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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

  1. #16
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    Jul 2002
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    PARASITE (Bong Joon-ho 2019)

    BONG JOON-HO: PARASITE 기생충 (Gisaengchung) (2019)


    Crime thriller as social commentary? Maybe not.

    I've reviewed Bong's 2006 The Host ("a monster movie with a populist heart and political overtones that's great fun to watch") and his 2009 Mother which I commented had "too many surprises." (I also reviewed his 2013 Snowpiercer.) Nothing is different here except this seems to be being taken more seriously as social commentary, though it's primarily an elaborately plotted and cunningly realized violent triller, as well a monster movie where the monsters are human. It's also marred by being over long and over-plotted, making its high praise seem a bit excessive.

    This new film, Bong's first in a while made at home and playing with national social issues, is about a deceitful poor family that infiltrates a rich one. It won the top award at Cannes in May 2019, just a year after the Japanese Koreeda's (more subtle and more humanistic) Palm winner about the related theme of a crooked poor family. Parasite has led to different comparisons, such as Losey's The Servant and Pasolini's Theorem. In accepting the prize, Bong himself gave a nod to Hitchcock and Chabrol. Parasite has met with nearly universal acclaim, though some critics feel it is longer and more complicated than necessary and crude in its social commentary, if its contrasting families really adds up to that. The film is brilliantly done and exquisitely entertaining half the way. Then it runs on too long and acquires an unwieldiness that makes it surprisingly flawed for a film so heaped with praise.

    It's strange to compare Parasite with Losey's The Servant, in which Dick Bogarde and James Fox deliver immensely rich performances. Losey's film is a thrillingly slow-burn, subtle depiction of class interpenetration, really a psychological study that works with class, not a pointed statement about class itself. It's impossible to speak of The Servant and Parasite in the same breath.

    In Parasite one can't help but enjoy the ultra-rich family's museum-piece modernist house, the score, and the way the actors are handled, but one keeps coming back to the fact that as Steven Dalton simply puts it in his Cannes Hollywood Reporter review, Parasite is "cumbersomely plotted" and "heavy-handed in its social commentary." Yet I had to go to that extremist and contrarian Armond White in National Review for a real voice of dissent. I don't agree with White's politics or his belief that Stephen Chow is a master filmmaker, but I do sympathize with being out-of-tune, like him, with all the praise of Boon's new film.

    The contrast between the poor and rich family is blunt indeed, but the posh Park family doesn't seem unsubtly depicted: they're absurdly overprivileged, but don't come off as bad people. Note the con-artist Kim family's acknowledgement of this, and the mother's claim that being rich allows you to be nice, that money is like an iron that smooths out the wrinkles. This doesn't seem to be about that, mainly. It's an ingeniously twisted story of a dangerous game, and a very wicked one. Planting panties in the car to mark the chauffeur as a sexual miscreant and get him fired: not nice. Stimulating the existing housekeeper's allergy and then claiming she has TB so she'll be asked to leave: dirty pool. Not to mention before that, bringing in the sister as somebody else's highly trained art therapist relative, when all the documents are forged and the "expertise" is cribbed off the internet: standard con artistry.

    The point is that the whole Kim family makes its way into the Park family's employ and intimate lives, but it is essential that they conceal that they are in any way related to each other. What Bong and his co-writer Jin Won Han are after is the depiction of a dangerous con game, motivated by poverty and greed, that titillates us with the growing risk of exposure. The film's scene-setting of the house and family is exquisite. The extraordinary house is allowed to do most of the talking. The rich family and the housekeeper are sketched in with a few deft stokes. One's only problem is first, the notion that this embodies socioeconomic commentary, and second, the overreach of the way the situation is played out, with one unnecessary coda after another till every possibility is exhausted. This is watchable and entertaining (till it's not), but it's not the stuff of a top award.

    Parasite 기생충 (Gisaengchung), 132 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, winning the Palme d'Or best picture award. Twenty-eight other festivals followed as listed on IMDb, including New York, for which it was screened (at IFC Center Oct. 11, 2019) for the present review. Current Metascore 95%. It has opened in various countries including France, where the AlloCiné press rating soared to 4.8.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2020 at 12:49 AM.

  2. #17
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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)



    Edward Norton's passion project complicates the Jonathan Lethem novel

    The NYFF Closing Night film is the premiere of Edwards Norton's adaptation, a triumph over many creative obstacles through a nine-year development time, of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 eponymous novel. It concerns Lionel Essrog (played by Norton), a man with Tourette's Syndrome who gets entangled in a police investigation using the obsessive and retentive mind that comes with his condition to solve the mystery. Much of the film, especially the first half, is dominated by Lionel's jerky motions and odd repetitive outbursts, for which he continually apologizes. Strange hero, but Lethem's creation. To go with the novel's evocation of Maltese Falcon style noir flavor, Norton has recast it from modern times to the Fifties.

    Leading cast members, besides Norton himself, are Willem Dafoe, Bruce Willis, Alec Baldwin, Cherry Jones, Bobby Cannavale and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. In his recasting of the novel, as Peter Debruge explains in his Variety review, Norton makes as much use of Robert Caro's The Power Broker, about the manipulative city planner Robert Moses, a "visionary" insensitive to minorities and the poor, as of Lethem's book. Alec Baldwn's "Moses Randolph" role represents the film's Robert Moses character, who is added into the world of the original novel.

    Some of the plot line may become obscure in the alternating sources of the film. But clearly Lionel Essrog, whose nervous sensibility hovers over things in Norton's voiceover, is a handicapped man with an extra ability who's one of four orphans from Saint Vincent's Orphanage in Brooklyn saved by Frank Minna (Bruce Willis), who runs a detective agency. When Minna is offed by the Mob in the opening minutes of the movie, Lionel goes chasing. Then he learns city bosses had a hand, and want to repress his efforts.

    Gugu Mbatha-Raw's character, Laura Rose, who becomes a kind of love interest for Lionel Essrog, and likewise willem Dafoe's, Paul Randolph, Moses' brother and opponent, are additional key characters in the film not in the Johathan Lethem book. The cinematography is by the Mike Leigh regular (who produced the exquisite Turner), Dick Pope. He provides a lush, classic look.

    Viewers will have to decide if this mixture of novel, non-fiction book and period recasting works for them or not. For many the problem is inherent in the Lethem novel, that it's a detective story where, as the original Times reviewer Albert Mobilio said, "solving the crime is beside the point." Certainly Norton has created a rich mixture, and this is a "labour of love," "as loving as it is laborious, maybe," is how the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw put it, writing (generally quite favorably) from Toronto. In her intro piece for the first part of the New York Film Festival for the Times Manohla Dargis linked it with the difficult Albert Serra'S Liberté with a one-word reaction: "oof," though she complemented these two as "choices rather than just opportunistically checked boxes." Motherless Brooklyn has many reasons for wanting to be in the New York Film Festival, and for the honor of Closing Night Film, notably the personal passion, but also the persistent rootedness in New York itself through these permutations.

    Motherless Brooklyn, 144 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 30, 2019, showing at eight other festivals including Toronto, Vancouver, Mill Valley, and New York, where it was screened at the NYFF OCT. 11, 2019 as the Closing Night film. It opens theatrically in the US Nov. 1, 2019. Current Metascore 62%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2019 at 04:38 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

    [Found also in Filmleaf's Festival Coverage section for the 2019 NYFF]



    Old song

    From Martin Scorsese, who is in his late seventies, comes a major feature that is an old man's film. It's told by an old man, about old men, with old actors digitized (indifferently) to look like and play their younger selves as well. It's logical that The Irishman, about Teamsters loyalist and mob hit man Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro), who became the bodyguard and then (as he tells it) the assassin of Union kingpin Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino) should have been chosen as Opening Night Film of the New York Film Festival. Scorsese is very New York, even if the film is set in Detroit. He is also a good friend of Film at Lincoln Center. And a great American director with an impressive body of work behind him.

    To be honest, I am not a fan of Scorsese's feature films. I do not like them. They are unpleasant, humorless, laborious and cold. I admire his responsible passion for cinema and incestuous knowledge of it. I do like his documentaries. From Fran Lebowitz's talk about the one he made about her, I understand what a meticulous, obsessive craftsman he is in all his work. He also does have a sense of humor. See how he enjoys Fran's New York wit in Public Speaking. And there is much deadpan humor in The Irishman at the expense of the dimwitted, uncultured gangsters it depicts. Screenwriter Steven Zaillian's script based on Charles Brandt's book about Sheeran concocts numerous droll deadpan exchanges. It's a treat belatedly to see De Niro and Pacino acting together for the first time in extended scenes.

    The Irishman is finely crafted and full of ideas and inspires many thoughts. But I found it monotonous and overlong - and frankly overrated. American film critics are loyal. Scorsese is an icon, and they feel obligated, I must assume, to worship it. He has made a big new film in his classic gangster vein, so it must be great. The Metascore, 94%, nonetheless is an astonishment. Review aggregating is not a science, but the makers of these scores seem to have tipped the scales. At least I hope more critics have found fault with The Irishman than that. They assign 80% ratings to some reviews that find serious fault, and supply only one negative one (Austin Chronicle, Richard Whittaker). Of course Armond White trashes the movie magnificently in National Review ("Déjà Vu Gangsterism"), but that's outside the mainstream mediocre media pale.

    Other Scorsese stars join De Niro and Pacino, Joe Pesci, Harvey Keitel. This is a movie of old, ugly men. Even in meticulously staged crowd scenes, there is not one young or handsome face. Women are not a factor, not remotely featured as in Jonathan Demme's delightful Married to the Mob. There are two wives often seen, in the middle distance, made up and coiffed to the kitsch nines, in expensive pants suits, taking a cigarette break on car trips - it's a thing. But they don't come forward as characters. Note also that out of loyalty to his regulars, Scorsese uses an Italo-American actor to play an Irish-American. There's a far-fetched explanation of Frank's knowledge of Italian, but his Irishness doesn't emerge - just another indication of how monochromatic this movie is.

    It's a movie though, ready to serve a loyal audience with ritual storytelling and violence, providing pleasures in its $140 million worth of production values in period feel, costumes, and snazzy old cars (though I still long for a period movie whose vehicles aren't all intact and shiny). This is not just a remake. Its very relentlessness in showing Frank's steady increments of slow progress up the second-tier Teamsters and mafia outsider functionary ladders is something new. But it reflects Scorsese's old worship of toughs and wise guys and seeming admiration for their violence.

    I balk at Scorsese's representing union goons and gangsters as somehow heroic and tragic. Metacritic's only critic of the film, Richard Whittiker of the Austen Chronicle, seems alone in recognizing that this is not inevitable. He points out that while not "lionizing" mobsters, Scorsese still "romanticizes" them as "flawed yet still glamorous, undone by their own hubris." Whittiker - apparently alone in this - compares this indulgent touch with how the mafia is shown in "the Italian poliziotteschi," Italian Years of Lead gang films that showed them as "boors, bullies, and murderers, rather than genteel gentlemen who must occasionally get their hands dirty and do so oh-so-begrudgingly." Whittiker calls Scorsese's appeal to us to feel Sheeran's "angst" when he's being flown in to kill "his supposed friend" (Hoffa) "a demand too far."

    All this reminded me of a richer 2019 New York Film Festival mafia experience, Marco Bellocchio's The Traitor/Il traditore, the epic, multi-continent story of Tommaso Buscetta, the first big Italian mafia figure who chose to turn state's witness. This is a gangster tale that has perspective, both morally and historically. And I was impressed that Pierfrancesco Favino, the star of the film, who gives a career-best performance as Buscetta, strongly urged us both before and after the NYFF public screening to bear in mind that these mafiosi are small, evil, stupid men. Coppola doesn't see that, but he made a glorious American gangster epic with range and perspective. In another format, so did David Chase om the 2000-2007 HBO epic, "The Sopranos." Scprsese has not done so. Monotonously, and at overblown length, he has once again depicted Italo-Americans as gangsters, and (this time) unions as gangs of thugs.

    The Irishman, 209 mins,. debuted at New York as Opening Night Film; 15 other international festivals, US theatrical release Nov. 1, wide release in many countries online by Netflix Nov. 27. Metascore 94%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-23-2019 at 07:49 PM.

  4. #19
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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)



    Not just another Cannes mistake?

    This is a bold film for an arthouse filmmaker to produce, and it has moments of rawness and unpredictability that are admirable. But it seems at first hand to be possibly a misstep both for the previously much subtler chronicler of social and political unease as seen in the 2011 Neighboring Sopunds and 2016 Aquarius, Kleber Mendonça Filho, and for Cannes, which may have awarded novelty rather than mastery in giving it half of the 2019 Jury Prize. It's a movie that excites and then delivers a series of scenes of growing disappointment and repugnance. But I'm not saying it won't surprise and awe you.

    Let's begin with where we are, which is the Brazilian boonies. Bacurau was filmed in the village of Barra in the municipality of Parelhas and in the rural area of the municipality of Acari, at the Sertão do Seridó region, in Rio Grande do Norte. Mendonça Filho shares credit this time with his regular production designer Juliano Dornelles. (They both came originally from this general region, is one reason.) The Wikipedia article introduces it as a "Brazilian weird western film" and its rural shootout, its rush of horses, its showdowns, and its truckload of coffins may indeed befit that peculiar genre.

    How are we to take the action? In his Hollywood Reporter review, Stephen Dalton surprises me by asserting that this third narrative feature "strikes a lighter tone" than the first two and combines "sunny small-town comedy with a fable-like plot" along with "a sprinkle of magic realism." This seems an absurdly watered down description, but the film is many things to many people because it embodies many things. In an interview with Emily Buder, Mendoça Filho himself describes it as a mix of "spaghetti Western, '70's sci-fi, social realist drama, and political satire."

    The film feels real enough to be horrifying, but it enters risky sci-fi horror territory with its futuristic human hunting game topic, which has been mostly an area for schlock. (See a list of ten, with the 1932 Most Dangerous Game given as the trailblazer.) However, we have to acknowledge that Mendonca Filho is smart enough to know all this and may want to use the schlock format for his own sophisticated purpose. But despite Mike D'Angelo's conclusion on Letterboxd that the film may "require a second viewing following extensive reading" due to its rootedness in Brazilian politics, the focus on American imperialists and brutal outside exploiters from the extreme right isn't all that hard to grasp.

    Bacurau starts off as if it means to be an entertainment, with conventional opening credits and a pleasant pop song celebrating Brazil, but that is surely ironic. A big water truck rides in rough, arriving with three bullet holes spewing agua that its driver hasn't noticed. (The road was bumpy.) There is a stupid, corrupt politician, mayor Tony Jr. (Thardelly Lima), who is complicit in robbing local areas of their water supply and who gets a final comeuppance. The focus is on Bacurau, a little semi-abandoned town in the north whose 94-year-old matriarch Carmelita dies and gets a funeral observation in which the whole town participates, though apart the ceremony's strange magic realist aspects Sonia Braga, as a local doctor called Domingas, stages a loud scene because she insists that the deceased woman was evil. Then, with some, including Carmelita's granddaughter Teresa (Barbara Colen), returned to town from elsewhere, along with the handsome Pacote (Tomaso Aquinas) and a useful psychotic local killer and protector of water rights called Lunga (Silvero Pereira), hostile outsiders arrive, though as yet unseen. Their forerunners are a colorfully costumed Brazilian couple in clownish spandex suits on dustrider motorcycles who come through the town. When they're gone, it's discovered seven people have been shot.

    They were an advance crew for a gang of mostly American white people headed by Michael (Udo Kier), whose awkward, combative, and finally murderous conference we visit. This is a bad scene in more ways than one: it's not only sinister and racist, but clumsy, destroying the air of menace and unpredictability maintained in the depiction of Bacurau scenes. But we learn the cell phone coverage of the town has been blocked, it is somehow not included on maps, and communications between northern and southern Brazil are temporarily suspended, so the setting is perfect for this ugly group to do what they've come for, kill locals for sport using collectible automatic weapons. Overhead there is a flying-saucer-shaped drone rumbling in English. How it functions isn't quite clear, but symbolically it refers to American manipulation from higher up. The way the rural area is being choked off requires no mention of Brazil's new right wing strong man Jair Bolsonaro and the Amazonian rain forest.

    "They're not going to kill a kid," I said as a group of local children gather, the most normal, best dressed Bacurauans on screen so far, and play a game of dare as night falls to tease us, one by one creeping as far as they can into the dark. But sure enough, a kid gets shot. At least even the bad guys agree this was foul play. And the bad guys get theirs, just as in a good Western. But after a while, the action seems almost too symbolically satisfying - though this is achieved with good staging and classic visual flair through zooms, split diopter effects, Cinemascope, and other old fashioned techniques.

    I'm not the only one finding Bacurau intriguing yet fearing that it winds up being confused and all over the place. It would work much better if it were dramatically tighter. Peter DeBruge in Variety notes that the filmakers "haven’t figured out how to create that hair-bristling anticipation of imminent violence that comes so naturally to someone like Quentin Tarantino." Mere vague unexpectedness isn't scary, and all the danger and killing aren't wielded as effectively as they should be to hold our attention and manipulate our emotions.

    Bacurau, 131 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes, where it tied for the Jury Prize with the French film, Ladj Ly's Les misérables. Many other awards and at least 31 other festivals including the NYFF. Metascore 74%. AlloCiné press rating 3.8, with a rare rave from Cahiers du Cinéma. US theatrical distribution by Kino Lorber began Mar. 13, 2020, but due to general theater closings caused by the coronavirus pandemic the company launched a "virtual theatrical exhibition initiative," Kino Marquee, with this film from Mar. 19.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-05-2020 at 12:24 PM.

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)



    Voodoo comes to Paris

    If you said Betrand Bonello's films are beautiful, sexy, and provocative you would not be wrong. This new, officially fifth feature (I've still not seen his first one, the 2008 On War), has those elements. Its imagery, full of deep contrasts, can only be described as lush. Its intertwined narrative is puzzling as well.

    We're taken right away to Haiti and plunged into the world of voodoo and zombies. Ground powder from the cut-up body of a blowfish is dropped, unbeknownst to him, into a man's shoes. Walking in them, he soon falters and falls. Later, he's aroused from death to the half-alive state of a zombie - and pushed into a numb, helpless labor in the hell of a a sugar cane field with other victims of the same cruel enchantment. In time however something arouses him to enough life to escape.

    Some of the Haitian sequences center around a moonlit cemetery whose large tombs seem airy and haunted and astonishingly grand for what we know as the poorest country in the hemisphere.

    From the thumping, vibrant ceremonies of Haitian voodoo (Bonello's command of music is always fresh and astonishing as his images are lush and beautiful) we're rushed to the grandest private boarding school you've ever seen, housed in vast stone government buildings. This noble domaine was established by Napoleon Bonaparte on the edge of Paris, in Saint Denis, for the education of children of recipients of the Legion of Honor. It really exists, and attendance there is still on an honorary basis.

    Zombi Child oscillates between girls in this very posh Parisian school and people in Haiti. But these are not wholly separate places. A story about a Haitian grandfather (the zombie victim, granted a second life) and his descendants links the two strains. It turns out one of those descendants, Mélissa (Wislanda Louimat), is a new student at the school. A white schoolgirl, Fanny (the dreamy Louise Labeque), who's Mélissa's friend and sponsors her for membership in a sorority, while increasingly possessed by a perhaps imaginary love, also bridges the gap. For the sorority admission Mélissa confesses the family secret of a zombi and voodoo knowledge in her background.

    Thierry Méranger of Cahiers du Cinéma calls this screenplay "eminently Bonellian in its double orientation," its "interplay of echoes" between "radically different" worlds designed to "stimulate the spectator's reflection." Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times bluntly declares that it's meant to "interrogate the bitter legacy of French colonialism."

    But how so? And if so, this could be a tricky proposition. On NPR Andrew Lapin was partly admiring of how "cerebral and slippery" the film is, but suggests that since voodoo and zombies are all most white people "already know" about Haitian culture, a director coming from Haiti's former colonizing nation (France) must do "a lot of legwork to use these elements successfully in a "fable" where "the real horror is colonialism." The posh school comes from Napoleon, who coopted the French revolution, and class scenes include a history professor lecturing on this and how "liberalism obscures liberty."

    I'm more inclined to agree with Glenn Kenny's more delicately worded praise in his short New York Times review of the film where he asserts that the movie’s inconclusiveness is the source of its appeal. Zombi Child, he says, is fueled by insinuation and fascination. The fascination, the potent power, of the occult, that's what Haiti has that the first wold lacks.

    One moment made me authentically jump, but Bonello isn't offering a conventional horror movie. He's more interested in making his hints of voodoo's power and attraction, even for the white lovelorn schoolgirl, seem as convincing as his voodoo ceremonies, both abroad and back in Haiti, feel thoroughly attractive, or scary, and real. These are some of the best voodoo scenes in a movie. This still may seem like a concoction to you. Its enchantments were more those of the luxuriant imagery, the flowing camerawork, the delicious use of moon- and candle-light, the beautiful people, of whatever color. This is world-class filmmaking even if it's not Bonello's best work.

    Bonello stages things, gets his actors to live them completely, then steps back and lets it happen. Glenn Kenny says his "hallmark" is his "dreamy detachment." My first look at that was the 2011 House of Tolerence (L'Apollonide - mémoires de la maison close), which I saw in Paris, a languorous immersion in a turn-of-the-century Parisian brothel, intoxicating, sexy, slightly repugnant. Next came his most ambitious project, Saint Laurent(2014), focused on a very druggy period in the designer's career and a final moment of decline. He has said this became a kind of matching panel for Apollonide. (You'll find that in an excellent long Q&A after the NYFF screening.) Saint Laurent's "forbidden" (unsanctioned) picture of the fashion house is as intoxicating, vibrant, and cloying as the maison close, with its opium, champagne, disfigurement and syphilis. No one can say Gaspard Ulliel wasn't totally immersed in his performance. Nocturama (2016) takes a group of wild young people who stage a terrorist act in Paris, who seem to run aground in a posh department store at the end, Bonello again getting intense action going and then seeming to leave it to its own devices, foundering. Those who saw the result as "shallow cynicism" (like A.O. Scott) missed how exciting and powerful it was. (Mike D'Angelo didn't.)

    Zombi Child is exciting at times too. But despite its gorgeous imagery and sound, its back and forth dialectic seems more artificial and calculating than Bonello's previous films.

    Zombi Child, mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight May 2019, included in 13 other international festivals, including Toronto and New York. It released theatrically in France Jun. 12, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7m 75%) and in the US Jan. 24, 2020 (Metascore 75%). Now available in "virtual theater" through Film Movement (Mar. 23-May 1, 2020), which benefits the theater of your choice.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 07:36 PM.

  6. #21
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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)



    Spies nearby

    The is a movie about the Cuban spies sent to Miami to combat anti-Castro Cuban-American groups, and their capture. They are part of what the Cubans called La Red Avispa (The Wasp Network). The screenplay is based on the book The Last Soldiers of the Cold War by Fernando Morais, and it's mainly from the Wasp, Cuban point of view, not the FBI point of view. Unlike the disastrous Seberg, no time is spent looking over the shoulders of G-men, nor will this story give any pleasure to right wing Miami Cubans. But it won't delight leftists much either, or champions of the Cuban Five. The issues of why one might leave Cuba and why one might choose not to are treated only superficially. There's no analysis of US behavior toward Cuba since the revolution.

    On the plus side, the film is made in an impeccable, clear style (with one big qualification: see below) and there's an excellent cast with as leads Edgar Ramirez (of the director's riveting miniseries Carlos), Penelope Cruz (Almodóvar's muse), Walter Moura (Escobar in the Netflix series "Narcos"), Ana de Armas (an up-and-comer who's actually Cuban but lives in Hollywood now), and Gael García Bernal (he of course is Mexican, Moura is Brazilian originally, and Ramirez is Venezuelan). They're all terrific, and other cast members shine. Even a baby is so amazing I thought she must be the actress' real baby.

    Nothing really makes sense for the first hour. We don't get the whole picture, and we never do, really. We focus on René Gonzalez (Édgar Ramirez), a Puerto Rican-born pilot living in Castro’s Cuba and fed up with it, or the brutal embargo against Castro by the US and resulting shortage of essential goods and services, who suddenly steals a little plane and flies it to Miami, leaving behind his wife Olga and young daughter. Olga is deeply shocked and disappointed to learn her husband is a traitor. He has left without a word to her. Born in Chicago, he was already a US citizen and adapts easily, celebrated as an anti-Castro figure.

    We also follow another guy, Juan Pablo Roque (Wagner Moura) who escapes Havana by donning snorkel gear and swimming to Guantanamo, not only a physical challenge but riskier because prison guards almost shoot him dead when he comes out of the water. Roque and Gonzalez are a big contrast. René is modest, content with small earnings, and starts flying for a group that rescues Cuban defectors arriving by water. Juan Pablo immediately woos and marries the beautiful Ana Marguerita Martinez (Ana de Armas) and, as revealed by an $8,000 Rolex, is earning big bucks but won't tell Ana how. This was the first time I'd seen Wagner Moura, an impressively sly actor who as Glenn Kenny says, "can shift from boyish to sinister in the space of a single frame" - and that's not the half of it.

    This is interesting enough to keep us occupied but it's not till an hour into the movie, with a flashback to four years earlier focused on Cuban Gerardo Hernandez (Garcia Bernal) that we start to understand something of what is going on. We learn about the CANF and Luis Posada Carriles (Tony Plana), and a young man's single-handed effort to plant enough bombs to undermine the entire Cuban tourist business. This late-arriving exposition for me had a deflating and confounding effect. There were still many good scenes to follow. Unfortunately despite them, and the good acting, there is so much exposition it's hard to get close to any of the individual characters or relationships.

    At the moment I'm an enthusiastic follower of the FX series "The Americans." It teaches us that in matters of espionage, it's good to have a firm notion of where the main characters - in that case "Phillip" and "Elizabeth" - place their real, virtually unshakable loyalties, before moving on. Another example of which I'm a longtime fan is the spy novels of John le Carré. You may not be sure who's loyal, but you always know who's working for British Intelligence, even in the latest novel the remarkable le Carré, who at 88, has just produced (Agent Running in the Field - for which he's performed the audio version, and no one does that better). To be too long unclear about these basics in spydom is fatal.

    It's said that Assayas had a lot of trouble making Wasp Network, which has scenes shot in Cuba in it. At least the effort doesn't show. We get a glimpse of Clinton (this happened when he was President) and Fidel, who, in a hushed voice, emphatically, asserts his confidence that the Red Avispa was doing the right thing and that the Americans should see that. Whose side do you take?

    Wasp Network, 123 mins., debuted at Venice and showed at about ten other international festivals including Toronto, New York, London and Rio. It was released on Netflix Jun. 19, 2019, and that applies to many countries (13 listed on IMDb). Metascore 54%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-15-2020 at 11:53 PM.

  7. #22
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    THE CLIMB (Michael Angelo Covino 2019)



    Virtuoso film about a bad bromance

    A triumphant American toxic bromance comedy, The Climb is studded with chuckles and wows. It understandably won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes last year. The French should have liked it - besides being so good reviewers keep calling it "brilliant," it's dotted throughout with references to France and French culture. It's made up of intricate long takes to delight the cinephile. It revels in the complicated game of making a movie. At 94 minutes, it's admirably succinct. No wonder it was included in other big international festivals. It's fun, but also tailor-made for lovingly close study in film classes. It heralds the start of a distinguished career for Covino and maybe his chief collaborator here, real-life BFF Kyle Marvin, who co-wrote and costars as Kyle, Covino playing Kyle's toxic BFF, beloved yet a sort of unshakable parasite in his up-and-down life.

    Notably, at the beginning and near the end are sequences where Mike announces he's slept with the woman Kyle is about to marry. The first signal and symbolic long sequence (lensed as they all are by deft dp Zach Kuperstein), titled 1 I'M SORRY, unreels in summer on a hilly winding road in the south of France. Mike is leading Kyle on a long bike ride, mostly uphill, while they talk. Indeed, this relationship is an uphill battle. Mike, a cycling enthusiast, is fit. Kyle is overweight and wheezing behind. Kyle is at a disadvantage in other ways. He is about to marry a French woman named Ava (Judith Godrèche), but at a certain moment Mike confesses he has slept with Ava, has been sleeping with her all along. The whole bike ride has been to tell Kyle this, going uphill so Mike is in control, and can coach Kyle on his "cadence." Kyle says "I'll kill you!" but he can't.

    The next long take is at a French hospital: Mike was beaten up by some Frenchmen he insulted during the cycle ride. Ava, now present, beautiful and svelte, talks to Mike, with Kyle wandering around in the background. The sequence is a hint of ones to come, skillfully juggling rooms and people. Ava tells Mike their relationship never mattered, yet when he moves to kiss her, she responds. Kyle sees, and is furious.

    Jump to 2 LET GO and a hilarious cemetery sequence whose humor makes I'M SORRY grow funnier in retrospect. Mike, it appears, has been married to Ava for a while - her wedding to Kyle didn't happen - but she has suddenly died. This time it's the bereaved Mike who loses it, to comic effect; Kyle intervenes to prevent a total fracas. This is the first example of a Covino thing: complicated scenes full of people who the principals ignore, while having a shout-fest or knockdown fight as if the others weren't even there. Transition: cue close harmony a cappella rendition by cemetery workers of "I shall not be moved."

    Maybe Michael-Kyle are a vaudevillian duo à la Beckett, two dominant-submission losers who switch roles while stumbling on. By the next sequence 3 THANKS anyway, role reversal has definitely taken place. Kyle has lost weight and is fit and happy and Michael has become a potbellied alcoholic mess. THANKS announces a full-on Thanksgiving sequence, with a hop forward to Christmas. Both offer excellent opportunities, confidently seized, for virtuoso companion-piece collective scenes. What's come before has been great and satisfyingly accomplished and fun, but is bettered by these Thanksgiving and Christmas scenes, both, again, in long single takes.

    Wouldn't we begin Thanksgiving Day in the basement? Of course we would! Down there, the new winner-Kyle is with his high school girlfriend Marissa (Gayle Rankin) whom his mom Suzi (Talia Balsam), upstairs, doesn't seem to like. Marissa gives Kyle an intensive in saying "NO!" tailored for rejecting mom's control. This goes for dad Jim (George Wendt) too. The "yes" is that Kyle announces he and Marissa are getting married, after the "No" lesson has turned them both on and led to making out. Upstairs, meanwhile ("Is something wrong down there?" asks mom), the movie delights in weaving in an out of holiday disasters, to the turkey here, shortly after to the Christmas tree. In between the camera flows out of the house over into a car where the now alcoholic and overweight Michael sits, in darkness, seamlessly linking the two episodes.

    All that, from bike ride to holiday drunk, happens in the first 30 minutes, perhaps the compactness related to The Climb's development out of a collaborative Marvin-Covino short film. While sometimes the feel of this material is like Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia, it's more economical.

    Thus the whole new Mike situation is described in seconds as, in the dark car, he rapidly guzzles a bottle of booze and burps, undresses down to his wife-beater, cleans up with a shapeless pullover and goes to the house for the Christmas party. He's sent for an armful of firewood, which he drops in the basement, pouring, drunk, over faded mementos of his own history as a high school football star with no real family other than Kyle's. Pathetically, he dons an old helmet, then crashes into the upstairs under the Christmas tree, as family and guests gather round.

    Dialogue can be epigrammatic, but scene atmosphere sometimes has the vernacular feel of HBO's "High Maintenance," like the moment where guests admire a TV ad Kyle penned for female Viagra. Kyle was against his mom's inviting Mike. Someone gives Mike a cigarette and lights it for him. No words are spoken, an eloquent declaration of Mike's dubious status here. An exchange between Mike and Suzi: "How are things?" "Great," says Mike. "What's great?" "Peeky Blinders." "what else?" "That's about it."

    Scene shifts are aided by music, like Gary Stewart's honky-tonk dirge "I've got this drinkin' thing/to keep from thinkin' things" over Mike's booze-guzzling in the car, and a dance-like ski-park sequence introducing 4 IT'S BROKE where Mike is back in Kyle's life, causing him to drink more. He's upstairs bouncing naked on the bed, but before he can have great sex with Marissa, he passes out. This is the third big holiday, New Year's Eve. Mike ruins it further downstairs by himself banging on pots and pans to announce midnight. Of course Mike tries to make it with Marissa next day and she eggs him on, saying this won't alienate Kyle from her, but from Michael, and get rid of him.

    5 STOP IT: Now comes a well conceived sequence of Kyle's bachelor party prior to his wedding to Marissa, with a kidnapping, ice fishing, and a near-drowning. Mike is more toxic than ever, yet the BFF relation indelibly survives. This ends with three exotic musicians on the ice, violin, accordion, and guitarist-singer doing a hearty Russian song - transplanted to upstate New York. Another musical transition, this, to a new chapter, 6 GROW UP. This is a francophile cinematic homage and portrait of Mike's loneliness. On the street of a small town, Mike leaves a wistful phone message inviting Kyle to a movie to celebrate his birthday. He enters Quirino's Crandell Cinema, in Chatham, New York, where "a French Film Retrospective" is going on. Outside is a poster for César et Rosalie, a Claude Sautet film about two men competing for the same woman. Mike talks his way in, unable to prove it's his birthday for the free entree because he has no photo ID. There he sits pensive, the camera and light angle showing his face gaunt, pock marks visible. The film isn't César et Rosalie - that was a teaser - but Le grand amour by the more obscure Pierre Étaix.

    This leads to a virtuoso transition when the camera goes up to the screen, seemingly to show the film switched to technicolor: but it is Kyle at the altar with Marissa, for their wedding. Sisters Bianca (Eden Malyn) and Dani (Daniella Covino) come up for readings. (Scholars may comment on their content!) It's a large, modern church with spectacular high stained glass windows. The camera backs up and exits, slipping out the church door showing its name, "Our Lady of Life." Behind, as yet unseen, a car roars up, the brakes screeching. It's Mike, in wedding attire, late. The music playing now is Isabelle Pierre's "Les enfants de l'avenir se feront l'amour à l'infini."

    MIke rushes into the church, down the isle to "object." He has already claimed Marissa isn't good enough for Kyle. As at the cemetery, a violent encounter takes place followed by an intense dialogue with the wedding guests around, a tableau of spectators. After Mike's disturbance of the ceremony, despite Marissa and Kyle's declaring their desire to wed, and Marissa's dramatic, "I'm pregnant! I'm getting married!", the minister refuses to complete the ceremony, saying they must think it over - and come back, after the child is born.

    The next scene shows Mike doing better: he's running a bike shop called Vélo Domestique, which also has an espresso bar. He serves Marissa, but her aim is to get Mike to come in to retrieve her credit card, a pretext to reunite Mike with Kyle. She has reversed now, and wants them together again. This time the camera pan to a car leads to Kyle - playing with his and Marissa's happy baby boy.

    Is this just like life, the back and forth and up and down? But the unique tragicomic twist is how Kyle, the weak, good guy, self destructively cleaves to Mike, the tough admitted asshole. And there is more: a final section with the ambiguous moniker, 7 FINE. I recommend you watch it, and all this remarkable movie.

    Not every minute of The Climb works. The two men's voices are too alike. The contrivances are delightful but so self-conscious they shrivel the emotional impact to a slither of ornamental touches. But it's a special and continual pleasure to savor the glissando takes, the ingenious scene liaisons, the funny-awful twists and turns of Kyle-Mike, the varied musical linking interludes. And the loving French touches, which declare this to be not only raucous nuttiness, highly wrought technique, but no mere Sundance indie special. There are two more French songs to come before it's all over: one Sinatra sang to signal a breakup originally by Gilbert Bécaud and Pierre Delaroe, with a background of Ravel's "Bolero," then, as an envoi, Bécaud with Mac David, "With your eyes you smile hello, gracias addios." Much to think about, much to rewatch and rethink here, much to admire and much to enjoy.

    The Climb, 94 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 2019 and won the Jury Prize. It subsequently showed in 15 international festivals including Munich, Telluride, Toronto, Deauville and Vienna. It was scheduled for release March 20, 2020 but due to the coronavirus outbreak the US release was delayed to -- an indefinite date as of July 2020. Its Metascore is 82%. Released in France July 29, 2020 (AlloCiné press rating 3.6).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-29-2020 at 10:29 AM.

  8. #23
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    Two different young women sharing a flat in Paris

    This film is divided up into four "adventures" : 1: "L'Heure bleue" (The Blue Hour); 2: "Le garçon du café (The Waiter); 3: "Le Mendiant, la Kleptomane et l'Arnaqueuse" (The Beggar, the Kleptomaniac and the Hustler); and 4: La Vente du tableau (Selling the Painting).

    Rohmer's stories are simple and fresh, as always; this time they are a string of semi-independent anecdotes. He crafts them around people, this time, roommates in Paris, young women who meet in the country and agree to share an apartment in the city. They're contrasts of world-views and levels of understanding. Country girl Reinette (Joëlle Miquel) is an artistic, self-taught, judgmental girl who comes to study art. She's an enthusiast, but goes overboard and often seems to be struggling. The Parisienne Mirabelle (Jessica Forde), who studies law, is sophisticated, cool-headed, and free-thinking. LIfe seems easier for her. She doesn't lose her cool; she easily blends in. They meet when Mirabelle is on a visit to the country and Reinette offers to patch the flat on Mirabelle's bike tire. Reinette shows her paintings to Mirabelle, who stays to observe the wonderful "blue hour," (actually only a minute) Reinette tells about, the magic moment before dawn when the light is deep blue and the air totally silent.

    Viewers may be reminded of Rohner's deliciously sad 1986 feature film starring Marie Rivière, Le rayon vert (The Green Ray), also about a moment of magical light, but at sunset. A missed chance to observe the "heure bleue" leads Mirabelle to stay another whole night, see the light, hear the silence, observe the animals, and suggest they share her flat in the city when Reinette comes to Paris for art school. Patience is required for this segment. Rohmer teaches us here to observe the beauty of darkness and silence and watch the farm animals while the personalities of the two young women emerge so naturally that one may forget it's acting.

    What follow are incidents that climax in an art sale, and all revolve around money. "The Waiter" is a variation on the ancient comedy of humors, a joke about how mean people can be in Paris; but later Reinette will turn out to be mean in her own way. Is it intentional that one just can't like Reinette but one feels forced to forgive her, as Mirabelle does? In "The Waiter" the latter tells Reinette how to meet her at a café after class that afternoon. Even on the way Reinette runs into two men whose contradictory directions to "Gaiety Street" lead them into a grumpy Parisian argument. Reinette runs off, having spotted the street and the café on her own. The coffee she orders is 4 francs. All Reinette has is a 200-franc note (about $40). The waiter takes this as a calculated insult and begins to abuse her. He won't give her change and won't let her leave. He says her claim that a "friend" is coming is only a scam used on him before: he won't be fooled again! The scene ends with both Mirabelle and Reinette running off to escape the crazy waiter, a comic figure of ill humor.

    The next Adventure, "The Beggar, the Kleptomaniac and the Hustler," is a compendium of three ways of getting money without working for it. We learn how self-righteous Reinette is and how naive. She criticizes Mirabelle for not giving money to panhandlers. Mirabelle argues that it's not possible; there are too many of them. As for the "kleptomaniac" - a young women who shoplifts in a supermarket, this is ingenious staging and later, storytelling. Mirabelle saves the shoplifter from being caught by two store detectives by grabbing one of her bags at the cashier's, and then gets stuck with the bag and the shoplifter's stolen groceries that include champagne, smoked salmon, and potted duck. These delight Reinette, who thinks they're for her birthday - till she learns how they were obtained and gets very upset.

    The two young women argue over whether a brutal method like sending her to prison or a subtle one like narrowly saving her from capture would best reform the kleptomaniac's behavior. Again, the arguing is so well done and seems to fit the two personalities so well, it almost seems real. Reinette's contradictions show again in the station when a hustler (Marie Rivière) pulls the standard scam of asking for money for a ride home, and Reinette gives it to her, then, later, after Reinette has gotten into money problems of her own, finds no one will give her change. She tries holding out the two francs to show she really is seeking change for them, but a panhandler just grabs both coins out of her hand and hurries away. None of this alters Reinette's high righteousness, until the female hustler reappears and tells her another sob story that Reinette believes. Reinette is too inexperienced to make sound moral judgments. Éric Rohmer is like Jane Austen - but without the marriage at the end of the story.

    The last "Adventure," number 4, the most complete sequence and the most lighthearted, features the great Fabrice Luchini as a gallerist. Reinette's money problems have grown serious since a small inheritance she was counting on has been delayed and she can't get a job and can't pony up her half of the rent, or stay in Paris, she thinks, if she can't sell a painting. Another joke follows in a scene where Reinette just won't stop talking as she explains to Mirabelle how she doesn't believe in words. She repeats that she does not repeat. To prove she really can be tight-lipped, Reinette challenges herself not to say a single word the next day.

    But she needs to try to sell a painting and has an introduction to a gallerist. He calls and wants her to come the next day, and she insists on staying true to the challenge, so MIrabelle offers to go with her to the gallery to help work around this. Luchini-watchers well know that the hyper-articulate actor has no need of an interlocutor and this scene is a tour de force of gallery talk nonsense that he spins out as Reinette only shakes her head or looks troubled. This ruse works well. Nothing is so hard to argue with as silence. Against his better judgment he winds up giving her, through Mirabelle, 2000 francs in cash, the price of her painting. The last words, spoken to a couple of wealthy women browsers, cap off the scene with the painting's new price.

    Rohmer's episodic films of this kind, which go back to 25 years earlier, may seem trivial, but are also classic. Sometimes they achieve the purity of fable, but it's their essence that he does not push them too hard. They are entertainments that may make you think about behavior. Artistically, the best ones are those that focus extendedly on a single person, with problems of love at the core, such as Le rayon vert and the Melvil Poupaud-starring Summer's Tale. After all, Rohmer had made the philosophically explorative My Night at Maud's, back in 1969, the most exciting and intelligent sexual tease movie ever made, and the even more teasing, but more intellectually vapid, Claire's Knee in 1971.

    Why, a year after Le rayon vert, was he making little five-finger exercises like 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle? Because he works like a craftsman, in little scenes. Sometimes they emerge into a greater strucure and sometimes they don't. The method is always the same, the devil is in the details. Rohmer's consistency and simplicity in constructing characters and scenes and their focus on human nature help explain why his films don't seem to age.

    Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle/4 aventures de Reinette et Mirabelle, 99 mins., debuted in France Feb. 4, 1987 and was shown at Toronto Sept. 1988, opening in the US July 1989. Now part of a Metrograph triple rerelease Éric Rohmer x3, (September 4-17, 2020) with The Aviator's Wife and Boyfriends and Girlfriends. This one pens Friday, September 11 - 8:00pm EST and runs to Sept. 17, 2020.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-07-2020 at 12:35 AM.

  9. #24
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    Finding the right guy

    The English translator's revision of this French film's title loses the essential element of the French "L'ami de mon amie." It means "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend"; and that's the story. The focus is on the sweet, timid Blanche (Emmanuelle Chaulet) who's thrown together with Fabien (Éric Veillard), initially the boyfriend of her new girlfriend Léa (Sophie Renoir). At first Blanche is hopelessly entranced by Alexandre (François-Eric Gendron). The truth is Léa isn't all that interested in Fabien: their relationship is iffy from when Blanche first meets them. Alexandre is never the least interested in or right for Blanche. Naturally it will take Blanche some time to realize these things.

    As in Jane Austen's novels, Rohmer is telling the story of a young woman of good intentions but limited experience of the world who must discover which man is right for her.

    Most of the film takes place in Cergy-Pontoise, a suburban "New Town" (Nouvelle Ville) about fifteen miles north of Paris. It's truly Nouvelle - recently opened, with "model apartments" and unfinished spaces all around. This is where Blanche and Alexandre work and where Blanche lives, in an apartment overlooking a vast, bright square that resembles, to my eye, the worst Italian Faascist architecture. The New Towns seem arid and exhibitionistic, lacking the cultural richness of Paris that leads Octave (played by the irrepressible Fabrice Luchini in anther Rohmer film) to declare it "le centre du monde," the center of the world. Rohmer plays with this notion, but also played with the idea of the Nouvelles Villes as intriguing places where one might escape tradition and be free; similarly perhaps "Blanche" is a name that may suggest she's a blank slate free to be written upon.

    Cergy-Pontoise's emptiness may be why Blanche and Léa latch onto each other so quickly when they meet. They're like new girls at boarding school. Blanche invites Léa to that flat with its bare rooms and stark but impressive views. (A writer has done a short article in Montages Magazine about the Nouvelle Villes in this film and in Rohmer more generally).

    Blanche works is an office of the town government (cultural affairs at the City Hall). Alexandre works in a similar one, higher up. He wears a nice blue suit. He has a debonair, ruling-class manner. It's hard not to see him as a bit of a shit, but in his way he is handsome, dashing, witty (to himself anyway) and "somebody" in the local world. All this dazzles Blanche (though later, pointedly, Rohmer has a friend warn her he's just a total bureaucrat). Blanche is tongue-tied when Alexandre sits with Blanche and Léa briefly at a café. And then Blanche is mad at herself. The bold and confident Léa reassures her, but it doesn't help.

    Later Blanche meets Fabien and Léa dodges a date with him, leaving Blanche and Fabien together. Fabien obviously has class too, tan from wind-durfing (which we see), floppy-haired, casually well dressed (everyone here is color-coordinated, in blue or green). Unlike Alexandre, Fabien is sensitive and open. He reveals to Blanche his doubts about Léa, who he senses is looking elsewhere. He asks Blanche for a date, which she agrees to somewhat reluctantly. Later when Blanche runs into Alexandre and he offers her a ride, she's so uncomfortable, he says "I see I'm complicating your life," and bids her goodbye. Blanche admits to Fabien, with whom she can easily have heart-to-heart talks (and who likes to indulge in them because he's attracted to her, as he gradually reveals), that she's not shy or tongue-tied at all with everyone, just with someone, like Alexandre, who she thinks is special.

    Blanche is one of those French girls who are too much in their heads. She and Fabien have a lovely date - I'd forgotten how much time Rohmer devotes to it, and how many different shots - and they make love, and it's wonderful; but she doesn't want to continue, because in her head it's wrong, each using the other as a "replacement" for another.

    This is late summer, vacation time, so feelings are in the air, plans too. It puts things in a good position for a rearrangement of relationships. In any case the only relationship that needs rearranging is Fabien-Léa. For a bit, Fabien and Léa get together again. . . only to prepare for the right arrangements we, but not the protagonist, could see almost from the very beginning. Both times, with elegant regularity, moments when things are "off" occur at house parties, while times when emotional truths come happen by the river Oise.

    I have overlooked the relationship of Léa and Alexandre, the other couple forming when Blanche isn't llooking. The way Alexandre propositions Léa seems frivolous, even callous. But they're just a tougher kind of people, and this approach is alright for Léa. This is the whole point: when a man and woman are the right match, their ways of behavior are right for each other.

    It may seem like Blanche takes an awfully long time to figure out that with Alexandre she's been in love with an idea, not a person. In the end, Rohmer even stages a quiet farce scene with a complete "malentendu" on Blanche's part again - as if to shift relationships once more. It all takes place within a short season; the film's sense of time is elastic. Ultimately of course this isn't the slow, patient forward progress of a Jane Austen novel. The material here is slight, but in its classical, crystal clear simplicity, the film gets everything right. This is the breezy, mercurial world of 1980's French twenty-somethings, as Éric Rohmer molds them to his style.

    It's a quartet, a game of pairs that hides a number of truths and paradoxes of love in its symmetries, which suit the arid perfection of the New Town. Compare the delightful but messier 1996 A Summer's Tale/Conte d'Été where one young man, Gaspard (Melvil Poupaud), spends a few weeks at the beach in Brittany and never quite makes up his mind between three women. He too is in love with an idea, not a person, but may have no right choice, since the sincere Margot (Amanda Langlet), the right one he can't yet quite see, has a boyfriend she's committed to. Gaspard can't choose, but in the end something comes up and he doesn't have to. The fun in that case is in the fumbling.

    Boyfriends and Girlfriends/L'ami de mon amie, 103 mins., opened in France Aug. 1987 and showed at Toronto Sept. 1987 and New York Oct. of that year. Now it's part of a Sept. 4-17, 2020 Metrograph triple rerelease with The Aviator's Wife and Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle. At the Metrograph live screening, starting Friday, September 4 - 8:00pm EST there will be a guest Introduction by Noah Baumbach. (Elsewhere, at another time, it's been introduced by Richard Linklater- two great living American directors who are fans of Rohmer, as is Quentin Tarantino.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-03-2020 at 01:26 PM.

  10. #25
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area




    Misunderstandings and insecurities

    A university student is upset when he thinks his girlfriend, who's five years his senior, is cheating on him. In order to find out what's going on, he spies on her lover in this meandering story of a day in the life of a young man by Éric Rohmer. The subtitle is "On ne saurait penser à rien" (One can't think of nothing). Rohmer makes good use of 16mm Paris location city shooting with handheld cameras in Nouvelle Vague style here and this is a good capture of a young man on the move in real, crowded and noisy city spaces, the post office, the street, a busy workers lunch restaurant, and a bus. A contrast to Rohmer's serene beaches and seasides, parks, and bourgeois houses.

    Sadly, the main actor in this film, the young man, is played by someone who was never seen again. He is Philippe Marlaud, born in Paris of Russian aristocrats and fluent in French, Russian, and English. He is in every important scene of this film, he was 21, and he died just a few weeks after making this film in a tragic camping accident, from burns. He was in only one other film, Maurice Pialat's 1980 Graduate First/Passe ton bac d'abord, a portrait of working class provincial French youth at the end of their lycée years. He stands out among the many roles.

    in Aviator Marbaud plays François, a law student preparing for an exam who also works at night as a mail-sorter in the post office; he is perpetually short of sleep. He's doing a favor for his girlfriend Anne (Marie Riviére, a regular for Rohmer during this period). He's found her a plumber, but he must tell her right away. This leads early in the morning after work to Pereire, in the 17e arrondissement, to leave Anne a message. But at first he has to leave because his pen won't write. While he's away buying a ballpoint and a postcard for his note, Christian (Mathieu Carrière) an airline pilot arrives in a taxi at the door of Anne's building. Important to note the girlfriend of both Philippe and Christian, lives in a tiny "chambre de bonne." So she hears Christian tacking a note on her door, because her bed is a few feet away, and she yells for him to come back. A quick scene between Anne and the uniformed pilot ensues.

    Rohmer enjoys playing here with overlapping arrivals and departures out of boulevard farce. While François is chewing on his new biro and penning a nice note at a cafe, then dozing over his coffee, Christian is telling Anne stuff François ought to know but won't find out till much later. He comes back, sees the pilot, then later pursues Anne. She tells him he has no reason to worry, but they have a big argument on the street where, out of annoyance at his persistence, she refuses to explain till after the weekend. He can't wait! She won't explain, obviously, because in her head she can't give up Christian, so she can't bear to say he's gone.

    François is also sleep-deprived, which makes him a little crazy, one supposes. By chance, he comes upon the pilot, and so begins following him. A lot of the time, he winds up in the Buttes-Chaumont park with a blonde (Haydée Caillot). Who is she? We don't know. On the way over on the bus, François, following the pilot, encounters a very pretty young girl called Lucie (Anne-Laure Meury, having a brief but prolific period at this time), who, like François, is taking a break from school. Her teachers's on strike, she says; but who knows? She tells some fibs later.

    Lucie is only fifteen, but she's coquettish and charming and perhaps she's more age-appropriate for François, who Anne's friend at lunch (María Luisa García) doesn't think much of a catch. Anyway, Lucie and François enjoy teasing byplay as François, probably taking on Lucie as camouflage for his pursuit, pretends to her not to be following Christian, then tells her he's a private detective, then admitting what he's really up to. Rohmer stages one of his favorite things: a boy and girl flirting by discussing their problems in romance - and amorous misunderstandings, because, of course, Lucie thinks François is really following her. And maybe we think he should be, because she is charming, and Anne is neurotic and not clearly in love with François.

    You can say it makes no logical sense whatever for François to follow the pilot ex, but we've seen with him and Anne what a clingy fellow he is and it makes emotional sense. Later he goes to Anne's chambre de bonne and perhaps because they're both so tired by then, she lets him in (it's a lonely little room) and they eventually have a loving scene together. She lets him comfort her and this enables him to feel loved. Maybe she's not so bad after all. Now there's also a possibility of something with Lucie: but when François comes to hand-deliver a note to Lucie, François sees her kissing a strapping young man on the street, so he puts his note in the post, and keeps his distance.

    This isn't Rohmer's most consequential film, but its almost real-time narrative sequence of pursuit gives it intensity, and it's very keenly observed; the vérité filmmaking and authentic soundtrack add to the urban realism that sets Rohmer's amorous storylines in a new key.

    [I]The Aviators's Wife/La femme de l'aviateur[/I, 106 mins., debuted it was the first in Rohmer's series Comédies et proverbes, which also included L'Amie de mon amie]. They're in the September 4-18, 2020 Metrograph Rohmer x 3 series, which also includes 4 Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle. This one opens Friday, September 18 - 8:00pm EST and runs through Sept. 24.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-07-2020 at 12:47 AM.

  11. #26
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    MY NAME IS PEDRO (Lillian LaSalale 2017)


    When he was principal of Middle School 391 in the South Bronx and raised the academic performance and the lifestyle tehre, the New York Times heard about him and did a story.

    Lillian LaSalle's award-winning, powerful documentary MY NAME IS PEDRO explores what public education meant to South Bronx Latino maverick educator, Pedro Santana, and what he, in turn, meant to public education.**

    [Filmleaf review coming]

  12. #27
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    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE ARTIST'S WIFE (Tom Dolby 2019)



    Some things you can't get away from

    Tom Dolby, the son of he late noise reduction system czar who does a lot of writing and producing, is back as a director for a sophomore effort starring Bruce Dern and Lena Olin, written by Dolby, Nicole Brending, and Abdi Nazemian. His first, Last Weekend (2014), co-directed with Tom Williams, was a richly textured piece about a wealthy family's final moments at a splendid vacation mansion that's about to go on the market. This was an extremely polished and genteel effort, with the suave - overly suave and modulated Patricia Clarkson front and center. It was hard to tell if anything was really going on. No such problem this time, not with Bruce Dern in the lead. He is the bull in any china shop, and that's his role. He plays an aging artist (Dern himself is now 84) who's showing some explosive signs of Alzheimer's disease. His much younger but also aging Swedish wife (Lena Olin is now 65, and her Swedishness is a part, if a small one, of the story) - she has to deal with this. Dern is always fun to watch, but the special treat is the glamorously, beautifully aging Olin, who gets more screen time, as the title promises.

    The artist is Richard Smythson, a famous abstract painter. An odd choice for a name, since Robert Smithhson is one of the most famous and influential artists of the late twentieth century, though not as a painter, and he died at 35. Claire (Olin) used to be an artist, but gave it up. Richard's words about this vary, her style was passé, or it was classic; she was no good; or she was great and should never have stopped. The press of events cause Claire to regroup, and she starts painting again. From what was said, I imagined realistic work, but her large canvases, from jars of Golden acrylic, are abstract and rather like Richard's, only perhaps better.

    How do you write an artist with Alzheimer's? Richard was already provocative, eccentric man. He must have made a lot of money, judging by the house they live in, somewhere a not-too-long train ride from New York City amid New England style houses, but itself an impressive modern manse, a row of different shaped large black rectangles? Or is this just another example of Dolby's irresistible fascination with real estate? The camera regularly comes back to this row of elegant, angular shapes. Clear signs are given. Richard teaches a small class of students (shot at Stony Brook Southampton). They work on thin, ready made canvasses. (Strangely, so does Richard.) He is more and more provocative, finally grabbing one student's finished painting and destroying it in a stream of expletives. Later, Claire returns from one of her frequent trips to New York (she's trying to get Richard's estranged daughter Angela (Juliet Rylance, step-daughter of Mark) to come, and revive art connections) - to discover her husband has torn out the stuffing of all the living room furniture. But by then they've already been to a doctor and gotten a diagnosis of his condition.

    Can Richard go on painting, or can't he? Demand is still great. A show is coming up and new paintings are expected. One remembers the leading abstract expressionist Willem de Kooning (1904-1997), who drank a lot and died of Alzheimer's bu kept on painting, though the style changed. Is this East Hampton, where de Kooning lived? (The action is shot in the Hamptons.) At a big event in Richard Smythson's honor, when called to speak, his words were an embarrassing, irrelevant ramble. But sometimes he's pleasant and loving, or just an old man, like when he wants to have sex with Claire but can't get it up.

    Much as with Last Weekend, this is mainly an interesting ramble, but the tension is heightened considerably, not only about the upcoming exhibition and public appearances, but simply Richard's unmooring spurring Claire's struggle to stay afloat. There's still a plethora of characters, if we include Claire's artist friends and managers, but they're kept peripheral, off in New York. Angela turns out to be gay, but she has a very attractive young man around all the time, Danny (Avan Jogia, who has read some very sexual "thirst tweets" on YouTube, mainly inspired by his role as "Beck" in the TV series "Victorious"). He is taking care of Angela's outspoken 6-year-old Gogo ( Ravi Cabot-Conyers, a typical cute child actor type), but this seems suspicious, and Claire soon talks him into quitting to pursue his "art," which is music. (In the video Avan Jogia mentions he and his brother have a band, and an album based on a book he wrote.)

    These are not of course the kind of things we'd be talking about in a review of Fanny and Alexander, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, or Enemies: A Love Story, three movies Lena Olin starred in in the past. Dolby has a tendency to take on big themes and then drift away from them. These big themes, however, are harder to escape than last time. The living room is a wreck, and Richard has been let go from the art school due to complaints. And this is good: something's happening, and Dern and Olin are both convincing at it. But while I'm not an expert on real estate or rich people having their last weekend gathering, I have some familiarity with artists, and this is tricky ground. Did the same artist do the paintings attributed to Claire as those attributed to Richard? Ah, there's the rub. The final two scenes provide a gimmicky reveal (has Dolby seen Björn Runge's The Wife (2017)? No, there are some good scenes at the beginning, but the finale's too treacly. And Strand's poster slogan: "The greatest art is learning how to love." Yuck.

    The Artist's Wife, 94 mins., debuted at the Hamptons Oct. 2019, playing at Mill Valley also in Oct., then at Palm Springs in Jan. 2020; also at Sonoma, Sarasota, and Whistler (Canada). Bought for US by Strand, it was to have a theatrical release in NYC in Apr., but that has been postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic to Sept. 25, 2020. Will it be in the eight theaters Strand lists? TBA.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-16-2020 at 06:34 PM.

  13. #28
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE ANTENNA (Orçun Behram. 2019)


    A film set in a Turkey even worse, perhaps, than the one dominated by the dictatorial President Recep Tayyip Erdoğann, which it metaphorically alludes to, using styles drawn from Ben Wheatley (High-Rise especially), David Lynch, and David Cronenberg - too clearly drawn, though the Turkish grimness of this dystopian, sci-fi horror Turkey is at least unique and not quite like the milieux of those stylistic masters.

    We focus on Mehmet (Ihsan Önal), the bug-eyed everyman superintendent of an ugly, depressing high-rise. A new "antenna" system is being installed on the roof, part of a country-wide network for communication and obviously Orwellian indoctrination, and spying too, since the wires probably zap both ways. The employee doing the installation falls off the roof and dies, by the bye. Bit worse than the event is the summary fashion in which he is swept away ad forgotten.

    On top of that, in the first big horror reveal, a woman in a beauty-enhancement facial mask who consequently can't quite see two feet in front of her dives into a bathtub filled with hot water mixed with the black slime that's also seeping into apartment plumbing. Her nails are instantly ringed with black. Her beauty mask is black now. She screams, jerks upward, then dives back - and succumbs. It's a good but not great sequence, but so far, its inadequacy may enhance its surreal "realism," and add a touch of Turkish charm. The soon pervasive images of scary liquid ooze may inevitably remind one of certain key moments of Kubrick's Shining.

    Gül Arici : Yasemin
    Elif Cakman : Cemile
    Murat Saglam : Hakan
    Enis Yildiz : Firat
    Ihsan Önal : Mehmet
    Eda Özel : Berrin
    Levent Ünsal : Cihan
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 06:47 PM.

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