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Thread: New York Film Festival 2019

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

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


    LEE SON-KYUN AND JO YEO-JEONG IN PARASITE

    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.


    PARK SO-DAM AND CHOI WOO-SIK IN PARASITE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-19-2020 at 01:49 AM.

  2. #17
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    MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (Edward Norton 2019)

    EDWARD NORTON: MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN (2019)


    GUGU MBATHA-RAW AND EDWARD NORTON IN MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN

    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 60%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-08-2021 at 02:08 PM.

  3. #18
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    THE IRISHMAN (Martin Scorsese 2019)

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

    MARTIN SCORSESE: THE IRISHMAN (2019)


    AL PACINO AND ROBERT DE NIRO IN THE IRISHMAN

    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 08:49 PM.

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    BACURAU (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles 2019)

    KLEBER MENDOÇA FILHO, JULIANO DORNELLES: BACURAU (2019)


    SONIA BRAGA (CENTER) IN BACURAU

    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 01:24 PM.

  5. #20
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    ZOMBI CHILD (Bertrand Bonello 2019)

    BERTRAND BONELLO: ZOMBI CHILD (2019)


    LOUISE LABEQUE AND WISLANDA LOUIMAT (FAR RIGHT) IN ZOMBI CHILD

    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. https://www.filmmovement.com/zombi-child
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-07-2020 at 08:36 PM.

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    WASP NETWORK (Olivier Assayas 2019)

    OLIVIER ASSAYAS: WASP NETWORK (2019)


    GAEL GARCÍA BERNAL AND PENELOPE CRUZ IN WASP NETWORK

    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; 08-16-2020 at 12:53 AM.

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    BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN (Jude

    RADU JUDE: BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN (2021)


    KATIA PASCARIU IN BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN

    A provocative and effectively messy Romanian film about the injustice of internet (sex) scandals

    The important thing to note is that Radu Jude's film, set during the pandemic with masks and social distancing, is in raucous bad taste throughout, but its provocations are scattershot and sometimes score and others bore. "Its critique of misplaced moral panic around sex instead of more pressing political issues will likely strike a more damning note in religiously conservative countries like Romania than elsewhere," Stephen Dalton noted in a Hollywood Reporter review penned at the Berlinale, where the film won Jude his second Golden Bear. Nonetheless, if this is a "bad film," it's a damn good one and a highly original and quite earnest one that will wake you up.

    The outset is the biggest provocation, the starting point of all the action: a short but exuberant, joyful, and totally explicit cell-phone-filmed sex tape shot by a married couple with fellatio, anal sex, dirty talk, and a pink fright wig, and a real erection and real penetration. It was shot, in the film's story, that is, by Eugen (Stefan Steel) the partner of Emilia Cilibiu, known as Emi (Katia Pascariu), who happens to teach Romanian history at a quality Bucharest high school. Eugen, we later learn, puts it on a "private" fetish site, which means it rapidly goes onto the internet at large and thence into the startled eyeballs of Emi's school's administrators, faculty, students, and their parents, with immediate dire consequences for Emi.

    This opening pre-title segment is a shocker: you've never seen a full-on sex tape in a movie made for general or arthouse consumption and probably won't soon again.Though under three minutes, the lively, real hardcore action is hard to take in a mainstream context and hence seems, well, pretty long It would have been perfectly possible for Jude not to have shown a second of the actual tape; but his game is provocation. (I don't know his eight other films but gather he is usually a provocateur, much focused on such issues as Romanian anti-Semitism and Holocaust complicity, but this is his most clearly outrageous film yet.)

    Jude's images are tasteless in other ways, simply in being crude. There is nothing pretty about the first of the three parts that follow the intro sex tape, which depicts Emi in a frumpy suit and messy hair walking across Bucharest on a hot summer day to her school where a hearing will be held to vote on whether she can stay at her job. The point here is to show dozens of incidents where people are rude, provocative, or obscene, even to an old lady who utters a sexual slur to the camera in a third-wall interruption. The camera repeatedly pans away from Emi to focus on posters or ruined facades or other city scenes. One point is that the language of public discourse is pornographic. Maybe another key one is that people are strung out and angry from the persistence of the pandemic, whose presence is indicated by the many stages of mask-wearing on display in Bucarest's streets.

    Jude again provokes by presenting a second part that drops the narrative for a 26-minute A to Z "short dictionary of anecdotes, signs and wonders.” Jumping around in Romanian history and folklore, this segment lists multiple samples of sexism, child abuse, racism, antisemitism, Communist-era corruption and fascist collaboration, including his major concern of Romania's collaboration in the Holocaust. This segment is a key element in establishing Jude's radical structure. But it's also meandering, sometimes boring, scattershot. It maintains energy only through the suspense it arouses since we want to know where the sex tape controversy will go. No one way, as it turns out. That the issue isn't, perhaps can't be, seriously resolved is a natural outcome of Jude's Brechtian audience-provocation: he will poke us, but not satisfy us.

    Part three is Emi's "hearing" before a motley gathering of covid mask-wearing priests, military men, parents, teachers who accuse or attack her and only occasionally defend her, though in one of the three alternative final votes that come at the end she wins. Again, a wild mixture here because Emi's earnest self defenses, which can be taken quite seriously, come from a different movie. As the opening of the actual sex tape shows, Jude believes we should not be shocked by it or bar anyone from their job for making such a tape. But as the attacks grow more racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic as well as obscene (while also prudish), they may amuse but are too surreal to bring to life the very real issue of someone of probity otherwise being in such a dilemma.

    The film's inclusion of the words "bad luck" in its title hints at an inevitable aspect of situations like this: however you may sympathize with Emi, evidently a teacher admired by all up to now; however she may be right that whatever she and her husband dd in bed, including filming themselves doing it, is their own business and not lewd nor is she a whore for acting "dirty" to excite her husband in private sex; however she may be innocent of broadcasting the tape herself; however it has been wrong, and not Emi's responsibility, that the kids have been able to see it (and however they did so), this exposure irrevocably taints her as a public figure, i.e. a schoolteacher. The film's third part brings out various arguments about all this in an interesting way. But then the other people present - except for the headmistress (Claudia Ieremia), who wants Emi to be allowed to stay on - become more and more slapstick, and a hand-to-hand fight between women even breaks out. A final short segment shows Emi using a giant dildo to wreak violent fantasy-revenge on her accusers.

    bRadu Jude seems to me an acquired taste, but his appeal ranges from the relentless provocateur Armond White, who calls Loony Porn, a film "that both Godard and Makavejev might approve," to the New York Times' much more mainstream chief film critic A.O. Scott, who in his review runs through Jude's oeuvre approvingly and makes this new film a Critic's Pick. Evidently for the people of the Berlinale, the Radu Jude taste has become addictive. But look: he clearly undercuts some of his best stuff here with his tonal imbalances, scattershot organization, and adolescent humor. Nonetheless, he brings out the issue of private life encroaching horribly on one's public one so vividly I was immediately moved to write this review.

    Bad Luck Banging or Loojny Porn/Babardeala cu bucluc sau porno balamuc , 106 mins., in Romanian, debuted at Berlin where it won the Golden Bear. It was shown at over 40 international festivals, including the New York Film Festival, and has been released in at least 17 countries. It was Romania's submission for the International Feature Film Oscar, but not among the fifteen finalists. US limited release by Magnoilia was Nov. 19, 2021. Wider US release Jan. 22, 2022. At Roxie Theater, San Francisco, Opens Virtually Jan. 21, 2022 at Roxie Theater Virtual, with in-person screenings beginning at the Roxie Jan. 22 at 9:15 p.m. [Metacritic rating: 75%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-08-2022 at 10:19 AM.

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    PROCESSION ( Robert Greene 2021)

    ON NETFLIX AND IN SOME THEATERS FROM NOV. 18



    ROBERT GREENE: PROCESSON (2021)

    Robert Greene did something similar with his 2016 Kate Plays Christine (my review is also here).

    By Ben Kenigsberg
    Nov. 18, 2021
    ProcessionDirected by Robert GreeneDocumentaryR1h 58m
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    Robert Greene’s two most recent documentaries pondered the ethics of re-enacting traumatic events, with an interest in immersion’s psychological effects on performers. “Kate Plays Christine” followed an actress as she prepared to play a newscaster who killed herself on the air. “Bisbee ’17” watched the residents of an Arizona town as they recreated a large-scale deportation that had occurred there a century earlier.

    With “Procession,” Greene pushes the concept of staging-as-exorcism to an extreme: Can men who endured childhood sexual abuse within the Catholic Church confront painful memories through filmmaking — and perhaps gain some solace from that process? The movie is billed as a three-year collaboration among six abuse survivors, a professional drama therapist and the director and his crew. In an expansive “film by” credit, Greene gives the victims top billing.


    “Procession” follows the men as they help one another brainstorm and shoot five scripted scenes based on their experiences. Various elements of the production process (casting, costuming, finding locations the subjects haven’t visited since youth) become means for coping and reckoning. A sixth survivor, Tom Viviano, says he cannot tell his story because it’s still before the courts. His contribution is to act — playing predator priests, in what must be agonizing feats of impersonation — in two segments.

    “Procession” is exceptionally difficult to watch, as it should be. It’s also difficult to assess as art, given how it collapses lines between collaboration and co-option and between cinema and supportive treatment. To judge Greene’s experiment, not least because of its visible salutary effects, feels like intruding on private breakthroughs. But the discomfiting power of “Procession” comes from its ability to show and, to all appearances, facilitate them.

    Procession
    Rated R. Discussions of childhood trauma. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. Watch on Netflix.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-19-2021 at 10:40 AM.

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    THE PACT (Bulle August 2021)

    BULLE AUGUST: THE PACT (2021)


    BIRTHE NEUMANN;, SIMON BENNEBJERG IN THE PACT

    The young poet and the superstar

    The celebrated Danish director Bulle August has had a forty-year career that includes a Cannes Palme d'Or and an Academy Award. Some of his films are famous. There is a certain tameness and conventionality about his work, however. And this mars The Pact. The title refers to an agreement between the famous almost-Nobel-winning author Karen Blixen (still revered for her work in English and Danish as Isak Dinesen), the Baroness von Blixen, the international literary superstar who gave us Out of Africa, and a promising young Danish poet whom she sought to nurture, or perhaps feed off emotionally. This must have been an intense, turbulent relationship but in this dutiful adaptation of the poet's memoir by Christian Torpe, though there are moments, it becomes pretty dull.

    There's no better illustration of the power of Isak Dinesen than the way the young Peter Beard, who was destined to be famous as a glamorous jet-setter, a photographer and a champion of African wildlife, briefly took her up and photographed her before she died in 1962 - a year after he graduated from Yale. Beard was young, rich, handsome, charming, and well-born. She was interested. Beard was not merely touched by Out of Africa, but made Dinesen a major inspiration of his life and acquired land adjoining the writer's former failed coffee plantation in Kenya that became the Hog Farm, his lifelong second home in Africa. A movie about Beard and Dinesen might have had more juice.

    Maybe Dinesen (played here by Birthe Neumann) tried to manipulate Beard as she manipulates the young Danish poet Thorkild Bjørnvig (Simon Bennebjerg) here, but Beard was too energetic and too financially independent for it to matter. Thorkild seems a steadfast but timid soul. When Dinesen proposes a solemn "pact" of mutual honor as a prelude to mentoring him, he meekly agrees. Soon she has him stay with her at her family manor house, Rungstedlund, north of Copenhagen. This is where she lived for thirty years and wrote her books; her time in Africa was only seventeen years of her life.

    The young poet seems almost a prisoner at the big house for a while, remaining for several extended periods to work even though he has a wife, Grete (Nanna Skaarup Voss), and a cherubic blond child who likes toy trains. He feels as uneasy about this as Grete does, but in the isolation Dinesen provides - she only sees him for an hour at eight p.m. every evening - he begins writing what he thinks may be his best poetry yet, though he's timid about showing it to Dinesen. The situation would be like a writer's residency, only it's a little too private: there are no other writers there, only Thorkild, the Baroness, and the servants. The film may not show to the uninformed the extent to which Rungstedlund was a gathering place and kind of salon for writers, including Thorkild, for years in the Forties and Fifties, though she often kept them apart so she could gossip about some with the others.

    It is hard on Grete when she learns from Benedicte, the wife of her husband's patron Knud W. Jensen (Anders Heinrichsen)- arranged by Dinesen, part of their "Pact" - that her husband and Benedicte are deeply in love. Dinesen's behavior is contradictory in all this. She has repeatedly urged Thorkild to cast off his "middle-class" family life and have an affair, insisting "wife" is a word that is never even found in poetry, but when Thorkild and Benedicte get serious as a result of a tryst while Thorkild is on a study grant in Bonn, Dinesen angrily rebukes the young man and calls a halt to the affair, and Benedicte chooses to leave her husband and live abroad to be away from Thorkild. The evening of one of Dinesen's big parties Benedicte leaves early and goes and tells Grete what's been going on. The effect of this news on Grete is devastating. And this is the end of the Pact.

    The meetings between Dinesen and Thorkild, Thorkild and Grete, Thorkild and Benedicte, are simple he-said, she-said affairs, with little but drinks and meals, gramophone sessions, and cigarettes to punctuate them. The interior of Rungstedlund is beautiful; Thorkild and Dinesen wear a rich array of outfits: he changes his look as often as she does. But we should not be noticing this; that we do shows not enough is happening.

    As an actor Simon Bennebjerg, who plays Thorkild, reminds one of Berenson's concept of "The Ineloquent in Art:" he is so much of a non-presence that it becomes a kind of presence. As Dinesen, Birthe Neumann seems superficially right, but lacks the cadaverous look and the inner sparkle fire that make Beard's later photo portraits and filmed appearances memorable. Even if she didn't look like that yet it might have paid to evoke the look to heighten the sense that this woman was very special.

    August has shown a taste for long-suffering types, which may fit Thorkild, Grete, and Benedicte. But may be out of his depth in capturing a personality as obstinate and passionate as Karen Blixen. The tameness of this film does little to convey what must have been a very tense situation. If Thorkild Bjørnvig's memoir is as restrained as this, it needed jazzing up to make an interesting movie.

    The Pact/Pagten, 115 mins., in Danish, opened in Denmark Aug. 2021, showing at a few festivals including Beijing, Palm Springs and AFI. Juno Films releases this film in New York Feb. 11, 2022 and Los Angeles and San Francisco Feb. 18.

    An hour-long film about Dinesen, Out of this World, is currently on YouTube. See also Wikipedia, Karen Blixen.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-09-2022 at 04:48 PM.

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    JOCKEY (Clinton Bentley 2021)

    CLINTON BENTLEY: JOCKEY (2021)


    MOLLY PARKER AND CLIFTON COLLINS JR. IN JOCKEY

    The old warrior theme refinished with rich patina

    Sheri Linden, in Hollywood Reporter, speaks of Jockey as "achieving the kind of seamless fusion of narrative and documentary that Nomadland strives for but only sporadically achieves." Enough said.

    Clint Bentley and Greg Kwedar (Transpecos) are filmmaking partners. Last time Kwedar was the director. This time it's Bentley, who grew up as a jockey's son and aware of that circus-carney world of touring tracks and getting by, who takes the helm.

    This low keyed film has things in common with Chloé Zhao's first feature, The Rider, including a protagonist's visit to the hospital to see someone more severely injured than him riding horses, when he himself may wind up having to stay off them to save his life. But what's different is that here the three central actors are not found people used as actors like the injured rodeo cowboy played by Brady Jandreau in The Rider but acting pros given every opportunity to do their stuff, which they do impressively. While Jockey feels like an artily shot doc for the first five minutes, it's soon clear this is very much a dramatic feature.

    First among equals is Clifton Collins Jr., the veteran character actor, whose performance was greatly admired at Sundance. He is fiftyish and a bit tall and heavy for a jockey but seamlessly plays Jackson Silva, a mid-level rider in his mid-forties. In this profession that's over the hill: race riders take a body beating second to none. Jackson has broken his back three times; he is racked with pain; he goes numb on one side; he risks losing the use of his legs, and is looking at serious disability down the road. Collins plays the traditional beats of the warrior facing the last battle here with exceptional salt and soul. Much of the action is to be read in his face as shown in closeups by Brazilian dp Adolpho Veloso, who shot in very wide screen ratio. Veloso's love of the magic lights of dawn and dusk and profile shots is a little excessive - it see,s rarely midday here - but he provides a lovely perpetual twilight that's a metaphor for the life we're gazing into.

    The drama here is how a horse racing pro must face a career's end just as a 19-year-old claiming to be his son arrives on the scene. Moises Arias, who is jockey-small, as the kid Gabriel Boullait and Molly Parker (of "Deadwood") as Ruth Wilkes, Jackson's longtime trainer-cohort almost-lover, also display admirable acting craft, Arias for breathtaking understatement, Parker for old-shoe warmth.

    The film was shot at Surf Paradise Racetrack in Phoenix, Arizona, where the filmmakers coaxed real jockeys and grooms into playing themselves, when a race at another track didn't lure them away. Like many local tracks Surf Paradise is faded in the foreground because the betting public has to a large extent quit attending races in favor of betting on and watching them remotely; but in the background the horses and crew are still all there to be captured on film.

    A jockey's "chapel" at this track is the scene of such men grousing and joking about their injuries. The film shows horses, not races. The races are conveyed twice by showing only Jackson, up close: again it's his face that tells us all we need to know.

    There's also a brilliantly gifted horse, Dido's Lament, found for a song by Ruth Wilkes, and big race coming up, and a diagnosis for Jackson "that serves the same function as those scenes in all the Rocky movies where a doctor warned Rocky Balboa that if he got in the ring again he'd go deaf or blind or suffer brain damage. . ." as is pointed out by Matt Zoller Seitz in his affectionate, ruminative review on RogerEbert.com - one of a number of admiring ones of this small but distinctive movie.

    Don't come to Jockey for a fully fleshed-out story or originality of theme: the critics who sought those left unsatisfied. This is a character study, and an acting feast that serves up a slice of authentic track career life. Its storyline is just a light framework for its wistful sadness. It feels seedy and downbeat, but that's the muddy, rough-hewn world we're in here; and the filmmakers put a sweet spin on things. Jackson has denied, welcomed, cursed, embraced Gabriel, painfully loses his last race but sees the kid has done well in it and that brings a final smile. And when Clifton Collins, né Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez and himself descended from riders, cracks a smile, it has ripples of meaning that may stay with you for days. Because of its greater dramatic heft, this movie takes us into the world of a man who must give up riding even better than The Rider does.

    The sounds scored by Bryce and Aaron Dessner of The National are filled with subtle looming dawns and dusks, like Veloso's images.

    Jockey, 94 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 31, 2021, shown thereafter in a dozen other international festivals including Toronto, Zurich, Busan, the Hamptons, Brisbane and Stockholm. US theatrical release by Sony Pictures Classics in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 29, 2021. Rolling out release in early 2022 including Jan. 21 in San Francisco, Jan. 28 in the East Bay, Feb. 11 Santa Cruz.Metacritic rating: 76%.


    CLIFTON COLLINS JR. AND MOISES ARIAS IN JOCKEY
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-12-2022 at 10:57 PM.

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    THE BETA TEST (Jim Cummings 2021)

    JIM CUMMINGS: THE BETA TEST (2021)

    Matt Zoller Seitz (RogerEbert.com): It takes prodigious comic gifts to make a loathsome, pathetic character so mesmerizing that you enjoy watching him dig himself into a hole for 90-plus minutes. Jim Cummings, the star, editor, co-writer, and co-director of "The Beta Test," has those gifts.

    Cummings plays Jordan, a remorseless, manipulative Hollywood agent working for a CAA-like behemoth who gets ensnared in a conspiracy in the months leading up to his scheduled wedding to his fiancee Caroline (Virginia Newcomb). His troubles start when he accepts an engraved invitation to cheat.

    (This movie came out Nov. 5, 2021.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-20-2021 at 02:14 PM.

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    THE UNMAKING OF A COLLEGE (Amy Goldstein 2021)

    AMY GOLDSTEIN: THE UNMAKING OF A COLLEGE (2021)


    HAMP RISE UP BANNER FROM THE UNMAKING OF A COLLEGE

    TRAILER

    Hampshire College's successful struggle to survive

    This is a story that reflects a wave of shutdowns of small liberal arts colleges across America, schools that may not be viable economically and therefore can be taken over by corporate or large state institutions. And that will be a great loss to this country. America's small liberal arts colleges are among its most valuable cultural treasures. They are birthplaces of creative democracy, the best education we have, cradles of a tradition of independent thinking and academic excellence few other parts of the world can match. It's essential for these places to exist but there are forces now that want to end them. As Margaret Cerullo, a Sociology professor who has taught at Hampshire for forty years, suggests, the undermining of the liberal arts colleges is political, and an enormous withdrawal of federal funds reflects a neoliberal economy that doesn't find liberal arts "useful."

    This documentary made by a Hampshire alum is about the January-April 2019 struggle of faculty, students, and workers to keep Hampshire College alive against plans to shut it down or turn it over to a large state institution that suddenly, without warning or transparency, emanated from the office of Hampshire president Miriam E. "Mim" Nelson, a prominent nutrition expert who had been in office less than a year. "Mim," acting with the board of trustees but without taking to the college community at large, speaking with a false air of good cheer, talked about seeking a "strategic partner" for Hampshire to resolve claimed dire economic issues - probably the University of Massachusetts. After seeming to decide unilaterally that the college would not admit a new incoming class, it began to look very much like the school would not be long for this world. Tuition is its main source of support: without students, nothing would be running any more.

    This turn of affairs may be part of a trend but also seems in part inexplicable. It is not like a corporate takeover where, as is noted, "someone walks away with a lot of money." The new president did not consult with the five living ex-presidents, nor with alumni fundraisers. It would have been possible to mount an emergency fund drive and fill the gap from major donors and rank and file alumni alike. She didn't consider this alternative, which former presidents knew about and would have suggested, as we hear from one who faced an economic crisis successfully in the past. She simply did not see the significance of remaining independent, of preserving the unique flavor of a small institution.

    I was moved by pictures in this film of Hampshire College in the winter, and then on balmy warm days. The trees, the rolling plains, the gentle lands covered with snow all winter in this part of Western Massachusetts brought back memories of an education formed at Amherst College, not far away. Hampshire, where students design their own studies and have no exams or grades, was a then radical and idealistic creation that came into existence in 1970, making it the oddball jewel in the interconnected "five-college community" - Smith, Mount Holyoke, Amherst, UMass Amherst, and Hampshire. This is a stunningly beautiful part of the country. I hardly bothered to notice at the time. I do when I go back.

    The other schools dated back to the nineteenth century. Hampshire became one of the most boldly experimental colleges in the country. It may be a fair guess that while Amherst College can cite a plethora of wealthy establishment figures, Hampshire may contribute more to the creative world. But being "only" 50 years old, instead of 200, Hampshire isn't as richly endowed as its four neighbors. Its $54 million is chickenfeed compared to the surrounding institutions' endowments of $1-2 billion.

    Goldstein is a 40-year alum of Hampshire like Ken Burns, who speaks up in this film about how he owes his creative career to beginnings at Hampshire. The student talking heads of their movement, Hamp Rise Up, show a practical idealism and unselfconscious intelligence and community that impress. These young people are the heart of this film. But it provides perspective from older voices as well, even though the change came from the kids. These grayer heads include experienced faculty members, some of them so innovative and cross-disciplinary in approach that they report foreseeing the downfall of Hampshire not just as the end of their jobs but the end of their careers. Also important is Mingda Zhao, the dissident trustee who got ousted for contacting the presidents of the other four colleges. We hear strategy errors of Nelson discussed by the dubious William F. Buckley relative connected with a corporate PR firm that worked with the college and with "Mim." And the whole situation is analyzed by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management. He sees the victors of this struggle as typical heroes who always face "a near-death experience, some "crushing setback," that makes them forever different. And the valedictorian also says, "It never dies; it lives alive in you."

    The talking heads here do not include Ms. Nelson, but they do include not only some vibrant student protesters but some outspoken faculty members and what seem to be the main student leaders of the revolt that took place leading to the record 75-day sit-in at the president's office, which led to Nelson's resignation, the redirection of the college toward independence, and the arrival of Nelson's passionate replacement, eighth Hampshire president, Edward Wingenbach. It seems clear that these kids, who had chosen a school for self-starters, were more than up to the task of leading a well-organized revolt and participating in discussions among trustees, governing board, and faculty about the road to take. The numerous images of the long-lived sit-in shot by Joshua Berman, one of the students whose interest is filmmaking - in the path of Ken Burns and Goldstein herself - bring back memories of the Sixties and Seventies. (He says his mother gave him two bad pieces of advice: don't get involved; be objective.) But it feels like this sit-in had more practical aims and a pre concrete outcome than some of those earlier ones.

    President "Mim" reveals herself to be autocratic, secretive, top-down and Machiavellian in her machinations, appointing committees whose members must sign gag rules, negotiating for months with UMass about a takeover and then hinting at it only later with a false air of urgency. But a question penned on a blackboard by one of the student leaders asks: was she really trying to sell out the school or just a bad president? It's possible that that job was just too much for her. Only we see the encroachment of a corporate neoliberal mindset that when I was a student at Amherst did not look to move colleges around like chess pieces.

    The Unmaking of a College, 84 mins., releases by Zeitgeist Films in association with Kino Lorber starting Feb. 11, 2022 (IFC Center, New York) and Feb. 18 (Laemmle Theaters, Los Angeles).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-11-2022 at 11:30 AM.

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    JOACHIM TRIER: THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (2021)


    RENATE REINSVE IN THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD

    A young woman finding herself completes Trier's superb "Oslo Trilogy"

    Joachim Trier's third in his "Oslo trilogy," the first two being his debut Reprise (2006) and Oslo, August 31 (2011), is as vibrant, fluid, and exciting as the two others, the three together comprising the best work of this brilliant 47-year-old Norwegian filmmaker. All three feature the wonderful Anders Danielsen Lie. The focus this time is a young woman, Julie (Renate Reinsve, Best Actress at Cannes for this performance), and follows four years of her life. "In essaying Julie," wrote Guy Lodge in his Variety review, "a character at once watery and opaque, shaped by everything around her but vocally resistant to influence, Reinsve has a tricky assignment that she nails with remarkable fluidity and grace." A top student and product of Oslo's well-off intellectual-creative middle class (who may have too many options), at first Julie studies medicine; then deciding that's too much like "carpentry," flips to psychology studies, only to change focus again, to photography, each change approved by her indulgent mom (Marianne Krogh). While mainly working in a bookstore she publishes a bold semi-confessional essay, "Oral Sex in the Age of #MeToo," which gains a lot of attention. Aksel (LIe) is a forty-something creator of a well-known underground comic (Gaupe, "Bobcat"), who becomes her boyfriend, for whom she drops a younger, prettier one, until another man lures her away from him. (The ironic, forgiving title is the third boyfriend's reference to himself.)

    This has been called a "dark romantic comedy drama," but above all it's another thrilling display of Trier's originality and his buoyant, fluid filmmaking, a joyous, sometimes sad, always free-ranging exploration of life through the late-stage coming of age of a young woman. It's marked by cinematographer Kasper Tuxen's glowing urban exteriors and nimble interior camerawork and by organization and editing that keep things fresh, light and on the move, like its millennial protagonist. This is a director working at the top of his game with first rate cast and crew.

    Julie is approaching the age of thirty, Aksel fifteen years older: that difference is the simple pivot-point of the story. Aksel really is more serious and more settled and lives in an older world. He also wants to have children and she doesn't. not yet anyway. Later he will explain to Julie how growing up "before internet and mobile phones," when "culture was passed along through objects, and they were interesting because we could live among them," has left him permanently rooted in the love of physical things. His cartooning, which brought him security but he's now abandoned, is ill-received by post-feminists, and he ill receives their condemnations. It's when Aksel tells Julie right at the start that they must separate so she can be free to explore and find herself that she becomes smitten, returns, and soon moves in with him.

    Then at a party she crashes Julie meets Elvind (Herbert Nordrum). Like her he's in a relationship, but they play a series of dare games, fueled by drink, to see how close they can get without being inappropriate or cheating (it's pretty inappropriate), and they form a deep bond that will pull them together and lead the exploratory, impulsive Julie to leave Aksel, not admitting she's found someone else. Later, she learns Aksel is dying, and she rushes back to him, for a little while, for he doesn't last long.

    Trier's style is marked by its fluidity, energy, and intensity, though always also by lightness. His debt to the French Nouvelle Vague was acknowledged early on and you might see something in common here with Truffaut's masterpiece Jules et Jim, the love triangle, the arbitrary woman, the casual touch with earth-shaking matters of life and love. There are some playful devices here, as in Truffaut's film: sinking, sliding figures during a drug sequence, frozen ones throughout the town when Julie and Elvind first get together again and for them, nothing else matters. In the cunningly edited 'shrooms dream sequence Julie confronts her deadbeat estranged dad. When she runs through Oslo to find Elving and kiss him, the entire city goes into freeze-frame. Trier fashions such familiar tropes in very fresh ways.

    Though Reinsve, whose adventures are organized into twelve chapters and formalized by a humorous voiceover by a different voice, is center stage, Lie still dominates with the most touching lines and resonant scenes. One would not have it otherwise. The Lie-Trier collaboration is central to Trier's art. Lie looks thinner and older now but the glowing smile and charisma remain. He is still effortlessly riveting and now seems somehow more central, important, precisely by Aksel's declaring himself to be outmoded and peripheral and being literally not long for this world. Trier and regular cowriter Eskil Vogt as before handle conventional themes freshly, skirting disaster and tragedy with a light touch.

    Lie has an extraordinary, if for him rather typical, transparency in the scenes where Julie tells Aksel she's leaving him and the later ones when it's the end for Aksel and he holds back nothing. Lie in real life is a remarkable in living two full lives: recent Vanity Fair interview related to his other major Cannes role this year, in Mia Hansen-Løve's much admired Bergman Island, confirms that he is indeed a full-time medical doctor. He acknowledges maintaining the two intensive vocations, and not being able to decide between being a doctor and being an actor - is "a constant struggle" he "would never recommend" to anybody else. Whatever this double life means, it seems to have made Anders Danielsen Lie into one of the sexiest and most intelligent men and actors alive.

    Reinsve as Julie manages to be a force of nature without being showy about it. Things are seen from her point of view, despite the detachment imposed by the voiceover and vignette-like multiple chapters, some of which are very short. Herbert Nordrum as the new, younger man, like Lie, isn't conventionally handsome, even less so, but a big, tall, powerful man with youthful energy and enthusiasm that make him exciting in his own way. But Elvind seems unambitious, only working in a coffee shop, which plays into Julie's disenchantment with him later. The theme is that she is exploring jobs, lives, and men. She will not settle on anything. But what happens here will settle, and form, her. This movie is so good it may reconfigure you too a little.

    The Worst Person in the World/Verdens verste menneske, 127 mins., debuted at Cannes Jul. 9, 2021, showing in 39 other international festivals including Toronto and New York and Jan. 20, 2022 at Sundance. It is a finalist, representing Norway, for the Best International Feature Oscar, 2022. Its US theatrical release by NEON is Feb. 4, 2022. Metacritic rating: 88%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2022 at 02:38 AM. Reason: THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Joachim Trier 2021)

  14. #29
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    CALIFORNIA MOVIE JOURNAL (January 2022)

    CALIFORNIA MOVIE JOURNAL (January 2022)


    LINDA FIORENTINO IN THE LAST SEDUCTION

    Wrist surgery in early December kept me from driving to movies, and I couldn't type very much at first either, so I watched some old ones I remembered with pleasure. This list starts Jan. 1, 2022. Not counting movies I saw in theaters or reviewed.

    THE LAST SEDUCTION. (John Dahl 1994). I remember Dahl made the best neonoirs ever, for a little while. Linda Fiorentino excels as the vagina dentata the killer femme fatale who will stop at nothing. But she comes across as a little too evil. She needs some touch of weakness, some saving grace. There is none.

    CHINATOWN (Roman Polanski 1970). Well before John Dahl Polanski made the best neonoir ever. Only Robert Towne's great screenplay, especially compared to Dahl, is so grand and historical and political, it lacks the fly-by-night quality of the usual noirs. There are lines I remember not from the film but from somebody quoting them to me like the woman who calls Jack Nicholson asking "Are you alone?" and he replies "Isn't everyone?"

    FLIRTING WITH DISASTER (David O. Russell 1996). This tale of a man, played by Ben Stiller, who was adopted and raised by a neurotic New York Jewish couple and when grown up goes looking for his birth parents out in the American hinterland, was hilarious then, and it's still hilarious now. With Patricia Arquette and Téa Leoni, and featuring George Segal and Mary Tyler Moore as the adoptive parents who are drawn into the fray. The great cast includes supporting roles from Alan Alda and Lily Tomlin as a holdover couple from the Sixties and Josh Brolin and Richard Jenkins as a gay couple in law enforcement who come along for the ride. Unlike Demme, Russell went on to do more great independent movies.

    THE LOST DAUGHTER. In theaters now but also on Netflix. I wrote a review of this which I did not enjoy but admired, as I did both enjoy and admire Sorrentino's THE HAND OF GOD also on Netfilx, which I enjoyed a lot; and others I will publish later from screeners. I also saw and reviewed Adam McKay's DON'T LOOK UP this way and discussed it with my friend Jessica, who enjoyed it more.

    LA COLLECTIONNEUSE (Eric Rohmer 1967). This contains some of the most obnoxious men in any Rohmer film. But the pretty young girl is bulletproof: nothing fazes her. One of my least favorite Rohmer films; I probably forget watching it because I repress it. Evidently I don't appreciate the satire.

    KILL ME AGAIN (John Dahl 1994). This comes before THE LAST SEDUCTION and features a less horrible female - and Val Kilmer as the fall guy private detective. The violence and rapacious cruelty of the women in these two pictures might be called out as blatantly sexist today. But the movies have a durable seediness. Rarely do any American films today capture the down-and-dirty danger and sheer tackiness of neo-noir, and not with such fluency.

    THE BLUE LAGOON (Randal Kleiser 1980). This was despised and mocked; I had never seen it. Now it's a beautiful escape. The cinematography of Nestor Almendros, who shot a lot of Éric Rohmer's films, including LA COLLECTIONNEUSE, was justifiably Oscar-nominated, and Chris Atkins got a best newcomer Golden Gloves nomination. This is a Victorian story, and a dream of Paradise. I take it straight: innocent, not soft-core porn. Netflix.

    MARRIED TO THE MOB (Jonathan Demme 1988). Demme made this and Something Wild, two delightful, light, hip, original pictures with no special agenda, and then went astray. He deserved little credit for the sick, homophobic Silence of the Lambs and sought absolution with the middlebrow, dull AIDS picture Philadelphia, and for no good reason got festival attention for the tedious, overlong Rachel Getting Married. The fun never returned, alas. Michelle Pfeiffer is great as the sweet but ballsy Mafia widow who dares to break away from The Family and try to move to the Lower East Side and be a hairdresser. Matthew Modine is in his prime as the boisterous, physical young FBI agent who gets into a flirt with the Pfeiffer, the lady he's supposed to be tailing, and Mercedes Ruhl shines as the ball-buster gangster wife. The whole thing is a romp that ends up with a shootout like the final of Ridley Scott's TRUE ROMANCE scripted by Tarantino under the influence of John Woo - but that came five years later.

    SOMETHING WILD (Demme 1986). This is really more interesting than MARRIED TO THE MOB because it takes us into some trippy head-spaces, while still remaining basically an eccentric rom-com romp - though one that turns deadly when yuppie Jeff Daniels, who's been kidnapped for the weekend by wild young woman Melanie Griffith, is menaced by ex-con husband Ray Lotta who turns up at a high school reunion. All three of these actors are in their prime and turn in sensational performances. This shows Demme's lifelong musical hipness (discussed in this NPR piece) like nothing else, with street performers popping up in location scenes and Sister Carole literally stepping out of her role as a cafe waitress to stand on the sidewalk at film's end to deliver her unique island version of "Wild Thing." This film has the freedom and excitement of the French New Wave, with a whole new layer of American vernacular vibes.

    LOVE [or CHLOE] IN THE AFTERNOON/L'AMOUR L'APRÈS-MIDI (ÉRIC ROHMER 1972). Frédéric, the protagonist, is a silly, idle bourgeois with a posh Paris office job and a correct wife in the suburbs (and a tot and a babe enroute) who consents to flirt with the sexy, elegant, and unstable Chloé. A subplot is girl-watching which is shown to be in Paris justifiably a fine art; and the glamorous, gorgeous women, who Fédéric fantasizes being able to bend to his will with a magical amulet, as well as several pretty and extravagantly dressed young men, including the always impeccably dressed Frédéric, who we see carefully shopping for accessories, exemplify a new world where men as well as women wear flashy, fashionable hairstyles and designer clothes. All this is gorgeously photographed in luminous color by the great Nestor Almendros.

    CLAIRE'S KNEE (ERIC ROHMER 1970).
    This is one Rohmer fans watch over and over. New observations are that it includes a 16-year-old Fabrice Lucchini with long blond hair, a skinny boy, playing Vincent, the would-be boyfriend of Laura (longtme Rohmer favorite Béatrice Romand). It is also amusing to note that the actor, Jean-Claude Brialy the older man who flirts with the young girls who have young boyfriends and finally gets to touch the knee of young stunner Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) was gay. And openly so. He was important in Nouvelle Vague films like Le Beau Serge and Les Cousins. Apart from being desirable, Claire isnl't very interesting - in the French sense of having good conversation. But the conversation is all between Jerome (Brialy) and his older woman friend Lucinda.

    THEY ALL LAUGHED (Peter Bogdonovich 1981). Watched as a homage to Bogdonovich, who just died. I don't understand it, but I didn't want to watch Targets. The forgotten The Thing Called Love touches me, but it's hard to watch films with River Phoenix in them, too sad. There are a few very positive readings of this movie, but it tends to be dismissed as a flop.

    ELEVATOR TO EHT SCAFFOLD/'ASSENCEUR POUR L'ECHAFAUD (Louis Malle 1958). Some dismiss this too as being interesting chiefly only for the splendid, sparing, improvised Miles David score (as Richard Brody has recently argued). However while I love that as I also love the MJQ one for No Sun in Venice, this reads like a classic to me. I like seeing Georges Poujouly, the little boy on the René Clément's heartbreaking Forbidden Games, grown up into a juvenile delinquent foreshadowing Godard's use of Belmondo in Breathless. Jeanne Moreau's all-night walkaround forshadows her walkaround in Antonioni's [I]La Notte in 1961.

    WEST SIDE STORY (Robert Wise 1961). Someone of my vintage would be expected to have seen this but I avoided a lot of stuff when I was younger because it didn't interest me. I watched it now to prepare for seeing Spielberg's remake. Pauline Kael did one of her pans for KPFA radio, seven years before she got the New Yorker job. She is wrong to dismiss Jerome Robbins' choreography, which is one of the important things, even if it's over-the-top. This won a raft of Oscars, often a bad sign. It seems Kael is right about one thing: this debases the Shakespearean material. These middle class older white men didn't know anything about teenage gangs. I am sure Spielberg's version will try to be more knowing, using more unsubtitled detailed Spanish dialogue, but they are still older middleclass white men. We are more knowing about some things. If someone made Lawrence of Arabia today, it would have more than three Arabic words in it. But after all, Spielberg was doing a homage, not a whole new musical. And musicals aren't meant to be realistic anyway.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2022 at 03:08 AM.

  15. #30
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    A HERO (Asghar Farhadi 2021)

    ASGHAR FARHADI: A HERO (2021)


    SALEH KARIMAEI AND AMIR JADIDI IN A HERO

    A man tries too hard to be good in Farhadi's new movie

    I pointed out in connection with Mohammad Rasoulof's 2020 film There Is No Evil that in modern Iran justice comes from another century: the death penalty is imposed for homosexuality, fornication, political dissidence and arson. It's hardly surprising therefore to learn from Asghar Farhadi's ironically entitled new film A Hero that people in Iran are still jailed there for unpaid debts. So we encounter the "crestfallen charm" (as The New Yorker's Anthony Lane calls it) of Farhadi's new protagonist, Rahim Soltani (Amir Jadidi) - a debtor on leave from prison for a couple of days who in the opening sequence climbs a network of many stairs up an ancient site near the city of Shiraz (it is none other than the tomb of Xerxes, who ruled two and a half millennia ago) to have tea with his brother-in-law Hossein (Alireza Jahandideh). This would seem to be Rahim's first step in navigating a way out of his financial troubles.

    But there will just be a lot more trouble. I've also pointed out in connection with Farhadi's celebrated A Separation (NYFF 2011), that Iranians seem to delight in making things hard for each other. Specifically Iran's is "a culture in which everyone is quarrelsome and out of sorts, everyone finds fault with everyone else (with the exception of a few sacred parental and filial family relationships), and everyone lies." It's perhaps only a little surprising that when Rahim's leave ends at the end of this film and he returns to prison things have only become much more complicated. Amir Jadidi, who plays Rahim, has a brilliant smile and an honest face, and Rahim is honest to a fault - so honest that he's honest about his occasional dishonesty. (And so he's not so honest after all.) This is a tangled story about moral complexity, the difficulty of making choices, and the way smart phones and social media can make a situation worse really fast.

    To start a business Rahim borrowed money from a loan shark and then a relative paid it off, but his partner ran off with the money so he couldn't meet his obligation, and the relative put him in jail.

    Though Rahim is more often unlucky or weak than dishonest, everybody in A Hero is dodgy. I'd say even the director is dodgy with us, that most of all; Farhadi doles out information, to use a phrase used here (the Farsi version of it) in dribs and drabs. Rahim has an ex-wife and a new love who's his son's speech therapist, because the boy, Slavash (Saleh Karimaei) has a stutter. (Did the role go to a real stutterer, I wonder, of is this a cunning facsimile?)

    The big complication comes right at the start, when Farkhondeh (Sahar Goldust), Rahim's secret new squeeze and future wife (though he has a current one), finds a pocketbook containing 17 gold coins lost at a bus stop and offers it to him toward paying off his debut. He thinks he can use the found gold to restructure the debt, and work to finish paying if off. But cashing out the coins does't go well; so he decides instead to advertise for the coins' owner and return them. The lady who appears to claim them, not surprisingly, later comes to seem suspicious. Now Rahim gets credit for a good deed that is widely celebrated. For the proverbial fifteen minutes of fame, he is a much discussed figure on television and social media. But then when he is honest enough to admit that he was originally not going to return the coins but use them for his own debt, and that moreover it was not he who originally found them and has allowed it to seem that he did, he looks less admirable. Or is he doubly admirable for also owning up to these dishonesties?

    Rahim's fortunes fluctuate in the public sphere. In the private one, they get no better. His creditor, Bahram (Mohsen Tanabandeh), is related to him by marriage, but that doesn't make him friendly. Bahram is as unforgiving as Shakespeare's Shylock. And Lane justifiably links Farhadi's tale to Shakespeare as well Dickens and the Arabian NIghts. What's peculiar to Farhadi, though the action is faster than this time in A Separation and largely restricted to Rahim's point of view, is how completely the director's every scene is rooted in quotidian detail. Here the intricacies of moral choices show that, however devious Iranians often are, they do care about doing the right thing - as well as being given credit for doing so.

    Hence Rahim's complaisant pleasure (his easy smile coming to seem a little weak now) in accepting a framed testimonial and appearing at a fund-raiser celebrating his honesty about the coins. And hence our sympathy when he gets into a fracas with the mean Bahram in the latter's tiny copy shop, and our lack of real surprise when the impeccable-seeming older woman who runs a charitable organization is willing to reroute the funds they've collected for Rahim when his reputation publicly falters (helped by social media) - and willing also to release or withhold new information as she sees fit.

    When a society holds a public event to celebrate somebody's act of honesty it's fair to say that's because these are people who're often dishonest. By the same token being that way, they easily start to suspect the "hero" they're been celebrating isn't a real one. It's a wonderfully twisty world, with very old fashioned behavior sitting side by side with social media and the instant videos to publish there, or blackmail someone by threatening to.

    The only trouble here is that there is so little resolution. But as Lane puts it, Farhadi "patiently cranks up the moral suspense until we can barely breathe." Except for a few dead moments in an anti-room with glaring light from outside, I did barely breathe, and what rarely happens, I forgot I was wearing a mask, or rather, its discomfort came to seem only natural. Farhadi still shows hhis ability to make the quotidian trials and moral dilemmas of ordinary life rise almost to the intensity of a thriller. But this time those details seem to have gotten the better of him.

    At the end as Rahim returns to prison, seen off by his son and Farkhondeh, he has a newly-minted look. He is shaven-headed and his beard is gone, all but a neat mustache. But this freshness isn't altogether convincing. He's still a man in debt without a job. We know he is upright and well-meaning, but we also know that's partly a pose. This new film isn't really satisfying, but maybe it isn't meant to be. Is it, as some think, partly a farce? Or is it only a convoluted bad trip? There's a hypertrophied brilliance in the multiplying of tangled moral complexities. But part of me agrees with Peter Bradshaw's parting shot in his Cannes Guardian review to wonder if the film's "realist mannerisms are concealing a slightly unfocused story." His review title is an even stronger warning to audiences - I would not go that far - to say that it may be "just too messy and unsatisfactory." More accurate is the criticism of Owen Gleiberman, whose Variety review provides the best description of this film, that the weakness of Farhadi's structure here is simply that it is "repetitive more than it is developmental." Asghar Farhadi is a filmmaker with a wonderful gift for detail, but the danger is that he gets lost in it. The detail is great here, but this isn't his best work.

    A Hero قهرمان ("Ghahreman"), 127 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes Jul. 13, 2021, winning the Grand Prix and the François Chalais ("life affirmation") Award. Shown at over two dozen other international festivals including Telluride, Toronto, Zurich, Busan, Melbourne, Montreal, the Hamptons, London and Miami. US early release Nov. 12, 2021 in New York and Los Angeles. Limited US release Jan. 7, 2022. Internet release Jan. 21, 2022. Screened at Landmark's Albany Twin in Albany, CA Jan. 15, 2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-16-2022 at 12:19 AM.

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