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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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    SHOWING UP (Kelly Reichardt 2022)

    KELLY REICHARDT: SHOWING UP (2022)


    MICHELLE WILLIAMS, HONG CHAU IN SHOWING UP

    An artist prepares for her show

    I previously wrote about Kelly Reichardt's Certain Women (2016-NYFF): "If Reichardt achieves authenticity and a sense of real time in these sad, dreary tales, there's also a lack of economy and a lack of verve, almost a stubborn clumsiness. And so this time it's tempting to side somewhat with Rex Reed in the Observer, who commends the acting in this film but condemns Reichardt's style. "Nothing ever happens in her movies," Reed says, "but a handful of critics rave, they end up on the overstuffed programs at film festivals like Sundance and are never seen or heard from again." That isn't really true. But this is a failed movie with one powerful thread, and I wish Reichardt's 2014 Night Moves had gotten all the attention that her 2010 Meek's Cutoff did."

    This is the way it has gone for me, perhaps for others. Reichardt is a significant American auteur. Ever since what technically may have been her third film (2006), Old Joy (though nobody saw the first two), critics and cinephiles have had a lot of time for Reichardt's films, even when they were very often stubborn and resisted attention. There are only half a dozen, but have appeared regularly, mostly at three-year intervals; this new one shows no delay from the pandemic. All have stayed in the mind, nagged like Meek's Cutoff, excited like Night Moves, even touched like First Cow. The new one nags, bores, and annoys, but it won't go away. And though one strains to see why Reichardt wanted to make it, its realness leaves one impressed. It's a vivid slice of life. Was it worth slicing? Maybe here there is a lot about today's minor, struggling artist that is so specific it could wind up being enlightening.

    Though sharing qualities of being stubborn, specific, and resisting conventional rewards, Reichardt's films have gone in different directions. She has shown a gift for carefully researched and offbeat dips back into early nineteenth-century America with the 1845-set western-traveling Meeks Cutoff and the 1820 pre-Oregon First Cow - the first hard to take, the second hard to resist. This time she doesn't go far: Oregon and art. (She has taught film for some years at Bard, in Annandale-On-Hudson, New York, a school with a strong art focus. Most of her films have been shot in Oregon.) The protagonist of Showing Up is a grumpy, dumpy single woman artist, Lizzy (Michelle Williams in her fourth Reichardt joint) preparing for a show of her small baked figurative sculptures while dealing with "the daily dramas of family and friends."

    Léa Seydoux also drabbed-down for her lead in Mia Hansen-Løve's recent One Fine Morning. But with Léa, the radient beauty shines through. Michelle's doesn't: she loses herself in unappealing, unfriendly Lizzy. She doesn't seem to look at us, or anybody. She looks at, and touches, almost caresses those odd sculptures of hers (actually made by the Portland-based artist Cynthia Lahti). They are about two feet tall, or less, of women contorted or gesturing extravagantly. An extreme, expressionistic outgrowth of the school of Rodin, they seem unfashionable, out of date (who makes figurative sculptures anymore?). Isn't this part of the point? Though she doesn't quite say it, Lizzy probably doesn't expect her sculptures to be appreciated.

    Lizzy grouses most of all with Jo (Oscar-nominated Hong Chau), her neighbor and negligent landlady, since the latter is s taking weeks to repair Lizzy's water heater. But Jo's an artist too - her work is big and colorful; we glimpse it - and has two shows coming up. Both are connected with a local Portland art school; Jo teaches, Lizzy works in an office, her mother the director. Jo points out her rent is low. She hasn't got it too hard. Her sculptures get baked in a kiln at the school by a friendly, cheerful guy, Eric (André Benjamin). Her father (the resurgent Judd Hirsch again), himself a potter, now, he insists, retired (his work looks handsome), is sprightly and cheerful.

    Who arguably doesn't have things so good is Sean (John Magaro, who played the lead role of Cookie in First Cow), Lizzy's brother, who's an artist too. Lizzy may think her parents considered him more talented than she, but he has fairly serious mental issues; his behavior is unpredictable, and he's certainly not happy.

    All this is what Showing Up is "about" - along with the obvious MacGuffin of a wounded pigeon Lizzy's cat brings in that she and Jo wind up trading places in caring for. The beauty of the film is how spot-on all the details are. But while Kelly Reichardt films have been fights for survival, the urgency level here is like, whether there is too much cheese on the table at Lizzy's show reception, and then, whether her crazy brother will eat it all up.

    Showing Up, 107 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes May 27, 2022, also in the Main Slate of the NYFF Oct. 5 and shown in a dozen other international festivals. US theatrical release by A24 April. 7, 2023. Metacritic rating 84%. Surprisingly, Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle gave it a rave. He always seemed to hate everything and have very conventional tastes. Screened for this review at Landmark Albany Twin April 28, 2023.

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    NO BEARS (Jafar Pqnahi 2022)

    JAFAR PANAHI: NO BEARS (2022)


    JAFAR PANAHI (RIGHT) IN NO BEARS

    The oppressed Iranian filmmaker's fifth clandestine film is a dry multi-layered puzzler

    I wonder how Pauline Kael would have reviewed the films of Jafar Panahi, Iran's most famous filmmaker. She did have the balls to pan a sacred cow of a film like the exhausting Holocaust documentary Shoah. Panahi too is a sacred cow. He, or the character with his name in his latest film, No Bears, the fifth made clandestinely since he was forbidden by the government to make films, is a muted, ironic figure, the tight-lipped protagonist, the understated star of his own work. Jafar Panahi is a real life hero. Despite imprisonment, house arrest, and being banned in 2010 from making films for 20 years, he has managed to go on making them, and refuses to leave the country. But when he is showered with praise, how much can we separate the filmmaking from his well-deserved glow as a hero of artistic resistance to the oppressive regime of the mullahs?

    Maybe Jafar Panahi's films could be more entertaining. It might seem impossible to make a fun movie about an oppressive country like Iran, but this was disproved last year when Panahi's own son, Panah Panahi, released his first feature, the hilarious, stimulating, meaningful and sad Hit the Road. His father Jafar's new one is many-layered and complex in ways that reviewers are delighted to parse. It offers rewards for seasoned fans. But its entertainment is of a very dry and subtle sort, if entertainment there is.

    Nonetheless No Bears, which shows Jafar Panahi, or "Jafar Panahi," struggling to direct a film remotely from an Iranian village near the Turkish border, where the cast and crew are, is an impressively smart and understated film. Its blending of fiction and documentary elements is a feature of the director's style that goes back to his first work. For example, a clip he shows in This Is Not a Film records a girl being filmed on a bus who tears off a fake leg cast yelling that she refuses to participate in this charade. This is essentially what a couple does in No Bears: they are playing a version of themselves (or their film selves), a dissident couple, Zara (Mina Kavani) and Bakhtiar (Bakhtiar Penjei), who have escaped the country, but the wife protests that the in-film version they're being asked to enact is a whitewashed image of her far worse sufferings in ten years of struggle and she won't go on with it. Is this outburst true to life, or is it the fiction? We don't know.

    This film has been described as revolving around "two parallel love stories." The first involves the troubled mature couple in the film-within-the-film who are, or were, seeking to escape the country. The other is a young couple in the village "Panahi" is staying in, Gozbal (Darya Alei) and Soldooz (Amir Davari). Accused of holding back a photo on a digital disc depicting a couple said to be in love, while the girl is being set up for arranged marriage to another, the No Bears "Panahi" denies that he made any such photo. He is asked by the village chief (Naser Hashemi) to go to a place called "the oath room" where he will swear to this, but he is assured parenthetically that this place is just a village tradition, and it is "okay to lie." That kind of says it all: this is a country where oaths and morality are a big deal, but lying is a common, assumed practice.

    The interest, the dry fun, of No Bears is its confusing mix of urban and rural and of documentary and fiction. It is all fiction: the "real" "Jafar Panahi" seen here is a bit less like the "real" Jafar Panahi than in his previous four clandestine films. He is not making this film about the couple seeking to escape the country, but a film about making such a film. In the meantime there is much static from the "actual" location, where "Panahi" is, a small village (not actually where it's said to be). "Panahi" is renting a large room in the village, but his "host" is constantly looking for excuses to make him leave. There is trouble in the village, the fracas over the contested wedding, and "Panahi" is in the middle of it because of allegedly having photographed the would-be "bride" with her real "lover." A little boy claims when "Panahi" was taking his picture with several other boys, he saw "Panahi" photograph the couple. There is also more commonplace buffoonery of a sort Panahi seems to like now, when "Panahi" must climb a ladder trying to connect with wi-fi (the reviewer for Slant has said this is a ripoff from Kiarostami). All the sophistication of good digital cameras, slim laptops and smartphone, clashes with the rustic walls, obligatory glasses of tea, and the feeble wi-fi of a village.

    This contrast between the primitive and the modern is in your face here. The village is rife with "traditions" and rigid conventions about marriage. The old ladies serving "Panahi" provide excellent cooking, but with the shaky internet, the rental "host" a constant annoyance and the challenged would-be groom in a constant menacing rage, disorder is just round the corner. The latter individual delivers a prolonged rant in the "oath room" scene that illustrates something Iranians in films often seem to excel at: orally haranguing and abusing each other.

    But the urban, and urbane, "Panahi" never loses his cool. His dry restraint stands as a reproach to all the misbehavior and his own mistreatment. He stands aloof; and beyond that lurks the courage of the real filmmaker who has endured so much harassment from the Iranian government and remained productive through it all - though post-No Bears, he was in prison again, initially along with the other top Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof (the third is Asghar Farhadi). (In early Feb. 2023 he was released from prison.)

    Panahi's first clandestine film, the 2011 This Is Not a Film, was smuggled out of the country on a flash drive in a loaf of bread and shown at Cannes, the New York Film Festival (where I reviewed it), and in forty other festivals, winding up on many best movie or best documentary lists. The subsequent three and this one have likewise received top honors from critics and festivals. Mohammad Rasoulof was recently on the Venice jury. This in part is a triumph of digital technology and the internet, also celebrated indirectly in No Bears, with "Jafar Panahi" directing a film from across the Turkish-Iranian border, which dramatically he refuses to cross.

    The title No Bears, is symbolic of a rejection of naïve village traditions embracing ignorance. The village chief talks about the danger of bears to "Panahi," but then says the menace of the ursine critters is only a superstition: there are "no bears." Martin Luther King famously declared that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Hopefully it bends toward rationality and artistic freedom too, even in Iran. But there is more gloom than hope in No Bears. Jessica Kiang wrote in her Variety review that where his earlier clandestine films celebrated "the liberating power of cinema," this is a darker one where Panahi "slams on the brakes." In his Slant review Sam C. Mac, noting the devotion to "meta" in Panahi shows his debt to his mentor Abbas Kiarostami, points to what is also my main objection in No Bears: that it's overburdened by an "increasingly convoluted plot" developed to illustrate its themes, and is not, despite what some critics have said, as visually interesting as his other recent films. But it is part of an œuvre that we cannot overlook.

    No Bears 106 mins., in Farsi (Farsi title خرس نیست/Khers Nist), debuted at Venice Sept. 9, 2022 and was shown in about 50 other international festivals, including Toronto and New York. Its official US theatrical release was Dec. 23, 2022 in New York City (Film Forum). It premiered on the Criterion Channel Apr. 18, 2023, where it was screened for this review.

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    Metascores of the 2022 nyff main slate

    Metacritic ratings of NYFF 2022 Films and links to reviews

    Opening Night
    “White Noise”
    Dir. Noah Baumbach
    Metacritic: 66%

    Centerpiece
    “All the Beauty and the Bloodshed”
    Dir. Laura Poitras
    Metacritic: 90%

    Closing Night
    “The Inspection”
    Dir. Elegance Bratton
    Metacritic: 73%

    NYFF 60th Anniversary Celebration
    “Armageddon Time”
    Dir. James Gray
    Metacritic: 74%

    “Aftersun”
    Dir. Charlotte Wells
    Metacritic: 95%

    “Alcarràs”
    Dir. Carla Simón
    Metacritic: 85%

    “All That Breathes”
    Dir. Shaunak Sen
    Metacritic: 87%

    “Corsage”
    Dir. Marie Kreutzer
    Metacritic: 76%

    “A Couple”
    Dir. Frederick Wiseman
    Metacritic: 74%

    “De Humani Corporis Fabrica”
    Dir. Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor
    Metacritic: 90%

    “Decision to Leave”
    Dir. Park Chan-wook
    Metacritic: 84%

    “Descendant”
    Dir. Margaret Brown
    Metacritic: 87%

    “Enys Men”
    Dir. Mark Jenkin
    Metacritic: 77%

    “EO”
    Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski
    Metacritic: 85%

    “The Eternal Daughter”
    Dir. Joanna Hogg
    Metacritic: 80%

    “Master Gardener”
    Dir. Paul Schrader
    Metacritic: 59

    “No Bears”
    Dir. Jafar Panahi
    Metacritic: 92%

    “The Novelist’s Film”
    Dir. Hong Sangsoo
    Metacritic: 82%

    “One Fine Morning”
    Dir. Mia Hansen-Løve
    Metacritic: 85%

    “Pacifiction”
    Dir. Albert Serra
    Metacritic: 79%

    “R.M.N.”
    Dir. Cristian Mungiu
    Metacritic: 75%

    “Return to Seoul”
    Dir. Davy Chou
    Metacritic: 88%

    “Saint Omer”
    Dir. Alice Diop
    Metacritic: 91%

    “Scarlet”
    Dir. Pietro Marcello
    Metacritic: 69%

    “Showing Up”
    Dir. Kelly Reichardt
    Metacritic: 81%

    “Stars at Noon”
    Dir. Claire Denis
    Metacritic: 64%

    “Stonewalling”
    Dir. Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka
    Metacritic: 84%

    “TÁR”
    Dir. Todd Field
    Metacritic: 92%

    “Trenque Lauquen”
    Dir. Laura Citarella
    Metacritic: tbd

    “Triangle of Sadness”
    Dir. Ruben Östlund
    Metacritic: 63%

    “Unrest”
    Dir. Cyril Schäublin
    Metacritic: tbd

    “Walk Up”
    Dir. Hong Sangsoo
    Metacritic: 86%
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-27-2023 at 07:22 PM.

  12. #27
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    PACIFICTION (Albert Serra 2022)

    ALBERT SERRA: PACIFICTION (2022)


    MAGIMEL CHAUFFEURED ON JET SKI IN PACIICTION

    Benoît Magimel triumphs winging it as a slimy French colonial bigwig

    Benoît Magimel played the corrupt, manipulative son of gangsterish political boss Gérard Depardieu in the intricately plotted 2016-1018 French TV series "Marseille." Now he is Catalan auteur Albert Serra's Tahiti would be high roller High Commissioner De Roller in the drolly named Pacifiction, a slow-burning drama with almost no conventional plotline at all, that pacifies us and intrigues us instead with its deeply unnerving, vaguely surreal mood-picture of colonial wickedness, what Bradshaw called "its stealthy evocation of pure evil." It's beautiful, and Magimel's improvisations that ooze with slimy charm and weave double-breasted linen façades of invisibility and fake good will never disappoint. If the film works for you, and it worked for me and for many others, you will be on the edge of your seat at well over two hours scrutinizing the beautiful dark images of the Tahitian night in search of a climax that never quite comes but whose premonitions will haunt you with their teasing lack of resolution.

    Serra's previous films have involved historical figures "hanging out," Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, then Casanova meeting Dracula (2013), or just slowly dying in the case of Louis XIV embodied by Jean-Pierre Léaud (2016). His last film (2020), which I haven't seen, and was less well received, consists of "bucholic debauchery" of pre-revolutionary French aristocrats. Pacifiction, the most complex and satisfying of Serra's films that I've seen, is set in the present and refers hauntingly to the nineties when France - not exactly on Tahiti, but on many outlying islands - From 1966 to 1974 blew up 41 nuclear weapons in above-ground tests in French Polynesia, grossly underestimating the fallout and human toll of cancer and deformed offspring for generations to come. Now there is a rumor going around that a return to nuclear testing on the islands is being planned.

    In Pacifiction High Commissioner De Roller appears in many settings. Mostly he charms or wings it as a collaborator. Notably he must also encounter Matahi (Matahi Pambrun), a young local firebrand who warns him about coming demonstrations against nuclear testing. It's not a friendly meeting, but even this time De Roller comes up close and talks in a low voice, making it feel like he and Matahi are collaborators. Elsewhere he denies that any such thing is afoot; assures that he will do everything he can to make sure it doesn't happen; or he says he is an underling and knows nothing; or, to cohorts, in confidence, says he doesn't care; toward film's end with his silent Sancho Panza, Lois (Lluís Serrat, who played that role for Serra in 2006), he declares that it's going to be more than testing, it's going to destroy everything, and they're going to be long gone and don't give a damn.

    A trouble is that as evidenced by Lois, except for an elegant, tall, trans person called Shannah (Pahoa Mahagafanau) who wants to become De Roller's assistant and does so, and that quickly passed over moment of challenge from Matahi Pambrun, there's rarely anybody on the highly colored 4K screen sipping fruity drinks or riding chauffeured jet skis as interesting as Magimel. But Magimel as De Roller is a cipher too, just a fascinating one.

    Perhaps it's how undefined the figures are that makes them haunting, part of the mystery this film weaves. There's a Portuguese, Ferreira (Alexandre Melo), turned up hung over and without a passport. Is he an enemy or a victim? There's the often-referred to "Admiral" (Marc Susini), seen drunkenly dancing at the sleazy nightclub De Roller drops in on, whose proprietor Morton appears in a cameo by Sergi Lopez. There's Mike (Mike Landscape), an American, seen with Fereira, clearly not friendly towards De Roller. These and others are never defined and remain troubling ciphers.

    As Guy Lodge writes in his Variety review, with De Roller, "whether he’s appeasing local community leaders to pave the way for a new luxury casino development, paying tribute to a visiting French novelist attempting a Gauguin-style creative exile, or simply making small talk with fellow patrons at the sleazy neighborhood nightclub...every encounter is a negotiation and a performance." It's the endless slow unrolling of these that makes Pacifiction, as Lodge says, as do many, "Curiously hypnotic."

    Widening the description, A.O. Scott of the New York Times called the film "John le Carré by way of David Lynch" and "a feverish and haunting but also wry and meditative rumination on power, secrecy and the color of clouds over water at sunset." Yes, it also ruminates on the, for us city dwellers, almost unhealthy lushness of tropical greenery, tropical rain, intensely tinted tropical skies. Their beauty is cloying, and Serra seeks out carefully here, with premeditation, the enhanced creepiness of vast moral evil when observed in a setting of postcard-perfect loveliness.

    The slowness is part of Serra's working process. His declared method is to shoot fast and play out slow. Many hours of film were shot in only four days. The shooting was supervised by dp Artur Tort in 16mm. with three 4K Black Magic Pocket Cameras with zoom lenses with cameramen working autonymously. The successive scenes are all autonymous too, not fully defined as relating to each other. They are spliced together, the way the surrealists made their "Exquisite Corpse" foldups of separate drawings whose connection the artists didn't know. Binding Pacifiction's image-world is what Lee Marshall of Screen Daily calls "a rich soundscape that pushes the oneiric envelope and takes certain scenes into paranoid-thriller genre territory." There is a restrained, satisfyingly spooky score by Marc Verdaguer and Joe Robinson that becomes particularly effective with the empty, haunting final images.

    The methods are willfully unconventional: at least Serra means them to be. And how it all fits together depends as much on our imaginations as this artistry. This is the beauty of Beenoît Magimel as an actor. Kept ignorant of script, with storyline an outmoded concept, Magimmel contributes the unifying source of a series of Rorschach blots that almost mean something. We put them together in our minds helped by the conviction Magimel brings. Kurt Brokaw in The Independent admiringly described this "slowest slow-burner in many a season" as "a picture that coils around you and then starts squeezing in," working "on the disturbing premise that what happened in a distant past was a prelude to what’s going to happen again." The result, in another rave, this time from Christian Blauvelt of IndieWire, is that this is "the art film of the year," but perhaps also Serra's most accessible.

    Pacifiction/Pacifiction-Tourment sur les îles, 162 mins., debuted in Competition at Cannes May 26, 2022. It was also shown at Munich, Jerusalem, Melbourne, Beijing and dozens of other international festivals, including Toronto, New York (in the Main Slate), Vienna, Tokyo and Taipei. The film has won great admiration among French critic s; not so much with the French audience. Its AlloCiné press rating is 4.0 (80%); audience rating 2.7 (56%). Magimel won the César for Best Actor, becoming the first male actor ever to do so a second year in a row, 2022's being for Émanuelle Bercot's Peaceful/De son vivant. Metacritic rating: 75%. Pacifiction received limited US theatrical release February 17, 2023. It now is on Mubi and Amazon Prime video.


    STILL FROMPACIICTION


    BENOÎT MAGIMEL, PAHOA MAHAGAFANAU IN PACIFICTIONA
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-06-2023 at 01:00 AM.

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    MASTER GARDENER (Paul Schrader 2022)

    PAUL SCHRADER: THE MASTER GARDENER (2022)


    JOEL EGERTON AND SIGOURNEY WEAVER

    Familiar ground

    There's a certain danger for reviewers to write about this film as part of a trilogy and not look at it too closely for itself. It's certainly a must for fans of the writer-director who've seen the much admired First Reformed and the less so Card Counter. (For the record I admired the second just as much as the first, and enjoyed it considerably more.) They're all about tormented and "lonely" men who are looking for expiation and revenge for a burdensome past, Ethan Hawke's Toller in an old church, Oscar Isaac's Tillich in a succession of gambling casinos, now Joel Egerton's Narvel Roth as chief horticulturalist of the ancestral garden of a southern mansion. All three actors give terrific performances. Egerton is so tightly wound you tense up watching him.

    Norvel, as cunningly crafted by Egerton, is great as a singular object. But the last prong of the trilogy doesn't work as well as either of its two predecessors. One trouble is that by now there is more to the trilogy than there is to this film. This despite Sigourney Weaver's being terrifyingly off-putting as Roth's boss lady-mistress, Miss Haverhill (or Norma), and Quintessa Swindell being beguiling as Maya, the young biracial woman, Norma's grandniece brought in as a gardening trainee by Norma's command and soon very close to Norvel. Queen, knave, pawn? These seem like chess pieces, the grand colonial mansion and its grounds like the board, the action magnificently assured but artificial, the finale murky, like much of the photography of the dp for the whole trilogy,Alexander Dynan. Why must the scenes, except for some tacked-on shots of flowers in bloom, be so dark? And while we're at it, why must each protagonist in the trilogy wind up seated at a desk tormentedly writing into a journal every single night? Does Schrader get to be as mannered and repetitious as Bresson? There's a risk of self-parody here. I understand there was laughter when the first tormented-journal-writing shot came on screen at the New York Film Festival.

    There's still plenty of excitement in Master Gardener. Norvel seems about to explode, Norma is haughty and sexy, and we begin to see what's going on when Norvel takes his shirt off and reveals a perfectly sculpted torso covered over with beautifully executed fascist tattoos. Yes, he's a recovering racist (and we actually dip into a 12-step meeting) - though I, at least, never quite got what his special relation with his parole officer was or what he actually has done. Instead, we get constantly lectured in voiceover by Norvel about the history of gardening, which is boring and repetitious and feels like filler. Whatever Schrader's relation to horticulture (or not) he makes it seem a tacked-on element here, whether Norvel is teaching his pupils to snort loam to get the ancestral feel of soil or brandishing stem-clippers menacingly at poor white southern baddies. But there is tension, every time Norvel climbs up on Norma's palatial porch and pets her family pooch, or sits down for lunch with Maya. Eventually there will be the obligatory violence, and also retaliation, redemption, and love. But though Egerton is utterly convincing as a fierce repressed personality the writing doesn't work out Norvel's sin and salvation with enough diligence and at the end there wasn't, for me, enough emotion, or enough that felt real going on.

    Master Gardener, 111 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 3, 2022 and showed next month in the Main Slate at the NYFF, featuring also in two dozen other international festivals. Limited US theatrical release began May 19, 2023. Metacritic rating: 63%

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    SCARLET/L'ENVOL (Pietro Marcello 2022)

    PIETRO MARCELLO: SCARLET/L'ENVOL (2022)


    JULIETTE JOUAN, LOUIS GARREL IN SCARLET

    Prince charming falls from the sky

    TRAILER

    The respected, eccentric Italian documentarian Pietro Marcello garnered further fame and admiration through his large-scale 2019 Italian language adaptation of the Jack London novel Martin Eden. Now for a second feature, set a little later in the early twentieth century right after World War I, he switches to the French language, and a smaller canvas. L'envol ("flying away"), is freely adapted from Scarlet Sails, a 1923 Russian novel by Alexander Grin. Described as a fairy tale for adults and children alike, it is two stories, both earthy and fanciful: the coming of age tale of Juliette (Juliette Jouan, in a striking debut, with four younger actresses), a girl of peasant origins who rises to higher things and finds a romantic boyfriend who literally falls from the sky; and the travails of Raphaël, her soulful, earthbound dad, who "works with wood," but never gets his due as a fine craftsman.

    The new movie is thick with Marcello's documentary atmosphere, hybrid use of new 16mm footage and (ever more skillfully) blended-in archival film background, and elaborated with some musical numbers à la Jacques Demy with songs by the Lebanese-French composer Gabriel Yared. A lot to chew on, at times a bit much but sometimes impressively original and rich in texture - if not enough to hide the conventional storyline and some corny romantic moments, or the fact that despite vivid surfaces, there are lacunae in the narrative. Flaws aside, you don't normally get anything this rich and unique at the cineplex, and if you can see it in a theater, you my all means should.

    The opening half hour is dominated by two well-weathered and salty adults. First is Raphaël (Raphaël Thiéry, the ogreish father in Giradudie's Staying Vertical) who looks like John C. Reilly only squatter and uglier and with a limp that's sometimes more of a jaunty hobble. He wanders into the village, apparently left over from the Great War, and meets Madame Adeline (actress-director Noémie Lvovsky, in earth-mother mode and having a grand time). She is the landlady of his former house, living in it now and caring for a little girl she tells him is his daughter, all that's left him since his wife, it appears, is dead.

    Why and how that happened and whether the child is really legitimate, since the gone wife was violated by someone in town, are things to be hashed over in those opening segments when the the only music is Raphaël's plaintive but vigorous little accordion. A lot of this may not matter so much later - sometimes Marcello seems to lose sight of the big picture - but it's all thoroughly absorbing while it's going on. We're in that mix of authenticity and high camp of Claude Barri's 1980's Pagnol remakes, with Marcello's own documentary edge added and Marco Graziaplena's closeup-intense and lushly colorful 16mm cinematography heightening Thiéry's and Lvovsky's compelling if slightly hammy performances.

    There's a fairytale element throughout in addition to the down-to-earth tone, traced through magic along with the film's feel-good storyline. Madame Adeline practices necromancy and "seeing" and draws little Juliette into it. This strain sounds a deeper note in the white-haired worker of spells (known as "La magicienne") who dwells in the forest and river, played by French cinema's no. 1 earth mother, Yolande Moreau, who as it happens played Noémie Lvovsky's mother in Lvovsky's own Camille Rewinds a decade ago. Contrast these kinds of women's rural spell-weaving with the practical magic Raphaël can simply work with his hands, repairing and tuning an old piano and making finely crafted dolls he sells in the city, when his carpentry skills aren't appreciated locally. But whether or not the spells work, Raphaël is doomed to have a hard time. Eventually as the years go by the dolls go out of style, replaced by metal and electrical toys. What happens to Juliette is harder to pinpoint and her character, though cherished, is less fully developed. She flourishes, sings, plays the piano, swims, and is happy, although she is scorned as a "witch", not entirely explicably, by the villagers.

    These problems remain - Juliette's low reputation, Raphaël's struggle to earn a livelihood - but the focus shifts in the second half to romance. Juliette's prince charming appears in the dashing, handsome form of Jean (a mustachioed Louis Garrel, charming as always), a young "adventurer" who comes out of the sky when his one-engine prop plane is brought down by a carburetor problem. He says in his defense that he is not an adventurer but works, using his plane. But what he actually does is never explained.

    Jean and Juliette first meet in a studied romantic set piece while both are bathing alone in the river, with her singing. She takes the lead and kisses him. He is smitten. He learns in the village later how they mock and exclude her and her family. Why she has this reputation is as unclear as what has become of her earlier intellectual promise, except that when Raphaël gives her a choice as a young girl whether or not to go away for a better education she decides to stay.

    Much later Raphaël, still desperate for work after all these years, is awarded the challenging job of making the figurehead for a boat, painstakingly hand-carving it out of a large block of wood. It's admittedly an archaic ornament, a last sad hope of proving to the village wood craftsmen, as he's tried to for years, that he's gifted at "working with wood" and worthy of employment. But he is at the end of his tether and his physical strength and this turns out to be too much for him.

    Though Juliette is first to kiss Jean, she drives him away - and then regrets it. All this haas something to do with red sails that appear beyond the forests, and magic, or hexes, that will bring Jean back to Juliette in a downed plane, and Madame Adeline's muscular spells get Jean's smashed legs working quickly again, after his second, rougher descent from the sky. Jean and Juliette are united now. Marcello's film remains true to its earthy fairytale style.

    This may float your boat, or it may not. I was all in early on, absorbed by Thiéry and Lvovsky's gnarly vividness and the hybrid recreations of period. Later the narrative was marred somewhat by what reviewer (in Playlist) called a "muddled pace." In the love of vivid moments, narrative links are forgotten. But Marcello has produced another wholly sui generis film, which at its best moments is headily atmospheric and a delight to the eye and ear and Garrel and newcomer Jouan make a lovely couple.

    Scarlet/L'envol,, 100 mins., debuted in Cannes Directors' Fortnight May 18, 2022. Also Rome, Vienna, Seville, Stockholm and other festivals, Metacritic rating: 74%.AlloCiné press rating 3.2 (64%). US theatrical release by Kino Lorber beginning June 9, 2023. Now playing in New York (IFC Center) and in Los Angeles from Jun. 23, 2023. Coming to the Bay Area July 7.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 07-06-2023 at 10:53 AM.

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    WALK UP (Hong Sang-soo 2022)

    HONG SANG-SOO: WALK UP (2022)


    HAE HYO-KOWN AND JEONGSU IN WALK UP

    TRAILER

    A director, his women, and a building

    The clever and impossibly prolific Hong Sang-soo's Walk Up is the second of two films included in the Main Slate of last year's New York Film Festival. It's distinguished from many similar Hong joints by its use of a small "tower" building of flats that seems to provide a lot of the structure of the screenplay. The sequences of scenes run through time from the bottom to the top floor of the building. Walk Up shows the director in top form. Walk Up is restricted as usual to static scenes, with fixed camera, of talking, mostly sitting at a table sipping alcoholic beverages, but (as has been pointed out) this time with a great deal happening in the plot line - just not on screen. This is an even more clever and inventive film than usual - but beware: it's disorienting and confusing, the little tower building almost becoming a puzzle palace.

    It undercuts the entertainment value how surreal and disorienting Walk Up is. As more than one critic has said, you don't know at the end if any of it happened. You also may not be sure of the time sequence. There's too little to hold onto. At least that's how it was for me. Other experienced Hong-watchers may not be bothered, and may enjoy the familiar skewering for male (and female) ego and the playing around with the familiar Hong theme of a (successful, festival-darling) movie director whose life and career may or may not be in serious trouble but whose promiscuous flirtations with women never flag. However, the sudden leaps forward in time (and to another floor, and the male protagonist's being with another woman) took away from the ordinary human value of the experiences on offer, for me at least.

    Walk Up is more purely enjoyable at first because the confusing leaps and lack of guidelines haven't yet begun. We are watching at first several women, and later one man, the director, who assumes a central position. The man is the movie director Byungsoo (Hae-hyo Kwon, a handsome grey-haired actor, seen before in Hong films but not in the lead till now). We meet the tall Ms. Kim (the long unseen star Lee Hye-yeong, also featured in Hong's recent Novelist's Film and In Front of Your Face), the building's landlady, and, some writers have argued, rather a villain as her manipulative actions and lack of respect for the privacy of her tenants play out.

    Ms. Kim is also an interior designer, and Byungsoo brings his shy, previously estranged daughter, Jeongsu (Park Mi-so), who was studying painting bur wants to shift to Ms. Kim's more practical field and study with her. He arrives in an immaculately tended old Morris car, which becomes another character, like the building. The conversation goes on after Byungsoo gets a phone call and abruptly goes off for an "important meeting" and never comes back in that sequence. This and the sequences after it differ from the usual Hong scenes in that wine is drunk in fine glasses rather than beer or soju in cups, though it's replenished from a convenience store and eventually Byungsoo, seeking comfort, winds up back to beer and soju. Needless to say, whatever the tipple, the ladies in the first sequence get tipsy while they discuss art, business, and life.

    Upstairs is a small, reservations-only restaurant run by Sunhee (Song Seon-mi). Another sequence is a long conversation, later in time, up there between her and Byungsoo, who is not at all displeased by the fact that Sunnee turns out to be a total, adoring fan of his movies - though the audience may see a tongue-in-cheek element in her professed way of watching his films at home: drinking, and rolling around on the floor. It becomes obvious that Sunnee and Byungsoo click, and are about to become an item. It turns out now that Byungsoo's career isn't going so well, as his big project of two years has just been rejected by investors. He considers whether, during an artistically static period, it might be unseemly to attend festivals celebrating one's own work.

    There are several more stages, levels, sequences to come. In the next one Byungsoo is living with Sunnee, and not doing any work. His daughter Jeongsu turns out to have rather rapidly quit the training program in interior design with Ms. Kim for something else and effectively disappeared. Earlier, a young waiter for Sunnee who likes to be called "Jules" (Shin Seok-ho) has told Jeongsu what a tough customer Ms. Kim is, and Ms. Kim's sporadic appearances and lack of cooperation over leaks, etc. show she's indeed far from the landlady you'd want or the kind of person you'd trust.

    Later still there is a conversation between Byungsoo and Jiyoung (Cho Yunhee), an estate agent who may be a new relationship for him or possibly Jeunsu's mother. By this scene, time sequences have become disorienting. In this sequence Jiyoung provides Byungsoo with supportive, affectionate care and gemütlichkeit: she grills meat for him and serves him soju, feeds him expensive wild ginseng with honey, and buys him special expensive cigarettes. He is unwell now, but never till this been so well cared for.

    Jonathan Romney, in his Screen Daily review, notes how the black and white camerawork, which like the writing, directing, and editing, is all done by Hong himself, takes moments to linger on the all white walls, stairwell, and an interestingly shaped kitchen curved like something by Frank Lloyd Wright, and suggests that this intimacy with interiors makes this Hong film the one most closely linked yet with the work of the Japanese master Yasujirō Ozu. (Mayabe he's just showing off what is clearly an architecturally interesting building.) Romney names the theme of Walk Up as that of a director trying "to find a place to truly belong," which does indeed make sense of this film's shifting sequences.

    It remains to refer to the enthusiastic Variety review by Jessica Kiang, one of the best writers covering festivals these days. Kiang, whose review is highly recommended as an adjunct to watching this film if you like reading reviews, suggests that Walk Up satisfies the urges of those of us who walk around streets at dusk and long to enter into the living rooms that glow in front of us as lights go on inside: we are peeking into people's living rooms. It is Kiang who particularly emphasizes and details what a "villain" Ms. Kim is. She is not bothered by the fact that when the film's over we're not sure how much of it's really "true" and how much is "just Hong, through Byungsoo, trying on different lives for size." After all one should grant that there is and perhaps has always been and element of the inexplicable and contradictory in Hong's films. It's in the improvisatory and rapid way he works. And while he thrives chiefly in the festival world and not that of (dwindling) commercial cinemas, he remains a unique and fascinating filmmaker to watch.

    Walk Up 97 mins., debuted Sept. 15, 2022 at Toronto; NYFF Oct. 2; opened in Korean cinemas Nov. 3, 2022. US release Mar. 24, 2023. Starts at the Roxie, San Francisco, Fri., May 5, 2023. Metacritic rating: 86%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-27-2023 at 07:25 PM.

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