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Thread: New York Film Festival 2022

  1. #16
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    THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER (Joanna Hogg 2022)

    JOANNA HOGG: THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER (2022)


    TILDA SWINTON IN THE ETERNAL DAUGHTER

    A trip north

    The Eternal Daughter may be categorized as a film of horror or the supernatural, but devotees of either will doubtless be disappointed. Numerous critics describe it as "a distinctly minor work" by the director, whose 2019 The Souvenir brought her to wide attention, and to mine. It's worth going back and watching all her three earlier features, Unrelated, Archipelago and Exhibition: they're not fun watches, but the unfun-ness is distinctly her own, uppermiddleclass British constraints and torments that will seem to grow out of, not lead into, the autobiographical film student with the unfortunate posh boyfriend of The Souvenir. The underimpressed critics also say The Eternal Daughter, which serves as a sequel to The Souvenir II, the end of a trilogy, that it is "slooow."

    Well, The Eternal Daughter is unique, and while I'd agree it has its longeurs, and is almost Beckettian in its uneventfulness, it's also subtle and beautiful, and the performance at the center of it by Tilda Swinton as both Julie Hart, a filmmaker, and Rosalind Hart, her mother, whom the hyper-attentive Julie takes to a big old, apparently empty hotel for her birthday, is remarkable. The double performance is not just a stunt. It's also a brilliant idea central to the film's themes and ideas, which magnify and unfold over time like the old Japanese paper flowers that grew when you dipped them in water. And all this isn't just cleverness. It serves to deliver hard emotional honesty that characterizes Hogg's best moments in the other films. After the slow passages, as I watched, the emotion grew, and at the end I was devastated with a still unfolding sense of sorrow too deep for tears.

    Hogg makes much use of the horror vibe and genre ticks throughout - a pale face in a window; knocks in the night; Rosalind's setter Louis (the canine companion an important character in many a family), brought along, disappearing and then popping up back in the room; the odd, unfriendly "staff;" the confounding corridors and rooms; the fog outside - and all these events and things allow for the general feeling we have that something strange is going on. Many will doubtless guess the film's secret early on. That's unimportant. It's all in the very distinctive nuance of the film and the interchanges between Julie and Rosalind. It's very important that until the end, a two-shot doesn't occur. You see Julie saying something, then you see - or will you see? You never know - Rosalind. And yes, you're very aware that both are Tilda Swinton in two different sorts of drag. The Rosalind drag includes peculiarly subtle aging makeup. She's not made to look very old. (A very old woman is seen toward the end, in a kind of coda and subtly spooky jolt.) You're marveling at the costumer's and makeup artist's art and the acting, but you're very aware that you're watching Tilda Swinton.

    And all this is kind of creepy, if not what you'd call "horrible." Or maybe it is; maybe you can anticipate a Hitchcockian shock coming. It's not like that. It's more like the air goes out of the tire. (Or tyre.) The more overt horror-supernatural vibe comes from the great aristocratic house in Wales that Julie and Rosalind are staying at. It is a place, then in private hands, where Rosalind, as a young girl, was sent with other family members to escape the bombing during the War. But Julie doesn't know much about this. She has devoted much of her life to caring about and loving her mother - she has a husband, but no children - but her mother remains largely a mystery to her. Other later visits to the house turn out to have occurred later, and things happened, not happy memories, that Julie didn't know about. The place is beautiful, in a mournful way. The accoutrements of the rooms, even the keys at the front desk, are handsome. the ornate, formal landscaping outside, shrouded often in cinematic fog, is beautiful in its layers of green. The exterior shots look like subtle color lithographs.

    The place isn't particularly friendly. Julie and Rosalind are greeted by a grumpy receptionist (Carly-Sophia Davies), who also reappears as the waitress at the dining room (and there are only four dishes on the menu). Is Harold Pinter an influence? This is in some ways like a magnificently visually expanded play, a chamber drama, a drama in the head. A warmer character is a groundskeeper (Joseph Mydell) who talks to Julie a few times and comforts and shares an understanding of loss. He says his wife died a year ago.

    Julie is here to celebrate Rosalind's birthday - or is she? The birthday celebration turns out to be grotesque and sad, family happiness gone wrong, though a bottle of champagne is uncorked and poured from and a birthday cake is brought in. Julie chooses to bring it in herself. But whenever Julie and Rosalind are seated talking together at meals, Julie surreptitiously sets her smartphone out to record the conversation. Early on she's said she's here to work, on a new film presumably, and she goes to a special place to do so, but she can't sleep, she's uncomfortable, and she goes day after day without getting any work done. The other use of the smartphone is to try to talk to her husband. This she has to do out in front of the hotel pacing about near a hedge trying to get reception, which isn't good. And the wi-fi is patchy in the building as well.

    These descriptions sound ordinary enough. But in Joanna Hogg's skilled hands and the meticulous, complicated interchanges of Tilda and Tilda, they resonate with meanings you go on pondering long after the film is over. The heart of the matter is the confrontation of lives and family relationships, the permanent, difficult, mysterious, inescapable ones. The daughter is "eternal" because filial relationships never end. Imagine making a movie about your mother and its turning out to be a sort of horror film. Others would make a story that's joyous and celebratory. But where is the truth? I remember the priest who Malraux talks about in his Anti-Memoirs who, questioned on what he had learned about people from thirty years of hearing confession, gave two ideas; there is no such thing as a grownup person; and people are much less happy than they appear. But the scenes we have watched have been an expiation. And the end Julie has come thorough and is typing away on her laptop: the new film has come to her. This one.

    If any of this sounds intriguing, you are urged to see The Eternal Daughter. It's a marvelous film, a study of grief, memory and family relationships that cuts to the bone. A minor work? Remember the little Fragonard painting in the Wallace Collection in The Souvenir. That whole film grows out of it.

    The Eternal Daughter, 96 mins., debuted Sept. 6, 2022 at Venice, showing at nine or more other international festivals, including Toronto, Zurich, London, New York (Main Slate), Vienna, Seville, AFI, Thessaloniki and Marrakech. Limited US theatrical release and on itnernet Dec. 2, 2022. Metacritic rating: 79%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-06-2022 at 08:52 PM.

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    ONE FINE MORNING/UN BEAU MATIN (Mia Hansen-Løve 2022)

    MIA HANSEN-LØVE: ONE FINE MORNING (2022) - NYFF


    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. (AlloCiné 3.7 , 74%). The US distributor is Sony. US release Dec. 9, 2022. Metacritic rating: 84%.

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    EO (Jerzy Skolimowski 2022)

    JERZY SKOLIMOWSKI: EO (2022) - NYFF



    The picaresque tale of a donkey

    Polish filmmaker Jerzy Skolimowski at 84 perhaps has nothing to prove except to himself, and has set himself the challenge of imagining the life of another creature, creating EO, a film, made as an homage to minimalist Robert Bresson's Au hazard Balthezar from the point of view of a donkey. Peter DeBruge reports in his Variety review of Eo that Skolimowski "reckons Bresson’s relatively austere classic was the only time he shed a tear in the cinema."

    Not in charge of his own life, Eo in the film lives a passive picaresque tale. At first he is being worked in a circus act. His sweet and doting young trainer Kasandra (Sandra Drzymalska) leads him through the tricks she's trained him to do. But authorities declare the use of animals in circuses abusive and take away the circus animals, effectively closing down the show. This is a little like child and family service agencies that take away children from their parents on the grounds of imagined cruelty and perpetrate a greater cruelty. From now on, Eo drifts from one place to another. Kasandra is very sad and searches for him, and at one points seems to find him to give him carrot pastry for his birthday as she did last year.

    From a donkey "sanctuary" Eo is set loose, then captured by a council worker and made the mascot of a soccer team. But when the team wins, the opponents seem to blame Eo, and send hooligans to beat him. He is rescued again and restored to health, though he comes very close to being repurposed as meat for human consumption. Finally after a time with a wild ruffian into headbanger music (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), he wanders loose again and is found tied to a pole on a highway by Vito, a gorgeous young Italian with magnificent eyelashes who, of course, is a wayward priest and a gambling addict (Lorenzo Zurzolo) who's the son of a French countess played by Isabelle Huppert. What else?

    It may show that Eo did not win my admiration, unlike some, such as Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, who called it an "indelible heartbreaker" and put it at number one on her best movies of 2022 list. For me it seems presumptive for a filmmaker to presume to see things from the eyes of an animal. Skolimowski's use of very closeup images of Eo's head did not convince me that he's getting into that head. The choice of a donkey loads the dice. It builds on the species' humble look and history as a beast of burden, which may seem the more painful if we realize donkeys (and mules) are more intelligent than horses. It's inevitable that we will get to mankind's cruelty to animals, this time right away. The wanderings of Eo, though beautifully and sometimes experimentally filmed, seem a bit far-fetched. Though some reviewers think this film identifies more totally with the donkey than Bresson's, often the donkey seemed to me a mere excuse for changing scenes and characters.

    There have been various documentaries showing human exploitation of animals, especially slaughtering them for meat, or used in a factory farm like, this year, Andrea Arnold's Cow, which also, more monotonously but more realistically, seeks to follow the "point of view" of an animal, actually used to provide milk (and offspring who're quickly taken from her so her milk can continued bo be used), and, when her time has come, put to death (really) with a bullet to the head. The doc, be it noted, actually follows Luna, one cow, whereas Eo makes use of six donkey's in its lead role, and they do not all look alike, if you are paying attention.

    But what about the millions of humans who love their pets, their dogs, cats, canaries, turtles or lizards as it may be, and treat them with kindness? It's nice, and more convincing, to see a film made from the point of one of these people. A recent favorite of mine was Andrew Haigh's Lean on Pete, also a road movie, but focused on a fifteen-year-old boy (Charlie Plummer) who steals a horse he loves to save him from being sent to the glue factory because his racing days are over. Though the "Lassie" movies may be corny, so is making a donkey the protagonist of an art film. When Ryan Leston, in his Slash Film review of Eo said this film "is essentially a movie that's Forrest Gump if Forrest was a donkey," it struck a chord with me, a discordant, damning one.

    Eo, 85 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes May 2022 and has shown in 35 festivals or special series since, including the NYFF Main Slate. Its limited US theatrical release by Janus Films began Nov. 18, 2022. Watched at Landmark's Elmwood Theater Dec. 9, 2022. Metacritic rating: 83.

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    ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED (Laura Poitras 2022)

    LAURA POITRAS: ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED (2022)


    [B]NAN GOLDIN TODAY IN ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED[/B]

    Committed biography

    Laura Poitras's big new documentary focuses on several subjects, all united by her good friend the photographer and activist Nan Goldin. Goldin narrates, starting with her unhappy childhood in the Boston suburb of Arlington overshadowed by the suicide at 18 of her older sister, who threw herself in front of a train. It's more than hinted that Goldin's parents' upbringing of both sisters was damaging. The life is one thread, growing into the other thread of her art, lurid-beautiful confessional photographs that in turn grew out of her lifestyle, the hard drugs subculture of the Bowery in New York in the Eighties, and the intimate lives of her many friends, including photographer David Armstrong, whom she'd known since they were in their teens in Arlington, Mass.

    The snapshot aesthetic of these images at first was rejected by gallerists she showed her bundles of photos to. Nonetheless they were the fruit of a keen aesthetic eye, and a dogged determination. Whatever else she was doing she was snapping, like Larry Clark, the photographer-speed freak in Seventies Tulsa whose ever-present camera his fellow addicts learned to respect. But while Clark's technique wasn't Ansel Adams, his images were classically austere black and white. Nan's were intense, gooey color, not to the gallerist's taste. (As a devotee of classic photography one may have set Nan Goldin's work aside, despite buying Sally Eauclaire's 1981 The New Color Photography.) Finally someone told Nan to bring more, she came with a boxload, and her career was launched.

    The slideshow with music "Ballad of Sexual Dependency" (including Velvet Underground, James Brown, Nina Simone, Charles Aznavour, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Petula Clark) also became a book. Now Goldin's work is in many museum collections. This inclusion becomes significant in Poitras' documentary because later, Goldin became addicted to OxyContin, and after what sounds like multiple rehabs, together with a group of artists, activists, and people living with addiction in late 2017 she founded the activist organization known as PAIN or P.A.I.N. Sackler, focused first of all on "the toxic philanthropy of the billionaire Sackler family," who, PAIN's website says, "ignited the opioid overdose epidemic with their blockbuster drug, OxyContin."

    The unity of Poitras' film arises in part from the fact that the activism Nan Goldin has led against the Sacker family, pressing, ultimately with success - a positive outcome of the film - for multiple museums to stop accepting donations from the Sackers and, importantly, to take down the Sackler name in so many museum spaces, the "Sackler Galleries," "Sackler Wings," and the Temple of Dendera in the Metropolitan Museum in New York - these demonstrations have been staged in great museums, the Met, the Guggenheim, outside the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre, the Smithsonian, the Victoria and Albert, you name it - and they have been artistic happenings in themselves. The one at the Guggenheim, with its little clouds of "prescriptions" quoting a Sackler prediction that their new drug would cover the country, is particularly visual, but so are the showers of plastic pill bottles with custom PAIN labels, floating in the pool of a museum atrium. The Louvre was the first to take down the Sackler name from its museum spaces, but then the Guggenheim followed, and many others. Unfortunately, the US opioid epidemic continues to increase.

    Nan Goldin is an engaging and articulate figure and everything this film has to say about her, her life, her work, and her campaign against opioids, is important and relevant and has a hard, intense edge to it. On the big screen the famous slides of the life in the Bowery take on the luminosity and beauty they were always meant to have. There is also a segment about AIDS. It is good, and important, to hear from David Wojnarowicz, the painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, songwriter/recording artist, and AIDS activist prominent in the East Village art, a contemporary of Goldin's who lived in the East Village and died of AIDS in his thirties. (His wonderfully titled book Memories that Smell Like Gasoline is back in print.)

    With all this going on, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is both a personal and a collective work. It stands as a kind of collaboration between Poitras and Goldin. One might be tempted to say this is a departure - till one realizes that the 2014 Citizen Four is also a kind of collaboration, with Edward Snowden. This film doesn't have quite the immediate drama and thrust of that one, but it has plenty of thrust and drama nonetheless. Toward the end, there is news of how the Sackler family has salvaged its wealth through siphoning off money and then declaring bankruptcy of their company, Purdue Pharma. The legal proceedings including an online session in which two Sackler family members are forced to be confronted by alleged victims, including Goldin. But despite all this, the film is neither a documentary about the opioid crisis nor a demonstration of the Sacklers' complicity in it. It's a film about Nan Goldin's life, art, and activism.

    All The Beauty and the Bloodshed, 113 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 3, 2022, where it won the Leone d'Oro, the first top prize of the festival to be awarded to a documentary since Gianfranco Rosi's 2013 Sacro GRA. The film has been shown in over two dozen major international festivals, including Toronto, London, and (Oct. 7) New York, where it was the Centerpiece Film. US theatrical release Nov. 23, 2022 (NYC), Dec. 2 (LA). Screened at AMC Kabuki Dec. 11, 2022. Metacritic rating: 90%.


    NAN GOLDIN (ARCHIVAL) IN ALL THE BEAUTY AND THE BLOODSHED]
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-12-2022 at 07:15 PM.

  5. #20
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    WHITE NOISE (Noah Baumbach 2022)

    NOAH BAUMBACH: WHITE NOISE (2022



    Baumbach goes big

    The obvious link of White Noise with Noah Baumbach's first film, The Squid and the Whale (NYFF 2005), is the pretentious academic father, and the questioning children. But in other ways this bold, risk-taking new venture is another big step forward, as Noah Baumbach's terrific last film, Marriage Story (NYFF 2019), also was. This is the writer-director's first adaptation, and it's of a famous novel by Don DeLillo from 1985, also his first movie made on such a grand scale and with such a big budget and with such wild comic absurdity. It could be a grandiose failure: White Noise has for forty years been considered unfilmable. Welll, he's done it, and while not all of it works, especially not the last part, it was worth it. And I'd advise you to get on Netflix and enjoy it.

    There are delights and complexities here never seen in a Noah Baumbach movie. This is the kind of picture you want to go back to. There's a lot going on and so much of it is rich and fun. The cynicism and satire and self-congratulatory cleverness of DeLillo's novel are all there - but with them a touching warm-heartedness and a caring about a family and a marriage we've never seen before in the director. Robbe Collin of the Daily Telegraph aptly describes White Noise as akin to "an early Steven Spielberg film having a nervous breakdown" and its frequent overlapping-dialogue passages have widely been linked to Robert Altman's style. But above all it's Don DeLillo, filtered, some think brilliantly, some think not enough, through the sensibility of Noah Baumbach.

    The story is hard to summarize. It's about a lot of stuff, from messy families to academic pretension to toxic waste and environmental degradation to - the big one - fear of death. Things revolve around a small college in Ohio where J.A.C. Gladney (Adam Driver, with a paunch), known as Jack, is a professor of Hitler Studies who can't speak German, but is nonetheless widely celebrated for his theories, which delve into power and fame and the oddities of personal development - that Hitler was a mamma's boy and studied art - and overlook the Holocaust. Jack lives with Babette (Greta Gerwig, curly-blonde mophead), aka Baba, who teaches physical therapy. They have four children (all excellent), three by previous marriages (both are on their fourth), one, little Wilder (Henry and Dean Moore), their own.

    Jack has several colleagues, the important one Murray Siskind (a droll Don Cheadle) is a professor who likes to talk about films of accidents and car crashes, and celebrates them as symbolic of American optimism. The satire of Eighties academic pretension flows freely. A whole lot else is going on in the thee-part division of the novel, first of all centering on the "airborne toxic event," then "Dylar," an experimental drug to ease fear of death (but with dire side-effects, like inability to distinguish words from things), then a crazy-fantastic finale with philosophical explorations that don't work but whose botched revenge-murder reminds me of Peter Sellers brilliant improvised finale for Kubrick's Lolita.. All through there is a return to a big supermarket as the place these consumer-crazed citizens take refuge in, with a glorious musical finale in the big A&P over the closing credits. The last section makes hilarious use of two excellent German actors, Barbara Sukowa as Sister Hermann Marie and Lars Eidinger as Mr. Gray.

    The CGI and crowd-wrangling and disaster-staging are all new and great fun for a director who dealt in intimacy and family relationships before this. The gigantic crash of a big rig tanker truck driven by a drunk and loaded with gasoline into a train carrying toxic chemicals is the central event you've got to stage big-time, and Bauambach does it very nicely indeed: the black cloud of the pricelessly entitled "airborne toxic event" is in fact gorgeous. So also in their way are the car lineups and Eighties actioner-style backup crashes into metal garbage cans, the station wagon floating down the river with the Gladneys in it, the public and private voices fumbling and reshuffling advice and cover stories, just like Covid, as has been widely commented. This is the time when Sam Nivola shines as son Heinrich, the adolescent's rationality setting off Jack's uselessness and denial.

    It's been a criticism of this precisely period mid-Eighties film that it's simply dated, and it's also been praised for getting the period just right, and achieving special relevance right now. It's all a bit true and who knows how this movie will age? It may be never better than right now. But it's also going to be fun in future watchings to w0rk out how the film's improvisations extrapolate and translate DeLillo's novel in movie form. It's enjoyable to see how - this comes in the Sam Nivola part - the satire on intellectual fakery indirectly celebrates intelligence. The last part isn't a success but the warmth and sympathy for this couple only grows. Baumbach strongly anchors DeLillo's picture of American's disquietude (their inability to find comfort or escape their mortality through their things and gadgets, in Driver's and Gerwig's humanness. This is a story/book that's mean and nasty and cynical but has a strong thread of love in it. It's this complexity that makes Baumbach's White Noise curiously endearing and memorable. The critical response has been mixed, reflected in a Metacritc rating of only 66%. But I can see why Mike D'Angelo in his "Year in Review" on Patreon makes this film his no. 5 of 10 but also mentions it as the "Outlier' and "Most Underrated," "the finest direction of Baumbach's career" and the movie he's currently most ready to go back to and resample.

    White Noise, 136 mins., premiered at Venice Aug. 31, 2022 and debuted in the US in the New York Film Festival as the Opening Night Film Sept. 30 and showed at a dozen other festivals including London, Tokyo, Miami and Lisbon. Limited US theatrical release Nov. 25. From Netflix, US streaming release Dec. 30. Screened for this review online Jan. 1, 2023. Metacritic rating: 66%. AlloCiné press rating 3.7 (74%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2023 at 07:56 PM.

  6. #21
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    DAVY CHOU: RETURN TO SEOUL/RETOUR À SÉOUL (2022)


    PARK JI-MIN IN RETURN TO SEOUL Thomas Favel/Aurora Films/Sony Pictures Classics

    An aggressive search for identity

    When Koreans drink together (as they do a lot: watch any Hong Sang-soo film), it's the custom that they pour each other's soju or whatever reciprocally into each other's glasses, never straight into their own. When Frédérique Benoit (Park Ji-min), AKA Freddie, is told this, she grabs the bottle, pours the soju into her own glass, and chugs it. Who does that? This behavior turned me against Freddie from the start. It took most of the movie to win it grudgingly back.

    Freddie was born in Korea, adopted by a French couple and raised as French. (Her birth name is revealed to be Yeon-Mi, meaning "docile and joyful,' a rather obvious irony.) Now 25, she is visiting Seoul for the first time since infancy, basically on a whim. She likes vacationing in Japan, we learn later in a Skype conversation with her mother, but many flights were cancelled for a typhoon, she wanted to go somewhere, so here she is.

    Her mother had so much wanted to go with her, and is very disappointed. But impulsiveness is the rule with this young woman, who is pretty and vibrant, but also obnoxious and confrontational. She is so outside the norm in the Korean bar, accompanied by Tena (Guka Han), the timid French-speaking acquaintance from the hostel where she's staying who acts as her mollifying French-Korean interpreter, that her presence must be electrifying. One baby-faced boy is attracted to her and she sleeps with him. The next morning the naive, dazzled kid wants to be hers forever. She tells him to get lost. Later there is Maxime (Yoann Zimmer), a French boy she's actually been going around with she tells: "I can erase you from my life with the snap of a finger." Nice.

    Director Chou, who is French-Cambodian and reports he was inspired to make this picture by the experience of a friend, may have also worked off the personality of first-time actress Park Ji-min, whose energy, charisma, and sexiness are admittedly compelling and help fill in gaps in the writing. The experience of coming back to Korea and seeking out one's birth relatives through the adoption agency can feel momentous but also painful and tedious, as was shown in Malene Choi's The Return (NYAFF 2018), which mixed documentary and fictionalized elements to show what happens to several returned young Korean adoptees. It has to be done, but do we need to be the audience for it?

    This issue eventually is avoided because this film, which has good tech credits and actors, is mainly a portrait of this eccentric, troubled young woman, with her adoptee story just a pretext. The score by Jérémie Arcache and Christophe Musset is rich and supple. It takes charge in that opening café scene when Freddie dances, "gyrating," Amy Nicholson says in her admiring New York Times review, "as through [she] doesn't care if she doesn't see anyone in Seoul ever again." The cinematography by Thomas Favel shines with deep glowing colors and pleasing bluish blurs in the Seoul nightclub scenes. But Freddie will soon go through the Hammond adoption agency and meet with her biological father, played by Oh Kwang-rok, an air conditioning repairman with an extended family.

    Her father like Freddie behaves wildly when drunk, and is prone later on in the relationship to nagging, maudlin expressions of guilt and a desire to control. Right off he tells her, through timid Tena, that he wants her to live in Korea and he will find her a husband. As Nicholson puts it, the early encounter with him "feels both momentous and aggressively dull."

    The "momentous" but "aggressively dull" aspect of Korean adoptee-reunion stories is escaped by this film's odd structure and its focus on the attention-getting personality of Freddie. Return to Seoul makes repeated sudden, clear-cut several-year leaps forward, taking us all told into Freddie's early thirties. It shows her only in Korea and briefly at film's end in Romania on a hike and hotel stay identified only in the closing credits. There is nothing about her life before in France. As we progress, Freddie changes, but not in clear-cut or progressive ways. Her relation with her birth father and his family continues, with her relying on some Korean she has finally learned and on English as a lingua franca. Now she is doing some kind of international work. Later she is on a computer date with an older man called André (Louis-Do de Lencquesaing of Mia Hansen-Løve's Le père de mes enfants), who tells her he is in the arms business and she would be great in it "Because you have to be able to not look back."

    By this time she has lipstick smeared on and hair pushed down: it's not such a great look, but it's a change. Later, she meets with her Korean dad's people once again (Oh Kwang-rok, who had minor roles in Park Chan-wook's "Vengeance" trilogy, is a vivid actor) and tells them she is now, in fact, indirectly in the "defense" business for Korea.

    Over several years she continues trying to make contact through the adoption agency with her birth mother. And this momentous, nearly wordless event finally does take place at the agency itself, in a safe, careful ritual that is very well acted out and reproduced in this film. This is a hushed, memorable scene, photographed very close without clearly showing the mother. Freddie is at last subdued by the momentousness of the reconnection.

    Some have showered Return to Seoul with superlatives. It feels as though Chou has let his lead actress run away with it somewhat. But in the times when it and she calm down, the initial aggressiveness and offense fade into an intriguing mystery so one admits this director may know how to make movies (his two previous ones have won awards).

    Director Chou has certainly gotten around the "aggressive boredom" of discovering that the Korean adoptee has (in the Times reviewer's words) "been robbed of a life she doesn't actually want to live." What most of all seems to attract Freddie to Korea, as Boyd van Hoeij suggests in his The Verdict review, is that it's so easy for her to shock people there, looking like a local and yet acting so different, "simply by saying something that goes against the grain or would be considered not done." But despite the vivid performances, nice score, and beautiful cinematography, the jumps forward are hard to parse and Freddie's unclear development make the film for van Hoeij "feel long and repetitive" and "the lead character is just too exhausting to watch." I agree: Return to Seoul is an uneven watch. There is fascination and elegance here, but there is also that. Wendy Ide wrote in Screen Daily that the film "is unconventional and at times abrasive" but has "a seductive, searching quality" and "a swell of melancholy" which makes for "an engaging, if unpredictable journey." It has been well marketed and well received. Not everyone will like it. My jury is still out.

    Return to Seoul/Retour à Séoul, 115 mins., debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard May 22, 2022. (A previous Chou film won a prize at Critics Week in 2016.) Over 44 international festivals listed on IMDb including Toronto Sept. 8 and New York Oct. 13. Cambodia's entry for Best International Oscar entry. Metacritic rating: 88%. Opens (Sony Pictures Classics) New York and Los Angeles Feb. 17, 2023.

  7. #22
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    SAINT OMER (Mati Diop 2022)

    MATI DIOP: SAINT OMER (2022)


    GUSLAGIE MALANDA IN SAINT OMER

    Mati Diop's impressive but frustrating first fiction feature arouses more questions than it answers

    Saint Omer - well known 41-year-old Senegalese-French documentary filmmaker Mati Diop's first fiction feature - is drably titled: it's only the name of the town where the trial takes place. This is a minimalist kind of courtroom drama film. It presents only a handful of witnesses. Most of the talking is done by the judge, the defendant, and the defense lawyer. Most oddly, little light is shed upon the crime. Is this a trial at all? The defendant has already fully confessed to her premeditated crime of going from Paris to a small town and leaving her 15-month-old daughter on the beach to drown in the rising tide. Nonetheless in its patience-straining way, Saint Omer is riveting courtroom stuff. And then it frustrates us at the end by delivering a message but not a decision. Mati Diop is a tease. Did she learn from Claire Denis, a master of vivid withholding, while playing a major role in Denis' 35 Shots of Rum?

    This film is maddening and irritating, yet has been heralded as innovative. It draws attention especially in its introduction of a central character, Rama (Kayije Kagame) who comes to observe, not participate, a teacher and successful novelist attending the trial with the intention of making it into her next novel (a publisher is lined up). She is a powerful figure (and Kagame has a dark, strong, intense presence) who is no less effective through being largely silent in some of the key shots of her. Rama is the audience representative and the stand-in for Mati Diop, the filmmaker, who attended the actual trial of Fabienne Kabou for infanticide on which Saint Omer is based. Skillful use is made of silent images of Rama, whose reactions - and identification - are intense. She connects with the accused's mother Odile Diatta (Salimata Kamate), meeting with her during the trial and lunching with her. All this is like Truman Capote being a major character of In Cold Blood. It's the much later legacy of the Me Journalism of the Seventies, I guess. At the outset of the trial, the judge orders all "journalists" to leave the courtroom. I kept wondering, why is a novelist planning a book and (as we see later) recording the proceedings on her smart phone, not excluded?

    Even though, or rather because, she remains mysterious - most of all to herself - the accused Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda) remains the main character. Malanda, though as is noted is "invisible" and even is dressed and lit to seem to "disappear" into the background of the wood paneling behind her in the courtroom, speaks in a quiet, assured (even while expressing uncertainty, not knowing), holds our attention. Whois she, what is she? She has claimed sorcery and spells are behind her act. But the defense says she is deranged and needs treatment, not punishment. Much prior evidence emerging in what appears only to be part of her recorded testimony emphasizes that she is a habitual liar. Even she acknowledges this.

    Arguably too much is made of Rama. As Anthony Lane notes in his New Yorker review, Laurence would have been interesting enough by herself. There is something naïve and factitious about showing Rama lecturing on Marguerite Duras and the passage in her script for Hiroshima Mon Amour elevating French women humiliated for having Nazi/German lovers to semi-martyr status, and watching Maria Callas as Medea in Pasolini's film, lifting child murder to the level of myth. Mati Diop's intense reaction to the trial, leading to this fiction, or fictionalized, film is explained by her actual multiple points of similarity with the accused: she too of Senegalese, mixed-race descent with a white boyfriend, and pregnant to boot. (In real life she reportedly had a small child, but making the child still in Rama's womb and her having nausea and discomfort adds a creepier, scarier note.)

    What's interesting - what will be remembered about this film - is the mysteriousness and illogic or Laurance's answers to questions in the trial. She says early on she doesn't know why she murdered her child but hopes the trial will show her. She's smart, we're told, and speaks elegant French - though noting the latter too much, given that she's from Dakar, Senegal, will be taken as condescending, like the university prof. who testifies he advised her not to do a thesis on Wittgenstein but something more appropriate to her "culture."

    A. lot of Laurence's testimony seems to be closely drawn from the actual Fabienne Kabou trial, but it seems calculated to make her even more puzzling than the original was. A 2016 Le Monde article about the final sentencing describes Fabienne: "One expected a woman drowned in solitude, abandoned to her torments of mother under the indifferent glance of her companion; one saw appearing a tough, authoritarian, deceitful and lying accused." Of her much older white companion, father of the baby, Luc Dumontet (Xavier Maly) in the film, the article says he "was seen at the beginning of the hearing as morally guilty and ... turned out to be the exact opposite of the portrait that had been drawn up[;] everyone had the feeling of having been deceived, betrayed by the accused." If this is true, this not the impression of the two the film leaves us with.

    But the major point/criticism to be made is that Diop doesn't show us the results of the actual trial at all. You will learn from news stories that the defendant was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment, lowered to fifteen at appeal. All we get is the impassioned (and fanciful) summing up of the defense, Maître Vaudenay (Aurélia Petit). There is no summing up of the prosecution (Robert Cantarella), and no decision from the red-robed judge (Valérie Dréville) .

    We have been held riveted for two hours, riveted and uncomfortable, and then we have been cheated. Is this a "new, innovative" variation on a trial movie or a perversion of one? Does Diop consider the French court system a racist, colonialist travesty? But that could be a dangerous assumption. Maybe you should see the film and decide for yourself, though.

    Saint Omer, 122 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 7, 2022, and was included in over two dozen international festivals including Toronto, New York, Busan and Vienna. French theatrical release Nov. 23, 2022. AllCiné press rating 4.2f (82%). US limited release Jan. 13, 2023. Screened for this review at AMC Bay Street Jan. 18, 2023. (Metacritic rating 90%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-19-2023 at 01:44 AM.

  8. #23
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    SHAUMAK SEN: ALL THAT BREATHES (2022)


    SALIK REHMAN IN ALL THAT BREATHES Credit: CitySpidey

    "One shouldn't differentiate between all that breathes"

    This is a remarkable documentary that, while appearing unpretentious and ordinary and really quite drab on the surface, unfolds entirely in its own way, with its own look, feel, edits, and rhythms and tinkly orchestral score. One doesn't even like to call it a "documentary." It's a film. It draws us into its world and in doing so it takes its time. Often a great documentary creeps up on you and must be a slow gathering of details, a gradual astonishment. So it is with All That Breathes. I had a sense that this would be special since missing it in the Main Slate of the New York Film Festival, and it turned out even better than expected.

    All That Breathes is a film about three men in perhaps one of the worst parts of the city of Delhi. Brothers Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad, and Salik Rehman, their cousin who works with them are all of Muslim origin. Things are becoming discriminatory under the Hindu nationalist and increasingly dictatorial Narendra Modi and if they're outlawed, they muse, they haven't the credentials that would get them into Pakistan. Their life project is saving black kites. These birds replace vultures in consuming waste. Mountains of garbage would grow without them. More of them are falling from the sky: the air of Delhi is the most polluted in the world, for the birds, as for humans, increasingly unsustainable but it may be their numerousness and proximity to the millions of the city that is their undoing.

    The brothers and sometimes grumpy with each other and break out in verbal battles. But they say it's not them. It's what's happening in the sky that causes these little fracases. Mostly they work peacefully together. They have done so since they were "teenage bodybuilders" and discovered the kites and their need for first aid, and they applied information on muscles and tendons they'd gathered that way to the muscles and tendons of the birds. As boys they'd been taken to throw meat to the kites by their father, and knew it was deemed good luck. As youths they'd rescued small animals but they gradually focused on kites because regular bird hospitals rejected them for being neat eaters. Now their bird hospital in incorporated as a charity called "Wildlife Rescue."

    They also assemble soap dispensers for income, and the older brother, toward the end, goes to the States to study for a while, leaving brother and cousin to hold the fort till he returns. We have glimpsed and heard of violence and houses set afire quite nearby as well as demonstrations against violence. The brothers work on. Their urgent effort to save the kites is a still point of reason and wholeness in what we may dimly perceive as an apocalyptic and crumbling capitol city. A motif of the artfully askew All That Breathes is the oneness of men, and the unity of man and nature, which here seem both impossible, and inevitable. Beside a torn up street, a terrapin crawls. Along a flooded street, cattle walk. We even glimpse a wild pig. Nature is alive and well after all in this overpopulated city.

    An unseen eye and an unseen voice and a camera that likes to slide slowly across a scene provide us with views of the brothers and their work surroundings. The first thing one may notice is hands holding one of the big birds and the firm, gentle, practiced touch. Placing the bird somewhere, carefully. Plying apart the feathers to examine a wound, a weak limb, a spot of blood.

    Their digs are shabby but somehow cozy. The younger, thinner cousin, Salik Rehman, is on a balcony when a kite comes by and grabs his glasses. It flies off with them. It does not come back. He talks about those lost glasses for a while, rather to his cousin's annoyance. Another time two of the guys strip and swim out into the river to rescue a wounded kite that will be eaten shortly if they doh't save it. Nadeem Shehzad directs them. Surprisingly, the seemingly more fit Salik runs out of energy and panics, caught in the middle of the water. But they make it back.

    As suggested, these activities in themselves may seem inconsequential, but it's the focus they show, and the patient rhythm. It turns out the black kites of Delhi are often injured by glass-coated strings used for the other, human, sort of kites, those flown in the air by people. The birds of prey have grown more numerous due to large slaughterhouses in the city. (I get this and much more from a copiously illustrated local article in CitySpidey. They are falling out of the sky in greater and greater numbers, but also this bird hospital is known to more and more people. Selek Rehman is bringing more and more of the cardboard boxes used to hold the sick or injured birds every day. A NYTimes article helps get more funding and a lovely white "open cage" up on the roof has been created.

    The work at Wildlife Rescue strives for non-invasiveness, for preservation. The style of this film likewise is to help things along without ever seeming to intrude. It's an unusual combination, and the gentle tuning in to the naturalist's view is unusual too. All That Breathes lives up to that cliché: it takes you somewhere you've never been before. I wouldn't want to tell you too much about it, but there's no danger: no review can capture the unique style and mood of this lovely and thought-provoking film.

    All That Breathes debuted at Sundance Jan. 2022 winning the grand jury documentary prize, and it went to Cannes, winning the the Golden Eye award. Numerous festivals, awards, and nominations followed. It will be released on HBO later in Jan. Metacritic rating: 86%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-24-2023 at 03:48 PM.

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