Friday, July 18, 2014

Greek Tragedy

Phaedra (1962) - Dassin
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Phaedra is a retelling of a classical Greek tragedy of a woman falling in love with her stepson, set in modern day Greece. Phaedra (Melina Mercoury) is a wife of a ship building magnate Thanos (Raf Vallon). She is put on a task by Thanos to bring back his art student son Alexis (Anthony Perkins) from London to join them in Greece for the Summer. Before she leaves, her long time family nanny warns her of her dream where two men were fighting over her. Phaedra is intrigued by the carefree young man who introduces an Aston Martin in the car shop windo as his 'gal'. While walking on London Bridge, in a stunt act to convince him, Phaedra throws her huge diamond ring over the bridge. They start a fiery affair after reuniting with Thanos in Paris, en route to Greece. Sensing that the affair is not going to end well, Phaedra begs Alexis not to come to Greece. He obliges while heartbroken and angry. But as fate would have it, Thanos, oblivious of what's going on, chastises Phaedra for not bringing back his son- the rightful heir of his empire and recalls him to Greece. Overjoyed yet guilt stricken, Phaedra has to content with shame, guilt, jealousy and burning desire while Alexis struggles to be free from all.

Dassin deftly directs this handsome, high melodrama. His wife and muse Melina Mercoury is marvelous as a tragic heroine with her striking features and Eartha Kitt purrs. Perkins has never been as charming and handsome as here. Loved it. I gotta check out some more Dassin.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Storytelling Experiment

The Ugly One (2013) - Baudelaire
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In this experiment, Baudelaire visualizes a story told, narrated by Masao Adachi, Japanese filmmaker/National Red Army terrorist. The Ugly One tells a Marienbad-esque tale of Michel and Lili, Lebanese guerrilla fighters and their chance meeting where they remember meeting each other but can't recall their memories. Something happened to their daughter. Was it a botched kidnapping and a car bomb plot? Adachi's personal experience and memories bleeds into the filmmaking. Against modern day Lebanon backdrop (and many bombed out locations), actors who play the roles acknowledge that they are improvising with given materials on camera at times. There are heated arguments amongst characters about the region's complicated political landscape. The current politics are reflected in the conversations as well. But like in Grandrieux's Masao Adachi elegy, It Maybe That Beauty Has Strengthened Our Resolve, Adachi, after all these years, remains a romantic at heart. Memories, regrets play a big part in The Ugly One. Here, Baudelaire makes an interesting and beautiful film from someone's old memories, but also succeeds in making the film being completely relevant in the world of today.

*I have only a couple of films left from Art of the Real series. As I said before, this series has been a treasure trove for me.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Jungle Fever

Green Mansions (1959) - Ferrer
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I was browsing Tony Perkins's filmography on imdb and boy, he was such a dashing ladies' man. Too bad Psycho became such a career defining film for him. Green Mansions is a ridiculous adventure story in Amazon jungle shot in cinemascope. It stars Perkins as a privileged white boy, Abel, in Caracas who became a victim of a revolution there. He flees to the jungle and mingles in with a tribe of natives (chief and his son played by Sessue Hayakawa and always dependable ethnic man, Henry Silva) by proving his bravery (standing in one place and talking until collapsing)? He needs to find gold there, to take revenge on those revolutionaries who wronged his family or something. There is a forest nearby that is forbidden to enter by the tribesmen because there is a forest witch who lives there. She killed the chief's first son when he went in to the forest to hunt. The witch turns out to be animal loving Rima (Audrey Hepburn, playing the perfect, but sexless nymphet). For Abel, it's a love at first sight. He wants to get her out of the jungle. Rima's guardian/grandpa (Lee J Cobb) holds a dark secret and the bloodthirsty tribesmen in pursuit, and the jungle itself as adversary, the two lovebirds must make it or break it!

Sets and locations are pretty impressive. The credits indicate that they shot part of the film in Colombia, Venezuela and Guiana and it was one of the first cinemascope films. It also has wealth of set painting and campy effects. But I have to say it's pretty great.

Tony Perkins sings:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sex, Lies and Audiotape

Suitcase of Love and Shame (2013) - Gillooly
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Sound can achieve greater things than moving pictures. Oftentimes I feel there is something crass about visual storytelling that leaves just too little to your imagination. In Suitcase of Love and Shame, Boston based filmmaker Jane Gillooly achieves something miraculous with the suitcase full of reel-to-reel audiotapes she found on ebay. With minimalistic accompanying visuals, Gillooly charts an intimate correspondences of two lovers. Tom and Jeanine, who lived in the Midwest in 1965. I guess a portable tape recorder was a brand new technology. I don't really know because I don't watch Mad Men. These lovebirds - Tom a married man (a pet doctor?) and Jeanine a widow, exchanged these audio letters instead of written ones. Their conversations are salacious and downright naughty. Tom, sounding like a cross between Sam Shepherd and Chet Baker with that unmistakable Midwest twang and Jeanine, a sweet natured all American mousy missus, exchange I love yous and delicious morsels of woos and coos. They sometimes record it together in their sinful hotel bedrooms.

What is ultimately a third rate, x-rated extra marital love affair with a predictably sad ending, Gillooly elevates it with slight visuals and some suggestive photos that real couple took during their meetings. Suitcase of Love and Shame enables our deep tendency toward voyeurism that Hitchcock could've only dreamed of achieving.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Japan Cuts 2014 Preview

JAPAN CUTS, a contemporary Japanese film festival provided by the venerable Japan Society, celebrates its 8th year here in NY. I got the first tastes of some of the most exciting new Japanese cinema to tell you about. After reading this, y'all mosey over to my friends at twitchfilm.com for complete coverage of Japan Cuts or visit Japan Society. Japan Cuts 2014 runs 7/10 - 7/20.

Neko Samurai
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A cute cat and a grumpy samurai...I mean, really? Japan, what took you so long?! Neko Samurai stars a mean faced ronin, Kyutaro (Kitamura Kazuki of The Raid 2, Man from Reno, Japan's Tragedy and the recipient of the Cut Above Awards at this year's Japan Cuts), looking for work in Edo. In the mean time, he ekes out a meager living making umbrellas. He is a fine swordsman but its his face that intimidates his enemies most. He is approached by a dog loving clan to assassinate a cat living in the house of a rivaling clan. The arranged marriage of two cats between the cat loving clan and shogun's will surely wipe out the dog loving clan! Kyutaro declines the job at first, but after seeing a large sum of rewards, he can't refuse. But once he sees the white cat, Tamanojoh, his heart melts. So he fakes the assassination and hides the cat in his boarding house with disastrous results - umbrellas ripped to shreds, cat pee on his bedspread...

Based on a TV series of the same name, Neko Samurai relies on its deadpan humor and of course, the adorableness of the white cat. Kitamura does a great job sustaining a straight face throughout the whole thing. Put down your swords and just look at that adorable cat's face. You will feel your murderous rage slipping away from your body. -- Dustin Chang

Japan Cuts 2014 celebrates Kitamura's career with candid introductions and Q&As for Man from Reno, Killers and Neko Samurai followed by the Japan CATS Party!


The Passion
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Frances-ko (Iwasa Mayuko) grew up in a convent. Since she is a virgin, she wants very much to have sexual experiences before she goes back to the convent when she gets old. But she doesn't really know the way of things in the world. Even though she works at a modeling agency, she has no idea how to talk to men. She asks men bluntly, "When our eyes met, did you think about having sex with me?" The answer is always no.

One day while praying, the answer comes down from below. It's a man faced tumor (hilarious Furutachi Kanji) that is attached to her vagina. He taunts her everyday, telling her how worthless she is as a woman. Now jobless, collecting garbage on the street (to be useful in some way, in her words), Frances-ko, just like anything in her life, accepts the trash talking tumor on her vagina with her typical nonchalance. She names the growth Mr. Koga and so begins an unusual symbiotic relationship between a woman and a tumor. Will Frances-ko finally find happiness?

Based on a prize winning novel of the same by Himeno Kaoruki, The Passion is a very funny and surprisingly tender film anchored by Iwasa's great performance as a naive woman who accepts the world as it comes to her.


Greatful Dead
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Touching upon ills of the society, Uchida Eiji's Greatful Dead is a dark comedy (emphasis on dark). Nami (Takiuchi Kumi), an attention starved girl grows up to be a sociopath who spies on people she calls 'solitarians' - unfortunate souls who (nearly) went mad out of loneliness. She finally finds her match in Shiomi (Sasano Takashi), a cranky elderly man and former TV star, living alone after his wife's death. She relishes obsessively on his every move through her binoculars. Things get up close and personal when Shiomi is approached by a comely Korean Christian volunteer Su-yong (Kkot-bi Kim from Breathless) who turns him into a life-affirming, bible quoting Christian. Nami can't stand losing her favorite solitarian and takes a drastic measure to reclaim her prized possession. Things turn violent, very very violent.

Uchida sets up Nami's story nicely and wins over our sympathy early on, thanks to Takiuchi Kumi's physical performance and deadly smile, only to turn it upside down later on. The growing number of shut ins and elderly people is a real problem and Uchida is not afraid of pursuing the touchy subject to extreme. It's a sickly entertaining film.


Hello! Junichi
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Ishii Katsuhito, the man behind Taste Of Tea and Funky Forest, makes an unabashedly children's movie, starring the scrumptious Mitsushima Hikari (Love Exposure, Sawako Decides) as a chain smoking, unorthodox teacher in training at an Elementary School.

The film features trials and tribulations of a shy and awkward 3rd grader, Junichi and his ragtag group of friends. This is the time when borrowing an animal-shaped eraser from a girl you have a crush on is as much a big deal as, I don't know, being a goalie at a World Cup shootout.

The only "Ishii-ness" comes from the dance sequence performed by Ishii regular Gashuin Tatsuya, playing once again, the weird grandfather. Extremely good natured and optimistic, Hello! Junichi is a movie for kids starring kids. If you enjoy listening to high-pitched shrills of 9 year old munchkins for 90 minutes, this movie is for you.



Direct Cinema

Alone (2013) - Wang
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No wonder Wang Bing is regarded as the best documentarian in the world and perhaps the most important Chinese director working today. Alone, a shorter version of his 2 1/2 hr film Three Sisters, hits all the right notes on what I love about observational documentary and Wang's is as real and direct as it gets. Alone shows three sisters, age 10, 6 and 4, living in a remote highland in Yunan Province. They live like orphans. Their mother long gone, father works in another city and seldom visits them. They mooch off of their aunt and work, especially the oldest, Yin- tending various farm herds, vegetable gardens, building fire, cooking and dish washing, laundry. She also takes care of rambunctious younger siblings all by herself.

Father comes in, bringing new shoes and clothes and takes two young ones with him to the city. Yin stays with her grandfather, attends Elementary school. All this time, she never complains. There are shots of her alone, being the oldest, lonely 10 year old in the world. Then there are glimpses of her that shows that she still is a child, like when she plays with a clear plastic sheet as a toy. Their abject poverty is not the main draw here. Rather, it's their innocence and resilience. So much beauty in display in Alone. There is beauty in the girl's faces, in hearth, in the mountains, in Yin's loneliness, in steam rising from the rice bowl, in tattered rain boots, in Yin's cursing, in every frame of Alone.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ascension

Manakamana (2013) - Spray, Velez
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Havard Sensory Ethnography Lab, responsible for Sweetgrass and Leviathan, strikes again with Pacho Velez and Stephanie Spray's Manakamana, a film that leaves you in a metaphysical haze. The temple of the Goddess Manakamana is a coveted Hindu pilgrimage site that can be reached by 8 1/2 minutes of jarring cable car ride. With the film camera firmly placed in the center seat of the cable car, it records pilgrims' ascension/descension uncut. It's a totally unique experience: some pilgrims talk during the ride and some don't. As they admire the lush green forest below, the cable car moves in breakneck speed. The subjects are mostly stationary, perfectly framed by the car's window but the background keeps moving, giving it an otherworldly quality, contrasting with their chit-chats which are decidedly earthbound. The film's so simple in its concept yet so profound. Thoroughly absorbing, but my favorite ride is two old Indian ladies eating ice cream bars, laughing all the way down.

Ever since I missed it at NYFF last year, and again at Art of the Real series, for me, this film has been the most anticipated and it didn't disappoint!

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Sorrows of Young Werther on his bike

Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw (2004) - Wakamatsu
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Since it is by late Koji Wakamatsu, romanticism of a road movie is absent in Cycling Chronicles (but beautiful scenery and poeticism still remain). Instead, the national guilt weighs heavily on him and his protagonist, a reserved 17 year-old kid (Tasuku Emoto) on his bike, running away from an unspeakable crime.

In an effort to bridge the generation gap, Wakamatsu places a couple of old characters on the road to talk about Japanese war crimes and how imperialism, helped by the US policy, created hollow culture and selfish post-war generation. Even though based on a real life crime story where a teenager killed his mother, Wakamatsu shows great sympathy for the younger generation. He understands the burden of living a pre-destined life and the pressure of conforming to the rigid society. Early in the film there is a scene where teenagers talk about headlines after headlines of teens going berserk and how understandable it is to be ticked off and going over the edge.

The silent kid's internal monologue is kept at minimum, only occasionally surfacing in the forms of written letters on screen and voice overs. Fresh faced young Emoto does an amazing job conveying frustration, loneliness but surprising amount of compassion and understanding too. Cycling Chronicles is a heartbreaking rendition of a lost soul in a country riddled with guilt and despair that is rarely seen in contemporary Japanese cinema. You will be missed Wakamatsu-san.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Subterranean Homesick Alien

Under the Skin (2013) - Glazer
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When David Lynch stopped making films, it was a big blow for me. Thank god there is Jonathan Glazer. Even though it's been 9 years since Birth, Under the Skin restored my faith in art films. There is not really an adequate comparison one can give for this film. Stripped down(!) to something more primal, devoid of any symbolism or allusions to anything, Under the Skin is a unique, standalone experience to be had. Yes that it features Scarlett Johansson who possesses, according to Woody Allen, 'overwhelming sexuality', as an alien, and that it beckons to be seen as an allegory of Hollywood stardom. But Under the Skin feels like something more. With arresting images and hypnotic soundtrack, the film is one of the most singularly mesmerizing movie watching experience I've had in a long time.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mind Control

Kafka (1991) - Soderbergh
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It's a pleasure revisiting Kafka, Steven Soderbergh's sophomore effort, after so many years. It tells a conspiratorial plot involving nebbish insurance clerk, Kafka (Jeremy Irons), discovering more than crippling bureaucracy behind the walls of 'the castle'. It involves mind control and a mad scientist.

Soderbergh gets the look and feel right, shooting it contrasty/grainy B&W then adds some color to accentuate the surreal nature of it all. Jeremy Irons is too proper and too erect to come across as a sickly eccentric. But if you could get fucking JEREMY IRONS on your second movie to play KAFKA, who could say no?
Teressa Russell is unbelievably hot as a sultry eyed revolutionary and always dependable Ian Holm pigeonholes himself again as the mad doctor/tool of a bureaucrat who finds kinship in Kafka's writing, regarding it as the future he envisions.

Opening sequence:

Hamfisted

The Prisoners (2013) - Villenvenue
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I give Villenvenue is a very capable filmmaker - he is very good at creating moody, high tension atmosphere with some help from Roger Deakins. As I expected, The Prisoners is an overwrought, heavy handed thriller where coincidences and little clues all neatly line up at the end after series of red herring. Where Zodiac- another calculated, clinical exercise from David Fincher succeeds in understatement while maintaining incredible tension, The Prisoners collapses in its own weight. Paul Dano (playing dimwit again)'s unjust imprisonment makes you feeling disgusted, but what's the endgame here, since it becomes less of a focal point? Comeuppances, moral judgment and punishment are easily predictable. All it needs is a Wagnerian score to top it off. Too bad really, because Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman are superb in this.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Eurotrip

So Nicole and I did a Tour of Europe this Summer. It's been a long time coming and we really wanted to get the hell outta dodge for a while. This twelve-day trip encompassed three countries (Italy, Austria and Czech Republic) and seven cities. We started our journey in Rome then moved on to Pisa, Cinque Terre, Florence, then a night train to Vienna and ended up in Prague. It was a short, exhausting trip but totally worth it. We took more than a thousand pictures but here are the gist of what we saw:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Outside Looking In: Joanna Hogg Interview

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With her new film Exhibition beginning a two-week exclusive engagement at the Film Society of Lincoln Center today, along with her two previous films Unrelated and Archipelago getting theatrical runs concurrently, British filmmaker Joanna Hogg is in town and I was lucky enough to catch up with her for a chat.

I saw Exhibition at last year's New York Film Festival and was blown away by it, so I was eager to pick her brains about her Antonioni-esque use of the environment in her family/relationship dramas. Unguarded and sincere, she opened up to all the questions and explained away lengthily much more so than many other directors I've talked with over the years. For this, I thank you Ms. Hogg.

An exclusive theatrical run of Exhibition starts 6/20 and continues through 7/3. Unrelated and Archipelago have a one-week engagement 6/27 - 7/3 at FSLC. Please visit their website for more info.


All throughout your films, the settings, the places play important roles. Do you have certain places in mind when you start writing a script?
 
With all three of my feature films, they all started with a specific place in mind. It's very important for me to have an idea about the place. I don't see the settings for my films as 'locations'. It's fundamental for me that it's about a place that I know very well, that I have a lot of connection with. That was with all three films, a place being a springboard for the story.

Compared to your previous films, EXHIBITION is even more place specific. This modern architecture house the couple calls home: Can you tell me a little about this house and how you decided to shoot there?

Yes. Would you want me to go through all three films with that? Because each one was all very different.

Of course, by all means!

With Unrelated, which was my first feature film after many years of working in television, and toward the end of my television career -- had worked about 12 years there -- I started renting a small apartment in Italy on a farm in the south of Sienna. And I found this place which became very inspiring to me. Whenever I stayed there, I started to write ideas. I was painting when I was there. I felt very creative when I was there in this apartment. And it was a lot to do with the land around it. It was very close to a motorway. It sort of cut through the idea of sort of 'Tuscan village life'. The motorway was only a mile long and didn't go anywhere. 

But the whole landscape was kind of exciting to me and I was trying to think of stories and ideas for a film because being in television for so long I very much wanted to do cinema. So I started to come up with the idea but all set within this place where I had the apartment. And that eventually turned into Unrelated. So it came from living in this place myself. The place became a creative space for me.

And ARCHIPELAGO?

As a child, my family used to go on Easter holidays to an island off of Cornwall, the Scilly Isles. We went to the same island for many years and stayed in the same place. This was in the 70s through early 80s. There was only one place to stay, this little hotel. And I revisited after a long time. I had a very powerful feeling being in this place reminding me of my childhood holidays and of love of the landscape. 

I think the love of a place also often to do with familiarity. Childhood memories and connections can be very intense and that place took me back to those feelings. So I decided to set the film on that island. But again, I didn't have a complete story in mind. I had to construct it. But I constructed it from getting to know this place again.

But I must say that it sounds so far that both Unrelated and Archipelago are autobiographical and I would say they are not. With Archipelago...

[We are interrupted by loud police sirens outside whizzing by.]

Sirens here are so crazy! It has a very different sound in London... it really intrudes here, doesn't it? Sorry I am losing my train of thought here.

So with Archipelago, yes I completely constructed the story. Of course there are ideas in there that are very personal but it's...yeah, my family wasn't like that. There are things I have experienced that are in there but it's sort of a big cauldron you throw different things into and it becomes its own animal.

Yes, I was gonna ask you about that aspect of your films but I'll save it for later. So we move on to EXHIBITION.

Exhibition. That was different because I knew the house and I knew the architect who built the house in 1969. I met him in the early 90s when he was still living in the house he built for himself and his wife. I became friends with them and the house made a big impression on me. So it was somewhere I thought about when I started thinking about making a film about a couple who are artists. It seem to be a perfect container for that sort of story in a way.

Who was the architect?

James Melvin.

It was built in 1969?

'69, yes.

It looks very modern.

Yes. It had a redesign in the mid 90s by an architectural practice called Saurbruch Hutton, based in Berlin. They are colorist in a way. They work with color. They can possibly be credited to introducing color into modern architecture. A lot of the color elements in the house were added by them. The original 60s design was very monochromatic and didn't have many color at all. When they redesigned it in the 90s, they added colors. 

For instance, the pink sliding doors you see in the film which became a practical effect in his study. And there are other parts of the house that had a color added to them. The fundamental details of the house -- the large glass windows, the spiral stair case, the lift in the middle, the structure of the house is exactly how it was. That's all James Melvin. Some people think that there was this big disruption in the late 60s but it's not. It's not pure in a sense but that's why it's more interesting. It's not a museum piece. It's had people lived in.

I am assuming everything was shot on location.

Yes.

Were there any challenges shooting on location?

It's interesting you ask that because I have a friend who is a photographer/cinematographer who's been to the house himself, said to me that he didn't think it was possible to shoot there. It's a cube. It's almost square with the lift block in the middle of it. So when you are in the living room, you got this interruption of the lift block. So he thought it would be very difficult to shoot in. And also he thought the amount of glass, in terms of reflection, it would be impossible to deal with.

Of course! Those things he said would be difficult became the gift for the film. Because I was interested in the reflections. You see a lot of the architecture through the reflection because when you are looking outside you are looking back at the house with yourself in the way. So that inside out aspect was very interesting to me. And even the lift block, I mean, was a kind of nice interruption. So the you don't see the space completely. It's always broken up by something. In fact, with Ed Rutherford, my cinematographer, we avoided shooting too wide. Whenever we set up a shot and we go wide, the panoramic view looked like a real estate agent catalog. Sort of a property photograph. (laughs) So we shot a lot with 50mm lens. So we kept things more contained. You never see the house in its entirety from inside or outside. The only time we see the entire house from the outside is when they have the cake (molded in the shape of the house).

So all the limits worked in your advantage.

It did. But from a practical point of view, it was sort of cruel for the crew. Because the only way to get up the different floors in the house was on the spiral staircase.

I thought it was pretty remarkable how you use sound and space to create the couple's connection/disconnection, as you might say. How much of a sound design went into the film?

Well, a lot of sound was created afterward, based on the recordings that were made after the shoot. I recorded sound myself and also the sound designer. We also used the location sound recordist had recorded during the shoot directly from the scene. I made sure that the sound recordist would capture everything around us that was going on. 

For example, the road works outside the house, which we didn't organize - it just happened on the second day of the shoot and for almost entire shoot. We made sure to record those sound, lots of drilling. For me it was important that there is a real authenticity about the sound that it's not coming from a (sound) library that it's new recordings specific to that locations we were shooting in. 

And that house has a particular way of soaking in sounds from the outside. I was really interested in this and I don't think I exaggerated really in the film. When you are standing in the house, there is a corner you can here a sound, like someone talking, closing a door from outside. It travels back in and you feel like those sound is coming from within the house. As I described the visual structure, being inside out, it was the same with the sound.

EXHIBITION is much more of a visual/aural experience than your previous films. Do you feel that it's a big departure for you artistically as a filmmaker?

It seems like a departure but I feel the other films were just building to that. Each one I become a little braver. I am always interested in pushing myself as a filmmaker and not staying with what I'm comfortable with. One of the main differences that I was really challenging myself with was the idea of a narrative that was less linear. The other two have relatively linear storylines. Whereas Exhibition, I wanted something more fragmented to represent different levels of reality and unreality, dream and memory. Again, increasing interest in sound design. I wanted to push that much further. And the reduction of characters, concentrating on one married couple without an extended family, contained in this...cube.

You've used non actors in your films. Especially artists. Christopher Baker, Viv Albertine, Liam Gillick. Do you know them personally? And how do you approach them being in your films?

I don't always know them personally. In the case of Christopher Baker, he has been my painting teacher for many years. I met him in 2002 and have been painting with him on and off since then. So I knew him even before I started making Unrelated. He can possibly be credited for helping get my creativity back on track. So I know him quite well. I'd watch him during painting lessons and I remember thinking at a certain point, 'I'd like to find a part for him in my film one day'. And Archipelago was obviously the right one.

There is this zen-like quality about him that is infinitely patient and wise.

He is like that in real life. But at the same time he was playing the part of the story. I think it's because I had a privilege of observing him for many years, I was able to fit him in the story. I like sometimes having that 'real-life filtering in to fiction'.

And Liam and Vive. Vive has been a friend of mine for many years. But I neve thought of casting her before. I haven't looked at her before thinking, 'I'd put her in a film' until less than a couple of weeks before shooting. I've been looking at many people. Casting had taken a long time because I wanted to find my couple early on. Because I needed to find them early on to fit into the story and have them get to know each other and get to know the house. But it all happened last minute.

Oh wow.

Possibly that ended up being good. But it was certainly a bit chaotic two weeks before filming and I was getting a little nervous. Liam I didn't know at all. I knew his work as an artist but I didn't know him personally until just before the shoot. So I was very happy to find him.

They both are great and have a great chemistry together. Were there any improvisation involved?

Yes. I mean, it's...I always hesitate to call it improvisation because I always feel that gives a feeling that it has no plan or design or precision at all. How I work is very precise. But as I described working with Christopher, I like the approach of bringing something from real life in to fiction with my actors and non-actors. With Vive and Liam, I sort of sometimes feed them lines and other times they would put things in their own words.

I had a precise plan on paper but I didn't show it to them because I didn't want them to worry about what was going to happen next. Then there was certain point in the shoot where I'd write a scene the night before and then show it to them about half an hour before shooting, just enough of time for them to see the map of what I'm trying to do.

I'm pretty sure you get to be asked a lot about Tom Hiddleston, who is in all of your films and now a big star. How did your working relationship begin?

Well, I met him for Unrelated. The casting director was helping me with that film. I'd seen him in a play at his drama school and was very impressed by him. And when I was looking for an actor to play Oakley, she introduced me to Tom and he was really wonderful in Unrelated obviously. He was much younger then. But we had a great working relationship and I thought of him straight away when I was preparing for Archipelago. He is so good at transforming himself into different characters. It's always irresistible to find him new characters to play. Although I like to work with actors and non-actors alike, Tom is different. He can totally become that character in a way that feels very real.

I mean he is completely different in UNRELATED and ARCHIPELAGO.

Yes. He is channeling something different for each one. And with each one, also in Exhibition, even though it's a much smaller role, he is taking it just as seriously.

Would you work with him again, even though he is a big movie star now doing all these blockbusters?

Yeah, I would. If there is time. (laughs) He is always busy with other films but I have plans for something else I want to do with him.

I'd very much looking forward to that.

The scene where Viv's character fakes fainting during dinner where her friends are talking incessantly about their children made me and my wife laughing out loud in the theater. (we both laugh) We don't have children and my wife really wants to try the fake fainting spell at a boring dinner like that.

Yeah she should do that because I ruined it for myself. Since I put it in the film, I don't think I can get away with that. (Laughs)

Is that from a real life experience?

It's a fantasy. (Laughs)

Childlessness and I wouldn't say the absence of good parenting, maybe a disconnection between different generations are always present in your films. Are they based on your real life concerns or are they external themes you want to explore?

Childlessness is from my own experience. I don't have children and I've grappled with the idea of wanting to have children then trying to come to terms with...you know, been though different processes. So that was something I wanted to express. So when I made Unrelated, it was very much something I was going through at that time. With Archipelago I don't deal with that. I deal with the family in a different way. 

Then I wanted to come back to that theme again with Exhibition but with a different stage in life. The stage where they come to terms with it, possibly. Although as we see, it's something that comes and goes. I think there is still a sadness there. It's something that never goes away. I still feel ambivalent about it. But if I had children, I wouldn't be making films, so I value filmmaking. They are my children in a way.

Excellent. So what's next for you? What are you planning?

It's always difficult to talk about the next film... because I am still constructing it. But I'm gonna go back in time.

Oooh, a period piece?

Well, not too far. To the 80s. And it's also going to be set part in London again. I'm in the period of making city films.

I can't wait.

Read my review of Exhibition here
Read my review of Archipelago here

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Violette Leduc Bio

Violette (2014) - Provost
Ever since her breakout role as a deaf office worker, Carla, in Jacques Audiard's audacious caper flick Read My Lips, Emmanuelle Devos has risen as one of the top French actresses of our time, working with auteur filmmakers such as Arnaud Desplechin and Alain Resnais and rubbing shoulders with Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Depardeu. The thing is, I can't think of another actress who made a career out of her frumpiness more successfully than Devos. And she happens to be a favorite of mine.

In Martin Provost's biopic of a post-war French writer Violette Leduc, Devos delivers another gold, again using her arguably unremarkable physical attributes as a weapon.

The film starts with Violette (Devos)'s black market smuggler days during WWII and helplessly in love with a writer/fellow boarder, Maurice Sachs in rural France. Even though Sachs is closet homosexual, lonely Violette doesn't let up throwing herself onto him. As a way of fight off her advances, he suggests her to write.

After getting back to Paris and reading the controversial feminist writer Simone de Beauvoir (Sandrine Kiberlain)'s writings, Violette, forever lonely and emotionally needy, soon gets enamored with the famous writer. de Beauvoir in turn, recognizes Violette's talent and encourages her to write on. With this, their lifelong friendship starts. Violette finds herself in de Beauvoir's circle of famous literary friends (Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus among them). She even finds an admirer of her work and benevolent patron in a sensitive perfume mogul, Jacques Guérin (Olivier Gourmet).

Her first novel, In the Prison of Her Skin, based on her life in an all-girl boarding school, frankly describing her lesbian affair with another student (certain part of the book would later be adapted by a sexploitation maestro Radley Metzger as Therese and Isabelle). Her books, all based on her life stories, salacious and scandalous at the time of the release, gets recognitions later on as a trailblazer in feminist writing. She unlike many other writers, at least gets to taste her success in her lifetime. However alone in her private life, she gets to attain some inner peace that she very much deserves.

Provost (Seraphine), once again demonstrates his penchant for portraying well-rounded woman characters in his films: Violette doesn't come across as just a hysterical, extremely self-conscious woman and de Beauvoir, not as just a cold fish feminist icon. With the help of strong, down to earth performances by Kiberlain and Devos, Violette features great, undeniably human characters. Stately photographed by Yves Cape (Holy Motors, White Material, Humanité), the look of the film, spanning many seasons, is that of subtle elegance and accentuates the superb acting.

Devos is as usual, wonderful. Using her unconventional beauty and charm, she portrays a lonely woman who gets to express her insecurities and desires truthfully in writing, regardless of its consequences. Beautifully acted and executed, Violette is a great biopic that has a real heart.
VIOLETTE is Scheduled to open in NY on Friday, June 13 at Lincoln Plaza Cinema and Angelika Film Center, followed by a national release.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Mature Romance

Mademoiselle Chambon (2009) - Brizé
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A subtle melodrama beautifully acted by two leads, Sandrine Kiberlain and Vincent Lindon. Kiberlain plays a new teacher in a small town and Lindon plays a father of one of her pupils and local contractor. The story doesn't really make a conventional case for the attraction between the two. It's not their class differences, however slight, that attract. Lindon's Jean is not unhappily married and his wife is expecting another baby. Is it his dissatisfaction of everyday life or Mlle Chambon's loneliness? Are they willing to give up whatever they have for a fuck? Fortunately, Mlle Chambon stays classy and discrete and thankfully, mature. Kiberlain's characterization of a wandering teacher is very slight but just enough to make her all too human. It gets me to see in a drama where a grown man and woman cry silently in each other's presence. Brief Encounter in a smaller scale, Chambon is a great mature romance.