Tuesday, October 14, 2014

By Maguerite Duras at FSLC

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With 4K digital restoration and re-release of Alain Resnais' 1959 classic, Hiroshima Mon Amour, Film Society of Lincoln Center announces a series devoted to the film works of a Nouveau Roman giant Marguerite Duras who provided the screenplay for the film. Duras, along with Alain Robbe-Grillet, was part of the Left Bank film movement and hugely influential for coming of  French New Wave.

Putting a big emphasis on mood and dialogue, Duras' elliptical stories have long been well regarded and respected by the film giants like Resnais and Godard. The film series presents 10 features and 3 shorts, 9 of which she directed - notables include, India Song, Le Camion, Natalie Granger, Madmoiselle (dir. Tony Richardson), Moderato Cantabile (dir. Peter Brook) and Every Man for Himself (dir. Jean-Luc Godard).

The series is a rare opportunity to catch some of these seldom available films anywhere on 35mm prints, written/directed by one of the most influential post-war French writers.

By Marguerite Duras
runs 10/15 - 22 at FSLC. Hiroshima Mon Amour will open at Film Forum and FSLC on Friday, October 17 in and Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal Theatre following its sold out screening at the 2014 New York Film Festival. Long unavailable for exhibition in the US due to rights issues, it will be released nationally in a spectacular new 4K restoration.

The Film Society of Lincoln Center announced today By Marguerite Duras, October 15-22, a weeklong retrospective of the film work by the novelist, essayist, and playwright on the occasion of her centennial, and the re-release of Hiroshima Mon Amour at the Film Society on October 17. Duras directed 19 features and short films, many adapted from her own work, all exceedingly difficult to see in the U.S., until now. The lineup includes a selection of her formally daring films, movies adapted from her writing, short films, and more, all on 35mm.
Best known as a leading literary figure in postwar France with award-winning books, Duras's early novels were considered more conventional in form until Moderato Cantabile (1958), which was more experimental and placed the focus on what was not said. At 45, Duras penned the screenplay for Alain Resnais's Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959), whose nonlinear plot and elliptical editing would greatly impact the burgeoning French New Wave (a movement whose literary analogue, the Nouveau Roman, Duras was tangentially linked to). Its radical use of voiceover anticipated the disjunction of sound and image that would become her calling card.
By Marguerite Duras includes her solo directorial debut, Détruire dit-elle / Destroy, She Said adapted from her own play, and Les Enfants, winner of three prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival, which was Duras's final film as a director. Other highlights include Le Camion / The Truck, which was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes; Moderato Cantabile, for which Jeanne Moreau won Best Actress at Cannes, and Jean-Luc Godard's Sauve qui peut (la vie) / Every Man for Himself, which he introduced as "my second first film," and is characteristically cerebral and peppered with literary allusions, including an unforgettable anti-cameo by Duras.
Special thanks to the Institut Francais for the loan of their prints, and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy for their support.

Films, Descriptions & Schedule
Agatha et les lectures illimitées
Marguerite Duras, France, 1981, 35mm, 85m
French with English subtitles

Hiroshima Mon Amour at the shore. A brother and sister (Yann Andréa and Bulle Ogier) meet at a seaside hotel to confront the nature of their relationship and try to achieve closure with the past. Their love for each other and its manifestations emerge in voiceover, with Duras herself articulating the sister's thoughts. Eschewing traditional approaches to storytelling, Duras keeps the siblings off-screen or obscured for much of the film and never allows them to share the frame. Her camera prowls the deserted hotel lobby and sometimes catches itself in the mirror, analogizing the film's reflective themes.
October 21, 8:30pm

Le Camion / The Truck
Marguerite Duras, France, 1977, 35mm, 80m
French with English subtitles

Initially conceived as the story of an older woman hitching a ride with a trucker, bemoaning the demise of the revolution and the impoverished state of society ("the world has gone to rack and ruin"), Le Camion ("The Truck") is the film that ensued when Duras couldn't find a suitable actress for the lead. Instead, she and Gérard Depardieu sit at a table and read from the script, discussing the film that might have been, with periodic cutaways to a truck driving along the highway at night. Celebrated by figures as disparate as Pauline Kael and John Waters, Le Camion was nominated for the Palme d'Or at Cannes and hailed by Jonathan Rosenbaum as "one of Marguerite Duras's most radically minimalist features . . . [also] one of her best, as well as one of her most accessible."
October 16, 8:30pm
October 22, 2:30pm


Détruire dit-elle / Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras, France, 1969, 35mm, 98m
French with English subtitles

Adapted from her own play, Duras's solo directorial debut concerns an isolated hotel surrounded by dense forest, with only four guests in evidence: a professor of "future history" and his young bride (Henri Garcin and Nicole Hiss), a troubled woman (Catherine Sellers) recovering from a miscarriage, and a German would-be writer (Michael Lonsdale) with designs on the professor's wife. Despite the roundelay of attraction, Smiles of a Summer Night this is not; its claustrophobia (the women fear the forest) and convergence of identities (Hiss and Sellers share one of the director's trademark mirror scenes) place it much closer to Persona. In Film as a Subversive Art, Amos Vogel praises its "highly stylized, non-logical dialogue [which] creates enigmatic fear."
October 15, 9:00pm

Les Enfants
Marguerite Duras, France, 1985, 35mm, 94m
French with English subtitles

Seven-year-old Ernesto (played by adult Axel Bogousslavsky) leaves school because he doesn't wish to learn, believing knowledge serves no purpose in a bankrupt world. His parents (Daniel Gélin and Tatiana Moukhine) try to make sense of their son's cynical and inscrutable convictions. Winner of three prizes at the Berlin International Film Festival, Duras's final film as director may have taken inspiration from her own unhappy years in a Saigon boarding school. Her penchant for uninhabited spaces is evident in her shots of the schoolyard--the empty playground pairs with Bogousslavsky's casting to make a comment on vanishing childhood and untimely disillusionment.
October 17, 4:30pm
October 22, 4:30pm


India Song
Marguerite Duras, France, 1975, 35mm, 120m
French with English subtitles

Duras's favorite collaborator Delphine Seyrig ("the greatest actress in France and possibly in the entire world") is hypnotic as Anne-Marie, the wife of a disgraced French diplomat (Michael Lonsdale), suffering from "leprosy of the soul" or what might be more chicly termed ennui. Through a mélange of off-screen gossip (again nearly all sound is nonsynchronous), we learn of Anne-Marie's scandalous conduct in 1930s India and her eventual fate, engendered by boredom, colonial guilt, and a string of meaningless affairs. Duras renders her study of mental torment in elaborate style (Dave Kehr calls her "the Busby Berkeley of structuralism"), and Bruno Nuytten's cinematography captures the glittering emptiness of life in a gilded cage--the feeling that privilege can be its own form of illness.
October 15, 6:30pm
October 17, 2:00pm


Mademoiselle
Tony Richardson, France/UK, 1966, 35mm, 103m
French, Italian, and Latin with English subtitles

Duras adapted Jean Genet's story of a repressed schoolteacher in rural France (an unflinching turn by Jeanne Moreau) who causes mayhem in her village and allows prejudiced locals to blame an Italian woodcutter (Ettore Manni), with horrific results. Director Tony Richardson renders a one-of-a-kind hybrid of arthouse drama and psychosexual thriller, which even its detractors found too audacious to ignore (Roger Ebert declared Moreau "flawless"). Fraught with Freudian symbols (snakes, felled pine trees) and a scathing vision of corrupt and unknowable humanity, Mademoiselle was nominated for the Palme d'Or and earned a BAFTA for Jocelyn Rickards' costumes.
October 16, 4:30pm
October 18, 9:15pm


Moderato Cantabile
Peter Brook, France/Italy, 1960, 35mm, 91m
French with English subtitles

"Moderate and songlike"--a musical tempo, but also an apt descriptor of this moody, deliberate drama co-scripted by Duras from her novel. Jeanne Moreau won Best Actress at Cannes for her haunting portrayal of a wife and mother whose husband is the chief employer of their steel town near Bordeaux. Her life consists of little more than shuttling their son to piano lessons, until one day, mid-sonata, she hears a scream. Before long she's conducting a murder investigation with one of her husband's workers (Jean-Paul Belmondo), unleashing her own morbid impulses and perhaps a private death wish. Theater giant Peter Brook's restrained direction casts rare moments of intensity in relief, and Armand Thirard's crisp cinematography conveys the desolation of life in a windswept town where "summer never comes."
October 16, 6:30pm
October 21, 5:00pm


Nathalie Granger
Marguerite Duras, France, 1972, 35mm, 83m
French with English subtitles

The woman's picture gets the Duras treatment in this spare account of two female cohabitants and their assorted vexations. One (Lucia Bosé) has a daughter in primary school (Valerie Mascolo in the title role) whose teacher reports violent outbursts despite her passive demeanor at home. The other (Jeanne Moreau) greets news of a killer on the loose with the same indifference she directs at burning trash. Gérard Depardieu shows up as a door-to-door salesman who may in fact be peddling himself. Customarily placid but for surprising dashes of absurdism ("There is no telephone here, madame," Moreau says into the receiver), Nathalie Granger is domestic melodrama as only Duras could pervert it.
October 15, 4:30pm
October 18, 7:00pm


Le Navire Night
Marguerite Duras, France, 1979, 35mm, 95m
French with English subtitles

Ever the iconoclast, Duras proffers two lovers who never meet face to face. Dominique Sanda plays a woman with tragic reasons for keeping her paramour (Mathieu Carrière) at a distance, confining their affair to phone calls initiated by her--a Durasian construct, language detached from images. The director invites us to share their frustrations by limiting our contact with the stars, sequestering them in dark rooms and cutting to empty streets as their words take on lives of their own. Featuring the voices of Duras and protégé Benoît Jacquot.
October 17, 7:00pm

Sauve qui peut (la vie) / Every Man for Himself
Jean-Luc Godard, France/Austria/West Germany/Switzerland, 1980, 35mm, 87m
French with English subtitles

Concluding a decade of experimentation, Godard returns to character-based storytelling with this portrait of restless, intertwining lives, survival in a capitalist state, and the myriad forms self-debasement can take. TV director Jacques Dutronc (playing a character named Paul Godard) has left his wife for a co-worker (Nathalie Baye), who--disenchanted with television and Paul--plans a move to the country. Meanwhile, a country girl (Isabelle Huppert) works nonchalantly as a prostitute in the city. Introduced by Godard as "my second first film," Sauve qui peut (la vie) is characteristically cerebral and peppered with literary allusions, including an unforgettable anti-cameo by Duras. "Breathtakingly beautiful and often very funny ... I trust it will outlive us all."--Vincent Canby, The New York Times
October 17, 9:15pm

Duras Shorts Program:
Cesarée
Marguerite Duras, France, 1978, 35mm, 11m
French with English subtitles

Duras's heartrending narration elegizes Queen Berenice, banished from Rome by Emperor Titus in the First Century. (In typical Duras fashion, the two are referred to only as "Elle" and "Lui.") Footage consists of discarded shots from Le Navire Night, with the Seine and Tuileries Gardens "playing" the title locale, the speculative site of Berenice's exile.
L'Homme atlantique
Marguerite Duras, France, 1981, 35mm, 42m
French with English subtitles

In this avant-garde short, Duras uses outtakes from Agatha et les lectures illimitées, removing Agatha and leaving only the voice and likeness of her brother (Yann Andréa). Duras scholar Leslie Hill contends that for the first time in her work, "the gap between image and sound is now aligned with the fissure of sexual difference itself."
Nuit noire, Calcutta
Marin Karmitz, France, 1964, 35mm, 24m
French with English subtitles

Duras scripted this sketch of Jean (Maurice Garrel), a writer struggling to complete a Calcutta-based novel while battling alcoholism and creative impotence. Most of the text is spoken off-screen, evoking dislocation that's echoed visually in the world beyond Jean's window--could the woman outside be the character he's unable to capture in words?
October 21, 7:00pm

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Politically Incorrect but Correct Nonetheless

Play (2011) - Östlund
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I remember mentioning in my short observations of Östlund's Involuntary (De Ofrivilliga) that there are many moments that only Swedes would find humorous. But in Play, it's more universal because it concerns race. I can totally understand why Play has never come out (and played) in the States. It would've been automatically grilled by the PC dominated left and quickly condemned as racist. This is why daring Northern European filmmakers, Ulrich Seidl, Michael Haneke and now Östlund can tackle the subject of race in their much more homogenized but socially rapidly changing home countries while we Americans, avoid the subject like ebola. At first glance, Play is downright racist and uncomfortably so - two white kids and an Asian boy, probably from a well to do families at the shopping mall are ganged up and mercilessly bullied by 5 black kids who are little older than them. These loud and obnoxious black kids, set up a trap (it seems it's their routine), asking to see their intended victim's phone and claim that phone is the same phone stolen from someone they know. In order to verify this fact, the victims should come with them and eventually being tricked into giving away all their belongings. In fear, the white kids follow them, like sheep.

Östlund's display on the rigid society gripped with fear of being seen as politically incorrect is everywhere - from American Indian culture appropriation by a group of South American street musicians in full getups and their Swedish spectators, mouth agape and don't know what to make of the spectacle, train conductor's extremely polite announcement (and later their decision to make announcement in English) of removing a huge wooden crib that's blocking the doors in between first and second class cars, Cafe owners' hesitation to call the cops against the black kids 'until big things happen' and so on.

Just like Involuntary, Play is a constant cringe fest. It's uncomfortable because he puts up the mirror on our polite selves. Östlund refuses to show the black kids in better light. "Society made them that way," would be a way too simple explanation. They act violent and obnoxious because they can get away with it. They are playing the stereotypical role that white privileged folks put on them. They taunt on white folks' appropriation of 'black' culture as wide-ranging as from dreadlocks to Lion King themed school dance. Ordinary Swedish citizens don't know how to deal with them other than look down at their feet or call law on them. They don't know how to interact face to face with these peeps. Funny but pointed and not all the way successful, Play, just like Seidl's Paradise Trilogy, is an interesting film that needs to be seen widely and being discussed further.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hall of Mirrors

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) - Assayas
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Delicious! Assayas' take on celebrity, acting, time passing is an extremely entertaining hall of mirrors. It concerns an aging movie star Maria (Juliette Binoche) and her personal (very)American assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) heading over to Switzerland to celebrate the life and work of the great stage/film director Wilhelm Melchoir who gave Maria her first big break in Maljora Snake, a mythical tale of two women, only to find out that he just passed on. Now Maria has to improvise an eulogy instead of tribute. Valentine is a very able assistant, always on her mobile devices arranging everything for Maria. She informs her movie star employer that a young hotshot director (Lars Eidinger of Alle Anderen), wants her to be in the stage production of Maljora Snake revival, but this time, he wants her to play the older part. The younger part Sigrid, the part that made her famous, is going to be played by Hollywood's rising star and the center of the gossip world, 19 yr old Jo-ann (Chlöe Moretz). This proposition takes Maria through a whirlwind of emotional turmoil. She hated the character of Helena who commits suicide after getting dumped by Sigrid. Time has passed: no longer young, she has to endure the fate of her predecessors. With much Valentine's urging, she accepts the role and immediately regrets it right afterwards. She googles Jo-ann's latest shenanigans where the little brat assaults police officers, blabbering her mouth off at various talkshows, etc. But nevertheless, she starts rehearsing the play with Valentine in the remote house (Wilhelm's) on the mountains in Switzerland. As they say the lines back and forth, the material strongly resembles their relationship without them noticing it.

This multi-layered reflections on real life situations with all the principals involved is wickedly entertaining. In Assayas hands, these materials are never trash but playful. There is not an ounce of wink-wink sarcasm of typical Hollywood satire. There is no surprise in the great Binoche, showing wide range of emotions of a seasoned actress as she grapples the idea of time passing and celeb-dom but it's Stewart who steals the show. That cocky confidence, that one note delivery is a perfect match for the role. Their back and forth banter is extremely believable and nuanced. Assayas never makes it over-the-top: the sexual tension between the two women are subtly presented, never vulgar. And the storytelling is brimming with intelligence but never feels trickery. One of the most entertaining, engaging films I've seen by Assayas.

Clouds of Sils Maria
plays as part of NYFF on 10/8 and 10/9.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Impressionistic Ghost Story

Horse Money (2014) - Costa
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Horse Money is astonishingly beautiful in its visual poetry!

Pedro Costa, who wanted to capture the life in Lisbon's ghetto area called Fontainhas in the late 90s, made a beautiful film called Bones (Ossos). During the shoot, he saw much beauty in the place and got to know its poor, working class, immigrant inhabitants. He decided to immerse himself in their lives, abandoning his huge 35mm film equipment, elaborate lighting setups and a big crew and started documenting their lives with small video camera. The experience bore him 2 more extraordinary films-- In Vanda's Room and Colossal Youth, starring the inhabitants of the slum, which are remarkably immersive fictional films bordering on documentary territory. The three films became later known as The Fontainhas Trilogy.

Fontainhas is since demolished and gone. But in Horse Money, Costa continues with that tradition. But it is much more impressionistic and dreamier than The Trilogy. It centers around Ventura, the star of his last fiction film, Colossal Youth, as he wanders around the corridors of underpopulated, haunted places. His hands shake uncontrollably because of nerve disease, he has aged more and is much more frail now. He is committed in a labyrinthine, underground mental hospital but keeps walking off and is brought back in again and again. Costa, like in Colossal Youth, lets Ventura's tales unfold in episodic storytelling.

He visits his former work place, now abandoned and forgotten-- the tall factory building is kept in its decrepitude. He talks to ghosts from his past-- a factory foreman, secretary, even the boss on the phone which stopped working long ago.

We get the glimpse of Ventura's past. A fellow Cape Verdean, Viralina, who finally made to Portugal only to attend her husband's funeral, visits Ventura in the hospital. They talk about the life they left behind. He keeps insisting that her husband is alive. He thinks he is 19 and the present year is 1975. The year holds special meaning for Portuguese people. It was a revolution against the dictatorship (known as the Carnation Revolution). It also meant Portugal giving up its colonies in various parts of the world. As a Cape Verdean working class immigrant, Ventura wasn't too keen on the presence of the soldiers with guns.

Poetic, deliberately slow pace of the first half gives in to a long, surreal, mesmerizing elevator ride with Ventura and a faceless, scary soldier with a rifle. The soldier taunts the old man relentlessly. The nightmarish scene can be interpreted as Costa's therapy session for Ventura, exorcising his past demons that he wants to do without.

The look of Horse Money, with long takes and painterly composition, is simply put, out of this world-- from old photos of workers in mines and shanty towns that starts the film to Ventura wandering in and out of an abandoned factory/office building to labyrinthine tunnels of the hospital to a series of singing sequences. They are even more beautiful and striking than in Colossal Youth if that's at all possible. Haven't seen anything as mesmerizing in a long time. It really needs to be seen on a big screen. I really hope it to have a theatrical distribution soon.

Costa was awarded Best Director at Locarno Film Festival this year for Horse Money. It is playing as part of NYFF on 10/7 and 10/8. Please visit FSLC website.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Surf Noir

Inherent Vice (2014) - Anderson
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P. T. Anderson faithfully adapts Thomas Pynchon's most accessible novel, the zaniest surf noir, Inherent Vice. It is also the first time he's worked with a large ensemble cast since Boogie Nights. The result is often hilarious, a laborious snapshot of the end of the groovy 60s.

The film centers around Larry 'Doc' Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), a dope smoking Private Eye, as he helplessly gets mired into what seems to be an unsolvable case. It all begins with the visit from his ex-girl friend Shasta Fay Hapworth (Katherine Waterston) whom he still carries the torch for. She tells him that her new fling, a billionaire construction tycoon Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), who inexplicably hangs out with Aryan Brotherhood, is about to get kidnapped by his wife and her body building 'spiritual coach' boyfriend and put into a looney bin. But even before Doc has a time to react, Mickey and Shasta go missing.

With the clue "Beware of The Golden Fang!", left by remorseful lesbian masseuse who put him in the hole in the first place, Doc leisurely seeks out people who might have a hand in the disappearance. Is The Golden Fang a rock band? A front for money laundering association of dentists? Is it a schooner? Trained killer dogs with golden teeth perhaps? He digs deeper and deeper into the labyrinthine conspiracies while jotting down (un)helpful words and phrases- "Paranoia Alert!", "Spanish?" on his small notepads along the way.

Doc's biggest obstacle in solving anything, other than his pot fizzled brain and constant paranoia, is famed, hippie hating Lt. detective Christian 'Bigfoot' Bjornsen (Josh Brolin). As far as Doc and his mellow friends are concerned, the civil rights chomping Bigfoot is in cahoots with the environmentally irresponsible, now missing billionaire. To make the case even more complicated, the feds are involved and Doc enlists the help of his one-time girlfriend now a deputy DA Penny Kimball (Reese Witherspoon). But everybody has his/her own angle on this and everybody preys on Doc.

Dialog, with few exceptions throughout his filmography, hasn't been Anderson's strong suit (nor has he seemed to care). Here Anderson strictly sticks by Pynchon's snappy prose line by line with more than 30 speaking parts. The only big difference from the book is its narration by Sortilège (Joanna Newsom), or Leej, as Doc calls her. She is Doc's spiritual hippie gal pal who has that special touch. The whole time, I was thinking of Newsome as young and hippie version of Thelma Ritter from noir classic Pick Up on South Street. Her nasal, soft voice somehow works in a typical masculine world of Anderson and gives the film its lightness.

There is no shortage on noir references, or should I say noir archetypes here - you can find lineage all the way from The Big Sleep to The Long Goodbye to The Big Lebowski. The concoction of Pynchon's wacky characters with typical long takes that Anderson prefers, provides the actors plenty of room to shine. Its chaotic pace gives way to long monologues and long takes that last up to 5-7 minutes, the flow of the film matches with Pynchon's prose well also.

Phoenix, with messy hairdo and mutton chops, again, is brilliant in another bravura performance as doped up hippie PI. Brolin is a pure comic gold here as Doc's nemesis and also secret confidant. Other outstanding notables are Martin Short as a drug addled Dr. Blatnoyd who goes wild in the funniest scene in the film and Owen Wilson provides perhaps the most poignant moments as a confused sax player in a surfer band who got finagled to be a double/triple agent by various antisubersive groups.

As the drug infused haze/smog lifts from the City of Sinners (with their inherent vices), what's left is Doc and his dignity as the last vestiges of innocence and goodness in the flower child generation. As Leej says, "Doc may not be a do gooder but he's done good." I'd be lying if I like Inherent Vice more than The Master or There Will Be Blood. But it is an enjoyable romp. It definitely solidifies P. T. Anderson as a great chronicler of American psyche though out the decades.

Inherent Vice is the Centerpiece selection at this year's NYFF.  It opens limited on 12/12 in NY and LA, then sees the general release in 1/9/15.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

'The Treasure is Already on Your Back': Alice Rohrwacher Interview

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Alice Rohrwacher's The Wonders (Le Meraviglie), a dramedy about a rural Italian agrarian community, took home the Grand Prix at this years Cannes Film Fest. It's an amazing feat considering it's only the second feature of a 33 year old director. So I was expecting a mousy, serious artist type. Bur Rohrwacher turns out to be a bright, spunky, rambunctious young woman with a great sense of humor. As we talked about her film making, it was hard not to fall for her. Thank you Alice, you made my day.

Twitch: There always seems to be a sibling rivalry in your films. How much of it is based on your relationship with your older sister (Alba Rohrwacher of I AM LOVE, DORMANT BEAUTY)?

Alice Rohrwacher: Not so much. I'm always fascinated by the relationship between brothers and sisters. My sister is the most important person in my life and this is something very personal. But I didn't make this film to analyze our relationship. If I wanted to analyze our relationship, I would've just gone on a vacation with her. I wouldn't have gone all the trouble putting together a production, crew and getting finance and all that.

How was directing Alba? I mean, now she is becoming a big star in Italian cinema.

First of all, it was marvelous really. Let me say that I choose to work with good people. My sister is a really great person so the first step was already completed. She is a great actress with a lot of irony and a lot of imagination. The most important thing is that I've never had an opportunity working with someone who had same imagination before. My sister and I do share the same imagination.

[She stops her interpreter at this point to clarify. She gets very animated.]

Not imagination but a set of imaginations. The collection of the world that we share. In any films, there is going to be autobiographical elements in the images you use and the archetypes you draw on to create those images. Let me give you an example: Let's say I tell an actor to wash dishes and they'll start washing dishes. And I say, "No what are you doing? That's not how you wash dishes!" "First you do the glasses and the plates." When I give directions to my sister to wash dishes, she will do exactly the way I'd do the dishes. [we laugh]

So having her there is both surprise and also confirming something. It was a great experience.

The character of the father, Wolfgang really fascinated me. Did you base him on someone you knew? Is it German characteristics in him that make him that way?

I'm very glad you asked that question because most men are afraid of the figure Wolfgang. He represent a kind of phantom, a masculinity. He is a self-righteous man. But like any self-righteous men, he fears two things about himself: being ridiculous or being violent. The press often talks about Wolfgang being German, but I don't think that's really true. The truth is that he speaks German very badly. He doesn't speak any language well - he speaks German badly, Italian badly and French badly. So in a certain sense he speaks nothing. He is a person who knows what he wants to say but doesn't have the words to say it. He is a foreigner. He is a foreigner par excellence. You can tell the way he speaks languages that he's lived in many different countries but he doesn't speak any of it properly.

I didn't quite get Wolfgang's fascination with the end of the world. Why is he so obsessed with that? Can you give me a backstory on that?

It's mine. [We laugh]

[In English]It's going to be worse and worse my friend! So we need a lot of humor.

I agree.

It seems in your films, Italy is a very conservative society. Religion is still a big part of life and I am wondering if that affected you growing up.

But I would say the right of the conservative, I think they lost. They really don't know what to conserve. It's like some were to write a book and don't know what to put in it. Or to set the table they don't know where to put the silverware or dishes. They don't know what to save or what to throw away. It's all lost in the mess. There are no good or bad people, they are all lost in the same boat, attaching the cult of tourism as kind of a redemption.

There are some big actors in this film, Monica Bellucci and also Sabine Timoteo, of whom I am a big fan. How did you get them involved?

I went looking for them. I recognized them when I saw them. [Laugh]

Monica, she is an actress I admire very much but i wanted to look at her with wide open eyes. I mean she's been given this label , the iconic beauty. so I wanted to open that Pandora's Box. So I put her in the film. And she is very ironic about the way men look at her and she can joke about that. Although everything is fiction, her presence kind of created a different dynamic because people knew that she was coming, there was sort of excitement in the village and all around it. It brought in the true element into the film. Sabine, I like her films a lot and when I met her I had no doubts about her.

And Sabine just said yes?

I think it's important that we create a very collective atmosphere. Before shooting I let everyone come in and live in my house and for children, we basically created a family. And I think Sabine was very generous.

How difficult was it shooting with live animals - bees, a camel, cows all that livestock?

The worst animal is the men. [we laugh]

If you can shoot human beings, you can shoot anything.

It seems that there is a resurrection of Italian cinema in recent years. I am wondering if this is helping you to fund your projects and making things easier for you?

[Coyly]Speriamo (I hope so).

The theme of being foreigners, about being immigrants in a foreign country. Is it something you always have in the back of your mind when you write your scripts?

I always like hybrids. People who are in the border area. Whether the border be age, geographical place, I find these junctures interesting. And it might also depend on the fact that I too am of a double ethnicity. But I hope it doesn't depend only on that. I don't know if you know the book called the Island of Arturo by Elsa Morante. It's one of my favorite books. It's a great source of inspiration for me: what she talks about what it means to be a mixed blood. She says that you are living with this mixed destinies inside of you. There is a man, a thief, looking for treasure everywhere not knowing the treasure is already on his back.

What's next for you?


It's hard to say because I am still in the writing stage. But it's going to be about some kind of community- in Corpo Celeste, it was church and in The Wonders it was agrarian community. Here again will be another community but I still don't know who they will be. It's too early to say. But what it is in the world that moves me, that attracts me, that also pains me, is the way people live together.

I'll seek out that book. I'll read it. Thank you very much. Your presence really made my day. You are so vibrant.

Oh no I feel so tired this morning but I am very happy.

The Wonders doesn't have a distributor in North America yet. But it plays part of NYFF on 10/3 and 10/4. Please check out FSLC website.


Dustin Chang is a freelance writer. His musings and opinions of the world can be found at www.dustinchang.com

Crazy For You Mr. DJ

Eden (2014) - Hansen-Løve
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The other day, I saw a some college kid wearing a T- shirt that said, "In school now just to be a wage slave later." I seriously considered giving the kid a hug. I could've easily regarded it as some ironic hipster shit. But after watching talented Mia Hansen-Løve's new film Eden, it hit me as extremely poignant. Co-written by her brother Sven, the film is a sprawling and epic look back at the 90s' French electronic dance music scene. And they do an amazing job capturing the look and feel of that decade. But more so, the film is about life.

Eden charts about 20 years of the life of Paul (Félix de Givry), starting in 1992. He is a big raver and into music. He and his friend Stan (Hugo Conzelman) form a garage (Paul affectingly explains - house music with more soul and disco) DJ duo called Cheers, despite his mom (Atom Egoyan regular Arsinée Khanjian)'s disapproval. Their group of friends includes talented graphic artist Cyril (enigmatic Roman Kolinka), a fellow DJ team, Respect (Paul Spera and Laurent Cazanave) and a drugged up, wayward producer Arnaud (comedian Vincent Macaigne in a role that is tailored for him). It's around this time they also acquaint Thomas and Guy-Man, the duo later known as Daft Punk (who provides much of the music for the film). We observe as they all strive for the limelight. Time slips by. Paul has a brief fling with a cute American girl, Julia (Greta Gerwig), then gets involved with a wild but moody tomboy, Louise (Pauline Etienne). Cheers becomes a moderate success in the Paris club scene. It's an exciting thing to follow one's passion and become successful.

The signs of decline appear when the fame takes Cheers to America. They get to perform at P.S. 1-- a former public school turned into one of the hottest New York cultural institutions, and which has been hosting outdoor dance parties since the 2000s. Then they go to Chicago. Paul reunites with Julia who is now married (husband played by Simon Killer's Brady Corbet) and visibly pregnant. She commends him for still pursuing his passion after all these years. Jealous and tired of the scene, Louise has a breakdown. Then Paul gets the news of Cyril's suicide.

Even though they pack the club, night after night, with their music and DJ skills, it's a profession that doesn't make tons of money. To keep up the appearances, Paul gets deeper and deeper into a financial hole and his drug habits gets out of hand. Friendship falters and people around him grow up and get real jobs. Paul and Stan's passion remain, but it's the times and music that are changing.

Eden's scope and ambition are massive. But Hansen-Løve pulls it off with grace. With the beats pumping constantly and large crowd having a good time, you can easily feel that DJ-ing is like an addiction you can't get rid of easily. Sadness of time passing is there, but Hansen-Løve refuses to make it sentimental. This was the part of one's life and passion. There are no regrets for doing something you loved and believed that it was a right path to take.

Every cultural phenomenon eventually fades and falls out of favor. The film follows the typical movie trajectory of the rise and fall of a protagonist. But the film is not a nostalgia trip. What's amazing about Eden, just like her last film, Goodbye First love, is Hansen-Løve's ability to make you aware the poignancy of passing of time in an extraordinarily personal way. Obviously the film is not for everyone. The specificity of the film's setting and subject matter might hinder your interest in seeing it. But for me and many others like me, who lived through the 90s, that culturally bleh decade, as a young adult full of hopes and dreams, Eden will linger in your head and gain its poignancy over the years to come.

Eden plays part of NYFF on 10/5 and 10/7. Please visit FSLC website for more info.

Discovering Solidarity

Two Days, One Night (2014) - Dardenne
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Take it as the Dardenne Bros thriller with the time ticking away. They even put human face in that genre. It's Friday. Sandra (Marion Cotillard), a working class mom struggling with depression, is just told that she is getting laid off from a solar panel manufacturing company. The management framed it so that it's either her job or one thousand euro bonuses each for remaining 16 workers. But her two friends at work asked the manager to get another vote to keep her job on Monday. That means she has two days to convince 7 out of 14 co-workers to give up their bonuses and vote to keep her job.

Dardennes puts the dilemma squarely on us. What would we do if we were in Sandra or co-workers shoes? Unsurprisingly in the beginning, Sandra gives up the fight. For her, there is no dignity in begging for her job back. The bonus is a lot of money and she can't blame her co-workers who are pretty much in the same boat as she is: struggling to make ends meet. She just wants to give up and go to sleep. But it is her supportive husband (Fabrizio Rongione) who keeps pushing her to fight. He will help her to gather everyone's address and drive her to each co-worker's house to make her case.

As usual, the set up here is super simple, but it works like gangbusters. Cotillard is amazing, so as every actor in the film. By the end, without ever being didactic, Sandra learns a thing or two about solidarity. For many North Americans who are opposed to any kind of welfare system and firmly believe in pulling-at-your-bootstraps, Deux Jours is a terrible movie and Sandra a horrible character. It's definitely not a kumbaya kind of movie but I thought singing Van Morrison's Gloria with a newly converted to her cause co-worker in the car was a bit too much.

Two Days, One Night plays part of NYFF 2014 on 10/5, 10/6. Please visit FSLC website.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Hot and Cold: Mathieu Amalric Interview

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Mathieu Amalric, a superstar of French cinema is in town for NYFF, promoting his new film THE BLUE ROOM, which he co-wrote, directed and stars in. It's also co-written by his wife, playwright, Stephanie Cléau who also co-stars. As an admirer, I was relieved for the fact that Amalric was exactly how I imagined him to be - a piercingly bright, yet chaotic little Frenchman who reeks of cigarette smoke, just like many endearing roles that he played over the years. Listening to his all-over-the-map responses with wildly gesticulating hands, I couldn't help but smile. I could've easily listen to him speak all day if I was given time.

This is how my 25 minute went with Amalric:

You are known as an actor more so than as a director at least in the States, even though you've been making films as a director as long as you've been acting.

No even before. Acting came afterwards.

Was being an actor just incidental?

It was (Annaud) Desplechin who saw something that I was in and... as I always say, he invented me as an actor, as a guy who plays a role in films, you know? Acting is not that complicated...it's just films. Now I act on stage and that's something else. So Stephanie (Stephanie Cléau-- Amalric's wife irl, co-writer and co-star of The Blue Room) is inventing me 'cause we are on stage, on tour, she is inventing me as a stage actor. And woah, that's something else.

Which do you prefer-- directing, acting or stage?

Since I was 17, always shy, always hiding, I've been constructing small films as a 'director' as you call it, to watch and to observe. Acting came as a surprise. And now I don't see the differences in those, really, anymore.... I do it when I am in love or in such an admiration for the directors. I am a construct of all these experiences.

What was the reason for adapting THE BLUE ROOM the book, written by Georges Simenon after doing ON TOUR? It's a very different film altogether.

It's because my great producer (Paulo Branco). A great producer would see and feel where you are in your life. Paulo, I've worked for him since I was 17, as a trainee, AD and Assistant Editor... all different jobs in movies.... He knows me. And he produced one of my films (La Stade Wimbledon) also. It's that I've been trying to adapt this Stendhal's book The Red and the Black for three years. And he says, "stop with that bullshit! Just do a film! You have to shoot now. Stop that and just shoot! " And I thought that he was right. He says, "shoot a film in three weeks". "Ah ok. You are right. But what...."  "Go home and read something, I'll search for something also". So back home, I see La Chambre Bleu/The Blue Room, the book that's been obsessing me for such a long time, not really to do a film about it, but when I read that book, I was so struck by the opening of that book. I remember the sexual description of it was so close to the painting of Corbet, called  Le érogène du monde where you see feminine sex. And there is that exact description, the cunt and the sperm and all that, so you just don't come back empty handed from something like that. And maybe I was at the moment in my life...it's just I....

Yes it was a commission - doing a film in three weeks, I told him, "ok, I can do it in four weeks". And we had some money from Pathé and we were able to shoot in five.

Wow. that's short.

Two weeks in july and 3 weeks in november. But everything went so quickly. So I met Georges Simenon's son, John, a wonderful guy. Immediately in a sort of confidence, he said to go with it. So I called Stephanie and she was in Paris, cause I was shooting the Larrieu Bros film (Love is the Perfect Crime, read my review here) in Switzerland. As her job for stage, she adapted a lot of novels before. So I told her about the book and she had already read it.

Interesting bit of coincidence here: the last scene of On Tour, when after the man and the woman make love and she is very tenderly closing the shutters so the man can sleep. That scene I named it the blue room! It came from the first scene of that book. It's funny eh? There are these sort of links everywhere.

And then I think I was attracted by how it was produced-- with not a lot of money which was fine. But it had to be done quickly. I thought about the old RKO films. Those b-pictures. Tried to be a b-picture and tried to be very honest. So I worked with the real police, real attorneys, real crime lab people so the audience would never ask about their authenticity. And that the plot is not the center, you know. So your mind can go like in great b-pictures, where you think it's one thing but it's really about something hidden behind. This desire, this monster you have to deal with everyday, which is sexuality. How do we manage to live with those horrible moments where you go to bed with your companion without any feelings or thoughts? Many of us do live like that because we have to keep up responsibilities. Simenon was very precise about that in the book: a self made man who worked so much to achieve the dream-- the house, with pretty wife and a daughter, like the perfect world, but the house is terrible and cold. I wanted to give the film both cold and hot. Like Stephanie.

So tell me about Stephanie--

Well, I don't know who she is. I think that's what makes men crazy: something that has to do with illegibility that you can't read someone. There were those descriptions in the book, "Why didn't you kiss her before?" "I wouldn't have thought about it." "Why not?" "Because she was too tall." Well Stephanie is taller than me. And she has this quality. I thought she was this statuette and that she was cold. But the miracle of chemistry between two bodies is that you feel like yourself and feel alive. That doesn't happen that often.

Did she agree to do the movie right away? Did you have to do a lot of convincing?

We've both read the book. And it's been 9-10 years we've been together. She is not an actress and very shy. Then I ran into Paolo. What happened was that I was going to leave for Switzerland for two month to do that Larrieu film. She was in Paris. I don't know why she made this joke: She told me that she can play the unfaithful wife and I can play the lover. I didn't like that because I was leaving Paris for 2 months. I go on a shooting and she knows that the Larrieu's film's about 3 women fighting over me and sexual desire and all that. So after she made that joke, I couldn't concentrate. Then when I was thinking about who could play the roles, if it's me to play the title role, people know my face, then I felt my wife in the film also has to be a face people know. Léa Drucker is a famous actress in France so she is well known. But if the mistress also had been an actress with a well known face, it would have been the usual film. Two actresses fight over a man is too typical. It becomes a competition- Who is more seductive? Who is the best actress? Then I thought if I make Stephanie play the role, I can protect her from all this. This was the fantasy I had. It would be more interesting if I made her 'the threat of the unknown', she would be the face that nobody knows. like ones you see on tv who is suspected of crime and you project the worst thoughts on them. Stephanie has that. You can project terrible thoughts on her face.

That really worked out. Did she say yes right away?

She did. She was rehearsing her own play working with actors and I think she was attracted by the thought of finding out what acting is which you can only know by living it. And that really helped her doing her play in dealing with her actors because she did it herself. Many scenes naked of course! It was a comfortable environment though. I always use the same crew and they are all our friends. We had a lot of laughs on the set.

Also the film has nothing to do with harmony and nothing to do with camera caressing the body or anything warm like that. It had to do with the feeling a bit morbid. It's not about eroticism. It's a battle between sound and the image with voice over and everything. Yo don't know why he is arrested but you know somebody has died. But who? of course in the beginning you think, so, he killed her. So you see the scenes differently with only pieces presented to you bit by bit. So the there is no harmony in Simenon's writing.

That's the reason why we went with 1:33 aspect ratio. Because it has to do with isolation. You get not only the body but...

Yeah I thought your choice of aspect ratio was a psychological choice not an aesthetic one.

Yes. with the plenty of head room you have,  you don't know what's in the head of the other person. It seemed that that aspect ratio is the right one for Simenon's honesty.

The Blue Room.jpgDid you take any big liberties on adapting the book?

No. I've read a lot on other filmmakers adapting simenon because there were quite a lot. It all said that you have to be faithful to Simenon, you can't change it. This one is a peculiar one because it's not linear. because there are a lot of flashbacks and you don't know who's dead. we tried to keep that intact when Stephanie and I wrote the script. In fact when we were writing it there were two colums: on screen and off screen. so they have to fight for our attention. It was as if we were reading two scripts at the same time. And of course the provincial life never change but And we shot it like that. Only thing we had to update was the police procedure, the crime scene investigation with DNA evidence, cell phones and all that. It was a lot of fun to work with the real police. The forensic files were really done by the police. You see it in the courtroom. the file they have on the desk are real ones compiled by the police. the trial was a real trial with real lawyers and real audience. we shot it for 3 hours just for the sound of proceedings.

I can just listen to you all day.

No no no. Just talking to you reminded me all these things we did. We did everything in 11 months-- from the day Stephanie started writing and the film's release in theaters.

One last question is about the music.

Oh yeah.

It reminded me of a Hitchcock film. Very Bernard Herman.

But in fact, it comes from Ravel. 'cause Bernard Herman comes from Ravel. it's the Spanish Rhapsody. Grégoire Hetzel who is a genius did the music for us. Again I told him that I want some cold and some hot. Something that burns and something that is scary. So the ostinato...(starts singing the repetitive melody) that everyone thinks Hitchcock is, indeed, comes from Ravel. And we recorded at Abby Road and it was great. I felt that the film could accept the music. In the beginning I worked with the Stockhausen music box, with that tinkling sound, an obsessive sound that you can't get it out of your head. But I discovered during editing with Francois (editor François Gédigier) that it was cold on cold. Then I thought the music has to provide some warmth. So in that kiss scene that is the only time you see where there is a swooping camera movement and swelling music. we pulled off that scene because of incredible light.

Yeah I remember the sunset in the film.

Yeah it was raining all day and all of a sudden there was this incredible warm sunlight for about 20 minutes. A miracle. so we have light we have kiss we have music.  It's Hollywood I know and we are not  allow to do it. but it works for that scene.

After appearing at various festivals, THE BLUE ROOM opens Friday, October 3rd in New York at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and IFC Center. It will also be available on Cable and On Demand.

Camel in My Backyard

Le Meraviglie/The Wonders (2014) - Rohrwacher
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Just like her debut film Corpo Celeste, Alice Rohrwacher deals with an eccentric German-Italian working class family in Le Meraviglie (The Wonders). The story centers around Gelsomina, the oldest of the 4 young daughters in a beekeeper household. By how these rambunctious girls are treated by their disheveled, bug eyed, stressed out dad Wolfgang (excellent Sam Louwyck), it is pretty clear that they are the result of daddy and mommy (played by Alba Rohrwacher, the director's older sister) tried and failed to conceive a son. Gelso is a heir apparent to her father's business, as she accompanies him in his daily operations. Even though she is always a child in her daddy's eyes, she is growing up and it's pretty obvious that she doesn't want to be a farmer. Two events rock her world - there is 'village wonders' contest hosted by beautiful and glamorous local TV personality Milly (Monica Bellucci) where people showcase their farm products to win money. And the appearance of Martin, a young, troubled, almost mute German boy the family decided to foster for money. While Wolfgang is distracted and enchanted by the young boy whom he can put to work, Gelso secretly enrolls the family business to the contest.

Rohrwacher observes this chaotic family with much warmth and care. It turns out that the brutish dad actually loves his family deeply. He just wants to protect them at all cost from the end of days. He is just nutty that way. Kinky haired, even tempered mom is the bedrock of the family that everyone gravitates to. Gelso's chubby younger sister Marinella is one of those dreamer siblings, not made for the real world. Then there are two young runts, who gets into everything and everywhere, screaming their lungs out most of the time. Add to the mix is Coco (wiry Sabine Timoteo), another cooky German transplant who helps around the house and butt heads with Wolfgang. And there are real life wonders, all around Gelso's life, from Martin's magical whistling to presence of a camel in the back yard to white haired Milly to bees in her mouth. Rohrwacher reminds us that whatever the circumstances we are in, life is filled with full of wonders. Le Meraviglie deserves all the accolades it deserves.

The Wonders plays as part of NYFF 2014, on Oct.3 & 4. For more info, please visit FSLC website.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Strong Condemnation of Religious Extremism

Timbuktu (2014) - Sissako
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Timbuktu, that faraway place, the end of the world, is an actual city in Northern Mali in Africa, being once the bustling trade town in sub-Saharan Africa and famous for its fabulous architecture, libraries and scholars. Abderramane Sissako (Bamako) tells a tragic tale based on true events, taking place in this famed city.

The film starts with traditional wooden African statues being used as targets in a target practice by the Islamic militants who just rolled into town. When Alain Resnais and Chris Marker made Even Statues Die, I don't think this was the image they had in mind: they were talking about reappropriation of those artifacts being mass produced for Western consumption, losing its intended cultural significance, not being literally blown to pieces. Now times have changed. These so called jihadists, walks around with AK-47s across their chest, warning the townsfolk that they are under strict sharia law from now on - no smoking, no music, women have to cover their hands, faces and feet, no public gatherings, the list goes on. Despite city imam's pleading, they start arresting people and carrying out the punishment - public lashings or executions for playing music, unmarried men and women hanging out together, playing football, women washing their hair in public.... They even start marrying their young soldiers (who don't even speak the language) to local girls without their parents' consent.

In the midst of all this, is a story of Kidane, a nomadic herder with his beautiful wife and daughter, living in the desert. All their friends and neighbor are gone, fearing these rude Arabs from the north. But he and his family have no intention of moving on. They have seen many occupiers come and go, so this also will pass. Besides they don't have anywhere else to go. A tragedy strikes when one of his cows gets killed by a local fisherman and during heated dispute, Kidane accidentally kills the fisherman. He is promptly arrested and condemned to death by sharia law.

Timbuktu's tragedy is accentuated by achingly beautiful surroundings shot in widescreen format by cinematographer Sulfiane El Fani (Blue is the Warmest Color). There is a lyrical sequence of young people playing soccer without the ball in the sun drenched desert. They sprint, pass the invisible ball, score or block and cheer. A sort of an impromptu in-your-face defiance and condemnation, highlighting the ridiculousness of the law. The sequence is both comical and sad.

Sissako paints a complex society where several different languages are spoken. Even though all of the inhabitants of Timbuktu are people of faith, the director makes it clear that they have different cultural backgrounds and customs. Timbuktu is a strong statement against the extreme Islamic militants who seem to take the moral high ground and impose their laws upon people they don't understand. It's even more disgusting when they don't even try to understand. We've seen this kind of hubris time and time again in any types of colonial occupying forces. And we know that it breeds human tragedies everywhere.

As the film builds up to its heartbreaking conclusion, one wonders the true fate befallen on Timbuktu and its inhabitants in 2012 when it was briefly taken over by Islamic rebels - many were killed and maimed. Its famed Ahmed Baba Institute which housed many invaluable manuscripts was set on fire. The film is a beautifully told human tragedy and strong condemnation of religious extremism.

Timbuktu won Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and François Chalais Prize at this year's Cannes Film Fest. The film screens on 10/1 at 6pm and again 10/2 at 4pm. For more information, please visit FSLC website.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Confronting Evil

The Look of Silence (2014) - Oppenheimer
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Joshua Oppenheimer finds one brave soul to be on camera and face the killers who killed his brother. He happens to be Adi, a traveling optometrist in a rural Indonesia. Just like in the eye-opening revelation that was The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer is not in a hurry to lay the groundwork for us. 'In 1965, more than a million 'communists' were exterminated by a military hired gangsters'. The first sentence of the preface is enough to go on. This time, he lets the victim's side to voice their opinions. It's not a dictatorship anymore in Indonesia, but the killers of those days are still largely in charge, living side by side with the victim's families. Teachers in schools are still teaching 'the communists were really bad people who gauged people's eyes out and therefore deserved to die.' Everyone, including the family members whose loved ones were hacked to death and their body thrown into the river, don't want to dig up old wounds. Let bygones be bygones. Even though Adi was born after 65', he can't let go without getting some kind of closure on what exactly happened to his brother, seeing his ailing, grieving parents everyday. Thankfully, Oppenheimer has recorded these killers since 2003 and shows him the footage of these killers boasting about their mass killings proudly and reenacting them, especially about his brother. One of the killers who passed on recently, actually wrote a book about his deeds with hand drawn pictures.

As they visit many of these killers, things get uncomfortable. "Josh, stop filming! I don't like you anymore!" "Why are you asking me all this? Your questions are too deep. I don't like to talk about politics too deep!" "Where do you live? What's your sub-district? You know what you are doing is a communist activity?"

Adi believes that these people on tape have guilty conscience. Otherwise, why would they openly say these things and reenact their own killings?

They drank their victims blood, in the belief that they won't go mad after their countless killings. Because some went mad, they say. It was salty and sweet.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of the movie is when they visit one of such killers at home. A young daughter, about Adi's age apologizes for her father, who is sitting right next to her. In the beginning of the interview, she tells them that she regarded her father as a hero because what they taught her in school. Then her father says he drank the blood of the victims. Her face distorts, "How sadistic." Almost crying, she says "We are like family, you can visit me any time. Look at him, he is an old man. Please forgive him."

The Look of Silence is just as strong and chilling as The Act of Killing. The fact is that Adi's story is just one of the million makes the experience all the most devastating. It's in Adi's silent stares - a complete, utter condemnation that will haunt you for days.

The Look of Silence plays as part of NYFF 2014 on Sept. 30 and again Oct. 1. Please check FSLC website.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Enigma

The Blue Room (2014) - Amalric
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The Blue Room is a hard film to like-- its tone is cold and distant. But it is designed that way to accompany the mind of its passive protagonist. Based on the book of the same name by popular French novelist Georges Simenon, the film tells a brief obsession that causes double murder and ensuing courtroom drama. It harkens back to the olden days of film noir with hidden motives, loose morals and a (unlikely) femme fatale. The film is a Hitchcockian intrigue coupled with Chabrol's breeziness. Even the film's score (beautifully composed by Grégoire Hetzel) reminds you of Bernard Herman.

It starts with Julien and Esther in the throes of sweaty, passionate lovemaking in a French door shuttered, stifling hotel room. In the heat of passion, she bites his lips and he bleeds. "Did it hurt?" "No, it's fine." "Would your wife notice it?" "I'll just tell her that I ran into a post." They tell each other sweet nothings. It's a thoughtless pillow talk for him, but for her, it's something more. "Could you spend the rest of your life with me?" "Sure." Julien has a comfortable life, he manages a successful John Deere dealership, has an upbeat blonde wife and a daughter. It's his passivity that becomes his downfall. It's not that he is unhappy with life, but he finds the enigma of Esther too irresistible. Before we know it, Esther's ill husband is found dead and Julien's wife strangled. All the things Esther said, as Julien recalls in a series of police interrogations, have ominous significance for the crime(s). "If I am suddenly free, would you be free too?" After Esther's husband's death, he gets a cryptic message from her in two words, "Now You."

The Blue Room feels completely opposite of much improvised, free wheeling, 8 1/2-esque, On Tour, a film which Amalric won the Best Director award for at Cannes, few years back. It is an extremely measured film with subtle performances.

The 1:33 aspect ratio comes across as not an aesthetic choice but a psychological one, to show Julien's unwitting confinement in the situation. Stéphanie Cléau who co-adapted the book with Amalric, and not a trained actor, plays the role of Esther. There is not a hint of dark side in her unassuming beauty. But that's why she is so perfect for the role who is completely illegible. It still works as a whodunit thriller, but we never get to find out who killed who. In a breezy 76 minute running time, Amalric rightly concentrates on the Julien's distant passivity rather than making a psycho killer out of Esther. It's a hard to film to enjoy but to admire, because there are a lot to admire in this film. It definitely shows Amalric's ability as a director, a great one at that, proving himself that he's not only a mere actor.

The Blue Room plays part of NYFF 2014. It plays on 9/29 and 9/30. Please visit FSLC website for more info.

Friday, September 26, 2014

3D as an Art Form

Adieu au Langage (2014) - Godard
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3D seems like it is here to stay, for now. It was a gimmick to win back the audiences the film industry lost to the emergence of TV in the 50s', now it is revived as a last ditch effort to save the ailing industry, probably until TV starts broadcasting its contents in 3D (as we all know, it's only a matter of time that we'd be enjoying our football games and movies at home with silly glasses on). But can this new/old technology be elevated onto an art form, rather than being used exclusively to show us a mangled hunk of metal/asteroid as it hurtles toward us? If Herzog's awe inspiring Cave of Forgotten Dreams and now Godard's Goodbye to Language were any indications, the answer is yes. Yes it can.

Always on the forefront of visual experiment and testing the limits of cinema, 3D seems to be a logical next step for Jean-Luc Godard to sink his teeth in. After his test run with the technology in a short Three disasters (his contribution to an omnibus project, 3X3D), JLG, at 83, is fully committing to the 3D technology with Goodbye to Language.

The film starts with a quote, "Those lacking imagination take refuge in reality." With that, there is a slight narrative, concerning a couple (or two) as they bicker and contemplate murder. Women in the film are very much alike (a typical Godard heroine archetype- brunette with dark eyes) and tend to shed their clothes often. An outdoor book market becomes the flash point for the old and new. While browsing for books by Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, people furiously text and exchange their mobile devices. The bookseller shouts from his chair, "Don't bother googling Solzhenitsyn!"

"One day everyone will need an interpreter for what he says." One of the characters utters in the film. Its biblical implication of the world in chaos aside, the film is packed to the brim with visuals. Divided in 2 parts or at least in that Godard's typical chapter headings - Nature and Metaphor, the film grimly/comically announces the death of language.

The most vivid character is perhaps a dog named Roxy (Godard's beloved mutt), who graces the screen with his adorable face in about half of the 70 minute feature, playing around in nature, in all four seasons - near lake Geneva I'm assuming, generally having a good time. 

Godard's contemplation of war is there, but this time, not as specific or pointy as in his earlier films. Still, playing cinema's enfant terrible, he includes shots of burning bodies, and even graphic sex images. The sporadic, jumbled subtitles and dialog appear and repeat, accompanied by equally disjointed soundtrack - Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

Layering clear HD, pixelated DV, and other grainy archival footage as thick as Dostoevsky novel, Goodbye is denser, more uncompromising, more impenetrable and less coherent than Godard's last outing, Film Socialisme (which I adored). But it's still a marvelous trip. OK. let's talk about the 3D aspect of the film. There is the usual JLG droll word games with his trademark bold titles-- Adieu (in Adieu au Langage) becomes AH, DIEU (Oh, God). Only this time, it's in 3D! People's everyday actions and nature scenes, like drinking from outdoor water faucet or a sunset or sunflower field on a windy day, become cinematic events.

Imagine some of the most visually sumptuous JLG films from his later period. Nouvelle Vague (1990) or Hellas Pour Moi (1993) for example - the ship sailing by in the background, the foggy field, swinging light bulb overhead, a long dolly shot looking through the window. Now picture them in 3D. This is what Goodbye to Langauge is like. It's a thrilling visual experience and I thank god for JLG embracing the gimmicky technology and using it in his tireless exploration of the boundaries of cinema. Ah-Dieu indeed. It's certainly one of the year's best.

Goodbye to Language made its debut at this year's Cannes Film Fest, then TIFF. It is playing at NYFF on 9/27 and 10/1. Please visit FSLC's website for more info.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hardboiled

Détective (1985) - Godard
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This all-star cast hard hitting noir riff is perhaps Godard's most playful film from the 80s. It concerns monsieur Jim (Johnny Holliday), a two-bit boxing promoter who owes money around town and a lonely wife, Françoise/Geneviéve (Natalie Baye) of a sad faced pilot (Claude Brasseur) of whom Jim owes money to. They are closely monitored 'with the shitty little Japanese video camera' by a gang of amateur inspectors - uncle Prospero, Neveu (Jean-Pierre Leaud) with the help of a perky little thing/would be Neveu's fiancée after she takes the school exam, Arielle (Aurelle Doazan). Jim has his posse of his own - Tiger Jones, a young boxer whose worst enemy is himself, princess of Barbados (Emmanuelle Seigner) and a young botticelli beauty (Julie Delpy) and an accountant who literally asks computer for solutions to every problem.

Jim not only owes money to the couple but also to a mafioso boss called Prince (Alain Cuny) who happens to be staying at the same opulent Paris hotel where everybody seems to be staying in. Actually, the whole film takes place in and around the hotel. The plot is way too discombobulating to follow along. There are some slight comments on technology and porn, but it's all about characters interactions, funny lines ('Damn Italian legs!'), mad slapstick energy (thanks to Leaud) and beauty of youth. Détective is an unabashedly silly, fun film reminiscent of Breathless.