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Thread: New York Film Festival 2021

  1. #1
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    Jul 2002
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    New York Film Festival 2021

    New York Film Festival 2021 (Sept. 24-Oct. 10). Opening, Centerpiece, closing night films.


    Links to Reviews:
    The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen 2021) Opening Night Film
    The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion 2021) Centerpiece Film
    Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar 2021) Closing Night Film
    A Chiara (Jonas Carpignano 2021)
    Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid 2021)
    Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Radu Jude 2021)
    Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven)
    Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve 2021)
    Il Buco (Michelangelo Frammartino 2021)
    Drive My Car (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi 2021)
    The First 54 Years (Avi Mograbi 2021)
    Flee (Jonas Poher Rasmussen 2021)
    France (runo Dumont 2021)
    Futura (Pietro Marcello, Francesco Munzi, Alice Rohrwacher 2021)
    The Girl and the Spider (Ramon and Silvan Zürcher 2021)
    Hit the Road/Jadde Khaki (Panah Panahi 2021)
    In Front of Your Face (Hong Sangsoo 2021)
    Întregalde (Radu Muntean 2021)
    Introduction (Hong Sangsoo 2021)
    Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul 2021
    Neptune Frost (Saul Williams, Anisia Uzeyman 2021)
    Passing (Rebecca Hall 2021)
    Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma 2021)
    Prayers for the Stolen (Tatiana Huezo)
    The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg 2021)
    Titane (Julia Ducournau 2021)
    Unclenching the Fists (Kira Kovalenko 2021)
    The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes 2021)
    Vortex (Gaspar Noé 2021)
    What Do We See When We Look at the Sky (Aleksandre Koberidze 2021)
    Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi 2021)
    The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier 2021)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 08-12-2022 at 08:25 PM.

  2. #2
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    Jul 2002
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    THE POWER OF THE DOG (Jane Campion 2021)



    Machismo challenged

    This is an assured and austerely beautiful movie, whether its striking New Zealand landscapes work as stand-ins for the ranges of Montana or not. It has an elegant sense of period, 1925 (in its look). Jonny Greenwood's score, like the ones he did for Paul Thomas Anderson and Lynne Ramsey, is distinctive. This is first-rate stuff. And yet it unmistakably falls just a little flat at the end with a finale that's surprising, but too abrupt. The test comes in the work it evokes, George Stevens' Giant and Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven. Though its landscapes and scenes of cowboys at work are breathtaking and painterly, the film has neither the epic sweep of Giant nor the lyrical flights of Days of Heaven. It comes off as a very classy study in gender role-playing, with distinctive trappings of the Western - or anti-Western, as Anthony Lane suggests (it's almost as quirkily authentic as Jarmusch's Dead Man). It seems woefully underlit till one grasps how authentic that is. At times the cast members appear to be rattling around in the magnificent settings with too little to do, hampered by an action that moves a little too slowly. "Slow burn," yes; but for that the pacing must really burn. And yet this delights the eye and ear and lingers in the mind.

    With this "mysterious and menacing" "Gothic Western Jane Campion makes one of her best films, set in Montana in the 1920's and based on Thomas Savage's eponymous 1967 novel about a man lost "in the veneer of his masculinity." That's a description used in an interview by Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the lead character, Phil Burbank, a wealthy rancher who lives alone in a vast house with his milder, plumper brother George (Jesse Plemons). George disrupts this safe masculine world when he abruptly marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst, Plemons' real-life spouse), a widow who runs a frontier inn, and brings her to live in the big house. Her late husband, a doctor, committed suicide. Her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) disturbs and maddens Phil with his seeming effeminacy when George and Phil meet them by taking the ranch hands to dine at the inn to celebrate roundup time. The story is of that uncomfortable meeting and the disruption that follows when things are rearranged at the ranch house.

    The casting is a work of art. Benedict Cumberbatch is awesome as Phil Burbank, the ill-humored Marlboro man brother who thrives on dispensing cruel mockery and is just barely warding off homosexual panic. If his stinky cowboy pose feels rather fake, that's the point, since as we soon learn he's a Phi Beta Kappa in Classics from Yale. Phil has learned the wrangling and tough cowboy talk and the one-handed ciggy rolling, wearing chaps all the time and never washing from a deceased, still obsessed-on mentor called Bronco Henry dead at 50 who himself didn't learn to ride till he was, well, abut the age of Peter. Smit-McPnee, who plays that role, is more important than Kirsten Dunst as Rose, his mother, because this story is about masculine roles, not about women, and Peter is a major provocation for Phil, and perhaps an attraction. Kodi and Benedict are both beanpoles, Kodi slightly the taller and the more unique looking. Kodi has said he liked the role of Peter because his character is more secure about being the way he is than he is himself, which is to say "very feminine." McPhee may seem daunted momentarily as Peter, but the character is notable for his total inner stillness and self-possession, even when challenged.

    Jane Campion may have been derailed by #MeToo into making this film, especially since she hasn't done a feature in 12 years. Is a film critiquing masculine roles a feminist film when its women are this unimportant? From the masculine point of view, feminism like this can seem strained.

    There are two women working in the house, the housekeeper Mrs Lewis (Campion regular Geneviève Lemon) and a young attractive maid, but they aren't noticed, except to make Rose uncomfortable at being waited on. (A lustier young lad would have gone for the maid.) Rose does not thrive. She has been greeted as an adventuress by Phil, he has already made her weep by mocking her son on first meeting, and unlike her unflappable offspring she is deeply shaken and takes to drink, hiding bottles of bourbon round the house. Phil points this out in the rudest and most explicit terms. George may have ways of coping with this, but he tends to fall by the wayside as the action focuses at the end on Phil and Pete.

    Phil will have a change of heart toward Pete and start to train him in cowboy-ing, though it will be short-lived since the young man is a now medical student and only there for summer vacation. This film is divided into chapters, like a book. But several of these seem to go by before we notice them; the fluid time-scheme moves swiftly. One thing that lingers in the mind is the bad evening set piece early in the marriage when George invites Mom and Dad and the governor of the state (Keith Carradine) and his wife (Alison Bruce) to dinner, and Rose chokes when asked to play the baby grand piano George has bought her, even though she used to play in a dance hall. Phil shows up only at the end because he refused to wash. Yale seems to have worn off pretty thoroughly. But what's really left?

    Power of the Dog seems to both drag and skip swiftly toward its abrupt plot twists. But those supremely awkward moments gendered by Phil, and almost all the big scenes, stand out vividly, including the time when Phil takes the boy, whom he now calls "Pete-my-pal," up into the hills. The finale, as mentioned, is abrupt, as is the explanation of where "the power of the dog" comes from and how it enters the story. But there is another dog, an unexpected one that links Phil and Pete and gives them an almost mystical bond - and hints at more in the original novel that may be lost here. The finale, as Owen Gleiberman says in his Variety review, needs a more "bruising catharsis" and "becomes too oblique."

    The Power of the Dog, 126 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 2, 2021 and showed at over two dozen major international festivals including Telluride, Toronto, New York, Mill Valley, Busan, the Hamptons, and London. US limited release Nov. 17, 2021; an Netflix Dec. 1. Screened for this review at Shattuck Cinemas, Berkeley CA, Nov. 29. Metacritic rating: 88%.

  3. #3
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    Jul 2002
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    PARALLELMOTHERS (PedroAlmodóvar 2021)

    PARALLEL MOTHERS (Pedro Almodóvar 2021)


    Almodóvar scores high with slightly mix of feminism and earnest Spanish Civil war account-settling.

    Parallel Mothers is a wonderful role for Penélope Cruz, her eighth in a series of great outings with the director. She plays a convincing late-thirties though in real life is actually forty-seven. But her glowing looks at this age, though astonishing, are only the beginning of her wonderfulness. The film combines two unrelated tales, of two women of very different ages who bond in a hospital bedroom giving birth as single mothers and run into telenovela complications with the babes thereafter; and an effort, successful at the end, to exhume the remains of a relative, and others, murdered by Falangists and buried in a mass grave near the family pueblo during the Spanish civil war. Otherwise the plot is unusually simple for Almodóvar and may be the Spaniard's most widely appealing film in a long time, though, not for the first time, I felt left hanging at the end because only the second story seems resolved. The double plot-line combines two of his favorite things, hospitals and death. As usual, thanks to coordination of the director's superb team of editor, cinematographer, composer, and set designer, the film looks and sounds great, glows with glossy color like the work of no other filmmaker, and flows like silk, even when the plot developments are shocking or disjointed.

    Janis (Cruz) is a top-level photographer who has a fling with an attractive forensic archeologist, Arturo (Israel Elejalde), whom she meets by shooting him for a magazine. Note the oddity of Almodóvar's method: a long passage of expository dialogue between the two characters that methodically sets up the theme of the exhumation of the Falangists' victims is followed by a few seconds of sex between them, immediately followed by Janis and Ana (Milena Smit), hugely pregnant and sharing the hospital room about to give birth. The sequence would seem strangely perfunctory if the director's method were not so smooth and artful that you accept it. But the storytelling arbitrariness - long expository dialogue, quick sex, jump to the maternity ward - stuck in my mind through the rest of the film. That Almodóvar wastes no time, is part of his distinctive method: this film was shot in a month.

    Despite this odd coolness that characterizes the director, reviewers justifiably talk about how warm this picture is and how suffused with love it is, even for potentially unappealing characters like Teresa (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón), Ana's mother, a career-centered actress who is just getting her big chance in her late forties in a play that's starting in the provinces so she can't be in Madrid to help take care of the baby. Teresa later gets a chance to explain herself to Janis and to admit that she always wanted bo be an actress and never cared about being a wife or a mother. To call her "narcissistic" as one prominent American critic has done is unfair in the feminist context.

    Almodóvar has always been a woman's director, like the gay Old Hollywood helmer George Cukor (1899-1983), but this particularly is a movie saturated with sympathy for women's roles, both career and family. There is a spectrum of feminine views here. Janis is 100% behind following up on her unexpected pregnancy, against the wishes of Arturo, who is married and whose wife is terminally ill: let's have one later, he says. No, I am going to keep this one, she says. Ana is still a teenager and her pregnancy is something she has reason to be depressed about. She is scared, she's young and unformed, and the cause of pregnancy was a brutal experience when she was coerced into sex with more than one boy. Janis, named for Janis Joplin by her hippie mother who herself died of a drug overdose at 27, is the third generation of single mothers and is proud to continue the tradition. Janis is a hotshot at her profession; her steadfast rock is her agent and dear friend the vibrant Elena, played by the director's dynamo Eighties discovery Rossy de Palma.

    This movie is all about women. As Jessica Kiang wrote in The Playlist, "Janis' 'We Should All be Feminists' T-shirt is entirely redundant – considering how sidelined they are, 'Men are people too' would be the more provocative slogan in this context."

    The plot surprises, which we can't go into here, are conventional/telenovela/melodrama material. We see some of them coming well ahead of time. They're also partly weird and shocking in the Almodóvar style. But even if they are grotesque, they are still plausible; and Almodóvar remains in the later, more serious mode he has mostly grown into since the 2000's (not counting the popular but slapdash 2013 airplane comedy I'm So Excited!). Thus these surprises read as examples of the hard stuff women have to be able to deal with. In th middle of them Penélope Cruz's Janis is a model of forbearance, generosity, and sacrifice. Ana has grown up markedly through the process of motherhood, dealing with some very hard stuff herself; though she also seems to be becoming a bit clingy as as the plot thickens.

    Toward the end, the almost-forgotten political plot reappears and exactly where the relationships between Ana, Janis, and Arturo are going seems left dangling while the forensic archeology project, which has taken many months, as it was explained, to acquire official approval, can move forward in a matter of "three or four days" once the site of the Falangists' collective burial of victims has been identified by Janis. The happy finale is a neatly arranged pile of scattered and numbered human skeletons. An odd way to end a romantic feminist melodrama, perhaps, but the way the director drags this for him unusual political theme onto the screen is another one of his shocks and surprises, this time a solemn and historical one from Almodóvar, who is now seventy-two, with an eye to awakening the younger generation. Those skeletons are just a handful of the more than 100,000 victims of the Falangists who still lie in unmarked graves, the film tells us. It's quite possible that Spanish teenagers like Ana are unaware of their country's brutal modern history.

    Las madres parallelas/Parallel Mothers, 123 mins., debuted as the opening film at Venice Sept. 1, 2021. It premiered in Madrid in early Oct., then playing in 20 international festivals starting with New York. US limited release Dec. 24, 2021, on Netflix streaming in early 202l. Metacritic rating: 87%.

  4. #4
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    Jul 2002
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    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 at the Roxie Sat., Jan. 22 at 9:15 p.m., Fri., Jan. 28, 2022 at 9:25 pm and Tues., Feb. 1, 2022 at 9:15 p.m. Metacritic rating: 75%.

  5. #5
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    Jul 2002
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    BERGMAN ISLAND (Mia Hansen-Løve 2021)



    A misfire for the director, despite the critical admiration

    In Hansen-Love's new film she more directly than before references her former relationship with the much older director Olivier Assayas in a frame tale of an "American" couple (actually Tim Roth is English and Vicky Krieps is Luxembourgish) who go to Farö, the island that became the Swedish director's refuge, on a kind of double artist residency. It seems like a terrible idea, and it makes the marriage go wrong, apparently. The film seems to avoid becoming too obviously autobiographical by taking refuge in fourth-wall games. It's a filmmaker's film about filmmakers writing films about filmmakers writing films - in the shadow of one of the 20th century's most admired filmmakers. If that sounds cool to you, this is the film for you.

    Critics have gushed and waxed lyrical about this film since its debut in Competition at Cannes this year. They are right to admire Hansen-Løve; she's made some lovely films. This isn't one of them. Despite its intended complexity, it's both lightweight and cloying. And lightweight not in the way of displaying, as Hansen-Løve's other films do, a light touch, but by beating around the bush and rarely getting to the point.

    The man, Tony (Roth) is a successful writer-director and his wife Chris (Krieps) is a fledgling one. She sets up uneasily to write in a nearby mill, while Tony sets up shop and blithely moves rapidly ahead working in the very bedroom where Bergman shot "Scenes from a Marriage," the work that a local employee says launched a thousand divorces. While reviewers are thrilled about the multi-layered screenplay here, they overlook what a bore it tends to be from the start. Much time is wasted getting the couple from point A to point B, with every detail of the ferry and the programmed-in GPS, and then once they're settled - uneasily in Chris's case - on Farö, we are bombarded with tourist lectures about the place in relation to its famous Swedish theater director, filmmaker, and serial philanderer who, we learn (in case we have no access to Wikipedia), had nine children by six different women and produced a prodigious amount of work by never changing any diapers.

    The "Bergman Safari" that Tony goes on, a bus trip around the island, is avoided by Chris, who gets a private tour from a tall young man with Prince Valiant hair called Hampus (Hampus Nordenson), who, except for the hair, looks a bit like the Norwegian actor Anders Danielsen Lie, who appears later, in the film "The White Dress," which Chris will summarize to Tony while in progress as she agonizes, you may be surprised to learn, over how to end it. Tony is somewhat inattentive. So was I.

    The Bergman Safari is presumably a sendup of such affairs, especially their male-dominated artist-worship aspects, and so is the event where Tony's film is shown and he gives a lengthy Q&A that causes Chris to wander off, just as he will excuse himself to take phone calls while she's summarizing her scenario. It seems they are both bored with each other's careers - though while Chris is moody all the time, Tony seems perpetually cheery. This is one indication of the fact that while there is a superficial complexity in the film-within-film structure, all the effort expended on the layering of characters with versions of themselves makes them wind up relatively one-dimensional.

    By the time Bergman Island gets to Chris's summary of her scenario, which we see (partially) enacted in rich detail, the texture has finally become interesting, especially with the introduction of Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie. But all the schlepping to and around the island and tourist information about Ingmar Bergman has gone on so long it's too late. There is a lot of play with flash-forward and flashback, of characters suddenly replaced by their avatars. But by that time though I hate to say this about anything, especially a Hansen-Løve film, what's happening on screen has become too boring to care. Please rent instead copies of her other films like All Is Forgiven, The Father of My Children, or Things to Come, or, speaking of Anders Danielsen Lie, by all means watch the two superb Joachim Trier features he stars in, Reprise and Oslo, August 31. Stay off that island.

    Bergman Island 112 mins., debuted at Cannes and showed also at Telluride, Toronto, New York, Vancouver, London, and other international film festivals. It opened in US theaters Oct. 15, 2021. Metscaore: 81%.



  6. #6
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    Jul 2002
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    DRIVEMY CAR (Ryunsuke Hamaguchi 2021)



    Hamaguchi garners more international attention with the second feature in one year, this one about a theater director, his fraught relationships, and an unusual production of Chekhov's 'Uncle Vanya'

    Ryunsuke Hamaguchi is gathering accolades with his films now and this one, with the Best Screenplay at Cannes and other awards and inclusion in many prestigious international festivals, is even more admired than his other 2021 feature, the charming three-part romantic tale anthology Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy. Drive My Car, like Lee Chang-dong's 2018 Burning, is an unusually fascinating adaptation and expansion of a Haruki Murakami short story, It's literary, it's complex, it's thought-provoking. The only troubles are it's awfully long and unfun. It's better in the pondering than in the watching.

    Hamaguchi likes to play around with form. This time his three-hour film has a 'prologue' that lasts over 40 minutes and is more exciting than the rest of the film. It provides sex, fantasy, intrigue, and three stunning surprises. The long later section is a lot of play line reading and a lot of driving around: a lot of dull repetition.

    The director is Yusuke Kafuku (the excellent Hidetoshi Nishijima), appearing in his own Japanese-language production of Beckett's Waiting for Godot as the action begins, and noted for his unusual preparing method, and for Uncle Vanya. He's also known for his celebrity wife, a beautiful producer of TV dramas called Oto (Reika Kirishima). Oto has an unusual method too: she develops drama material by improvising stories during and after their sex. During the prologue we see several extended scenes of the latter. An interesting, perfect, power couple, Yusuke and Oto.

    Only they don't have the skill of being able to talk things out. I wasn't sure whether Oto was deeply loyal to Yusuke in her fashion, or bored to death but unwilling to admit it. The happy couple maybe isn't so happy. Oto is a serial adulterer, sleeping with many men, probably. When he returns unannounced after a cancelled flight Yusuke spies Oto in flagrante with Kôji Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), the tall, handsome young star of her TV series. Koji is to be a major character, though he may seem more a MacGuffin than a person.

    There are several jolts besides Yusuke's discovery of Oto's affair with Koji, which he deals with in a silent, non-confrontational way, turning around unseen and going to a hotel to await his postponed flight. He has a sudden car accident on the freeway, colliding almost balletically with another vehicle; we see the two cars from high above like lego pieces. This introduces a symbolic ailment. The medical exam reveals he has a blind spot, not noticed due to the eyes' and mind's compensations, caused by approaching glaucoma in one eye. This also introduces us to my favorite 'character', Yusuke's lovingly preserved bright red Eighties Saab 9000 Turbo. Then, just when Oto was going to perhaps explain things, Yusuke comes home to discover her lying dead on the floor from a cerebral hemorrhage.

    The prologue has provided all this lively material, including an introduction to Koji in another context and closeups of the Saab. Now it is two years later and the bereaved Yusuke is going to direct an unusual multicultural production of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. The film and Murakami's story celebrate the virtues of automobile driving as a place to meditate, to learn, and to get to know someone. Yusuke listens to a tape of Uncle Vanya where Oto has read all the other parts and he fills in Vanya. He stays at a hotel an hour from the theater to work on this. But the festival rules stipulate that he must have a driver of his own car because an artist ran over someone. So he gets Misaki (Toko Miura), a surly, withdrawn 23-year-old woman of somewhat shabby appearance. After balking, Yusuke gives in, and the movie's mutedly sentimental 'romance' begins as the two lonely, traumatized people gradually come together on those many hour drives. Yusuke doesn't intend to play Vanya because he thinks he can't handle any more how it brings out the heart of you, but he is forced to. This is all about looking into yourself and confronting pain. The tragedy of Oto and Yuusuke grows when we learn they lost a 4-year-old girl twenty years ago who died of pneumonia. And Misaki reveals a painful childhood of abuse ending in tragedy. Her remedies of smoking a lot and being an excellent driver aren't quite enough.

    I've delayed coming to the production of Uncle Vanya, because it doesn't seem to me as wonderful and revelatory as others find but simply strange and off-putting. It's multi-cultural in the extreme, with Japanese, Chinese and Korean actors speaking multiple languages, including sign language. Yusuke, provided with a stage manager and an interpreter, makes the cast, who can't understand each other as they read their parts in different languages, go over and over it expressionlessly, with the interpreter translating the lines. The idea is for them to know the play so well they can 'hear' all the parts even though half the time they don't understand the individual speakers.

    For the final theater audience during the short run-time following the long rehearsal period, the result might leave one pretty cold. Audience members can only make sense of the dialogue through translations projected in Japanese and English high above the stage, as in some opera productions. A roar of applause follows Sonya's final long speech given in Korean sign language. But, really? All this is extrapolation built on a mere hint in Murakami's story. It allows Hamaguchi to introduce a lot of telling lines about sorrow, faithfulness, loss and resentment, some of which Yusuki must enjoy mouthing in the safety of his classic red Saab. His interest is in the rehearsals and the car rides, not the final production.

    The Koji subplot is intriguing and one place where the huge part two of this film is still fun, and provides some schadenfreude since the young hothead gets his cumuppance. He has lost his starring TV role and is in disgrace over a sex abuse scandal but Yusuke pointedly and oddly chooses him to play Vanya. The two men repeatedly connect after rehearsals, Yosuke trying to learn more about Oto's secret life; but Koji has a tendency to attack celebrity-chasers who snap his photo, which leads him into deep trouble - and forces Yusuke to take on the role of Vanya himself, after all.

    All this is fascinating, if long and slow in the watching, but there is a lot in Drive My Car that is a bit too pointed, like the blind spot discovered through the car accident, the assigned driver leading to the relationship, the choice of the inappropriate actor leading to Yusuke's taking on the role of Vanya after all, and the many long explanatory monologues. Hamaguchi always has long monologues, but they work better when they come in an engaging context. This oddball Uncle Vanya production is just a concept too high. Even the red Saab 9000 Turbo starts to seem more concept than car.

    I agree with Stephen Dalton who in his Cannes Hollywood Reporter review wrote that this "highbrow road movie" is "an absorbing, technically assured piece of work" with "poetic depths and novelistic ambitions," but also a film that's "very slow and ponderous, motoring along in low gear for much of its three-hour runtime, with a "lethargic pace" that's "underscored" by having its "subtle opening credits" not turn up till after the opening forty minutes. Hamaguchi's cavalier attitude toward form never seems to lead to economy, wit, or emotional pungency. All of his films since he started gaining international fame with the five-hour Happy Hour have been intriguing and attention-getting, but also in some measure disappointing.

    Drive My Car ドライブ・マイ・カ, 179 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes Jul. 11, 2021 (Best Screenplay and two other awards), showing at over 30 other international festivals including Toronto, New York, London, Vancouver, the Hamptons, Vienna and Rotterdam. It is one of the fifteen 2022 Oscar Best Foreign finalists. US theatrical release from Nov. 24, 2021. Metacritic rating : 90%. Screened at Landmark Shattuck Jan. 8, 2021.

  7. #7
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    FLEE (Jonas Poher Rasmussen 2021)d



    An Afghan refugee opens up about a hidden past

    Even in a time when there are many films about refugees, the tale of Amin Nawabi (a pseudonym) makes an impression. He went through grim years hiding in Moscow with expired visas after he escaped from Afghanistan following the rise of the Taliban in 1989 with some of his family (his mother, his two sisters, and his brother), minus his father, then as a young teenager arrived alone in Copenhagen. On top of it he's gay, which seems for a while just one more problem, though as he's telling the whole true story for the first time to a kind of therapist-filmmaker (his Danish college friend Jonas Poher Rasmussen, he's about to be married to the man of his dreams and live in a beautiful, spacious place out in the country.

    Animation comes in two kinds here: there's the regular kind, and then there's a rougher, more abstract and monochromatic look for peculiarly traumatic moments. There are also period film clips shown in a small box in the middle of the screen. These are dramatizations and actors voice the animated figures, including Riz Ahmed as Amin today. Different ones voice young Amin at different ages.

    What one remembers is the fact that present-day Amin is able to live as openly gay, and barely had any gay experience till he'd gone to Danish high school, for all we know; the other thing is the particularly gruesome circumstances of the escape from Russia, with several failed tries via human traffickers. Mina’s sisters and dozens of other refugees nearly die after being packed into a shipping container bound for Sweden. Another time Amin and dozens of other desperate migrants are marched through a forest in the dead of night before being stuffed inside a small boat with no radio that gets stranded in the middle of the Baltic Sea during a torrential downpour. They think a passing cruise ship is saving them but instead they're taken to Estonia, held in dire conditions , then deported back to Russia. Much later, because the eldest brother Abbas, in Sweden, on whom they depended to pay the human traffickers, made very little money working as a cleaner, it was a better trafficker who was more expensive and so only one family member could go at first, and Amin was the one chosen to go.

    This led to a different, more subtle kind of pain. The trafficker did a better job. He put Amin on a plane with a fake Russian passport with another youth (whom he found charming and attractive and who gave him a gold nick chain), and after Amin got to Denmark he had to destroy the passport and declare himself a refugee - and, to avoid being sent back, to pretend all his family was dead. He had to stick to this tory, and so great was his fear of being sent back to Russia or to Kabul again, up to now he has concealed that he had living relatives. The later fate of the rest of his family is left vague. They all escaped from Moscow but instead of going to Sweden as they'd once planned they are scattered around Europe, and the father who escaped from Afghan prison in 1979, has never been heard from again.

    This account, we understand, is Amin's first full and open acknowledgment, though anonymous - of this long, artificial estrangement. Till adulthood he lied about his past, so for him, this film, or the narrative it contains, is a big gesture that, from accounts, he didn't plan on but developed as he began opening up to Rasmussen. Truth and reconciliation, perhaps. He says the life he went through made it hard to trust anybody. That he seems to have a happy life now seems a remarkable accomplishment under those circumstances.

    Amin's story is touching and the details of his family's ordeals as refugees are as riveting as they are horrifying. But even though this is a first-person confession, the anonymity and partial concealment of the film's mostly rather neutral animation risk leaving a generic impression, compared to good old fashioned WWII feature film sagas that make you feel like every detail is being revealed even if it's invented - or real, direct documentaries where the narrator reveals his identity and we revisit actual places and people. As Keith Watson wrote in his Flee review for Slant last September, the film winds up being "just a bit too far removed from the man himself." That's even despite the gay subplot , whose thread, though slender, does run all through the film: as a child he's seen liking to put on his sister's dresses. Amin's focus is always on his family and his refugee story, not on unfolding all his whole life. He is still guarded - revealing, yet holding back. But the refugee story is timely, the story is powerfully told, and Flee wound up on many 2021 Anglophone Best Lists and got the biggest prize of all: inclusion among the Oscar nominees in two categories: best documentary, and best animated feature film - despite it's being entirely in Norwegian, Russian and Dari.

    Flee 89 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021 and is listed on IMDb in 46 other festivals, including Annecy, Toronto, Telluride, New York, and DOC NYC. Limited US release Dec. 3, 2021. Watched Feb. 9, 2022 on Google play. Metacritic rating: 91%.

  8. #8
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    FRANCE (Bruno Dumont 2021)



    Dumont goes wrong - but it's sui generis eye candy

    Bruno Dumont's France was greeted with boos in Competition at Cannes, and this is inevitable. The distinctive writer-director is out of his element in this film. It's an element that might have drawn more of an audience, a flashy-looking picture related to French politics with a glamorous star, Bond's Madeleine Swann, Léa Seydoux, currently also posing in the nude on a pedestal for a mad artist in Wes Anderson's The French Despatch, here playing a major TV news star in crisis. It's not a success, and uncertain whether it will enhance Seydoux's reputation.

    But France should not be taken merely as a media meltdown misfire. It has the unique twist of this auteur. He's doing what only he does - the peculiar use of non-actors, the long stares, the drawn-out embarrassing moments. I always take a particular interest in sets and costumes where possible, and the glamorously sepulchral Place des Vosges apartment and the succession of fabulous outfits worn by France de Meurs (Séydoux's character) are really eye-popping. (Watch Imdb's film clip career review and see if you don't think Léa Seydoux is a star. But I see from the AlloCiné spectator comments on this film that some French viewers still think she is successful because of her French media royalty "lineage" rather than her talent and hard work.)

    I don't know about you, but much of my pleasure in watching No Time to Die was in ogling Léa. She's more cruelly seen here, but endlessly watchable for the weeping, the ivory skin, the clothes, till it may start to seem really endless because this film, at over two hours, is too long. Séydoux plays a character who deserves cruelty. France de Meurs is a pampered star who treats every hotspot shoot as a photo opportunity. She directs it. She tells Afghan freedom fighters what to say, where to look, and constantly redoes her lines. Then she's back in the huge glittering Paris studio, center stage (it's unrealistic in making this look like a one-man show and retro in its omission of other platforms and social media), taking bows for the "danger" she has faced.

    The succession of such sequences is interrupted along the way by an incident: while she is driving in Paris traffic, France rear ends a motorbike messenger called (oddly, since he's Arab) Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar). He gets a dislocated kneecap; France gets a dislocated career. She's never the same; but maybe her success had palled already. We've seen her clammy, less-famous writer husband Fred (Benjamin Biolay) - in the museum-quality crypt they occupy, and their bitchy nine-year-old boy Jo (Gaëtan Amiel), failing in school for no reason. And her fun, but downward-pulling assistant Lou - comic Blanche Gardin, who French viewers all agree belongs to another, more slapstick movie.

    Much of France is about fame and the toll it takes. Everywhere the superficially tough and chilly protagonist goes she must sign autographs and pose for selfies, and it all makes her wind up being fragile and claustrophobic. When she encounters someone who's never heard of her, as she does with the young Greek and Latin teacher Charles Castro (Emanuele Arioli) she meets at an expensive mountain spa so exclusive Angela Merkel is there, she'd better beware. After paying out €40,000 to Baptiste and his parents, whose digs don't look that poor, and who're terribly flattered by her attentions, France walks away from her job. But then she has a brilliant idea: to come back to it! And then. . . something else happens, something bigger, and yet more distant, something involving a spectacular, drawn-out car accident. There's not so much of a plot here, you see, as the series of media-star set pieces with a couple of dramatic interruptions, all of which give Léa Seydoux reasons to turn on her tear ducts. As I write about the film, I like it less and less; but its texture in the watching is pleasurable and holds you even if it drags a bit. The AlloCiné spectators or trade critics who say it has no flow or continuity may be forgetting, or not know, how that has always true for this director, how the longeurs can come at any moment, and stun you.

    For the average viewer France may be a bit more watchable than many of Dumont's other films, but if you come to it not knowing his work you won't know what you're seeing. The interest here is how each scene pushes the edge of absurdity and extreme. (It's also been commented how unrealistic the blending of background and foreground is in driving sequences, and in the manipulated opening one where France and Lou, making sophomoric hand gestures and mouthing rude comments, are pasted into a bumbling press conference clip of Macron.) Also typical of Dumont are the various uses of slightly-off-kilter non-actors, once the director's only source of cast, in news location scenes, in Baptiste and his mom and pop, and even in the affect of France's would-be lover, even though Emanuele Arioli isn't technically a non-actor, who resembles a character in a film by Eugène Green, and through him Robert Bresson, often cited as Dumont's cinematic father.

    This is the most "mainstream" and "star vehicle" of Bruno Dumont films but still a Bruno Dumont film. I'm resisting - and willingly, because it's still always a wild, interesting ride - the temptation to say he should have stuck with the non-actor-fueled, gruelingly brutal and sexually blunt material shot in his native North that Dumont began with in La Vie de Jésus and L'Humanité. After that he did Flandres and then the troubling, puzzling Hadewijch and Hors Satan. He's kept the shock value by slipping into other genres. He did the biopic with Binoche, Camille Claudel (I missed it), and started using more than one name actor with Slack Bay/Ma Loute, and then did the Joan of Arc pictures, and on the side the quirky, comical and cute "Little Quinquin" oddities for TV. It's in this context that France has come. Admittedly with ab bit of a dull thud. But one waits with bated breath for what comes next from this sui generis film artist.

    France, 133 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition Jul., 2021, also showing in some major world festivals including Palic, Serbia, Toronto, New York, Hamburg, Busan, Ghent, Vienna, SIngapore and Taiwan. French release Aug. 25. AlloCiné press rating 3.3 /66% (36 reviews) Metacritic rating: 51% (8 reviews). US theatrical release Dec. 10.

  9. #9
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    PASSING (Rebecca Hall 2021)



    Agony of deception

    For her directorial debut Rebecca Hall, whose opera singer mother, Maria Ewing, is a mixed-race person who passed as white, takes on the best known short novel about the complexities of such a life, by Nella Larsen, published in 1929 and set during the Harlem Renaissance. This is a fresh and powerful subject, and there is a black-and-white, academy ratio treatment with a trio of Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, and André Holland as impressive leads. The images in soft 1.7K resolution by dp Eduard Grau are stunning, the sense of period and milieu haunting, and the action starts out by setting you on the edge of your seat. But there is a vagueness, a repetitiousness, and a loss of tension over the course of the film that severely weakens the final effect. The book's dramatic but ambiguous climax is in itself problematic. The paradox results that this is one of the most distinctive films of the year, and yet it remains a little disappointing. For some reason I was reminded at once of Patrice Chéreau's strange, operatic 2005 film Gabrielle (NYFF 2005) based on Conrad's short story "The Return", which to some people seems an utterly wrong and a ludicrous but elegant flop, while to others, including me, it feels unique and is emotionally devastating. I described it as "a film of frigid grandeur." This is a film of frigid intimacy.

    Passing, alas, isn't as assured or as devastating, or as high-dress a production as Gabrielle. It does make great use of its stylized, impressionistic black and white, of period cars, 'twenties women's hats and dresses, Harlem block facades and palatial interiors. The opening scene and sequence are grabbers. Irene (Tessa Thompson), a beautiful pale-skinned African American woman, elegantly dressed, hides under a broad-brimmed hat as she completes a hot day of shopping for fancy stuff in white Manhattan. She runs into old Chicago schoolmate Claire (Ruth Negga), pale and elegant, petite, stylishly platinum blonde and also passing for white, also cooling off in the dining room of the Drayton (Drake) hotel.

    Savor this moment because it is the best in the film. Two women passing as white meeting and recognizing each other in a stylish, all-white hotel. Understandably Irene doesn't want to recognize Claire. It emerges that while Irene lives with Brian (Holland), an upperclass black Harlem doctor, she tries to shield their two young sons from the realities of lynching news and the use of the"N" word while hiding her own lowlier origins; he tries to politicize and prepare them and wants to move to another country. Claire passes full time for white and is married to a "N" hating rich white man, John (Alexander Skarsgård). He declares his hatred of black people in front of Irene and Claire in the couple's hotel room in an electric scene. Northing is this good or this provocative hereafter.

    The story continues as Claire, moved with John to New York, attaches herself to Irene's family against Irene's wishes. Missing the life she has escaped and longing for negritude, but not willing to lose her rich white husband or her assumed white identity, Claire begins visiting and seduces them all, even the maid, Zulena (Ashley Ware Jenkins]), whom Hall cast against the book as young and pretty, but dark; the boys; and the husband, whom Irene begins to suspect is involved with Claire. The movie becomes more a portrait, though, of Irene's neurotic nerves and suspicions and collapse.

    Many of the complex issues are brought to light: identity, posing, facades, white racism, black inequalities. You have to fill in a lot for yourself, though, despite the scenes of the Negro Welfare League Irene runs, the parties, and their sophisticated, grand, spoiled white intellectual friend Hugh (Bill Camp). Claire's constant reappearances at Irene's Harlem mansion and interference in events are so repetitious that you begin to wonder: how could Claire's racist husband not notice she's spending all her time in Harlem?

    As it progresses, the film is at best struggling to maintain the excitement and sense of shock and impending danger it creates in the opening scenes. But any movie that can strongly remind me of Chéreau's Gabrielle must have something going for it, and the beautiful images and fascinating actors help carry the opening tension much of the way in a film that is, after all, quite compact, almost as much so as Chéreau's.

    Passing, 138 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021, followed by the NYFF Main Slate Oct. 3, and showing in other international festivals including Busan, the Hamptons, London, Lyon, Rome, Chicago, and Montclair, among others. US theatrical release Oct. 27; internet Nov. 10 (Netflix, many countries). Metacritic rating: 83%.


  10. #10
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    THE SOUVENIR: PART II (Joanna Hogg 2021)



    A conclusion of Hogg's brilliant and brave portrait of herself as a film school student in the eighties

    Those who loved Joanna Hogg's 2019 The Souvenir may welcome her The Souvenir: Part II as a familiar friend. It contains many of the same distinctive, well-crafted elements and the autobiographical stand-ins for her and her other and father. The obsessive efforts to replicate details from her own life as a twenty-something in film school also continue. We appreciate the effort to be honest through such precision. There is a deepening in Part II.

    I did love The Souvenir, and so could not help but approach its sequel with eagerness, almost a sense of pre-ownership. But after finding Part II 's latter part, after a deliciously satisfying first half, seemed fractured and confused, it occurs to me that this sequel starts at a disadvantage. It lacks the first part's bombshell: the revelation that the protagonist's very posh-seeming boyfriend is actually a heroin addict, followed by his sudden death from a drug overdose. Tom Burke, fascinating as he is repulsive as Anthony, the boyfriend, is missing from Part II, though Anthony is felt by his absence: his death has left Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne) devastated. But Part II lacks the drama of the first part. What it has is boldly self-conscious artfulness in its editing, and the fanciful artiness of its inserted artifact.

    Part II is about Julie's reacting to this trauma and "processing" it by the brave (and potentially florid) means of converting her emotions into her film school graduation film. Whether you find Part II as good as The Souvenir, or better, or almost as good, or something of a disappointment will depend on how you respond to the graduation film, entitled "The Souvenir," as presented as a film-within-a-film.

    Details of The Souvenir: Part II will be familiar and layered by memories of its predecessor; on the other hand, people who haven't seen that may be losing quite a bit. Maybe that's appropriate, in a way, given that Hogg and her alter ego, Julie, come from English privilege, with which come secret understandings. Hogg again develops the theme of her polite but loving relationship with her posh parents (Tilda Swinton, Honor's real life mother, superbly subtle here; and the non-professional
    but perfect James Spencer Ashworth). Julie isn't afraid to ask her mother for substantial gifts of money, this time ten thousand 1980's pounds, and her mother quickly forgives her for smashing a much-prized first effort at ceramic-making.

    Equally important are scenes, as before, with her school faculty, a group of stodgy men (insufferable white-privilege types) who didn't initially like her plan of a film about the impoverished working class North of Sunderland in the first film, and now disapprove even more of her plan to do something utterly personal and uncommercial. And the friendships and interactions between Julie and her fellow film students deepen now. She has quick sex with one of the actors (Charlie Heaton), who comes to her flat, fucks her, and leaves, in a scene astonishing in its animalistic simplicity. Now we see her making her film with her intense student crew, where her producer is Marland (Jaygann Aheh), the black guy who was her strong support, from before; a French woman, Garance (Ariane Labed), who smokes a lot, has lots of doubts, does casting, and becomes the alter ego (the Anthony becomes hottie Harris Dickenson); her sweet editor (Joe Alwyn), who seems about to become her boyfriend till we learn he has a boyfriend with AIDS; and the cameraman, infuriated by her changing a shot that's been all set up, complains that the whole thing is an incomprehensible mess. Whatever it is, it's all a memorial to Anthony, her dead addict lover, as her at-one-remove semi-comic but decisive advisor Patrick (Richard Ayoade), also briefly memorable in the earlier film, tells her it must be. The way the two Souvenirs use Ayoade shows a greater ability to integrate unrelated, and more satirical characters and elements than she showed in her earlier films. Here she is, past sixty, after three very distinctive earlier features, a slow developer, after thirty years coming into her own with a bold and sprawling experiment.

    Some admire the film-within-the-film extravagantly. Richard Brody describes it as "an aesthetic and emotional thrill" that he thinks has unfortunately much more "cinematic imagination" than the rest of the film. Justin Chang says it's partly an homage to Derek Jarman. It seems to me all over the place and hard to make much sense of, at least in one viewing, and its jumble of styles didn't leave me eager to come back to it. All the rest sings, but the trouble is this big indigestible lump near the end.

    The "real time" parts are woven together with large gorgeous closeups of flowers, appearing related to Julie's parents' "farm," which seems like a vast, beautiful garden. Scenes are intensely present but intentionally cryptic, conversations cut off after a question without the answer. They are like filmic versions of Howard Hodgkin paintings. Julie doesn't say much but doesn't have to: we are Julie, so her answsers are internalized: they're The Souvenir, the first film, which constitutes our and her memory going into Part II. Even if Part II isn't satisfying, and inevitably isn't as tantalizing and exciting as its predecessor, the two films together are a remarkable achievement, personally as well as artistically, since the real "Julie," that is Joanna Hogg, wasn't as brave as her alter ego. She didn't confront her bereavement as a film school student but took over thirty years to get to it. But it's been worth waiting for.

    The Souvenir: Part II, 107 mins., debuted at Cannes July 8, 2021 in Directors Fortnight, and appeared in 13 other festivals including Zurich, New York, Busan, London before its US theatrical release Oct. 29, 2021. Metacritic rating: 89% (The Souvenir: 91%.)

    Nice admiring review in Time by Stephanie Zacharek: she began weeping when she got to the subway - the mark of a great film. I didn't start to be moved till eight hours later. Justin Chang loved the semi-comic but accurate picture of the filmmaking process.


  11. #11
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    TITANE (Julia Ducournau 2021)



    An audacious body horror thrill ride with loneliness and need

    Critics have heralded Ducournau's late-coming sophomore shocker and, according to the review aggregators rotten tomatoes and Metacritic, like it considerably less well than her 2016 debut Raw (R-V 2017), even though it got the Palme d'Or at Cannes (only the second woman in Cannes history - after Jane Campion - ever to do so); but I differ from most critics and the public in liking this one better. The reason is simple: Vincent Lindon. He doesn't appear in the film till half way through, but when he does, the film develops a human pulse. Lindon's bereft dad and fire chief makes all the difference. The tall former model Agathe Rousselle, who plays the adult Alexia, the crazy metal-impregnated lesbian tomboy-flirt, a hood-top erotic dancer at car shows, who then becomes a serial killer, would not own the audience's affections were it not for Lindon and the bond that develops between them. It's a touching and pathetic one that we can't scoff at, no matter how much body horror stuff there is here and sheer absurdity and shifting of plot focus. Ducournau seems more enthusiastic than competent as a director. But she's dementedly wound up in what she's doing, and the simple but effective thing she does do here as in Raw is ramp up the volume and keep it that way.

    We have seen seven-year-old Alexia (Adèle Guigue) get titanium in her head after a car crash (the no-nonsense dad driver a cameo by director Bertrand Bonello), then kiss the restored car on the way out of the hospital, then, two decades later, turn into the bizarre erotic dancer-cum-serial killer who has sex with a Cadillac and gets dangerously pregnant with a growing critter in an amniotic fluid of motor oil. As time goes on, the masochism and the body horror keep ramping up. Seeing a computer-aged picture of Vincent's lost boy that shows he'd be about her age now, she binds her breasts and stomach, chops off her hair and eyebrows, gives herself a hard-t0-watch beating and breaks her own nose, and turns up as the fire chief's lost son, Adrien.

    It's touching the way both father and fake "son" struggle to maintain this illusion. One of the fresh young hunk firemen (who're continually doing slo-mo nude torso erotic dancing together that blatantly evokes Claire Denis' Beau Travail) groks that Adrien is Alexia, and Adrien's mother (Myriem Akheddiou) knows there's a scam here, but solemnly commands Alexia not to hurt the man. Vincent, the actor stripped to show a bulk he worked for a year to build up, and, in character, giving himself painful steroid butt injections: his own body discomfort. He tells "Adrien" the shots aren't because he's sick but because he's "old." Why some critics think there are more ideas in Raw puzzles me; there seem to be quite a lot more roiling around in Titane, though the way Ducournau gets to this complicated, absurd, thought-provoking situation is more confused and messy than Raw's clear, well-focused trajectory.

    Ducournau is easy about plunging into horror, midnight-mayhem genre, and the action here is too freaky and odd to seem affectedly arthouse. Yet there is something unpredictable all the way through that keeps you guessing, and that's something everybody can like, an adrenalin injection for the jaded cinephile.

    The use of music by Jim Williams (who's also known for working with Cronenberg and Ben Wheatley) is vibrant and rich, and songs and dancing are incorporated in powerful ways that grab you and counteract the body horror with an attractive, universal physicality. It's been reported that Vincent Lindon never dances, and doing so as freely and unguardedly as he does here was extremely hard for him. But he's out of his comfort zone here throughout - layered on his usual rock-solid, true-blue working class guy he is playing a weird, tormented man so lonely and bereft he'd be willing to accept a pregnant young woman as his lost son. Of course sexuality analysts have a lot to play around with, with the macho young firemen dancing around in the background as loud static.

    When it's all over, you may feel disappointed, because it hasn't pushed the horror far enough (as with, say, Cronenberg's Dead Ringers), or because it just hasn't pulled together its plot line tightly enough, for all the throbbing music, flaming fires, glowing red light, and sexy dancing. But as Peter Debruge wrote in his Cannes Variety review, with Titane we sometimes just have to give ourselves over "to the movie’s demented momentum" and take "whatever perverse pleasure" we can in the director's "willingness to push the boundaries." It's all we get, but it's enough sometimes to make you giddy with excitement and that may be what mesmerized the Cannes jury into choosing what wasn't the best film but a loopily out-there one that sustains its level of excitement and makes you think and remember what you've seen later.

    Titane, 108 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes July 2021, where it won the top prize, the Palme d'Or, and was featured in about two dozen other international festivals, including Toronto and, Sept. 22, the NYFF. US theatrical release Oct. 1, 2021. Metascore 73% (Raw's was 81%). AlloCiné press rating: 3.5 (70%); that of Raw (Grave) was 4.0 (80%).

    If you haven't time for the movie, there's this TRAILER. If you're going to see it,avoid.

  12. #12
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    THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (Todd Haynes 2021)



    A beautiful look at the short-lived but seminal rock band

    This is one of the most visually stunning music documentaries I've ever seen, and it concerns a band that, though little publicized, is considered by some as influential as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, or Bob Dylan, but about which there's never been a film before. In a 2013 YouTube review of the band's first album, The Velvet Underground & Nico , Anthony Fantano, "internet's busiest music nerd," calls the four LP's the band issued from 1967 to 1970 "one of the most influential discographies in rock music - ever." (For details of the making of the first album, go here.) No wonder this mew film debuted at Cannes and is one of the doc stars of the year.

    The exquisite visual quality this film maintains, even within a conventional music documentary format, reflects some of the dash and originality Haynes put into his six-actor cubist Bob Dylan portrait I'm Not There (NYFF 2007). This time the striking look may partly arise from the need to compensate for an almost total lack of live concert footage of the band. (Where were all Warhol's cameras when we needed them?) The solution is extensive use of split-screen, which continues through the entire film. That includes highly effective use of Warhol's "screen test" portrait, his 100-foot-reel 16mm static B&W Bolex movies of people at the Factory just staring into the camera. Haynes' opening fifteen minutes or so are dazzling. He has clips from "I've Got a Secret" where John Cale was brought in for his having performed a John Cage composition in which a single page of musical notes had to be played over 800 times leading to an 18-hour performance.

    Oddly, Haynes spends more time on Cale than lead singer/song writer Lou Reed for the first forty minutes. He appears to want to depict the band as more avant-garde, as Cale was, than rock n' roll, as Reed was. (And Cale was available to interview now and Reed is gone.) Haynes uses the expressionless Warhol-filmed screen test face of young Lou Reed in split-screen-flanked by shifting random archival footage to illustrate a voice-over from his sister about his suburban childhood.

    There are contrasting split screens of monochrome film clips toned in solid colors throughout. All through, the handsome use of split-screen makes this look like an art film, a museum piece. Bit split-screen is also a way to pack in two or three times as much visual information and still make it look good on the screen. Haynes's editors, Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz, deserve credit for how well this works to tell a story as well as delight the eye.

    The elegance is most welcome in a usually tired genre. But it means room has been left for future, more dogged docs on the band. Missing here are details of the unique drumming style of Maureen Tucker ("Moe"), not to mention more about the complex emotional dynamics of the group that led Lou Reed to "fire" Andy Warhol and soon after John Cale and then walk away from the band himself.

    We do get the band's beginnings, when its name got changed constantly because they were so bad at that point they had to hide who they were to get hired. When they become the Velvet Underground, with Reed, Cale on viola, keyboard, and other instruments, Moe Tucker on drums, and guitarist Sterling Morrison, it was after being seen at Cafe Bizarre that they were invited to Warhol's Factory and became its house band. Warhol brought in the German model and actress Nico, who had appeared in Fellini's La Dolce Vita, to sing with the band, which Reed didn't like, but which worked.

    It's okay for this to be for a while yet another Warhol doc because it shows how the Factory, as Cale says, "was all about work." Warhol's collaboration led to his traveling multimedia show, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable developed (from the sound of it one can't say "refined") at the Dom hall in St. Mark's place (1966–1967), a touring silver balloon and sound and light show incorporating the band. It feels as though these Dom multimedia performances, attended by society people and where Nureyev and the whole New York City Ballet came and danced, represented a high point in the band's life.

    The tour took them to the West Coast, not a positive story. As Moe the drummer recounts, and others mention, the Velvet Underground hated hippies: instead of giving flowers to people, Moe says, they should find them places to live. Even if the Velvet used drone sounds, their style was mostly very hard-edge. California didn't seem to get them. (According to John Waters, neither did Cape Cod.) When they performed at Bill Graham's Fillmore West, Graham openly wanted them to fail. Nonetheless their sound-and-light show proved far more sophisticated than his. West Coast light shows, it's said, consisted of projecting an image of the Buddha on a wall.

    There is a softer side to the band. Anthony Fantana's discussion of "Sunday Morning" sung by Nico revels in its warmth and gentleness. Reed too could sing or chant in a very gentle voice. The complexities of the Velvet Underground's style aren't something this film fully unpacks for us.

    In addition to being aggressive and hostile in person and an unreliable hard-drug user, Reed was also sexy and creative, recognizing the unity of writing as an activity, whether fiction, poetry, or song lyrics. What he brought to rock n' roll, David Bowie is heard saying here, was a mindset close to the French poètes maudits, to Baudelaire and Rimbaud - a literary sensibility a step beyond even the sophisticated song lyrics of Bob Dylan. And Reed was always writing. It's he who explores the sexualities of The Factory; the life of a prostitute; the experience of being a heroin addict who decides to "nullify" his life; and what it's like waiting for your dealer.

    Warhol's connection with the band was obviously central, making them like the Factory "superstars" famous, but famous also in the service of Warhol. Allen Ginsberg, notably visible in the opening of the 1967 Pennebaker film about Bob Dylan Don't Look Back, also appears here as a Warhol cohort, reminding us how in the sixties American cultural (or "countercultural") figures were like a little band of brothers. Ginsberg nods also to the Lithuanian-born Jonas Mekas, who appears here as a talking head. He was the founder of Anthology Film Archive, godfather of American avant-garde film," and a major organizer of art events who died before this film was released at the age of 97. Warhol toured with the band, doing nothing as "producer" of their first album but get it produced through his celebrity and provide the 'banana" album cover. But he got them the album, and he gave them a lot of encouragement.

    Personal antagonisms had been heightened by the pressures of the California tour. On the road there was increased use of speed, resulting on the focus of the White light/White Heat album and the in-fighting when it was being made back in New York after they found the Dom taken over by Bob Dylan.

    The band is already disintegrating even though this is only the second of four albums. The gradual decline of a band is a familiar trope even Haynes's stunning visual stylishness can't make very original. But the film's imagery does some typically snappy stuff to evoke an amphetamine high. There is an explosion of split- and multiple-screen archival images at the end showing multiple careers post-Velvet for Reed, Cale, the others, and the 1990s temporary reunions of Reed and Cale, including their collaborative musical narrative portrait of the then late Andy Warhol,Songs for Drella.

    The Velvet Underground, 110 mins., debuted at Cannes out of competition Jul. 7, 2021, and is included in some other major festivals, including Telluride, Zurich, New York, Chicago, Woodstock, BFI London. In reviews it has met with very high praise (current Metascore 88%). US release in theaters and on the internet Oct. 15, 2021.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    WHAT DO WE SEE WHEN WE LOOK AT THE SKY? (Aleksandre Koberidze 2021)


    A film to love - or hate

    Summary: In the Georgian riverside city of Kutaisi, summertime romance and World Cup fever are in the air. After a pair of chance encounters, pharmacist Lisa and soccer player Giorgi find their plans for a date undone when they both awaken magically transformed — with no way to recognize or contact each other. As the would-be couple tries to reunite, their eyes are opened to a whole new world filled with surprises in every cafe, courtyard, and cinema.

    Enthusiasts for Koberdze's new film, a leap forward toward watchability since it's 150 minutes instead of 220 and was shot with real cameras instead of an outdated cell phone as was his 2017 first feature Let the Summer Never Come Again/Lass den Sommer nie wieder kommen, regard him as forging a new, hopeful path for world cinema, in short, something glorious. But though there are many beautiful things, his basic structure - if one can regard such a meandering film as having one - left me frustrated and even angry. I loved the soccer fan dogs; the slow-mo of boys and girls together playing ball that looks like a dance; the way of panning along to show portraits of ordinary young faces bathed in sunshine so we see their essential beauty; the sense conveyed of a peaceful, happy summer in contemporary Kutaisi, an ancient town in Georgia, where the pathway up to a school is ringed with small palms, pines, and bushes and the mood is embracing.

    But now I am already running out of things. And the central love story of the lovers whose connection is almost-doomed by an evil spell, which is the film's ostensible anchor, is a frustration. If your'e going to enter into folk tale territory you need to play by certain rules of storytelling and rules of economy. Here the storyteller continually gets distracted and the story of the frustrated lovers winds up going nowhere in particular. And on top of that: all the trekking back and forth with the failing cafe-owner and to the carnival challenge on the bridge Georgi, the altered male "lover" is forced to run for that owner and we are forced to watch!

    What came to mind as the impending two-and-a-half-hour runtime began to pall was the familiar writing motto, "Kill your darlings." This is the idea that in the interests of economy, meaning, and art, the artist must cut out elements that were appealing in themselves but don't really fit the final product. Koberidze appears to have frequently been reluctant to cut out details he thought were cool among his many random capturings - or those of his excellent cinematographer Faraz Fesharaki, who shoots here partially in digital and otherwise in "gloriously saturated 16mm stock," as Boyd Van Hoeij, his most eloquent eulogist, aptly calls it in his review of the film for Hollywood Reporter.

    We understand: that's why they're called "darlings." Yes, a lot of these images of summertime people in Kutaisi do look great. They are often suffused with a love of the town, a love of beauty, a love of people. But where's the movie? Has this director started out making any films where he doesn't break all the rules? Does he really think his narration can explain all and excuse all and make it all fit together? It doesn't. There is a lot of love for this film. Cinephiles need to watch it - at least if they subscribe to MUBI, who kindly gave me access to it. It is a festival darling and I would not have missed it. And like Manohla Dargis of the New York Times ("But I digress" is her apt subtitle), I may eventually realize that I like it, after all. But at this point while I have read the praise and understand it, Koberidze's film still seems to me unsatisfying.

    What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?/Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt?, 150 mins., was at the Berlinale (there winning the FIPRESCI Prize) and over thirty other festivals, including the NYFF, with six wins and 18 nominations, and was released theatrically (Lincoln Center) in NYC Nov. 12, 2021. (MUBI) Metacritic rating: 84%.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY (Ryunsuke Hamaguchi 2021)



    Suave trilogy


    "As with the rest of his oeuvre, duplication and mirroring of female characters once again inform[s] Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s latest work, Guzen to sozo. It would not be out of place to make a literary analogy and, if one were to regard his two previous films (Happy Hour and Asako I & II) as novels, this new work could be described as a collection of short stories. The film’s recurring rhythm amplifies this effect. The three episodes, which each revolve around a woman, are in turn divided into three movements, like a piece of music. They tell stories of an unexpected love triangle, a failed seduction trap, and an encounter that results from a misunderstanding. The fragmentation serves to emphasize rather than undermine the exquisitely organic storytelling and mise en scène. Although most of the action takes place in a single space and involves just two actors, not once does it feel like filmed theatre. The secret lies not only in the writing, but also in the notion of a more complex temporality in each episode that flirts with science fiction in the final installment. The moments we witness are crystallized into touching universal destinies marked by choices, regrets, deception and coincidences. They are the film’s true protagonists." - BERLINALE blurb.

    The Berlinale's glowing description fits with its recent selection of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy for its no. 2 award, the Grand Jury Prize. It seems like the Hamaguchi feature of the year to see isn't this one, though, but Drive My Car, which won Best Screenplay and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury this year at Cannes. The New York Film Festival has added to its custom lately of including two Hong Sang-soos in its Main Slate and included both Hamaguchis. ( Due to missing the NYFf I have to wait a while longer to see Drive My Car.)

    The Japanese director, who has been A-List for five years since his over five-hour compendium Happy Hour (ND/NF 2016) brought him to international attention, shows a knack for understated, exquisitely modulated social dramas and here provides elegant arthouse entertainment. He goes for doubling women - or men. His 2018 Asako I & II (NYFF) was a disappointment; it suffered from a familiar high concept and seemed like a Young Adult novel for tired grownups. This time also he has a tall, very good-looking young man, though its the two women who fight over him in the first segment that get the attention. In the second one, there is a really embarrassing attempt to titillate. A married, slightly older girlfriend (Katsuki Mori) reads an absurdly overt sexual passage from his new prize-winning novel to her sex buddy (Shouma Kai)'s professor ( (Kiyohiko Shibukawa)) who has flunked him, at the sex-buddy's request to stage a "honey pot" incident, and mire the prof in scandal. It backfires in more ways than one, and she meets the sex buddy five years later on a bus and they update each other. While the first segment sparkles, despite its superficiality, the second goes dead in the middle.

    The third segment is by far the most emotionally resonant. In it two women 20 years out of high school meet on the Sendai station escalator and stage a one-on-one reunion, only to discover that they are not the two other women they'd wanted to meet, not classmates at all. But having realized this, and due perhaps to the mixture off boredom and politeness of the woman who plays hostess at her beautiful house (Fusako Urabe), they salvage the situation movingly by role-playing and thus letting out the feelings they have long had bottled up toward the other, missing, woman. That one of the two, the guest in the house (Aoba Kawai), is lesbian may help make the sequence more convincingly resonant. But the real, if slightly clichéd, hidden truth is that the woman with the husband and child and lovely house feels as empty as the lovelorn lesbian who has never replaced her high school sweetheart.

    Hamaguchi works out all these - except for the uncomfortable sex passage-reading in segment 2 - with delicacy and exquisite tact. I liked the first segment, especially the first of its scenes in the back of a taxicab when a beautiful woman (Hyunri) tells her cute Dutch-boy bob-haired model "best friend" (Kotone Furukawa) all about the wonderful new man she has just met (Ayumu Nakajima), not knowing he's her friend's ex. We are so charmed we don't ask for a while how come she doesn't know he's her friend's ex, if they're besties. It is also fun to see the - tall, slender, handsome - young man fight over which woman he's going to choose, and not knowing how it's going to turn out. It's artificial, but it's entertaining and nicely done. It seems like a modern Japanese version of some period Hollywood romantic comedy.

    Except for the reading of the testicle-mouthing passage from his own novel to the blank-faced professor, which seemed interminable from the first minute, these three "short stories" (if you like) are enjoyable and never drag. Still, this whole film seems like treading water on Hamaguchi's part between more important work. I'm beginning not to be sure that Hamaguchi is ever really going to thrill me the way, in the 2018 NYFF, Koreeda's Shoplifters and even more, Lee Chang-dong's Burning did. But I haven't seen Drive My Car.

    Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy 偶然と想像 (Guzen to sozo, "Chance and imagination"), 121 mins., debuted Buenos Aires (BAFICI) Mar. 23, 2021, showing also at Hong Kong,, Moscow, Berlin, Udine, showing at at least 20 other international festivals. US release Oct. 29, 2021. Current Metacriic rating: 87%. (Drive My Car: 89%.)



  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD (Joachim Trier 2021)



    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%.

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