    Partly the film is the story of the story of two dysfunctional personalities who bring out each other's rehabilitation by expressing the love they feel for each other. In fact, for a while as sometimes Ines out-crazies her father, D'Angelo notes father and daughter's "relationship grows ever more dysfunctional, even as it seems likely that 'Toni' is the only thing keeping Ines from throwing herself out the window of her high-rise apartment." We get a full view of Ines' life as it now is, but also a full view of its life-affirming disruption. The lesson the meandering, enlightening action teaches is like the rediscovery of the natural and the wild spirits in man embodied in ancient ritual and revived in what C.L. Barber desceribed as "Shakespeare's Festive Comedy." It's not a "magical cure" for all Winfried's "daughter's unhappiness," as D''Angelo notes. But it's a statement, through very particular events, off a general set of valences in the world, and how the spirit of play and ability to laugh are essential to us. It recognizes that the clowns are not the real lunatics.

    The strength of Toni Erdmann lies in how it uses humble material, crude humor, and an almost real-time progression of incidents, to deliver something that could be corny in a subtle, natural way. This is even like an Adam Sandler movie, specifically his That's My Boy, D'Angelo notes "a few wags" saying. And yet it's nothing like. It's perhaps like a bizarre home video. The combination didn't win the big prizes at Cannes, but did win the FIPRESCI Prize there, and other awards elsewhere.

    Tony Erdmann, in German and English, 162 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition (FIPRESCI Prize); over two dozen other international festivals including Telluride, Toronto, New York, London, and Mill Valley. Screened 20 Oct. 2016 at the Saint-André-des-Arts II cinema 12 rue Git le Coeur, Paris. It opened 17 Aug. in France; still showing at 8 cinemas in Paris. French critical response ecstatic (AlloCiné press rating 4.3 based on 32 reviews); the Anglophone critics' response this time is similar: Metacritic score 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-22-2016 at 02:50 PM.

  15. #15
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    I, DANIEL BLAKE (Ken Loach 2016)

    KEN LOACH: I, DANIEL BLAKE (2016)



    Bureaucracy grinds down

    Ken Loach's Cannes Golden Palm winner I, Daniel Blake packs a powerful emotional punch using a neorealist method close to De Sica. Loach's films have become more doctrinaire since he's taken on Paul Laverty as his writer. Their theme is, that in an increasingly money-based, conservative world, as Peter Bradshaw put it in his Cannes Guardian review, "the [British] benefits system has been repurposed as the 21st-century workhouse in our age of austerity: made deliberately grim, to deter or design out all but the most deserving poor." And Loach and Laverty are pretty fucking angry about this. It's not subtle material. But with this kind of economical and plangent filmmaking, you have to be hard-hearted to resist.

    Daniel Blake, the everyman exemplar, is a 59-year-old carpenter - played by the disarmingly good and honest looking standup comic Dave Johns - struggling to get public assistance while the state welfare bureaucracy's minions toy with him and ignore who he is. He has had a major heart attack and is on doctor's orders not to work for some months at the craft he has practiced all his life. Some social services "decision maker" misreads a supernumerary questionnaire he oughtn't to have undergone. Or maybe she is getting revenge on him for showing her stupidity angered him. (The first governmental voice, in the opening credits, we never even see.) His status is reversed. He's declared qualified to work, apparently because he can touch his opposite shoulder and put on a hat. Disability payments are denied. He must reapply, and in the meantime to receive funds must inappropriately seek unemployment benefits. For them, he's supposed to spend 35 hours a week seeking jobs he can't take, and prove he has done it. Already it's a Sisyphean Catch-22 situation, and it goes on and on.

    Besides this Dan is old-fashioned and computer illiterate and the new system requires many procedures to be performed online. The Internet is not a benefit; it only aids the deliverers of inhumanity to complicate things for decent, deserving folk. Dan has never handled a "mouse" and thinks the "cursor" well-named. Constantly threatened with "sanctions" for not fulfilling requirements, he has to attend a weekend workshop on making a CV whose main thrust is that job seeking is hopeless and employers indifferent. His resulting CV he hand-writes with a pencil. Nonetheless he gets a job offer with it, which of course he can't take.

    The best parts of the movie involve distractions from this grim struggle. A touching complication is added when, early on at the social services office, Dan meets and comforts Katie (Hayley Squires), a hard-up single mum with two little kids recently arrived from London, who become a surrogate family for the recent widower Dan. He also has human moments with his young black neighbor, an energetic footballer attempting to make a living under-selling expensive trainers he gets direct from China. Katie's situation and her kids are sad and touching. The story verges on Defoe - Moll Flanders, perhaps.

    The bottom line is the solid decency and fight to maintain dignity. We are watching working class people ground down by the state into dire poverty when, with a little help, they could be making a constructive contribution to society. I did not feel here the breathtaking authenticity of Ken Loach's debut film Kes. This hasn't the complexity of the related French film, Stéphane Brizé's The Measure of a Man/La loi du marché (NYFF 2015). But this gets you more in the gut, and of Loach's late phase work (he is now eighty). I, Daniel Blake may be his best. Did it deserve the Palme D'Or? Cannes top awards are often debatable. But Loach deserves recognition for his devotion to rock-bottom social concern and his classic craftsmanship.

    I, Daniel Blake, 100 mins., debuted at Cannes 2016 in Competition, receiving the Palme d'Or; also shown at 14 other international festivals, including Locarno, Toronto, New York and Vancouver. Theatrical release in many countries 21 Oct. In France 26 Oct. Screened for this review at UGC Danton, Paris 26 Oct.

    US theatrical release begins 23 Dec. 2016 at IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-14-2016 at 11:40 AM.

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