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Thread: New York Film Festival 2023

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    New York Film Festival 2023



    61st New York Film Festival 2023

    GENERAL FILM FORUM THREAD


    Links to the reviews:

    Opening Night - May December (Todd Haynes 2023)
    Centerpiece - Priscilla (Sofia Coppola 2023)
    Closing Night - Ferrari (Michael Mann 2023)
    About Dry Grasses (Nuri Bilge Ceylan 2023)
    All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson 2023)
    All of Us Strangers (Andrew Haigh 2023)
    Anatomy of a Fall Anatomie d'une chute (Justine Triet 2023)
    The Beast/La Bête (Bertrand Bonello 2023)
    The Boy and the Heron (Hayao Miyazaki 2023)
    La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher)
    Close Your Eyes/Cerrar los ojos (Víctor Erice 2023)
    The Delinquents (Rodrigo Moreno)
    Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Radu Jude 2023)
    Eureka (Lisandro Alonso 2023)
    Evil Does Not Exist 悪は存在しない (Ryûsuke Hamaguchi 2023)
    Fallen Leaves/Kuolleet Lendet (Aki Kaurismäki 2023))
    Green Border (Agnieszka Holland)
    Here (Bas Devos 2023)
    Hit man (Richard Linklater 2023)
    In Our Day (Hong Sangsoo 2023)
    In Water 물안에서 (Hong Sangsoo 2023)
    Janet Planet (Annie Baker 2023)
    Kidnapped/Rapito (Marco Bellocchio 2023)
    Last Summer (Catherine Breillat 2023)
    Maestro (Bradley Cooper 2023)
    Menus Plaisirs-Les Troigros (Frederick Wiseman 2023)
    Music (Angela Schanelec 2023)
    Orlando, My Political Biography (Paul B. Preciado)
    Perfect Days (Wim Wenders 2023)
    Pictures of Ghosts (Kleber Mendonça Filho 2023)
    The Pigeon Tunnel (Errol Morris 2023)
    Poor Things (Yorgos Lanthimos 2023)
    La Práctica (Martín Rejtman 2023)
    Prince, A (Pierre Creton 2023)
    The Settlers Los colonos (Felipe Gálvez 2023)
    The Shadowless Tower 白塔之光 (Zhang Lu 2023)
    Strange Way of LIfe/Estraña forma de vida (Pedro Almodóvar 2023)
    Taste of Things, The/La passion de Dodin Bouffant (Trân Anh Hùng 2023)
    Youth (Spring) 青春 (Wang Bing 2023)
    The Zone of Interest (Jonathan Glazer 2023)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-23-2023 at 08:01 PM.

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    MENUS PLAISIRS-LES TROIGROOS (Frederick Wiseman)

    FREDERICK WISEMAN: MENUS PLASIRS-LES TROIGROS (2023)


    CHEESE RIPENING PLANT SHOWN IN MENUS PLASIRS-LES TROIGROS

    A great French restaurant gets the Wiseman treatment

    The meticulous observational documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman has lived in France lately, and since the nineties made films in France - where it turns out he developed a connection living for two years when quite young, after military service. Is he, in his early nineties, going to defect, like Eugène Green? The most memorable Americans who appear in this four-hour film about the legendary three-star Michelin restaurant Maison Troigros in Roanne, near Lyon, are an absurdly pretentious group of youngish men holding forth about wine with adjectives the French don't use.

    But there is no rancor here, and this is a quietly admiring portrait of a social institution one can't but admire: in French there is a saying, "À bien manger, le sage met sa gloire." Roughly, it means, For the wise man, eating well is a big deal." Eating chez Troigros, or any restaurant like that, which will set you back in the vicinity of four hundred dollars per person per meal, not counting wine or the fee for a room at the posh adjoining inn, is a very big deal. But eating is also one of the most fundamental human pleasures. At best, eating at such a place is a wonderful experience, worth the time, attention, and financial outlay. The presence of many return customers is evidence of this. But it is also a great luxury, an outrageous self-indulgence. Such restaurants are very costly and labor-intensive to run; the bill is not actually a ripoff. I at least however, toward the end of the four hours, began to long for a hot dog, in a crisp roll, with a dash of mustard, and a Coke. You may remember that the way high-end dining can tilt toward the absurd, even the nightmarish, was exploited in Mark Mylood's recent feature The Menu.

    This is, naturally, being from Wiseman, an intensive account of its subject, to the point at times even of being a bit repetitive. "Menus Plaisirs" means "small pleasures" but also was the rather ironic name for a department of service to the French king in the ancien régime, besides punning on "menu" (not the French word for that, which is "carte.") This reminds one of an earlier documentary about a similarly elite and fanatical and impressive French Michelin starred restaurant, Paul Lacoste's 2011 Entre les Bras, also a punning title, since it refers to passing on control of the establishment but also to the name of the family, Bras. (The English title achieved a pun too with Step Up to the Plate.)

    Lacoste's film is austere, but more focused. It defines the plant-based focus of the dishes, focused on fresh herbs and edible flowers, and also delves in depth into the personalities of the father and son chefs and carefully details the difficult process of passing on responsibility for running the Bras restaurant - almost like pulling teeth. There is a hint of that, but only a hint, when Michel Troigros, the father and current scion of the restaurant here, tells a customer, a retired vigneron who has completely turned over independent control of his winery to his sons, that he doesn't find it so easy to do that, even though one son is officially in charge of the kitchen.

    Like Lacoste's film, this one begins with buying fresh food in the local market. It is a truism that the quality of what goes on the plate of a restaurant begins with the local, seasonal freshness of ingredients. The film then focuses on many aspects of the restaurant. A lot of time is spent on such things as briefing servers on the day's menu; the importance of draining the blood from brains before cooking; creating new dishes and debating their combination of ingredients and sauces; the somelier's discussion of new wine stock, presold bottles for up to 15,000 euros, very high prices of even recent vintages for prestigious labels; coaching staff to treat other employees more fairly and equally and avoid teasing and using mocking names; the open design of the kitchen (a very interesting aspect), which Michel says means César, his son, can therefore control activity without shouting, because everyone is in sight.

    An engrossing side issue is the suppliers. There are informational meetings with several livestock farmers who explain their natural and earth-preserving methods, free of fertilizer and pesticides. For me the most surprising digression is a visit to a cheese-ripening center. Who knew that many of the famous (and not so known) cheeses of France, soft and hard, large and small, offered on a big cart to diners, are skillfully ripened not at home where produced, but in this hand work factory where they are washed, scraped, chilled, and moved about to the exact point when they need to be sold.

    The cheese ripening plant is an enlightenment, but departs from Wiseman's "fly on the wall" style, since we are simply following around a man providing a tour of the place. Wiseman's own editing of the sometimes jumpy camerawork of James Bishop, which gives a vérité effect, leads us from one sequence to the next, hypnotically. This is a talky film, relying very much on explanatory scenes. And yet its best moments are wordless. We are inspired and informed by the sight of the deft, graceful manipulation of tools, the flipping of meat in pans, the folding and smoothing out of sauces, the wordless tap on pieces of meat to assess their consistency. This is where we see how much all this is done carefully by hand, and where cooking enthusiasts and pros may learn things even Escoffier and Larousse Gastronomique, may not cover.

    Something that seems new (or risen to a new extreme) is more elaborate catering to whims and needs of diners, whose allergies, intolerances, and preferences are gone into in tireless detail. Hours before the meal, the servers are briefed oh customers, which tables they will be at and which servers will be assigned to them, and all those special needs. This may seem an odd development in a world where the chefs are famous and thought to call the shots. The Triogros family were influential in the development of the "nouvelle cuisine" movement starting in the sixties which revolutionized French cooking style. Now however it seems they must rearrange deserts because someone doesn't like cream, and these special requirements seem to be very numerous indeed. One customer, more down to earth, declares the only thing he's allergic to is the bill.

    Something old fashioned that emerges is how male-dominated this whole scene is. Women are there, but very under-represented in key kitchen positions. Mostly they are seen serving at table or making up rooms of the inn (which Michel's daughter, however, runs). Conversations between Michel and customers are man-to-man; any women customers are observers, or just put in a word here and there as the men do the talking. But they talk politely. We see a strong hand, but no tyranny, abuse of underlings or substance, no tirades. Everyone is dedicatedly at work. Professionalism reigns, which is impressive, and suits Wildman's focus on social organisms. But only Michel Troisgros gets enough attention to seem colorful, eating too much of a new dish while repeating the same thing over and over, striving to explain his ideas to American customers and finding his English falls short of the task.

    That key fact about Troigros and nouvelle cuisine you will find if you look up the restaurant elsewhere. You will not get it from Wiseman's film. He relies rather heavily here on people explaining things - the farmers describing their methods, the tour guide in the cheese ripening plant, Michel Troigros talking about himself and his sons to customers. It's through the latter that we learn the main current restaurant, known as Le Bois sans feuilles (The Wood Without Leaves), dates only from six years ago, and is in the country, replacing the old one in town - a big shift in style, look, and experience. The look of the new place, more casual than formerly, without white linen, with big windows opening up to landscape and grazing animals, resembles that of the Bras family, and may show its influence.

    Watching this film after Paul Lacoste's one can see that Troigros is more "conventional" in serving up lots of meat and fish of many varieties. We learn it departs from old style French cooking in such things as Japanese influence (pioneers in that, Michel Troigros says), use of hot spices and passion fruit. But what distinguishes the Troigros style doesn't emerge. This is a film that has a lot to give us, but still leaves us hungry - as fancy restaurants themselves do.

    Menus Plaisirs-Les Troigros, 240 mins., debuted at Venice Sept. 3, 2023, also shown at Toronto, followed by New York. It was screened for this review as part of the NYFF, where it had its US premiere Oct. 7 and 9, with Q&As with Frederick Wiseman. US theatrical release Nov. 22, earlier screenings at Film Forum, Nov. 7, with Wiseman Q&A; Nov. 14. Metacritic rating: 88%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2023 at 01:10 PM.

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    ALL OF US STRANGERS (Andrew Haigh)

    ANDREW HAIGH: ALL OF US STRANGERS (2023)


    ANDREW SCOTT AND PAUL MESCAL IN ALL OF US STRANGERS

    A powerful gay ghost story from Haigh

    All of Us Strangers, a propulsive and intense film about loneliness, loss, and love, was adapted by Haigh from the Japanese novel Strangers by Taichi Yamada, translated into English by Wayne Lammers (already filmed in Japanese), "possibly tilting away," Bradshaw wrote at Telluride, from the the original’s "tone of disturbing possibilities towards a melancholy sweetness." (Also translating from straight to gay.) Well, you can take this picture of a middle-aged gay screenwriter in London, played with his usual relaxed intensity by the Irish born Andrew Scott (of "Fleabag" and "The Pursuit of Love") either way - as sad and disturbing, a nervous breakdown, or simply as a man coming to terms with both the saddest and the most hopeful thinking and feeling of his highly imaginative and emotionally vulnerable self.

    There is a certain amount of return by Haigh to the wonderful sense of gay connectedness he achieved in his first film, Weekend, to which this has been called "a companion piece." Bradshaw calls this a "mysterious, beautiful and sentimental film." Or it is an overweening episode of "Black Mirror." Though I was thrilled by Haigh's fluency, I could not fully relate with the film's in-your-face intensity and was following one step behind. But I had a feeling it would come to get me later. The young New York audience at a press screening watched raptly, but seemed withdrawn at the end - and the ending is a bit much to take. Haigh remains a powerhouse filmmaker. And once again he has brought wonderful performances out of a quartet of the best actors in the business.

    In The new feature Adam (Scott), a screenwriter, lives in a new building that's not occupied. An intense, handsome younger man, Harry (Paul Mescal), approaches him when he is drifting, uneasily at work on a screenplay based on his life with his lost parents, who died in a car accident when he was twelve. Harry comes to the door with a bottle, already plastered but inviting fun. He anticipates that Adam is "queer" - the different word denotes younger years, but Adam cautiously but politely declines the offer and closes the door.

    What happens after that I'm not certain; and finding out should be left to the viewer anyway. Adam goes to his old home in the country outside London (Dorking) and meets - his parents, Dad Jamie Bell and Mum Claire Foy. The most arresting sequence is the one in which he carefully informs her that he's gay. she does not take it well; later, his dad is much more understanding, and later declares Harry, with whom now Adam has a relationship, to be "a handsome fella." Whatever elseis going on here Haigh eventually works through the experience of being gay and dealing with AIDS and post-AIDS attitudes as a young gay man; going over Harry's own approach to coming out,

    Haigh goes over the ways the experience is, and is not, different now. We can also say as PEter Debruge does that All of Us Strangers "is therapy for the audience," or "at least that specific segment of us" who "desperately need" our fathers to apologize for not coming into our room when we were crying. This is also mainstream gay emotional therapy for a younger generation than the ideal one for Brokeback Mountain (mine). As a gay writer, Haigh writes for the LGBTQ person who knows that "everything is different now," yet is also aware that in some ways, in some places, it is not different. To say this is a "ghost story" (a very likely kind of tale to come from Japan) is to say this is a movie about dealing with people and emotions that have changed or gone and yet are still present in our hearts and minds.

    Despite the "Black Mirror" comparison, which is there, Andrew Haigh works like nobody else. He paints with a broad brush, and has ways of using events with utmost simplicity to deliver visceral, intense cinematic experience. Not only the Guardian's Bradshaw but Variety, The the Hollywood Reporter, Screen Daily, and the Los Angeles Times'Justin Chang have delivered absolute raves. Awards consideration, especially on the UK side, is assured.

    All of Us Strangers, 105 mins., debuted at Telluride Aug. 31, 2023. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center, where it showed Oct. 1 abd 2; it will also scheduled for London BFI and Chicago. Theatrical release scheduled for Dec. 22 in the US and Jan. 26, 2024 in the UK. Metacritic rating: 98%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 11-01-2023 at 10:43 AM.

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    ANATOMY OF A FALL/ANATOMIE D'UNE CHUTE (Justine Triet 2023)

    JUSTINE TRIET: ANATOMY OF A FALL/ANATOMIE D'UNE CHUTE (2023


    SANDRA HÜLLER IN ANATOMY OF A FALL

    A woman is tried on suspicion of her husband's murder, and their blind son faces a moral dilemma as the sole witness. (Cannes: Palme d'Or, 2023.)

    You will see no more warmly engaging and beautifully well made new film this year than Justine Triet's Anatomy of a Fall. Nothing radically new here. In fact Park Chan-wook's Decision to Leave from last year starts with the same ingredients: a man falls to his death in the mountains and his wife is suspected of pushing him. Only there the point was the police detective falls in love with the woman suspect. Here, the focus is on the woman, notably played by the great Sandra Hüller, who's also featured in another of the year's best films, the German-language The Zone of Influence. And it's a courtroom drama in which the couple's young vision-impaired son Daniel (the stunningly good Milo Machado Graner) winds up playing a key role in the trial.

    The cast also includes the under appreciated Swann Arlaud as Maître Vincent Renzi, the chief defense attorney for Sandra Voyter (Hüller), also a friend, and somethihg more.

    "Something more" applies to this whole movie. Even the family dog, Snoop (Messi) - an engaging, funny name - a guide for the son, winds up playing a far greater role than you'd expect, though that role manages to feel perfectly natural. Nothing seems contrived here - not at the moment, anyway: courtroom dramas are inherently stylized films, because they are dramas. The thing is to play that drama well, and this Anatomy of a Fall achieves.

    This latest accomplishment makes French director Justine Triet a major player. Her evolution over a decade has been remarkable. She showed ambition and prowess in her debut with The Age of Panic in 2013, which combined relationship drama with complex street action. Her hilarious 2016 comedy In Bed with Victoria was a triumph for her and for her stars Virginie Efira and Vincent Lacoste - though the anglophone critics didn't think so, and equally panned Triet's Sibyl , featuring Efira, on which I agreed. Anatomy of a Fall has even more intensity and complexity than these comedies and much more seriousness, without losing the earlier warmth and an undercurrent of humor that flavors the courtroom histrionics. This time while digging into the deepest emotional pain anyone can feel, the loss of a parent and a spouse, with a mother and her son's lives and futures uncertain, this winds up in a strange way being a kind of feel-good movie.

    Literally "feel-good" because focused on the senses of seeing and hearing. One of the outstanding features seems to be the in-your-face intensity of its sound. The action begins at a mountain chalet in the Frenc hAlps, where Sandra, a successful writer, a is having a jokey chat with a younger woman who's come to interview her. Music gets played so loud that after a struggle Sandra calls off the interview, even though they were enjoying a drink and having fun. It was more than an interview. That is why her musician husband, in his studio on the attic floor, has jealously turned up the volume.

    We find out early that Daniel can't see. His optic nerve was damaged beyond repair in an accident with his father at age eight. This is true even though he runs around freely with Snoop as his guide on the snow-covered slopes and paths surrounding the chalet. Then he discovers his father's fallen, bloody body and cries for help.

    But we learn more about this sequence later, of course, in the over-and-overing of events that follows when a death leads to an investigation and the trial of Sandra Voyter for the murder of her husband. It's suspected that she may have struck him and pushed him out the window.

    Language plays a distinctive role here. Sandra is German; her husband was French. They spoke English, and Daniel learned both. Early on, as Sandra and Maître Vincent Renzi walk around the chalet and he questions her about events leading up to her husband's death, she says she has to speak English because her French isn't good enough to convey the complexity of what she's trying to say. In the courtroom the trial is conducted in French but testimony flips back and forth between French and English when Sandra speaks. This helps give us a sense of how unstable the situation is for her, not to mention for Daniel.

    Speaking of sound, a major moment late in the trial is the playing of a recording the dead man made of a big fight between him and Sandra the day before his death. It's very loud, and played with the text of it shown on a screen above. Daniel, who had a habit of leaving when his parents argued, has heard none of it. It's disturbing, and he hears it all, because he has insisted on being present in the courtroom for it. It's as if we hear it with the hyper-sensitive auditory sense the boy's early blindness has developed in him. Retrospectively we hear that extra-loud music in the opening sequence that way too, causing us to feel the traumatic events sympathetically. Sympathy is part of Anatomy's sense of warmth. The film keeps us on our toes.

    The essence of the courtroom of course is the theatricality of the proceedings, with a flamboyant, shaven-headed attorney for the prosecution in flowing red robes (Antoine Reinartz} who is a real piece of work, and brings in several experts to present information that is damning, at least when bolstered by their theories. We are discovering about the dead man, Samuel Maleski (Samuel Theis), who turns out to be a work in progress, a musician who wants to write a novel but is blocked, and saddled with a restoration of the chalet he took on himself but can't complete. The boy is discovering things about his father he didn't know. Some of this may feel contrived, at least in retrospect, as if the screenplay is making up the dead man and the prosecution case as it goes along. But the spirit of discovery keeps the action alive and riveting from first to last.

    This is where young, floppy-haired Daniel comes in to play a decisive role - aided by Snoop (though Snoop doesn't get to testify, not in person anyway). Daniel is, after all, the primary witness, his blindness only intensifying the sense we always have that everything is uncertain in any trial, particularly the most crucial and life-threatening ones. Daniel doesn't really khow what happened to his father, but he has to do some serious thinking about whether his mother could be guilty: this is why some viewers consider this very emotional film to be a think piece. But it's much more about feelings, words, and performances throughout.

    This is a richly entertaining film. Like all courtroom dramas it's very like a sports movie. All events lead up to the big final "game," i.e., testimony - here, by Daniel - where the team wins or loses. But Triet and her cowriter and regular collaborator Arthur Harari burst the chains of this convention by carrying the action beyond the trial. The real finale comes when Sandra sees Daniel again back at home. The point wasn't after all winning or losing, but delving deep into these lives. What a nice contrast this is to the absorbing but frustrating recent French courtroom drama, Mati Diop's Saint Omer. Triet never forgets the audience's need to be entertained that Diop chooses to ignore.

    Anatomy of a Fall is one of the year's best films, and Sandra Hüller likewise is guaranteed attention at awards time.

    Anatomy of a Fall/Anatomie d'une chute, 150 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes wher it won the Palme d'Or and the Queer Palm, as well as the Dog Palm for Messi as Snoop. It has shown in many international festivals through the rest of 2023. It was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival where it shows Oct. 7. It will be released in the US by Neon Oct. 13. Metacritic rating: 88%. Released Aug. 23 in France, the film received an AlloCiné critics rating of 4.4 (also 88%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-11-2023 at 05:15 PM.

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    STRANGE WAY OF LIFE /EXTRAÑA FORMA DE VIDA Pedro Almodóvar (2023)

    PEDRO ALMODÓVAR: STRANGE WAY OF LIFE/EXTRAÑA FORMA DE VIDA (2023)


    ETHAN HAWKE, PEDRO PASCAL IN STRANGE WAY OF LIFE

    Almodóvar's polished short gay English-language "Western" is too talky and fails to ignite

    This is a short film "Western" in English by Pedro Almodóvar with a gay theme. One of the stars is Ethan Hawke. It premiered at Cannes. Perhaps the best (and most generous) criticism of of this unsatisfying work is to say as Michael O'Sullivan does in his Washington Post review that it's "both too good and not long enough." The film is made up of a present day moment many years later between the two men who in youth had a brief fling, plus a lengthy flashback to that earlier moment. More specifically in his analysis O'Sullivan points out that too much time is lost in expository dialogue.

    "There is so much exposition of past and present," writes O'Sullivan, "that Jake (Ethan Hawke) and Silva’s (Pedro Pascal) love story "gets crowded out by conversation that’s only meant to bring us, and not the main characters, up to speed."

    The actors (including and José Condessa and Jason Fernández as the young Silva and Jake) do well and look good and the cinematography is polished, however. It's just the writing (and the whole structural conception) that doesn't take off, and it's over before it really gets started. As has been known to happen, a great director has scored a misfire when he swithed to another language.

    Strange Way of LIfe/Extraña forma de vida, 31 mins., debuted at Cannes May 17, 2023, opening in various European and Spanish speaking countries. Its US debut was Sept. 30, 2023 at the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review (Q&A with Pedro Almodóvar on Sept. 30), and it opened in limited release in the US Oct. 6;
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-12-2023 at 01:49 PM.

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    THE ZONE OF INTEREST (Jonathan Glazer 2023)

    JONATHAN GLAZER: THE ZONE OF INTEREST (2023)



    The surreal made real

    This is about the cozy family of the man who runs Hitler's worst extermination camp, at Auschwitz, in Poland. With Sandra Hüller, whose other starring role at Cannes this year was in Justine Triet's Anatomy of a Fall, winner of the Palme d'Or, making her, Sandra, at 45, this year a European cinematic "it" girl. Zone of Interest was adapted, very freely, from the eponymous novel of Martin Amis, who sadly died on May 19, the very day of its premiere in competition at Cannes, where it won the Grand Jury Award and FIPRESCI Prize. An excellent review is the one by Robbie Collin for The Telegraph.
    As the family eats dinner together, the rumble of industrialised murder can be heard faintly in the background, sometimes punctuated by a pistol crack. Later, as Rudolph contentedly smokes a cigar in the garden, the glow of its tip mimics the flames which claw at the night sky from the crematorium smoke stack behind.
    That is good; but it's difficult to describe Zone of Interest in a review because Glazer's film has its own unique skin-crawling oddity and spot-on specificity -- a combination hard to convey.

    The premise, almost but not quite a violation of the rule against directly representing the Holocaust, is to focus primarily on the household of Rudolf Höss, the commandant of the Auschwitz camp. Sometimes the best way to show the un-showable is to approach it crabwise, shine the light on what's next to it, which is just what is done here. English director Jonathan Glazer (in his first film since the admired but off-putting sci-fi film Under the Skin in 2013) conveys the death camp from the commandant's house - and gardens, and greenhouse, and stable; it's a luxurious spread - though thrown up only three or four years ago, right on the other side of the 12-foot barbed-wire-topped wall surrounding the camp. We see the tops of buildings, but mostly we see nothing, we hear.

    The film begins even further away. First there is the long din of an ominous droning score behind a faintly glowing blank screen, then a scene of the family bathing at a wooded river nearby. There are attendants, the wife Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller) and Rudolf (Christian Friedel), and five children: when they return home down the sylvan road, it's in two shiny little black forties cars.

    At the swim, the roar of the death camp seems inaudible, but this is a beginning of the film' spot-on conveyance of period in clothes and mannerisms, even the unathletic German forties body of Höss himself, and his hitched-up black swim briefs, his white skin. The house is luxurious, if seen through the ample grounds, the well-tended garden, and the staff; but it's also rinky-dink, no ancestral mansion. Everything looks chintzy seen from the viewpoint of 21st-century manufacturing amplitude, and we realize Nazi officers probably wore uniforms of not-so-good cloth.

    The space next to the unspeakable place is made more contained and intense in Glazer's film through having every room in the house as Robbin Collin describes it "rigged with multiple static cameras which coolly survey the family’s daily routine." Their black dog rambles around among them. Their behavior too seems quite random at times, making the rectilinear spaces the more dominant. The clothes, the bedding and the uncomfortable looking beds, the generous German-made "oriental" rugs, the boys' room and their toy soldiers and toy "Heil Hitlers," the garden bare and empty out of season - everything conspires to strengthen our sense of this place, and by that indirection the ominousness of the other space right on the other side of the wall.

    By not talking about the elephant the elephant is made present for us as something that could only exist because so many pretended it didn't. By depicting an "ordinary" family next door, it has shown how surreal, impossible, and inhuman Auschwitz was.

    Our sense of the sleazy and impoverished grows when Hedwig's mother comes for a visit, her first time. She extravagantly admires the big room she's to sleep in, and the flowers in the vase, the garden outside. "You've really landed on your feet," she tells her daughter. We learn she used to clean the house of a rich Jewish woman: she wonders if the latter is now on the other side of the wall, and wishes they had gotten hold of the lady's lovely curtains. Hedwig jokes about how friends misunderstood when she told them her nice new fur coat came from "Canada." "Canada" was the name for the warehouse where Jewish seized possessions were stored. Hedwig and her mother are up from poverty. They are lowly thieves or would-be thieves enjoying the fine possessions whose owners, their betters, are being exterminated.

    Hedwig's mother disappears, leaving a note, tossed by Hedwig into the stove without explanation. One gathers she may have turned out to be more sensitive to the crackling gunshots and roaring crematoriums than her daughter; realized she "landed on her feet" at too great a cost.

    Through its precise period detail the whole aim of this movie up to a point is simply to convey the queasy, sick-making Gemütlichkeit of this house next to Auschwitz with maximum surreal intensity. But the bureaucratic focus of Martin Amis' source book comes through too, starting with a phone call in which Höss learns he's to be transferred.

    When she first gets word of this a week later, Helga freaks out, running after him to insist he go right to Hitler to request he keep the house for the family even if himself working elsewhere. This security, the comfort for the children, this stolen fur coat, mean more to her than her husband's status - and when Rudolf says a farewell to his horse, it's clear the latter means more to him than his wife - or than his long-haired mistress, doubtless an attractive female prisoner.

    More of the bureaucratization of evil comes when some time later we see a huge meeting - the number of camps and their commandants now staggering, and seen from above around a huge table - where it turns out Höss has actually been promoted and will return to Auschwitz to run a greatly enlarged "Hungarian" operation. It is such good news he excitedly calls his wife to tell her of it. But as he climbs down the stairs to leave the government building, he repeatedly retches. Either he is dying or the enormity of what he's involved in has finally gotten a grip on his body. There have been other stunning pauses of ominious sound and a blank screen, and a glimpse of attendants cleaning the displays for the present-day Auschwitz museum, with its shoes piled high. The crabwise echo of enormity will haunt us in a new way after Zone of Influence . An original and thought-provoking stunner full of controlled passion and great mastery of detail. One of the year's best films.

    Zone of Influence, 105 mins., debuted at Cannes May 19, 2023 winning the Grand Jury award and FIPRESCI Prize; also Telluride, Toronto, Deauville, Zurich, Mill Valley. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival, Sept. 29-Oct. 15, 2023. Showing in the NYFF Oct. 8 and 9; Q&As with the director and stars. Other festivals. Coming in limited US release Dec. 8, 2023. Metacritic rating: 95%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-26-2023 at 11:00 PM.

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    THE BEAST/LA BÊTE (Bertrand Bonello 2023)

    BERTRAND BONELLO: THE BEAST/LA BÊTE (2023)


    LÉA SEYDOUX AND GEORGE MCKAY IN LA BÊTE

    A man (George McKay) and woman (Léa Seydoux) meet across three eras of time and three moods.

    Mise-en-scène is class through all eras, the 2044 one, the 2014 one, and the 1910 Paris flood one. The turn of the century dress-up for McKay an Seydoux is a delight to the eye. There is a disaster in a 1910 doll factory that is quite dazzling - both spectacular and elegant and not like anything one has quite seen before. It is the mixture of eras and storylines (all, frankly, rather fragmentary; perhaps fortunately) that lead to a sense of slicing-and-dicing that ultimately is wearying, at least in the setting of a long day of press screenings. This will be a must-see and one to linger over cultishly for Bonello fans (of whom I am one), but may not win a lot of new converts.

    Bonello achieves elegance wherever he ventures. All the scenes where Seydoux and McKay are in 1910 dress and have polite, tentative, Last Year at Marienbad exchanges, which dominate the early part of the film, when things haven't become too complicated, are at least eye candy, at best haunting, and, incidentally, would more obviously relate to Henry James, the author of the film's freely riffed-off book.

    That theme presents a "beast" as a menacing future that haunts the protagonist, Gabrielle; and in their sci-fi dance toward and away from each other through time Louis (McKay) also is inhibited, desirous and yet holding himself back.

    Apparently in 2044 post-apocalyptic Paris - the setting and era that's hardest to follow, Gabrielle (Seydoux) consents to surgery to remove her feelings - and make her more like a robot - and while she's under for this, has flashbacks (that we see) to other lives and experiences.

    Because I'm all-in for McKay, the place where I most differ with Jordan Mintzer's critical assessment in his Hollywood Reporter review is in finding McKay's new identity in the last quarter of the film as Louis-something in LA the most "overblown" aspect of all. It creates a quiet menace that's much needed by this last segment of the film, and the depiction of an incel man, whlle blatant, is carried off by McKay with a spot-on impersonation of a messed-up young American. The contrast between McKay's 1910 Paris identity and this one is shocking and thought-provoking. It seems to be what the film is "about," along with Babrielly-Seydoux's identity fluidity-uncertainty. McKay is just right in giving off an air of repressed, intense sexuality. He has a strange, ageless face. He also can look like a boy, which plays well in his scenes as the incel, Louis. The film is built around McKay, and Seydoux's variablity as an actress. She blends seamlessly in each of the three eras.

    At the same time I do agree with Mintzer that in depicting a weirdly warped America Bonello doesn't have the knack David Lynch had. Though structurally Bonello is doing something different from Lynch, presumably, one still at moments feels that this is Lynchan territory with not quite the edge.

    Still, what a gorgeous, classy piece of weird, disturbing eye-candy. I want to watch it again when I can, to understand it better and wallow in its memorable images. As Minter says, "Bonello doesn’t want us to simply watch The Beast, but to pay attention to it." It's a film that calls for rewatching and rethinking, and it will be better seen without the annoying loud giddy laughter of some audience members at the press screening.

    Léa's costar was to have been Gaspard Ulliel, but he died following a ski accident in January 2022.

    The Beast/La Bête, 146 mins., debuted at Venice, also showing at Toronto and at the NYFF, as part of which it was screened for this review Sept. 25, 2023. Showing Oct. 8 and 9 at the NYFF, with Bonello for a Q&A. Also to show at London BFI. French theatrical release Feb. 28, 2024. Metacritic rating: ̶8̶3̶%̶.̶ 80%.. AlloCiné press rating 3.7 (73%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-20-2024 at 10:50 PM.

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    ABOUT DRY GFASSES (Nuri Bilge Ceylan 2023)

    NURI BILGE CEYLAN: ABOUT DRY GRASSES (2023)


    DENIZ CELILOGLU IN ABOUT DRY GRASSES

    Teaching in the boonies

    About Dry Grasses is even more rich and exciting than Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan's other films, and probably more accessible. Typically it settles in, and is in no hurry. The location is the middle of nowhere. The snowy landscapes alternate between scenic and off-putting. The opening shot, all white but for a small van in the middle, is striking, but underlines how overwhelming this landscape is. The middle school teacher protagonist, Samet (Deniz Celiloglu), makes no bones about the fact that he hates the place. Now that he's been here four years he can apply for a transfer and he's hoping for Istanbul. As Samet, Celiloglu is almost a blank slate. He can be nice, obnoxious, sweet, aggressive.

    The landscape is off-putting, but the film feels cozy. Interiors are dark and protective-feeling places where people gather continually for ritually prepared and consumed tea and for getting warm, or drunk. Samet is often with his colleague, Kenan (Musab Ekici), who's a bit younger. They start going together to a hill where they get spring water, and during the slow fill-up of their big plastic bottles, have chats.

    Samet is a little too cozy and affectionate with his girl students, particularly a tall one with specially thick long brown hair called Sevim (Ece Bagci). He gives her a cosmetic box. He puts his hand on her waist, her arm. He calls her "dear." There is no doubt that this is seriously inappropriate and, in today's world, pretty stupid. And yet it seems harmless, something that goes no further than affection. Except, of course, apart from the fact that particularly in the post-#MeToo world it's dangerous, even actionable behavior, here in the boonies where #MeToo may not have penetrated (but maybe it has: there is cellphone reception, surprisingly), it's wrong because of the effect it will have on Sevim. It will encourage her to develop a crush on her teacher and feel that her crush is returned.

    Which evidently happens. But we are not to think the film is all about this. And it gets complicated because it's Samet's (seemingly pointless) refusal to return a mash note seized when the school does a shakedown on both boys and girls, a mash note whose addressee is unknown, but probably him, that apparently angers Sevim and leads her to get her teacher in trouble.

    But that's complicated too because Kenin gets hauled in before authorities along with Samet for inappropriate behavior, and seems to be more guilty of it than Samet, something Samet had no idea of.

    And before we start to think Samet is a pedophile or Humbert Humbert type, Nuray (Merve Dizdar) emerges - a teacher at another, perhaps better, school who becomes a temporary lover for Samet. Nuray is as fully realized a character in this film whose milieu and people are already very believable. She is the survivor of a terrorist attack which has caused her to lose part of one leg, a fact that is provided in calm detail, even to how the prosthetic limb works and is fitted on. It seems likely Merve Dizdar is disfigured this way in real life, which would make her character especially memorable; in any case she received the Best Actress award at Cannes for her lively, intense performance. Nuray and Samet have a long argument about politics that is the film's most strident moment. One can't help thinking about the two actors memorizing all of this material, which shows this is one place where the intimacy and authenticity flag a bit. Testy intellectual debates like this are a feature of Ceylan films; this one has the virtue of having sexual undertones. "This is Ceylan at his most limber and mischievous, the filmmaking exhibiting a generosity and curiosity that belies the script’s defense of individualist, even isolationist, living, at whatever cost to one’s own happiness," wrote Guy Lodge in Variety, seeming to refer to Samet's part in this debate.

    It's hard to convey in a review how rich and beautiful this film is, and it has other facets not yet mentioned, such as the use of still photographic portraits and the classroom scenes, and the scenes of kids playing outside in the snow, which linger in the mind.

    It's essential to note that while the controversy over Samet's behavior and his quarrelsome relationship thereafter with Sevim keep on developing elaborately as the film draws to a close - there is no "conclusion" here. This feels like an unusually detalled slice of life, but it may best be seen as one. Instead of a climax, the schol year ends. This provokes a visit to the little closet-like hideaway Samet uses as an office in lieu of the collective faculty room. Maybe this is Nuri Bilge Ceylan's way of saying that things aren't ever as simple as people nowadays like to try to make them.

    About Dry Grasses/Kuru Otlar Üstüne, 197 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes winning the Beast Actress award. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival where it shows Oct. 9 and 10, 2023. US theatrical release begins Feb. 23, 2024 at Film Forum, NYC. Metacritic rating: 8̶2̶%̶ now 88%.


    ECE BAGCI IN ABOUT DRY GRASSES
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-12-2024 at 11:10 PM.

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    FALLEN LEAVES KUOLLEET LENDET (Aki Kaurismäki 2023)

    AKI KAURISMÄKII: FALLEN LEAVES/KUOLLEET LENDET (2023)


    JUSSI VATANEN AND ALMA POYSTI IN FALLEN LEAVES

    Two lonely people who meet each other by chance in the Helsinki night and try to find the first love of their lives.

    The two people this time are shy, blonde Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and tall, long-faced Holappa (Jussi Vatanen). Both work in factories. Holappa is an alcoholic. The vicissitudes of their tentative, yet somehow determined relationship involve Holappa's reaching a bottom after being fired from a good factory job and then from a not quite so good construction site job and winding up in a halfway house, after which Ansa and Holappa go off, as it were, into the unset. For those familiar with the mechanisms of addiction and recovery, the treatment of this process by Kaurismäki leaves out too much to be of value.

    The fairytale simplicity and dry humor that have made Kaurismäki a cinephile delight since the eighties are there. The bright colored images, the somehow engaging dreariness of the urban locations and the karaoke and loud toe-tapping rock and roll music bring the Finnish night to life. But this is a meal that leaves one feeling rather a little hungry, compared to delights like Shadows in Paradise, Ariel, Leningrad Cowboys Go America, The Match Factory Girl, The Man Without a Past, Lights in the Dusk and the more upbeat recent Le Havre and The Other Side of Hope - mainly because of the superficial way Holappa's alcoholism is dealt with, but also a lack of memorable incident. Owen Gleiberman in Variety calls Fallen Leaves "a nice but exceedingly minor movie" that "leaves little imprint." For Kaurismäki devotees this will have to be watched; newcomers should look elsewhere for an introduction to this unique filmmaker. The rapture at Cannes for this film that baffled Gleiberman must be due, we must agree, for the nostalgia that his very consistent style awakens in fans.

    The couple's first date goes well as can be expected for two lonely, shy people. After a meal and a film, Holappa asks Ansa for her phone number which she jots on a piece of paper. The paper immediately blows away. They don't know where each other lives and haven't even exchanged names, so they go searching for each other. Holappa stands a long time in front of the retro cinema where they saw Jim Jarmusch's The Dead Don't Die, which she had found hilarious. Ansa waits sadly by her telephone.

    Scenes of Holappa show that he is never without a flask and drinks at work and everywhere else, all day long. (Considering this, he seems remarkable free of signs of drinking.) An invitation to dinner chez Ansa is a disaster: it reveals Holappa's heavy drinking to her. She declares that both her father and brother died of alcoholism and she cannot have another drunk in her life. She throws in the kitchen trash the extra table setting she had bought to serve dinner for two.

    Through the film there is the thread of music. The first meeting was at karaoke wwhere Holappa was taken by an older friend with a rich baritone voice and a comically exaggerated sense of his own musical talent and prowess with women. Another thread is Russia's war on the Ukraine. Ansa listens to news of it on an old fashioned looking radio on her kitchen table, then shuts it off. A modern note in Kaurismäki's unchanging world is acknowledgement of the existence of computers with internet. Ansa rents the use of one for ten euros a half hour to look for work after being fired from her grocery store job for giving expired food to a homeless person. (No good deed goes unpunished.)

    But in Kaurismäki the humble working class drones whose fates are depicted with deadpan tenderness hold out some kind of hope, and the simplicity of the style is a reassuring gesture toward better days. Peter Bradshaw noted that he found himself "rooting for the hero and heroine" in Fa hllen Leaves "in an uncomplicated way" that he hadn't "for any other film at Cannes," and that is another way of seeing how festivals still welcome this movie despite it's not being up to his best. But for me the obstacle to my previous admiration for his work is the too-easy solution to Holappa's alcoholism. This time the director has bitten off more than he can swallow without chewing.

    Fallen Leaves/Kuolleet Lendet, 81 mins., debuted at Cannes May 23, 2023. It was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival. Metacritic rating: 7̶9̶%̶ 86% (3/14/2024). In France the AlloCiné press rating is 4.1 (=82%).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-14-2024 at 02:22 PM.

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    THE SHADOWLESS TOWER 白塔之光 (zhang lu 2023)

    ZHANG LU: THE SHADOWLESS TOWER 白塔之光 (2023)


    YAO HUANG, XIN BAIQING IN THE SHADOWLESS TOWER

    Slow developer

    The Shadowless Tower is an ambitious film, striving for a novelistic complexity through a rambling, episodic structure on a limited budget. The writer-director Zhang Lu is Korean-Chinese and grew up in China's Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture, which partly borders on North Korea and Russia. The main character here, however, is thoroughly Chinese in culture and speaks Mandarin but can be amused by Cantonese. Formerly a writer and academic, Zhang Lu was led by film success in the 2000's to become a full-time director. The main action is set in contemporary Beijing, where the ancient "shadowless tower, " a Yuan Dynasty White Pagoda, is a symbol of stability for the protagonist - a middle-aged food critic, divorcee and former poet, Gu Wentong (Xin Baiqing). Preparing an article on a small traditional restaurant, Gu is assisted (evidently not for he first time) by a young woman photographer with the odd name of Ouyang Wenhui (Yao Huang) - a cute gamine type, a little like Faye (Wong) in Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express with an extra fuck-you vibe. She continually challenges and mocks Gu but he likes it.

    Gu may be much older than the girl but he's tall, cuts a good figure, and is a good dancer. His flaw is to be excessively polite, allegedly the cause of his divorce. Ouyang Wenhui is drawn to him and they go on various jaunts.

    More of Gu's food critic work might have been interesting; so, of course would be more depth in exploring this odd couple. But as David Rooney says in his review of this film for The Hollywood Reporter, Zhang's people are cut off, "orphaned, disconnected, separated from the roots that give them an emotional and spiritual mooring." Both Gu and his father, Gu Yunlai (Tian Zhuangzhuang), from whom he has been cut off for decades, live alone in small rooms. Since this is the case, the film can't develop any relationships in much depth; it only plots the belated beginnings of them.

    Gu also has a small daughter whom he sees regularly. He has arranged, with his wife's consent, for the six-year-old to live with his sister and her husband. She is a smart bundle of joy (known as "Smiley") and leaps into his arms, challenging him (like xOuyang Wenhui?) and showing off - in short, a powerful distraction. The opening sequence - it takes thirty-two minutes to get to the opening title - is a visit to his mother's grave with his daughter, sister, and brother-in-law. Yes, Gu is cut off from his family, just not out of touch with them. He is leading up to finally seeing his father, an old man, of course, who likes to fly kites alone on the beach, an amusement he began at thirty with his son, now practiced alone.

    There is a strange scene where Ouyang Wenhui and Gu rub together affectionately standing in a crowded bus, when that is interrupted by a furor over a inappropriate touching of a women by a man who is chased and caught. Ouyang Wenhui and Gu get off and he reveals that his own father was punished for such an act years ago, and in the aftereffect of that, his mother cut off relations with him and he was never seen again. In the aftermath of his mother's death Gu is led to seek out his father after so many years.

    Gu has learned that his father has long lived in Beidaihe, a resort town, but working as an "abacus man" (an accountant), he made it a practice twice a year to ride a bicycle - he eschews public transportation - on the long 300-km. distance from there to Beijing to see his two children. His brother-in-law has stuffed a piece of paper into Gu's hand with his father's phone number on it, and this is when he starts calling it from pay phones, but not speaking.

    This film about disconnectedness contains neat connections. A link-up with the Yuan Dynasty White Pagoda, comes when Gu's new young girlfriend books a room for them in a hotel that adjoins it. She also connects with both him and his father because he effectively lost his dad at age five, the time when his father was banished by his other. She was orphaned and adopted at age five from Beidaihe, and that is where his father has been living. It's a natural for the girl, who still identifies with Beidaihe despite being raised elsewhere, to go to Beidaihe with Gu [I ]fils[/I] for her to revisit her place of origin and for him to reconnect with his father. To describe this makes it sound contrived, but the plot line unfolds in a way that feels offhand, a process of discovery.

    Rooney calls this film a "minor-key drama" and says it's "too muted and elusive to break beyond festivals," but admits that its "melancholy spell" nonetheless "stays with you." It's cunningly but also confusingly constructed; better to watch it twice, or after careful study of a plot summary or press kit. It's interesting, but I can't recommend it to everyone. I will recommend it to any fans of contemporary Chinese film and followers of Asian film festivals. There, Zhang Lu will be a name to watch for.

    The Shadowless Tower 白塔之光, 134 mins., debuted at the Berlinale.; also Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and El Gouna (Egypt). It was screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival where it shows Sept. 30, a North American premiere including an Q&A with Zhang Lu.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-27-2024 at 12:39 PM.

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    IN OUR DAY 우리의 하루 (Hong Sang-soo 2023)

    HONG SANG-SOO: IN OUR DAY 우리의 하루 (2023) (2023)


    PARK MISOO, SONG SUNG-MI AND KIM HIM-HEE IN IN OUR DAY

    Short scenes going back and forth between two situations

    A Cannes review calls this film "less substantial and approachable" than the prolific Korean auteur's The Novelist's Film and Walk Up from last year, and called this one "fragile" and "fragmentary." All honor to those Hongists who in the press and intensity of a film festival can find the leisure and calm to contemplate this collection of short episodes in the light of the œuvre and make sense of it, and turn its minimalism and outright silliness and superficiality into profound meaning and art. This writer has tended to come up a bit short.

    The spisodes are various. In the first, several women admire and feed treats to a cat and talk about acting as a profession. They are Sangwon (Hong muse Kim Min-hee, an actress who has been out of the country and has lost interest in aacting, and her hostess, Jung-soo (Song Sunmi), whose furry cat "Us" she is admiring. The third woman who comes in later is Sangwon's cousin Jisoo (Park Misoo), who has recently made the decision to focus on an acdting career. Much time is spent on the cat, whom Sangwon over-feeds treat pellets.

    In another segment, a grey-bearded poet, Hong Uiji (Ki Joo-bong) talks to a young man, Jaewon (Ha Seong-guk), who has come to interview him while being filmed by a female a arts student, Kijoo (Park Miso)Th. He is having a hard time obeying orders from the doctor due to a heart ailment. He was known for smoking and drinking a lot and now he must give up both alcohol and cigarettes. He and the young interviewer exchange philosophical generalizations.

    These two segments are connected through rhyming moments - climbing into single beds, guitars, and consuming ramyen with added red pepper hot sauce, declared to be a delicacy (while the relative lack of nutritional value of ramyen compared to other foods is noted.

    Jonathan Romney in his Screen Daily review notes that in Hong sometimes the slightest episodes yield up interpretive riches; that he is playing with structure like a minimalist poet; that the title has no clear explanation except that the segments may all take place in a single day, and that the role of poetry - perhaps diminished - "in our time" is under consideration in the scenes with the poet-sage Hong Uiji.

    There are thoughts about life here when the poet and young seeker converse. Also among the actors and would-be actors there arise big questions about art, questions of performance, reality and self-knowledge. These things are deemed to replace an actual plotline, since less is "happening" in the traditional screenplay sense in this film than normally, even for Hong. Nonetheless, devotees will delight in whatever they find here. Skeptics - among whom I count myself at the moment (though I've been all-in for Hong in the past) are more likley to feel this is a sign the Korean auteur ought to cut back on production, and wait till he has more solid material to film. Sometimes a snoert time can seem a long time and sometimes a long time can pass quickly, when it comes to film. For me the reliance on improvisation for material of such slight content led to moments of supreme vapidity.

    In Our Day 우리의 하루, 83 mins., debuted at Cannes Directors Fortnight; also Hamburg, Busan, a Paris premiere, and the New York Film Festival, where it was screened for this review. Walter Reade Theater Oct. 11 & 12, 2023.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-21-2023 at 03:57 PM.

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    IN WATER 물안에서 (Hong Sang-soo 2023)

    HONG SANG-SOO: IN WATER 물안에서 (2023)



    Hong's second film for 2023, 61 mibutes, and intentionally out of focus. A young filmmaker prepares to shoot at an off-season island retreat. Debuted at Berlin.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-24-2023 at 08:52 PM.

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    RADU JUDE: DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD (2023)



    Another tirade from he Rumanian author of the timely and entertaining but scattershot Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021). (Locarno.)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-24-2023 at 08:54 PM.

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    CLOSE YOUR EYES/CERRAR LOS OJOS (Victor Erice 2023)

    VICTOR ERICE: CLOSE YOUR EYES/CERRAR LOS OJOS (2023)


    MANOLO SOLO IN CLOSE YOUR EYES

    Worlds within worlds; a brilliant late interrogation of memory and cinema

    Cerrar los ojos begins with a scene that's deceptive: set in 1947 Paris, it's really a long segment of a film called The Farewell Gaze/La mirada del adiós that was never finished, because its lead actor (Jose Coronado) disappeared. And it's a scene where a big bearded man wearing a turban that's almost a crown - and he refers to "the sad king" and the chess piece of the white king: he's a kind of giant chess piece himself - asks this man to find his lost daughter, who must be 14 now. When the film itself begins it focuses on the search for this lost actor.

    So a film within a film with a search within a search. At the end, twenty years later, the director of the unfinished film (Manolo Solo) goes to find the lost actor. The two men were friends. In their youth, they joined the navy together: there is an old photograph in their uniforms, in their "silly hats." The director appears on a TV show about the "lost actor", and when the show appears, someone calls in who recognizes the actor. He is in an "asilo" where she works. The film ends with the director's moving into the "asilo" and attempting to reawaken his lost actor friend's apparently long paralyzed memory. Amnesia seems to have been the cause of his disappearance; or perhaps he disappeared and then got amnesia, we don't know the order of events.

    The character in the clip who was sent to find someone "disappears," that is, the actor does. And then he is found. Is the last part of the film real? What is clear is that this work by the noted Spanish filmmaker, member of a generation that included Carlos Saura, itself on the verge of disappearing, represents Erice's first feature film in three decades. What has he been doing? Has he been lost? He does have an unfinished film: there are autobiographical elments in this new, completed one.

    Certainly Victor Erice has not lost the gift for resonant cinema he showed in his few earlier notable works - El Sur (1983), The Spirit of the Beehive (1973) and Dream of Light (1992). And in the closing sequence of this film he also focuses on and cherishes cinema. (As pointed out by Jordan Mintzer in his admiring <a href="https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/movies/movie-reviews/close-your-eyes-review-victor-erice-1235498587/">Hollywood Reporter</a> review, Erice's films have always included strong references to "cinema’s powers to captivate and transform," and those are very much present here too.) The early part of the director-investigator's process involves meeting with a librarian of old celluloid film - including the unfinished one. When the actor is found, this custodian is summoned to play the unfinished film in an old cinema near the "asilo." There are a few people in the audience including the lost actor, the director, the TV interviewer, the lost actor's daughter, and others.

    This is a specific story, though it is as symbolic and resonant as, say, a short story by Jorge Luis Borges. The whole film is filled with a meditative, sweetly melancholy quality that is very beautiful. Erice moves at his own studied pace. Arguably the early sequences, when the whole situation is being set up, are slow and unnecessarily lengthy; but there may be riches in the Spanish dialogue that elude this reviewer. There is no doubt that the whole builds to a delicate, thought-provoking conclusion. Sadly, this film may be a little too quiet for theatrical audiences. But it will remain as a treat for fans of Spanish cinema, evidently a final, late-arriving cap on the limited but distinguished career of a director who, at 83, may not have another film, since thirty years from now he won't be around.

    Close Your Eyes/Cerrar los ojos, 169 mins., premiered at Cannes in its Cannes Première section May 22; also shown at Toronto, San Sebastián, Taiwan and BFI London. Screened for this review as part of the New York Film Festival, where it is shown Oct. 4, 2023. Metacritic rating: 86%.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 10-21-2023 at 03:56 PM.

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    KIDNAPPED/RAPITO (Marco Bellocchio 2023)

    MARCO BELLOCCHIO: KIDNAPED/RAPITO (2023)


    PAOLO PIEROBON AND ENEA SALA IN RAPITO

    Bellocchio recounts a true incident when a Jewish child was kidnapped by the Vatican in the 1850's and converted to Christianity. Cannes in competition.

    In 1858, in the Jewish quarter of Bologna, the Pope’s soldiers burst into the home of the Mortara family (who appear to be wealthy; and there are seven children). By order of the cardinal, they have come to take Edgardo, their seven-year-old son. He turns out to be secretly baptized by his nurse as a baby and the papal law is unquestionable: he must receive a Catholic education - except whether the Vatican can seize the boy at this age is dubious.

    Controlled chaos reigns in these early scenes. The Catholic officials coming first to inform Mortara, making it seem like there is danger, but there can be delays. Then the sudden seizure of Edogardo, the innocent boy.

    Edgardo’s parents will do anything to get their son back - but they make one big mistake: they fail to work through the Jewish community of Rome, whose ghetto is the oldest in Europe and one of the largest. This angers the Roman Jews, who in turn anger the Pope.

    This incident is almost too good to be true, and Bellocchio makes a spectacular, operatic explosion of images and story out of it that has been called one of his best films - made when he is in his early eighties now.

    Bellocchio is one of the great Italian directors since the early sixtes, when he became famous with Pugni intasca/Fists in the Pocket (1965) and China Is Near/La Cina è vicina (1967). He is still making major films half a century later, including the 2019 The Traitor/Il traditore (2019), starring Pierfancesco Favino, about the major witness against the mafia, which was very important in Italy and featured in the 2019 New York Film Festival.

    Bellocchio has almost made himself the director of kidnappings, with two memorable examinations of the most notable such event in modern Italian history, the Aldo Moro kidnapping: Good Morning, Night/Buongiorno notte (2003) telling the story from the kidnappers' viewpoint, and a recent TV series treatment in Exterior, Night (2022), where multiple other points of view are represented.

    Kidnapped highlights the boy (Enea Sala as a child; Leonardo Maltese as Edgardo in his twenties). But Bellocchio moves around to other viewpoints, frequently focusing on Salomone Mortara, the boy's father (Fausto Russo Alesi) or his aggrieved mother (Barbara Ronchi). Most notably he focuses on the perpetrator of all this, Pio Nono - Pope Pius IX (Paolo Pierobon), who seems sometimes an ogre, sometimes a buffoon, sometimes a fading dictator frantically trying to maintain power. The film is bold in its unflattering depiction of the Catholic Church and bends toward Jewish family liturgy in an unusual way for an Italian film.

    The surprise twist of the story of course is that the boy, both bright and cooperative, goes from making the best of his new life in the uniform of the papal school with its flashy big white bow to outright enjoying his new life because he is smart, has a prodigious memory, and becomes the best student. Jesuit teaching may be intensely doctrinaire, arguably brainwashing, bit it is famously full of intellectual stimulation, a magnet for fine minds. Edgardo's "calvary" comes to seem rather like being suddenly sent off to a posh boarding school, with a guaranteed secure future with options of upward mobility: Edgardo will grow up to become a novice for the priesthood in the bosom of the Vatican itself.

    Meanwhile the boy's father continues to struggle to oppose this situation, and it is made clear at one point that Edgardo remains distantly ambivalent toward the Pope and never stops missing the warmth of his big family, the rituals of Hebrew chanted en famille morning and night. (Too bad the English subtitles don't indicate what language they're translating, when they go from Italian, to Yiddish, to Hebrew, and to Latin: but this is not the fault of the Italian film.)

    As usual with Bellocchio the film is full of chiaroscuro red and black eye candy: it is gloriously visual. A great deal of its operatic style is also due to the grand, surging score by Fabio Massimo Capogrosso.

    This was a lengthy time of turbulence in Italy's Risorgimento (1848–1871) whose details will tend to elude all but Italian viewers, since the war between the waning Vatican and secular forces located elsewhere will be unknown to most non-Italians. To fully understand the background of Kidnapped we need to know about that, and the film does provide at least quick background notes with frequent onscreen titles (in big red letters). Is the Pope operating outside the law? we may ask. But the answer has to be "whose law?" since things were not to be sorted out until later.

    Rapito is like a string of arias, whose flow never stops till the end. It's a wonderfully satisfying film, not afraid to be conventional - obviously best enjoyed on the big screen in a theater with a good sound system, like that of the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, where it was presented for the press of the New York Film Festival. To be shown to the public Oct. 3 and Oct. 8 with a Q&A with Bellocchio Oct. 8. Some critics have raved, but the general response has been lukewarm: Jessica Kiang in Variety calls it "just a little too tradition-bound for its own good."

    Kidnapped/Rapito, 134 mins., debuted in competition at Cannes May 23, 2023. Also shown at Toronto, Vancouver, BFI London and numerous other festivals including New York, as part of which it was screened for this review. Metacritic rating: 68%.
    US release May 24, 2024.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 05-16-2024 at 12:09 AM.

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