Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dear Macy

Paranoid Park (2007) - Van Sant
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Alex (Gabe Nevins) is our unreliable narrator. He apologizes he's never taken creative writing class so the orders of his recounts are not in order. But the film is far from whodoneit or a thriller. Alex struggles with guilt that he caused the death of the security guard. But it's not Crimes and Misdemeanors. It observes Alex's life plainly and simply. He is a good kid in a divorcing parents household. He is a kind of kid who is more interested in skating than taking virginity of his pretty girlfriend who is constantly nagging him for it.

Paranoid Park isn't really about anything. Sure it deals with skater kids in High School setting and an accident where a railroad security guy gets killed. Gus Van Sant and DP Chris Doyle rather ringer on their angelic looking young subject with shallow focus and all. As Alex struggles a little with his guilty conscience, he gets a little help from a goth girl Macy. She suggests to write what's on his mind and take the weight off his chest. So he goes along with it, simply leading his teenage life. And it's a sublime experience.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Natural Sensual

Beach Rats (2017) - Hittman
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Finally, an American female filmmaker who is not afraid of depicting sexuality frankly on screen! Eliza Hittman hit all the right notes with her new film Beach Rats, set in Sheepshead Bay, a seldom represented Brooklyn neighborhood in movies.

It concerns Frankie (Harris Dickenson), a boyishly handsome young man with a sculpted body, hanging out in the lazy Summer with his cropped haired buddydudes, sucking at vapor at a smoke shop and strolling on the beach and boardwalks. But at night, he prowls gay internet site for quick meet-and-fucks. It's a secret no one- his family (mom and younger sister) and his buddydudes, knows about. He usually prefers older man. With his dad dying of cancer at home, the boy's got some daddy issues. On the Coney Island boardwalk, he hooks up with pretty party girl Simone (Madeline Weinstein). She is a good front to hide his homosexuality. The only problem is he can't really be intimate with her unless on drugs or some sort of stimulant.

Beach Rats is obviously influenced by Denis's Beau Travail in its sensuality and lyricism. Running just over an hour and a half and shot on grainy 16mm, the film is a tight sketch of an ordinary young man unsure of his sexuality and seeking acceptance. Hittman doesn't shy away from showing graphic depiction of teenage sex and gay sex. She is also keenly aware of voyeuristic, narcissistic culture we are living in with abundance of selfies and social network. But what I'm most impressed with is her command with characters. Even though its young leads are exceptionally, almost stereotypically (in Abercrombe Fitch advert sense) good looking, that fact never overwhelms the story she tells, and same with its her aesthetics: sensuality comes off naturally, not staged - there are no lingering body shots or slow-mos.

Dickenson, a fair-haired, blue eyed star of the film is nothing but revelation here. His vulnerability and confusion, shared with youthful narcissism and goodness hidden behind the pretty façade are all staggering. Without ever delving into stereotypes, Beach Rats succeeds in telling a lean, sensual coming-of-age story that feels both very real and truthful.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Euclid and Pascal

JLG JLG: autoportrait de décembre (1994) - Godard
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This is my initial thoughts on JLG JLG (will have to rewatch very soon):

With Anna Wiazemsky passing this year, it hit me that Godard, who just turned 87 today, outlived most of his contemporaries. Even though lately he hasn't been as prolific as past several decades, he is still at it. With JLG JLG, which came out more than 20 years ago now, in his 60s, I think his carrier gave him a chance to look back to see what he had gained, what he had lost. He looks mighty lonely at the empty shore of Lake Geneva.

Godard tells that JLG JLG is not a autobiography, but autoportrait near the end of the film. The year is 1993- The Bosnian War is still raging, Israel/Palestine conflict saw the signing of the uneasy Oslo Accord after much bloodshed and injustices, European Union was formed to compete economically with America. The film reflects Godard's contemplation on these matters and mortality, art and culture, and of course, cinema.

Dark empty corridors contrasts wintry landscape of Lake Geneva, as Godard narrates in his usual intentionally distorted, gravelly voice. The scenes are accompanied by hollow footsteps and nature. But usually the shots are mostly devoid of humans. He appears on screen, scribbling and reading, conversing with nubile housekeepers. There are a peach fuzzed studio exec who looks like 19, a blind assistant editor and an old woman who's sitting in the snow ominously speaking in Latin.

Godard's seemingly abstract connections through politics, history and art are not without fangs. Like light and darkness, there's two sides always competing, but what if there is only one side but the other is just an reflection of one's self? "JLG by JLG," he says at one point. It's only you who can truly represent yourself and on the same token, truly judge yourself. "I am legend." He declares on the pages of his note book- he is thoroughly aware of his past. The past is never dead. He's the director of Breathless and Pierrot le fou among others. But over the years, his persona (his name) has taken over a center stage rather than his films. How do you reconcile the two? He also has to live up to his name. With everything that was going wrong in the world at the time, speaks of love, as if there is a chance in the rotten world that gives us meaning to all of this. He will be remembered in art history. He is legend. He has been tirelessly exploring and in turn, elevated cinema as an art form. Happy Birthday Monsieur Jean.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Creepy Adults, Cool Children

The Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) - Gessner
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Rynn (Jodie Foster) just turned 13. She seems to be living in a big house in a small seaside New England town alone. She doesn't go to school and lives off of cashing traveller's checks which she keeps in a safety deposit box. She tells any adults who stop by, including her nosy landlady, Mrs. Hallet (Alexis Smith) and her pedophile son, Frank Hallet (Martin Sheen) & the town cop (Mort Shuman) that her poet father is either indisposed or out of town. She is very bright and cultured for her age and she is definitely hiding something.

It gets a little too invasive whenever the mom and son Hallets keep barging in unannounced, for different purposes. Rynn can't disguise the fact that she has been living alone any longer. Things get hairy when Mrs. Hallet goes missing. With the help of a limping amateur magician teen Mario (Scott Jacoby) who also happens to be the cop's nephew, Rynn trudge through the cold world of calculating grownups, finds comfort in being an outsider.

I do have a soft spot for cold New England movies sometimes - a fireplace, wool blankets, pea coats with hoodies, etc. The film has that comfortable loneliness to it. Taking place mostly in the house and originally conceived as a play, The Girl Who Lives Down the Lane has that teleplay vibe. Young Foster is great as a smart kid who is left all alone in the world and has to fend for herself. It's uncanny that she retains that all knowing smirk and directness since early in her career. Sheen is also great as a menacing pervert who really knows how to get under your skin.

It's a weird little film. I guess one can call it a psychological thriller. There are some 70s childsploitation elements with nudity and stuff but I was surprised how tender the film was. And the payoff at the end is great.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Tentacles

La región salvaje/The Untamed (2016) - Escalante
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Mixing naturalistic portrait of domestic disintegration and Lovecraftian Sci-Fi, Mexico's other bad boy of cinema, Emat Escalante creates an intriguing but ultimately empty study of toxic masculinity in a still very much religious and patriarchal society.

We are introduced early on to an alien creature through its fat, dirty-pink tentacles near the naked body of Veronica (Simone Bucio). It seems that two aging scientists couple living in a cabin in the woods have been keeping the creature in their barn ever since it landed on earth carried on by a meteorite (as seen on the first shot of the film). The old couple warns Vero not to come back. See, the creature gives them extraordinary pleasure but it's also very dangerous.

So this is the set up of the film:

Veronica, waifish, socially award girl on her motor bike, injured by the creature (the alien being gets tired of its sex objects and becomes violent), feigns her wounds on her side as a dog bite in the hospital. There she strikes up a friendship with Fabian (Eden Villavincencio), a kind gay nurse who's been having an intense sexual affair with his brother-in-law, Angel (Jesus Meza) who has repressed sexuality issues and happens to be a brutish construction worker (naturally!). Fabian's sister Alejandra (Ruth Ramos) is an unhappy, unfulfilled house wife with two young boys, dreaming of getting away from bleak reality.

With Vero as a lure, Fabian gets to experience the alien encounter. He gets his head bashed in and falls in to a coma (alien don't go that way?). According to the police, he also suffered sexual aggression. With their explicit sexual texting and eye witnesses accounts, Angel gets the blame and goes to jail. Vero then introduces Ale to the scientists and the creature.

Escalante dedicates the film to Zulawski, the Polish master known for his emotionally explosive, psychological dramas and whose film Possession is an obvious inspiration for the film. But unlike the tentacled creature in Possession which was more of a personification of a couple's tumultuous relationship, it seems thinner here in its metaphorical meaning - the reptilian sense of carnal desire. It's very much flesh and blood rather than the work of imagination or will.

There lies very thin line between the boyish horse playing of two grown men (construction workers) trying to grab each other's dicks in the field and the gay sex in a club bathroom. But Escalante is too timid for showing male nude or penetration on male subjects (there are some but not explicit). With alien encounters it's all one sided, male gaze. All women are waifs, except for the monstrous mother-in-law. If you want to shed a light on rampant sexual violence and repressed sexuality and make folly of male dominant macho culture, the tentacle porn would be the very last thing I would think of using to make that point.
But Escalante thinks he can have the cake and eat it too. So here we are, we end up seeing tentacle sex, all flesh and blood, explicitly. I feel bad for its actors.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Going Up the River

Crosscurrent (2016) - Yang
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Yang Chao's Crosscurrent is an ambitious undertaking- he tries to show China's changing times up through the Yangtze River, both literally and in metaphysical sense, on a small cargo boat. And it's a glorious one.

Gao Chun (Qin Hao), just lost his father and as the tradition calls it, he needs to keep a black fish caught in the river in an urn until it expires naturally, so he can set his father's soul free. But he also inherited his father's tattered small cargo boat, a broad headed hunk of metal all rusted blue and red with age. Hired by some hotshot shady businessman, he is tasked to carry some unseen illegal cargo up the river. With an old man and an impatient young deck hand, and narrated by a diary found inside the boat -poems on each port Chun visits, he embarks on a long metaphysical journey through waterways, from Shanghai all the way to the source of the river near Tibet.

Chun lays his eyes on beautiful An Lu (Xin Zhilei), first as a prostitute on a floating riverboat in Shanghai, but she appears on every port Chun's boat docks along the river, waiting for him. Sometimes they meet, sometimes they miss each other, but without fail, she is there on the next port, reappearing again and again in a different form or another. An Lu in Mandarin is safe road/inner path, therefore the presence of An Lu serves as a nature spirit/old China left at a port as the ship sails.

As we go up the river, we are presented with China old and new - ruins of flooded towns, pagodas on top of the mountains, natural beauty of the waterways contrasting with ultra modern bridges and gigantic steel walls of Three Gorges Dam. Tears roll down on Chun's face when he observes the wonders of human ingenuity of the dam and when he encounters An Lu for the last time, indiscriminately.
Yang's approach might be too broad and can be seen as too arty farty and pretentious as the film tackles grand themes like the country's identity and its past and present in a poetic and spiritual way. And it many ways it is. But who cares. Mark Lee Ping Bin's cinematography is insanely gorgeous here.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Long Live the Flesh

Caniba (2017) - Paravel, Castaing-Taylor
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Issei Sagawa killed a Dutch woman in Paris and ate part of her body in 1981. It was a case of strong fantasies that twisted one's mind and giving way to violent urges. He was declared insane and sent home. Now in his 60s and partially paralyzed, he is in care of his brother Jun. Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, the duo behind Leviathan, plunge into face the darkest of human desires and capture only way they can. The result is one of the most deeply disturbing love story ever told.

Long takes, in mostly extreme close up and out-of-focus most of the time of Issei's aging, almost reptilian face, Caniba is a fascinating watch. It's usually Jun carrying on a conversation off screen with his semi-comatose brother on the foreground. Issei blurts out almost haiku style answers, often trailing off to yonder. For us audiences, Jun flips through a crudely drawn but extremely graphic manga of Issei's deeds (published a long while ago- Issei's been living off of his notoriety) while chastising his brother the whole time, "This is too much for me," "some people like this I suppose," "you weren't eating her while she was alive?" and so on. It goes on forever. In it, Issei is always portrayed as little orange creature, the worst caricature of an Orientalized person craving for a fair skinned white woman. After Jun dissing the book as 'disgusting shit' and putting it down, Issei says, "C'est fini."

Caniba contains footage of fetish porn where a girl pisses on a man's face. It also has 8mm home movie of young Sagawa brothers. They were just like any other home movies, showing happy days when they were children. Then it turns out that Jun is a lifelong masochist and has been inflicting pain on his body with barbed wires, kitchen knives and pins for over 60 years. This part of the movie is perhaps the most difficult to watch. When he confesses his vice to his brother, it's as if they are in competition - Jun passive aggressively belittles himself and his brother - "You aren't shocked because my fetishes pales in comparison to yours." "I wasn't shocked." Issei replies. Their relationship, just like any other siblings is on a base level, very relatable. Issei, aging and invalid, knows Jun is the only one who truly understands him and loves him even though he is a murderer and a cannibal.

In theory, Caniba is what I look for in filmmaking - technically daring, psychologically complex, intellectually stimulating, etc. But its subjects' sexual fetishes are too far extreme and disturbing, I can't say I enjoyed the film. I did not like its somewhat happy ending involving cosplay maid in her black and white uniform taking care of Issei, either.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sentient Beings

Testről és lélekről/On Body and Soul (2017) - Enyedi
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A handicapped, lonely and aging financial director, Endre (Géza Morcsányi) at an industrial slaughterhouse is intrigued by Maria (Alexandra Borbély), a new quality inspector who lacks any social niceties. It happens that they dream the same dream every night - that they are a deer couple, roaming the snowy forests, enjoying each other's company in silence. But even though they share the serendipitous events, unlike a regular romance, they have some big huddles to leap through - Endre has given up his love life a long while ago and Maria suffers from haphephobia for whatever reasons.

Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi (My Twentieth Century) does whimsy right while contemplating all animals as sentient beings. On Body and Soul is a grown-up fairytale (as opposed to grown-up's fairytale). I liked that Enyedi doesn't rely on cuteness of the premise. It's mature and beautifully realized. I hate when a film makes sex as a clutch that solves every problem its characters have. Even though Maria's characterization is shorthanded, I loved the idea of her ethereal being coming down to earth by her elopment with Endre, realizing the love is accepting breadcrumbs on the table.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Selfish Love

The Day After (2017) - Hong
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The Day After is just as delicious as Alone on the Beach at Night. Clocking just over an hour, it tells an illicit love affair of a small time book publisher (Kwon Haehyo) and his mousy employee (Kim Saebyeok) from the point of view of a new employee named Arum (beauty in Korean, played by Hong's muse Kim Minhee). Arum gets tangled up in the publisher's messy life on her first day on the job, when she gets assaulted by his suspecting wife. After half-convincing the wife that Arum is not the one, and telling her that the girl he was seeing went away, and asking Arum not to quit after one day at the job, to complicate the matter, the mousy lover comes back the same night. So he has to let Arum go (he can only afford one employee) after all. Arum is dejected and disgusted by this love affair she was involuntarily ensnared into, but ultimately could care much since it's not her problem.

As always in Hong fashion, The Day After is shot unremarkable and is in ugly black and white. Don't matter, it's still great human comedy about fickle relationships. Not as angry as Alone on the Beach, but just as confessional, Hong makes a case for how hurtful affairs can be. He and the publisher know too well that the affair is not going to end well. But when you are in love nothing really matters- you will sacrifice everything including a stranger who just happens to be there. Love can be a very selfish and ugly thing.

It's sad, funny and poignant all the same. Grown to love Hong's naturalism. There is no movie phoniness or over the top self-reflexiveness in his work. Kim's natural performance, as a kind of shy, yet frank beauty is a great fit in his films.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Clear-Eyed Humanism

Le fils de Joseph (2016) - Green
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Vincent (Victor Ezenfis) is a good kid. He's a kind of kid who shies away from fellow schoolmates torturing the rat in a trap and steals from a Hardware store but only to put the item back later, smiling to himself. He is also a serious kid who'd have Caravaggio's Sacrifice of Issac on his bedroom wall. Raised by a hardworking single mom (Natasha Régnier), he has never known his dad. He becomes increasingly unhappy about this and starts resenting his mom.

After snooping around the house, Vincent finds out who his dad is- Oscar Pomenor (Mathieu Amalric), a big time playboy and important literary figure in Paris. After gaining access to one of Pomenor's parties by pretending to be one of his literary pupils, Vincent sneaks into his posh office only to witness his dad's extramarital thryst. It turns out that Pomenor is a grade A asshole and a terrible human being, not worthy of being a dad. He makes a decision to kill him, Abraham style. But when the moment comes, he can't do it. And there in the hotel bar where Pomenor's office is located, he meets Joseph (Fabrizio Rongione), who has just been rejected a loan by Pomenor.

Joseph, a never-do-well brother of Oscar, who dreams of owning a farm in Normandy where he grew up, strikes up a good friendship with troubled Vincent. The kid, longing for a good dad and a family, in turn introduces him to his mom. The romance blossoms.

Even though Le fils de Joseph is steeped in religious references, you can't not be moved by its clear-eyed humanism. Green, a unique filmmaker whose Bressonian approach might need some getting used to, once again, makes a deeply touching parable showing that goodness exists in people. Solid performances all around. Régnier's beautiful in this. SHer subtle, warm, vulnerable performance really shines.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Good Time for Whom?

Good Time (2017) - Safdie
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I understand what Josh and Benny Safdie are going for. From what I've seen and heard, their films are all about small moments - not narratively gregarious, concentrating on small encounters, naturalistic settings, characters in motion. And there are quite few of those moments in Good Time. When they work, they work great. But does the movie work as a whole? I'm not so sure. Good Time has many things going for it - solid performances by wide eyed Robert Pattinson, playing a small time crook taking charge over his mentally handicapped brother (Benny Safdie), heart pumping score, 16mm gritty cinematography... But it also is very unsatisfying especially when there is no one you can root for. Pattinson's Connie is a hard character to sympathize with, as he works his charm over various women and resort to violence when things get dire. I get that he cares for his retarded brother but there is no indication of his background or what his real motives for the bank robbery is - in short, who he is.

OK, so those moments. Loved the interaction btwn Pattinson and Safdie in the bathroom of Pizza Hut after their robbery has gone horribly wrong. Loved the teen black girl in the house in Queens where Connie invites himself into. It's very unlikely that a sassy, pot-smoking black teen would be hanging out with an older white stranger, but I let that go because their interactions are really great. Loved the idea of breaking into an amusement park at night. But that moment's also somewhat tampered by that Somali actor (Barkhad Abdi) who is in everything now- the treatment he gets (from Connie) was almost racist.

People stop comparing Good Times to 70s NY movies. The Safdies ain't no Lumet. Their aim is quite different- it's smaller and narrower. But it's as if they don't ever wanna bite off more than they can chew. If getting those couple of moments are their aim for two hour movie, that's fine. But I feel they are putting emphasis on the wrong things- for instance, extensive (and surely expensive) aerial shot of the city in the beginning and following Connie's car on the street from aerial view. Good Time feels like as if they are afraid to tackle something bigger, grander things. I don't know. I guess I don't like their timid ways.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

"Let It Happen." Alan Gomis Talks about His New Film, Félicité

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After winning Grand Jury Prize at Berlin early this year, Alain Gomis's Félicité played as part of the slim but always robust Main Slate at New York Film Festival. Featuring great Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu as the title role, a single mother and a singer struggling to survive in the bustling streets of Kinshasa while trying to find love, Félicité is a structurally daring, vibrant, sensual and hopeful African film that you don't get to experience often. For me it was one of the highlights of the festival.

Gomis, a Senegalese director, was in town for the festival and I was lucky enough to have a chat with him about doing a film in Congo for the first time, the state of African cinema, his relationship with his generous and talented collaborators and on his method/non method- letting things take its own course. Even though suffering from a cold, Gomis was very generous and open with his answers.

And I am very happy that the film was announced Senegal's official entry for the Oscars and is getting a theatrical run here in the States starting 10/26 at Quad Cinema in NY.

The music seems to be the heart of the film. I heard that you are a big fan of The Kasai All-stars and the whole project began with them in mind. So if you can tell me about that a bit?

I’ve heard their music a few years before, introduced by a girl I know. It was through their album called Congotronics- several music groups from Kinshasa, playing the music called ‘Tradi-moderne’ in French, a mix of traditional Congolese music and modern stuff. Most of it is traditional music but the fact it’s played in the city of Kinshasa, it’s mixed with electric guitars and… they made this music that is perfect embodiment of life in a big African city. It’s really connected to cosmogony and transcendental music, so it’s steeped in tradition but mixing with the urban way of life. So it was perfect for me to start the project with this music to portray the urban African life.

With your previous films, it was Dakar and now it's Kinshasa. These cities themselves become very important characters in your films.

It’s always interesting to see the effect of the city on its people, and conversely, how they change it. How we are played by the city and how we influence it. Africa has a very small cinema industry. And there is this need for the symbiotic relationship with cinema and the society itself to present the life on the street.

Most of the time the films are coming from the outside which is a big problem because you identify yourself with the culture that is not yours. Of course it’s cool to have relationship with the rest of the world but you also need to have access to yourself. So it’s also important to me to try to portray what it’s like there. It is part of my mission in a way.

I talked with Ousmane Cisse when he was here presenting Timbuktu. And he told me how hard it was for him to finance his films. Is it the same way with you? How did the funding for Félicité come about?

It is not easy, but it’s getting better. This film if very concretely funded by Senegalese Production Fund which was set up in 2013. We had a French production company and post-production is done in Belgium. We had some Lebanese co-production too, German, Gabonese…

Wow.


So yes, we try to get money from here and there and everywhere. But the good part of it is that I had total freedom. Because if you had one financial partner, they have much more influence on you and what you are doing. (laughs) Having little here and there, you have more freedom.

It was really interesting to see the film in distinctly two parts. The first part is like a social docu-drama in terms of pacing and everything. And the second half, the tempo slows down a lot and it’s a love story between Tabu and Félicité. I liked that a lot. Is the pacing of the film connected to the music?

Yes. First I wanted to have easy entrance to the movie. I wanted to have a simple drama structure for everybody to be able to get into it easily. And then coming in to the heart of the movie which is Félicité’s journey of falling flat on her face then coming back up. But that part of the film is not something to tell but something to live, something to experience.

So yes, its inspired by musical structure. I think that’s the relationship that I have with music and I assume everybody else too. You listen to music and you start to cry and you don’t know why. Just like a concert, like a space between the stage and the listeners, I wanted to build a relationship between the screen and the audience.

I really appreciate the handheld photography by the great Celine Bozon in the streets of Kinshasa. How was the working relationship with her?

It was a first time working with her for me. It was like love at first sight! It was an incredible relationship. She was so devoted to the film and the filmmaking. She has no fear. She is completely into creating sensations I was looking for.

It was also my first time having relationship through books. Just last week, she sent me this book and I was reading it on the plane on the way here. It’s a book about the art of archery. This relationship is like not to interfere with your sensation with your gesture in a way. We’d have incredible conversations – not about the frame or contrast, just trying to be more direct as possible. She suggested using the headphones, so she had a headphone set and I had a microphone. We had dialog during the takes, to find a good angle or sometime she would be just proposing something and I just try to say few words and she answers. sometimes it would be contrary…. The film was a true collaboration.

We have built a crew to shoot on the streets and interact with people. So we come several weeks before, talking to people. Some of them became part of the crew also while shooting. We had no boundaries. Someone was getting in the frame and it was possible. It wasn't like a traditional 'film set'.

Somewhere you mentioned that you were influenced by Yasujiro ozu. Can you elaborate on that?

I remember I was watching this film, it was a shock. I can't remember the English title of it.... It was... I Was Born But... Taking place in Tokyo about these two kids. The thing is, these kids were really me. They are trying to fit in their new surroundings, trying to fit in. I especially loved the relationship between them and their fathers. It was really shocking to me because it was an old film, black and white and a silent film at that. But it was me! That’s what cinema is for me. You can find that intimacy in a film that is made long ago on the otherside of the world. Cinema is creating that common space. The film really had a big influence on me.

I can see that in your films. Just watched Aujourd'hui. It’s very contemplative and very quiet, compared with other contemporary African cinema I’ve seen. You have a very distinctive style and approach. You possess this quiet sensitivity I admire.

Thank you.

How did you find the main actress, Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu?

She came in the audition. I’ve seen a lot of actors in theater and other auditions and so on. But this was an open casting- it was open to everybody. She came to it by chance because her friend told her to try it. She came in and I see her and I had the character in mind and she was quite different from Félicité I imagined. So OK, 'let’s try her in the part of the nurse', I thought. But she was so powerful in her performance and presence. So concrete, even when she remain silent, she had this energy that kept going through her. So I asked her to come back.

So we had these interactions for 6 months, I wanted her to come back and forth and we continued to build a character together during that time. At the end, I had to accept her as the character which meant I had to follow her. All these things- Vero, the language I didn’t speak, the fact that I didn’t know Kinshasa- what I had to do was to…just let the film happen. It was me just trying to hear, not dictate, not “this is the story I want to tell!” I had to accept the fact that it’s not about me.

It’s telling that the film has its own flow that I really like. It feels organic and natural to me.

Is it common to have kind of an open relationship between Tabu and Félicité in modern African city?

For sure. I mean, in this time of economic pressure, the traditional sense of family is blown. We have young girls with children and everything like that is absolutely new. The film was my interrogation on what it means to be a couple. It was about accepting the freedom of the other person and of yourself. 'What part of the freedom am I giving up to be a couple?' I wanted to show these kind of new situations in urban African life and ask the audiences what would they give up.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Memory Mystery

L'Immortelle (1963) - Robbe-Grillet
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More so than Robbe-Grillet scribed Last Year at Marienbad, L'Immortelle plays with the images and its hidden meanings. In Robbe-Grillet's world, every ordinary gesture, pose, object resonates to its nameless protagonist, and in time, to us. A pair of woman's sandals, a caress of a neck, a view from a window - every shot becomes iconic and powerful.

It tells a story of a French teacher in Istanbul, just arrived and don't know the language or custom of the locals. He meets a mysterious, beautiful woman (Françoise Brion), who wouldn't divulge anything about her - address, profession, not even a name. "It's the mosque of your dreams," she says as they pass by the famous New Mosque by the water on a boat, suggesting that what he sees and perceived as reality might be all but an illusion. She interacts with the locals in their native tongue in front of our frenchman. But when asked, she plays innocent, pretending she didn't understand a thing they said, keeping him in the dark. But we as an audience understand the exchanges via subtitle. After some intimate days, she disappears. Left only with the memories of her, he takes a detective role to find her or rather, to find about her. But since he doesn't know the language, the investigation turns futile. Even though she turns up later, he loses her again before he finds out about anything.

L'Immortelle is an intricate visual puzzle piece that's beautifully put together: repetition of images, still and panning shots and the accumulation of these give meanings in edits. Just like the palace in Marienbad (Schloss Schleissheim), Istanbul and its waterways serve as a magnificent backdrop. Brion, as the mystery personified. is magnetic. The elliptical narrative and the images give the feeling that time doesn't exist in the film. Your own memories are immortal for long as you live, the film tells us.