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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 12:49 AM.

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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 01:08 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 07:49 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 12:24 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 07:36 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; 08-15-2020 at 11:53 PM.

  7. #22
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    THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY (Hans Canosa 2022)

    HANS CANOSA: THE STORIED LIFE OF A.J. FIKRY (2022)



    A bookstore on an island

    This movie comes from a New York Times Bestseller novel of a kind said to be rare nowadays: cheerful. It follows the classic curve of the grumpy Gus who finds joy, and then also some tragedy, because, that's life. The book is by YA writer Gabrielle Zevin, and its central figure is the titular (East) Indian man (the irresistibly amiable Kunal Nayyar) who runs a bookstore on fictitious Alice Island off Cape Cod (called, you won't guess, Island Bookstore). The store is doing badly, his wife died in an accident two years before, he is drinking himself to oblivion on wine, he says once a week, others say every night. He is very depressed, and his most valuable possession, an original edition of Poe's Tamerlane, is stolen. Then Maya, a two-year-old mixed race girl, is dropped off at the store by her mother, who cannot cope. And guess what happens. A.J. adopts Maya. And the unusual job (for a grumpy widower with a bookstore) of being a father pulls him right out of his funk.

    Makes sense, right? Of course the story has to fudge some details, such as how this depressed man, so grumpy with everybody, including the bright young publisher's rep Amelia, Amy to her friends (Lucy Hale, who's very good, especially at the end) whom he'll later fall in love with, and she with him, would do an 180º turnaround to become patient and caring; and how the reportedly smart Maya can be quite so articulate, nonetheless; and how in a matter of months the bureaucratic obstacles around foster parenting are surmounted - the action two years forward when it's done. The important part is the fun of the process, the stuff author Gabrielle Zevin wanted to focus on. A big thing is independent bookstores, and reading. Each chapter of the source book begins with the title of a short story or a book and a note from Fikry describing what he likes about it, and introducing characters by what they like to read. Later, the friendly police chief, Lambiase, played by David Arquette, starts his own "Chief's Choice" book club, sort of for maverick readers. There's a local novelist, Daniel Parish (Scott Foley), who is friendly, and when Maya is a young teenager, she has writing aspirations, and enters a local short story context.

    That story by Maya, which she reads aloud as a finalist, and we see reenacted, and is a reconstruction of how she was abandoned and found by her mother, is one of a number of distinctly odd moments, including watching a car accident occur. The jumps in time are disorienting, spring on us without quite the context we need. Another weird element is The Late Bloomer, the memoir of an old man that is Amelia's favorite new book on her publisher's list when she first meets A.J., which is meant to show there can be a right time and a wrong time to read a book. This book also turns out to be not what it seems.

    What about Maya? There are three Mayas, age two, Charlotte Thanh Theresin; age six, Jordyn McIntosh, and age teen, Blaire Brown, and they're all formidable, but I'm not prepared to say they seem like the same person.

    A grumpy bookseller adopting an abandoned toddler - that's a new wrinkle. Some of the other literary stuff, like talking about the books you read or don't read (somebody hates Movy Dick, Fikry scoffs at Poe, and the eccentric drunken book reading - feels familiar. The Cape Cod architecture is easy on the eyes. Christina Hendricks from Mad Men is here, as Ismay, or Izzie, Daniel the writer's wife, A.J.'s late wife's sister, who becomes Lambiase's girlfriend and is a woman with a secret. It all gets pretty complicated. The author of the novel did the adaptation and she may have been reluctant to leave anything out.

    One thing that endeared the film and the author to me, just for the name-drop, is Lambiase's "good cop story" about finding out a delinquent boy who was skipping school. It turned out he was sneaking off each day for several weeks to read Infinite Jest on the sly. That is a book, for sure, that shows how amazing and even life changing and worth hiding away from everyone for reading a book can be. The star of this show in the end is reading, and hence, Island Books.

    The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, 105 mins., from Vertical Entertainment, is in theaters Oct. 7, 2022.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 02:08 PM.

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    A COUPLE (Frederick Wiseman 2022)

    FREDERICK WISEMAN: A COUPLE (2022)


    NATHALIE BOUTEFEU IN A COUPLE

    A COUPLE (Frederick Wiseman) gets a 4/5 in Peter Bradshaw's Guardian review, which kindly summarized at Venice this fictionalized, dramatic feature film of only 64 minutes from the documentarian of normally epic length. Nathalie Boutefeu, also coauthor of the script, stars as the wife of Leo Tolstoy with "a series of yearning monologues" (as Bradshaw puts it) "which have been adapted from her diaries and letters." This is Wiseman's first narrative feature in 20 years. His last such, the 2002 film, was similar, from a Russian (or Yiddish-Ukrainian) source but spoken by a woman actress in French and an hour long. But it was a filming of his own Paris stage production of La dernière lettre. Both seem to reflect that though Wiseman is still listed on IMDb as a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, he resides in Paris. The new film was filmed in France, in French, in a privately owned seaside garden on the French island Belle-Île off the coast of Brittany.

    A Couple is Tolstoy's wife Sophia Tolstaya speaking, and dramatizes excerpts from her journal. It is a kind of letter too, because it begins with actress Natalie Boutefou as Sophia, saying, "The first thing I feel like doing today is to write to you, Leo." She explains that they got into the habit of writing each other every day even though they lived in the same house. She goes on about how her husband, the great writer, crushed her with his power, oppressed her with his jealousy, embarrassed her in front of guests. How hard she worked, copying and recopying his manuscripts (she reportedly wrote out all of War and Peace two or three times).

    The monologue addressed to Leo continues, with things he said in his diary, and more about their repressed, intense, frustrating relationship which demanded so much of her and gave so little back. More too about his neurotic fear of death. Then there are more general statements: "Even the most sincere and honest of us always wears a mask and hides what we are deep inside. . .Most people live as if they are blind. . .Life shrinks and dwindles." But she is still talking about Tolstoy. His being a creative giant made him a shrunken man, a twisted husband with not much left to give - who yet at times spoke of great love.

    She describes a suicidal moment when she entered their freezing bath house and dreamed of getting sick and dying, leaving Leo to take care of the children in her place. She speaks of his infidelity, and how it changed their feelings toward each other, but then they make up and things are good for a long time.

    This review of a marriage is intense, painful, partly beautiful, emotional, but also somehow abstract. One might like to hear from Leo - though she often quotes him here - speaking about this relationship for himself; but of course that also would not work because as she says at the outset, his power smothered and dominated him, and the need is for her to break free, even if she does so only to talk about nothing but him.

    vathalie Boutefeu is plain, but elegant. Wearing braided hair, she is dressed severely but handsomely in a white blouse and black velvet, sometimes a flowered shawl with a black field. There is a coolness but also a sweetness about her, restraint but also a smile in the eyes. She speaks softly and quietly. All her monologue is outdoors. Sometimes she sits or stands, sometimes she is is walking, by rocks, tide pools, bushes and grass. There are memorable closeups of termites swarming on a log and big ants, and beautiful blooming flowers. Breaks in the monologue are filled by acres of green, bramble or trees or great rocks, with crashing sea at the start.

    It would not be an exaggeration to say this is a beautiful film, but its recollection-in-sadness mood isn' terribly moving. Bradshaw introduces this - rather badly titled - film as "a belletristic homage to the most famously unhappy marriage in literary history." He points out the setting is pure invention; the Tolstoy estate, Yasnaya Polnaya, was nowhere near the water. The situation is of a kind of sweet imprisonment, one might say. Not mentioned is the sweet trap of being married to one of the greatest writers in history, the reflected glory, despite the sometime psychological mistreatment. Because Tolstoy "at least sometimes" loved Sophia She was "doomed to bear the burden," Bradshaw puts it, "of looking after the house and grounds" (though surely there were caretakers to tend to the details of that), "seeing to their many children" (and while she seems to mention only two here, there were thirteen!), as well as "dealing with Tolstoy’s many guests and insufferable fan-worshipping admirers and acolytes, and of course, helping him with his work." But except for the caretaking and children and help with the work, Bradshaw is filling in details not specified here. As said, this is a film that's beautiful, sad, a little abstract. One sees the inexhaustible, now ninety-two-year-old Wiseman straining a bit to bring something to life when he is, at heart, the cool, meticulous observer - and that's a very different thing. Marshall Schaffer pointed out in Playlist that A Couple "never quite manages to transcend its origins as a precious pandemic project." No matter how beautiful it is, it remains static.

    A Couple/Un couple, 64 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2, 2022, also showing at DMZ (South Korea) Sept. 25 and the NYFF Oct. 2. It opens Oct. 19 in France, and In the US released by Wiseman's signature Zipporah Films at Film Forum Nov.11. Metacritic rating 66%.


    NATHALIE BOUTEFEU IN A COUPLE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; Yesterday at 09:46 PM.

  9. #24
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    Mill valley film festival 2022

    MLL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL, Oct. 6-16, 2022

    FEATURES

    FaultLine (Rob Nilsson)
    Finding Her Beat (Dawn Mikkelson, Keri Pickett)
    Home is Somewhere Else (Carlos Hagerman, Jorge Villalobos)
    Our Father, the Devil (Ellie Foumbi)
    Path of the Panther (Carlton Ward Jr.)
    Provo (Emma Thatcher)
    The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F.K. Fisher (Gregory Bezat) WORLD PREMIERE
    The Passengers of the Night (Mikhaël Hers)
    The Young Vote (Diane Robinson)
    Triple Trouble
    Tukdam - Between Worlds
    We Dream of Robots
    Whina

    FaultLine (Rob Nilsson)

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYeFVptAXPs (WORK IN PROGRESS)



    Finding Her Beat (Dawn Mikkelson, Keri Pickett)

    https://watch.indee.tv/indee/screene...b3s36ff0gbnxxe



    Home is Somewhere Else (Carlos Hagerman, Jorge Villalobos)

    https://f.io/xJxgfwID





    Our Father, the Devil (Ellie Foumbi)

    This screener is currently not available, will send it to you as soon as it has been updated!



    Path of the Panther (Carlton Ward Jr.)

    https://vimeo.com/655675259

    Panther_2022



    Provo (Emma Thatcher)

    https://vimeo.com/716592713

    provo



    The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F.K. Fisher (Gregory Bezat)

    https://vimeo.com/manage/videos/696750427

    fisherfilm



    The Passengers of the Night (Mikhaël Hers)

    https://mk2films.privio.eu/viewing/1...ffd263efffd722



    The Young Vote (Diane Robinson)

    https://vimeo.com/733291242

    MVFF2022



    Triple Trouble

    https://vimeo.com/starrsutherland/tripletrouble

    Randy Rose



    Tukdam - Between Worlds

    https://vimeo.com/699395707

    RFgg&%**-oiE



    We Dream of Robots

    https://vimeo.com/699812621

    WDOR_FILM_22



    Whina

    https://cornerstone.i2ic.com/link-sc...e301fce552518b

    --
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-13-2022 at 02:20 PM.

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    ONE FINE MORNING (Mia Hansen-Love 2022)

    MIA HANSEN-LOVE: ONE FINE MORNING (2022)


    MELVIL POUPAUD, CAMILLE LEBAN MARTINS, LÉA SEYDOUX IN ONE FINE DAY

    Joys and sorrows of life on life's terms

    Mia Hansen-Love's new film certainly is a return to form after several that were harder to understand and lacked the direct emotional impact of her best work. This one doesn't have the before and after structure of All Is Forgiven (2007), The Father of My Children (2009), and Things to Come (2016), three of her great ones, but instead seems to plod along, weaving its way through joys and sorrows toward a quietly bittersweet finale. It's a weepy (I guess), a bit on the soap-melodrama side - but executed with such sincerity, specificity and class that you're with it every step of the way. Three of the finest and most appealing French movie actors star, with the young Camille Leban Martins as the child of one very well carrying her own. (I forgot a fourth French big name, Nicole Garcia, a tad too brittle fo my taste but adding a leavening touch that way.)

    Léa Seydoux and Melvil Poupaud are at their least glamorous and never better. They are friends who start meeting up when Sandra (Seydoux), an interpreter of English and German into French for conferences whose husband died five years ago and who has had no intimacy in her life since then. She is raising her young daughter on her own, and is now beginning to cope with the tragic decline of her philosophy professor father, Georg Kienzler (Pascal Greggory, also deglamorized and very fine). Georg has been diagnosed with Benson’s syndrome, a neurodegenerative disease - a tragic mystery about which we are going to learn, by indirection, quite a lot. There is a vivid lesson in the stage he's at very early when Sandrda comes to visit him and he has great difficulty finding and opening the door to let her in.

    Françoise (Garcia), Georg's ex-wife, selflessly and with no fuss takes the lead in the long struggle to arrange for Georg to get into satisfactory care, as he is shunted to other facilities and they get him finally into a nice one (right in Montmartre!). Hansen-Love's skill here, through the specificity of all this, is to steer a path, avoiding the sentimentality or manipulative brutality or the cliché movies often fall into in dealing with such situations.

    Into this situation, fairly early on, comes a friend of Sandra's whom she runs into and starts hanging out with. He is Clément (Poupaud), more of an acquaintance, really, since he takes time explaining his glamorously oddball scientific specialty to her: cosmocchemistry. Studying stardust is more or less what he does. Again Hansen-Love in her script is being specific. He's not an astrophysicist, just as Georg doesn't have Alzheimer's. (Bensen's Disease is something that affects the sight and the motor control first, and only later develops dementia-like symptoms. It can attack people earlier than dementia usually does.) Meanwhile of course Sandra is coping with, and enjoying, LInn (Leban Martins), who's around nine, and takes fencing lessons at a big studio - but the toughness that implies doesn't keep her from being a sad, pouting little girl when Sandra arrives late to pick her up at the class, a moment that highlights Linn's complexity. She is strong and wants to have fun. But she has the sensitivity of a child who's missing a father.

    It turns out pretty soon that Sandra and Clément are strongly attracted to each other. After a few passionate kisses they start having voracious sex. He is married and has a young son, but he's told Sandra the marriage has no love in it. But this part of the story is also very specific and complicated because he feels tied to his wife and son, responsibility visibly conflicting with need. With Sandra it's different, because after five years of celibacy and loneliness, for her it's pure need.

    This creates a back-and-forth that dominates the action, along with the ongoing situation with Georg, the constant subtly devastating moments where Georg can or can't communicate or cope when Sandra sees him. There is the important subplot of Georg's books, a rich collection Françoise and Sandra and other family members have the sad task of dispersing. Sandra has to admit that the books now embody more of Georg for her than the shell Georg himself is becoming. It's a brilliant objective correlative of what it's like to experience a family member's neurodegenerative decline.

    All this relates to Florian Zeller's much-admired film, from his play, of The Father, though Hansen-Love juggles more complexity here and does not attempt to put us into the point of view of the aging patient asThe Father does. The main point of view is Sandrda's. Her situation - five years of relatively empty serving of others - haas its correlative in her job of translating what other people say, often things that are not particularly interesting, rather than speaking on her own. She buries herself in the sexual passion of her affair with Clément, a tremendous outlet and comfort for her all of a sudden. She becomes very angry when he pulls away. But he's not being judged harshly. No one is being immoral or weak here - not even the staff at the not-very-good nursing homes Georg passes through.

    But that's tainted by Clément's guilt and uncertainty. He's just as needy, just as passionate. He keeps starting and stopping the affair because he feels it's hurtful and wrong for his wife, to whom he reveals it. But he loves Sandra now, as she loves him. As mentioned, this has strong soap-melodrama elements. It's just so wonderfully specific and real and intelligent, and so well cast and well acted, that it transcends the genres of weepy and fraught rom-com, by dialing both genres up to the maximum and seamlessly melding them together.

    This certainly competes with Hansen-Love's best work. I can't quite agree that it's sublime, or her best, as several prominent reviewers have said; but all reviews say it's very, very good, and they're right. It also takes on hard stuff with a fierceness and intelligence that put this filmmaker at a new level at the top of the game. A measure of One Fine Day is how well Linn's thread is handled throughout, the warmth of her response to Clément (and the psychosomatic ailment she develops when he pulls away): she leaves a strong impression. And this film leaves you with plenty to feel and think about.

    One Fine Morning/Un beau matin, 112 mins., debuted at Cannes in the Directors' Fortnight section on May 20, 2022. It has been in other festivals including Sydney, Jerusalem, Beijing, Telluride, and Toronto. It was screened for this review as part of the Mill Valley Film Festival (Oct. 6-16, 2022). French theatrical release Oct. 5, 2022. The US distributor is Sony. US release date yet. Metacritic rating: 84%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-20-2022 at 03:56 PM.

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    THE ART OF EATING: THE LIFE OF M.F.K. FISHER (Gregory Bezat 2022)

    GEGORY BEZAT: THE ART OF EATING: THE LIFE OF M.F.K. FISHER (2022)


    M.F.K. FISHER AT HOME IN CALIFORNIA WRITING

    TRAILER

    A complicated sensualist

    M.F.K. Fisher (1908–1992) is an American food writer, perhaps the greatest one, and she dates from a time when her métier most mattered, because there were so few practicing it. She is the author of 27 books, including a translation of the French classic The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin. She was praised by W.H. Auden in his introduction to one of her major books, the eponymous Art of Eating, as writing as good prose as anyone in America. She loved food and cooking from the days of her childhood in Whittier, California. She learned more about such things living in France and Switzerland, and through frequent travels, and wrote about them primarily while living in Northern California through a long and sometimes difficult life. much of it spent supporting herself as a single mother. American food was not so good, and it declined further after World War II when many farmers sold out and moved to cities and farms consolidated into factory-like mega-farms. In her beautiful, thoughtful prose, Fisher celebrated the senses and the taste. She made food sexy, and she didn't hesitate to write about sex too, and about life and food and sex as all part of the same thing. Sensitivity to "slow food" and fine food has grown in recent years and the time is ripe for renewed appreciation of M.F.K. Fisher's writing. She got those initials from editors who wanted to mask her being a woman, but - what a great name!

    When you learn about who she was, you guess that Joan Reardon’s biography of MFK Fisher, Poet of the Appetites, has a more appropriate title. "Eating" isn't all her life or her writing are about, or all people read her for. Bezat's film fully recognizes this. Using archival film footage of Fisher, her works, and the places where she lived and many interviews with experts and admirers, the film attempts a full and admiring portrait.

    But she was a complex writer and person with a complicated life and this film winds up falling short of the je ne sais quoi of a full M.F.K. portrait. It starts off on the wrong foot with a lot of bland blanket praise by a bunch of its talking heads - however distinguished they are in the fields of food and writing, such as novelist and friend Anne Lamott, California superstar restauranteur Alice Waters, and famous restaurant critic Ruth Reichl. They seem to keep butting in, and while they may provide validation (is it needed so much?), they add little to our understanding.

    The film also starts off heavy-handedly by quoting from Fisher some relatively ordinary passages where she describes steps in her life, then some of her more generalized words about food and sensuality. The pungency, the specificity, the brilliance and contrariness of her prose, which garnered Auden's lavish praise and others mention, have not gotten pride of place here. We feel some of its subject's complexity slipping through our fingers. We can see why the documentary and the film about Julia Child, that simple blast of enthusiasm (who had a friendly relationship with M.F.K. and spoke highly of her), came across so much more clearly.

    The film outlines "Mary Frances'" earliest life clearly enough. Her father bought the local newspaper of Whittier, California, a largely Quaker town (though they were Episcopalians), and she wrote for it while young. She briefly attended a number of local colleges. But she quickly married to be able to go abroad, to Dijon in 1929 with Berkeley doctoral candidate in literature Alfred Fisher (why Dijon we don't learn). This was an opportunity to savor the cuisine of France, to sit in the center of the world, at the Café de Flore in Paris on the Boulevard Saint Germain, to see how the French enjoy eating and life. Then Alfred began to ignore her, and she slipped off with the slim, blond Dillwyn (also known as "Tim") Parrish - in a manner whose sexiness and suddenness is a bit underplayed here. Sadly, Dillwyn, who loved M.F.K., as she loved him, and encouraged her writing as Alfred did not, had Buerger's disease, which required the amputation of a leg and caused rapid decline and terrible pain, and he committed suicide after they had been together for only four years. Then we lose track a bit, interrupted by the endless succession of platitudinous talking heads telling us what a good writer she was, while we're quoted more of her less interesting prose.

    It would be nice if anybody gave the dates of the three M.F.K. marriages- they're not even listed in her somewhat inadequate Wikipedia article, which is condemned at the top with the remark, "may be written from a fan's point of view." Graduate student and scholar and Smith teacher Alfred Fisher lasted from 1929 to 1937, painter and illustrator Dillwyn Parrish from 1937-1941, and literary agent Donald Friede merely from 1945 to 1948, when she realized she needed to be alone. She spent her later life with her daughters, and later still, with assistants who helped her write. Toward the end, she struggled with arthritis and Parkinson's, having good and bad body days, and her many ideas for books up until the end much required help from others to carry out.

    The film runs its camera over a lot of Fisher's writing, a pleasing if tantalizing innovation, to show how often she appeared in the pages of the much missed Gourmet, in The New Yorker, and in other publications, and hence what a part of the life then she was - and all the books, which from the start garnered praise in the literary columns and were not restricted to style or kitchen sections. We also hear Fisher's own voice, and see her moving and speaking. She had a seven-year contract at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. "I was called a 'junior writer,'" she recounts. "When I was working in Hollywood I was aware that there were men who were absolute nitwits who were producers..." She did what you don't do: she quit after two years. It was then apparently that she translated Brillat-Savarin.

    There is much else, but the chronology goes back and forth, and back and forth to Anne Lamott and Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl to hold forth. There is a nice ending moment: a film of Fisher reading from her own work, where she cites a line this reviewer too has long liked: *that Sidney Smith said his idea of heaven was "pâté de fois gras to the sound of trumpets," and she offers a substitute: "fresh garden peas, picked to the sound of a cowbell." She smiles. A wise and pleasant moment, and a nice place to end.

    The film, as mentioned, points out how American food, already bland and unsophisticated, deteriorated furtherafter the war, and how in recent decades (to some extent - but while fast food has burgeoned in Europe more and more as well) a sensibility has grown in sympathy with Fisher, with taste, season, farmers, slow food, so she is popular with young foodies. If this film whets their appetites to read her further, it will have done its job.
    ________________________
    *M. F. K., an hourlong documentary by a California filmmaker, Barbara Wornum, released in 1992, was (reportedly) "a comprehensive view of Mrs. Fisher." One would like to compare it with the present film. For a factual review of her life that quotes some really pungent passages see Molly O'Neill's obituary in the New York Times. For more detail see the Wikipedia article, "M.F.K. Fisher." And obviously, we should read her books, starting with the best known ones and moving on from there.

    The Art of Eating: The Life of M.F. K Fisher, 85 mins., is having its world premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival Oct. 11, 2022. Screened in connection with the MVFF.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-20-2022 at 02:19 PM.

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    BURIED: THE 1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE (Jared Drake, Steven Siig 2021)

    JARED DRAKE, STEVEN SIIG: BURIED: THE 1982 ALPINE MEADOWS AVALANCHE (2021)


    SEARCHERS FOR SURVIVORS IN BURIED

    Portrait by survivors of one of nature's most horrific events: a giant avalanche

    AN Account of the March 1982 Alpine Meadows avalanche can be found online in Tahoetopia.com (2020). It seems to be accurate except for several details about the timing of the rescue of Anna Conrad.

    The new film relies exclusively on people who were there 37 years before the filming at Tahoe working at the ski resort, Alpine Meadows, and experienced the avalanche, including avalanche forecaster Jim Plehn, Lanny Johnson, a former ski patroller, and Larry Heywood, assistant patrol director. Because the head of the whole ski center Bernie Kingery was among those taken out by the avalanche, Plehn became the person most responsible ever after, which included for him over two weeks of being on the witness stand when families of some of the victims took the ski park service to court: the jury found them not responsible, because this avalanche was a special, unique event.

    In fact the burden of this film is to convey the magnitude of this event and the sense it provides that the force of nature is beyond human control. As the Outside writeup of this film says by way of introduction, "In the eighties, Alpine Meadows ski resort in California had one of the most advanced avalanche safety programs in the country, thanks to avalanche forecaster Jim Plehn and plenty of explosives." Team members constantly went out with hand explosives. There was also a station from which artillery was fired at sites they could not reach. This was done to loosen snow and prevent it from plowing down, thus keeping the area safe for skiers.

    But this being a resort operation, the aim of attracting skiers trumped the need to make really clear the degree of danger. It turns out Alpine Meadows is one of the worst avalanche areas in the country, perhaps the world. The resort is classified as a “Class A” avalanche area by the U.S. Forest Service, meaning it has a high frequency of avalanches. One of the talking heads here says it's more like "A++++." At the time, the resort recorded the highest number of avalanches annually of any ski area in the United States. What happened was that an exceptional storm occurred in this dangerous region, a once-in-a-century weather event. The quantity of snow and the rapidity with which it deployed over a four-day period were record-breaking, beyond anybody's experience or knowledge.

    A mistake that was made was that a parking lot had not been closed off. It is here that the four outsiders died, who should not have been in the area at all. The other three who perished were employees of the resort, including the chief of operations.

    Of this most rapidly destructive of all weather events, not much can be said. It snapped hundred-year-old trees like matchsticks. There was zero visibility. The then-22-year-old lone survivor of direct impact, an AlpineMeadows employee who says she has probably been interviewed sixty times by now. was saved by the walls of a locker room that fell over her but were held back from her by a bench she had fallen under, providing a pocket of air and holding back the snow. She was trapped there, numbed by a concussion and unaware of what had happened or even where she was trapped for nearly five days and three+ of those without water and was very sick by the time she was dug out. The excavation had to be delayed for two days by order of Jim Plehn after she was found because the avalanche danger had arisen again. But we should not tell her story because it's the most interesting of the film, which spends a lot of its run-time on the largely futile search for others buried under the massive snow, and on the one success story. This is the first time a person in the US was retrieved from an avalanche thanks to a trained dog. There are a few recreations, not much, fortunately; since those tend to undermine with a sense of falsity what they gain in explanation in any film of this kind.

    Buried brings to life this horrendous avalanche through the individual accounts, which are simply deployed to provide a chronological narrative. The survivor is one of the coolest. several others are overcome with emotion more than once. It is their sense of helplessness and their survival guilt that may overwhelm them. It is only by indirection and descriptions that the avalanche itself can be depicted. This isn't much of a portrait of individual personalities, but it will be of interest to skiers and mountaineers. As has been pointed out, the ski resort workers of today are too young to remember this event, and they should watch this film because they need to know just how dangerous this location is and how beyond imagining powerful snow can be.

    The filmmakers are residents of the area. An article in the Reno Gazette Journal includes more detail about the event and interviews with them.

    Buried: the 1982 Alpine Meadows Avalanche, 96 mins., debuted in Mountainfilm at Telluride, Colorado in May 2021 and also showed at Austin, Bend, Whistler, Boulder, Banff and Vancouver, winning best doc and audience awards. US theatrical release Sept. 23, 2022 (including numerous northern California theaters), and on Amazon and Apple TV Nov. 8.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-18-2022 at 09:44 PM.

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    LOST ILLUSIONS (Xavier Giannoli 2021)

    XAVIER GIANNOLI: LOST ILLUSIONS (2021)


    BENJAMIN VOISIN, VINCENT LACOSTE IN LOST ILLUSIONS

    Great expectations, then downfall, à la Balzac, updated

    The most celebrated French film of the year in France, with a raft of 2022 César nominations and awards, Lost Illusions is a return to Cinéma de qualité - the kind of lush, conventional French movie that was made before the Nouvelle Vague shook everything up. It is accordingly lushly entertaining but without the strong mark of an "auteur." And yet, ironically it works overtime trying to be "relevant" to today, to media corruption, social networks, money triumphing over commitment, and "fake news." It's fun, it shocks a little (one memorable penis next to a wad of cash), it thrills, it enchants, it absorbs, and then it disappoints because it twists the original so hard it squeezes some of the life and the love out of it. You should still see it though, if you like well-made costume movies and if you appreciate French cinema.

    Les illusions perdues (the original French title) is a rather controversial adaptation - controversial because many French critics feel it twists the original much too violently in search of the contemporary relevance of Balzac's eponymous six-year-in-the-releasing serial novel about an ambitious young naive poet from the provinces (Angoulême) who comes to Paris, is corrupted, thrives, and is destroyed. There's a five-star cast headed by Benjamin Voisin, Cécille de France, Xavier Dolan, Gérard Depardieu, and more; gorgeous cinematography by Christophe Beaucarne; a long run-time that holds the attention because it teams with action, throbs with sweeping string music by Vivaldi, Haydn, Mozart, and its mise en scène recreates the world of early 19th-century Paris, the time of the Bourbon royalist restoration, with a restrained, satisfying vivacity.

    The prelude is a little wan, and its conventionality almost overwhelms it, but if it works it makes us fall in love with Lucien (Benjamin Voisin, who shone in François Ozon's period gay YA tragedy Summer of 85), the slim, pretty young aspiring poet in Angoulême who works at a print shop. His slim volume of verses, as pretty as himself, is called Marguerites ("Daisies") - a title which his hard-nosed new comrades in Paris will mock, but with which he seduces a lonely, beautiful, sad noblewoman, Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France, gray and palely beautiful throughout: she does not change, and there is none of the vivacity that supercharged L'Auberge Espagnole). Louise and Lucien romp in a field. He reads his poetry at a salon at which she presides and, alas, the provincial gentry snicker. They don't appreciate the finer things.

    This early section, and the transition from the provinces to Paris, is a dose of Balzacian social reality. Lucian aspires to finer things, rejecting his father's petty bourgeois family name of Chardon and calling himself after his well-connected mother, "Lucien de Rubempré," though snobs constantly remind him his name is Lucien Chardon. (No matter: Lucien de Rubempré becomes accepted as his pen name.) He and Louise, who rejects her boring much older husband, go to Paris in a carriage together. In a virtuoso sequence Giannoli depicts them attending the opera with Louise's aristocratic cousin and now sponsor and hostess, the Marquise d'Espard (Jeanne Balibar, whom English-language critics admire in this role: she is always distinctive, but she seems out of tune with everything else). This is Lucien's first big comeuppance. Word goes around the theater that he's a commoner and should not be in the box with these ladies. The way he has dolled himself up and puffed out his hair, people think he must be the Marquise's coiffeur. The Marquise tells Louise riding alone with him to Paris in the carriage was a terrible faux pas. She starts to distance herself from him.

    Later, Lucien applies to get his claim to nobility officially approved. But like any young unformed hero, he's pulled in different directions. And the best scenes are those involving Vincent Lacoste, who grabs his juicy role as Lousteau, the cynical young journalist and has great fun with it. Surely this is an exaggerated picture of things and of Balzac, but we get a picture of a world that is mind-blowingly up for grabs to the highest bidder. Reviews for books are bought. You can get a good one or a pan for money, and that goes for everything. The tie-in with contemporary politics is obvious. Likewise with theater. A man named Singali (Jean-François Stévenin) is in charge of "claques" that, for pay, can make or destroy a new play by cheering or booing.

    Withe Lousteau's hilarious descriptions of how Paris life can be gamed, Lucien starts not just to smile again but to laugh a lot. The two guys turn into bros. Are they just bros? You sort of wonder with Nathan d'Anastazio being nearby, a composite figure played by the openly gay French Canadian director Xavier Dolan, who also turns out to be the omnipresent narrator. The prevalence of voiceover narration has been much criticized in this film, but it has also been pointed out that Balzac's social panorama could not have been filled in cinematically without such a device. There are lots of other characters, notably the publishing impresario played by Gérard Depardieu, Dauriat who - get this - is illiterate; and another important media figure, Finot, played by Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, the lead in Mia Hansen-Løve's lovely film, The Father of My Children. There are specifics about the papers - more scandal sheets than anything else now - and good visuals depicting them and the advertising and posters of the period, which were monochromatic and had not reached the technicolor richness Toulouse Lautrec was to bring to them. The color is in the clothes. The men are peacocks, none more so than Voisin as Lucien, and his girlfriend becomes famous for her red stockings.

    Lousteau harnesses Lucien's writing skill to pen, and we mean pen, articles for his paper, each one paid for - instant gratification - at the end of the day. Lucien meets and falls in love with a guttersnipe actress, the ample Coralie (Salomé Dewaels). He thrives, and partakes of the constant drinking and eventually the hash smoking, which Lousteau partakes of freely. One of the film's most voluptuous sounds is the slow explosion of the big matches he uses to light his hash pipe. Writing routinely begins with a flute of champagne. As in the heyday of American newspapers, journalists are hard livers. Lucien lives an exciting, busy, hard-working, dissolute life. He reads for a living, not for culture. He stops writing poetry. He engages in a "rivalry" with frenemy Nathan (Dolan), each sniping and stroking the other; and one again wonders, are they just frenemies, or....?

    With the preposterous explosion of bought journalism and Lucien's brief triumph as a prolific producer of satirical squibs for pay, Giannoli's movie really blooms, but in the sadder decline segments in the latter half the bloom wilts and things get to be, inevitably, a drag. This is where we start to wonder, "Is this really real? Did this even happen in Balzac?" And it all starts to seem like a big glorious costume bonanza of nothing so much. That's the point, maybe, because Lousteau, who is the raisonneur of the piece, despite the omnipresent slightly stolid voice of Xavier Dolan's neutral narrator, declares to Lucien at one point that everything they do will be forgotten they are producers of ephemera.

    This may wind up despite its twelve Césars (that's a lot) seeming ephemera too, compared to more deeply felt movies like Giannoli's own lovely and touching 2006 The Singer/Quand j'étis chanteur, starring Gérard Depardieu and Cécile de France.
    That had more of an auteur about it, as did Giannoli's oddball In the Beginning/À l'origine (with Depardieu again, and the inimitable Emmenuelle Devos). The Singer is about an art also that is ephemeral, but one that its practitioner loves. There's not much love in Lost Illusions. Shouldn't there be?

    Lost Illusions/Les illusions perdues, 149 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 5, 2021, showing at many other festivals including Rendez-Vous with French Cinema Mar. 8, 2022. French theatrical release Oct. 20, 2021, AlloCiné press rating 4.0 (80%), and the spectator rating is 4.3. June 10, 2022 US limited release. Watched online for this review. Metascore: 81%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-21-2022 at 12:09 PM.

  14. #29
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    GASOLINE ALLEY (Edward Drake 2022)

    ROB NILSSON: FAULTLINE (2022) MVFF45

    In stark western landscapes, the search for the father comes to an end

    This is the third feature in eighty-something filmmaker Rob Nilsson's vivid, multi-character black and white Nomad Trilogy saga. The first two are Arid Cut and Center Divide and they are all held together by a young couple, Rail (Nighttrain Schickele) and Mitra (Emily Corbo) traveling across the American West. The guy, Rail, is looking for his father, Bert Neville, whom he has never met. All three features have been introduced at successive Mill Valley Film Festivals, in 2019, 2021, and 2022. Originally inspired by John Cassavetes' 1959 improvisational classic Shadows, Nilsson puts together his films through finding people to act in scenes and having them improvise, building the individual scenes largely around the people through the course of his "citizen cinema workshops." The film, shot on two handheld iPhone 11's, has a rich, evocative contrastiness, like the photographs of Bill Brandt or the late Willliam Klein, and make much use of closeups and intense, emphatic dialog. If one reads the three summaries of the trilogy's parts on IMDb, one understands why Nilsson has his own definition of the word "epic."

    In the first film in the trilogy, Arid Cut, homeless people driven out of an encampment because a race track is being demolished head out for open country. A couple of lovers on a motorcycle are going north (Rail and his girl) going to look for a place called Arid Cut in search of his father. Why Arid Cut? Because Rail has found a book by that title by Bert Neville.) There is also a group of wildcat carpenters and a stowaway, and other characters. The second film, Center Divide,is a road movie wherein various travelers meet up and the search for Arid Cut (not on any map) continues. Part three, Faultline, the present film, takes place deep in the desert in Nevada and Northern California and a couple of ranches that they find. I am quoting here from Rob Nilsson himself in a 2021 MVFF interview where he was talking about Center Divide, which debuted then.

    Some pungent scenes early on in Faultline occur in bars, a favorite venue for Nnilsson. I like how one character declares that most of the world's conspiracy theories originate in bars and move out from there. Rail and Mitra first met, they say, dancing in a skateboard park, but they have a tendency to squabble. After one such argument Rail goes off leaving Mitra in a bar, where the venerable lady bartender offers to give her a place to stay till she decides what to do. Rail goes off to find some friends who get in touch to say they are lost in a wilderness. We are in Modoc County and Rail declares himself to be part Modoc tribe. Eventually he and Mitra are reunited, and eventually he finds a man who says he is a father and they embrace and the father declares his love, but the father tells Rail not to come around any more. And the film ends with a trail of figures silhouetted across a dramatic horizon, like in Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal. There are no shootouts, guns drawn, or Cormac McCarthy bloodbaths here, but the personalities seem very western, as is the intentional turning away from cities and embrace of the desert.

    The Bergmanesque scene shows Nilsson aspires to grandeur, and he likes by his own admission to steal for a moment the most "epic" natural settings. His workshopping means of production on the other hand draws often on both stylish and humble, craggy qualities in the people he films with his intense iPhone lenses. The acting is homegrown and works sometimes better than others. The editing is smooth and pretty inventive, but there are longueurs and inexplicable jumps. Maybe this didn't need to run for 155 minutes. Sometimes the journey could have moved forward faster toward its conclusion. Rob Nilsson films are an acquired taste. What seemed most satisfying from first frame to last was the cinematography. Faultline really has an impressive, dramatic look. The sharp chiaroscuro black and white images of faces, figures and interiors or landscapes are always framed handsomely.

    Besides Train Schickele and Emily Corbo as Rail and Mitra, other lead actors are Russell Murphy as Travis, Tony Milliner as Ziggy, Lydia Becker as Karin, Don Bejema as Bed, Dan Da Silva as Dane, Mia Perez as April, Zelma Iveson as Zelma, Rosemary Nelso(n as Violet, Chris Damm as Ben, Galina Paasternak as Svetlana, Puneet as RP, and Dante Dunn as Taylor. Twenty-seven other cast members are listed in ther closing credits.) An article by Andrew Gilbert in Berkeleyside last year about the middle picture reveals that Nighttrain Schickele himself has "only vague memories" of his late father, David Schickele, who was a "musician, actor, and filmmaker "whose precious few films are being preserved by the Pacific Film Archive." But then, separating life from art is rarely a simple equation in the world of Rob Nilsson. The confluence between actor and character, Gilbert points out, is typical of Nilsson's way of working. He doesn't like to use "actors" but make fictions out of people "being themselves." The article provides more about Nilsson's loose production company, Bricolage, and is key members, as well about his working method and the philosophy behind it. As much as his sui generis filmmaking, Nilsson is notable for how clear and well worked out the ideas behind that filmmaking is. That may be as memorable as the work itself. He expresses some of his lively ideas about current cinema and reviews his own work in a 5,000-word piece in a July 2021 issue of Senses of Cinema. There is very little else to be found about him on the internet.

    Faultline, 155 mins., debuts at Mill Valley Film Festival Oct. 2022. Rob Nilsson received the 1979 Camera d’Or at Cannes for his feature Northern Lights and the Grand Jury Dramatic prize at Sundance for his 1987 Heat and Sunlight. He is currently receiving numerous lifetime achievement honors at international film festivals.















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    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-19-2022 at 02:48 PM.

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    NO FUTURE (Andrew Irvine, Mark Smoot 2021)

    ANDREW IRVINE, MARK SMOOT: NO FUTURE (2021)


    CATHERINE KEENER AND CHARLIE HEATON IN NO FUTURE

    The sad truth that addicts can't always be helped

    In this bleak drama (look at the title), a young man, Will (Charlie Heaton, 27, of "Stranger Things), jumps momentarily into a clandestine affair with Claire (twice Oscar-nominated Catherine Keener, 62), after her son and his estranged longtime friend and former bandmate Chris (Jefferson White) dies of an overdose. Will too has been an IV drug user, but is in recovery, and doing okay at the moment, though the crises of this story will undermine that fragile status. This movie fits into the dual categories, drug and recovery saga, May-December romance, with gloomy prospects for both. Heaton is understated and winning throughout, and Keener is strong as always, both low-keyed but very committed. Writer-directors Irvine and Smoot have an excellent cast to work with here and that's what holds you when the over-literal action starts to seem too grim to bear.

    Maybe Will is offering himself as compensation, his survivor guilt compounded by his having been revisited by and rebuffed Chris, just out of jail, the very night he OD's at his mom's house. It was not a bad decision, but you understand people blaming themselves. Chris is unappealing and hopeless in his one scene, with Will, a strong, distinctive performance by White. Later it emerges that Will drew Chris into addiction with him.

    No Future begins with a twelve-step recovery meeting - a tired movie routine, but there's no good way out of them in a tale like this - that shows where Will is now: guardedly upbeat, with a new nurse's aide girlfriend, Becca (Rosa Salazar), who he's afraid of completely opening up to for fear if she fully knows him , she'll bolt. Will's father Philip, (a crisp, fit-looking Jackie Earle Haley) just checks his boy's arms for needle marks, and he causes trouble later when he visits Claire. He hasn't learned to trust his son, blaming him for his wife's demise, and significantly, he does not accept the idea that addiction is a disease.

    Honesty in addiction is a crucial issue. Claire acknowledges to Will that she "enabled" Chris, that it was long just the two of them, and she couldn't save him. Will conceals from Claire meeting with Chris the evening of his overdose. He also lies to Becca that he's going to a meeting the night he suddenly leaves her and runs off to sleep with Claire. And while his recovery meetings provide Will with an essential safe oasis where he can be honest, he doesn't go to enough of them. Claire lies to a therapist her coworker pushes her into seeing, and so gets no benefit.

    Spoiler alert: this film doesn't end happily. This is a truthful picture of how young lives can be brought down by addiction while the damage radiates out to loved ones. Does it have to be so grim and pessimistic? The one-track sincerity is underlined by score that relies heavily on long droning tones contributes to the claustrophobia.

    No Future, 89 mins, debuted at Tribeca Apr. 15, 2020, where it was nominated for Best Narrative Feature. It also showed at Dallas International Film Festival Oct. 9, 2021. Reviewed at Tribeca by Sheri Linden in Hollywood Reporter and Tim Grierson in Screen Daily.

    Gravitas Ventures release No Future in theaters and VOD Oct. 22, 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-13-2021 at 12:47 AM.

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