Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Metamorphoses

Ovid, New York (2024) - Rowlands Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.43.39 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.44.21 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.44.39 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.45.23 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.33.06 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.29.00 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.39.08 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-11 at 8.41.01 AM New York based, Belgian filmmaker, Vito Rowlands' feature Ovid, New York, had a world premiere at Brooklyn Film Festival over the weekend. It's based on the Metamorphoses, an epic poem by a roman poet Ovid, who wrote about Greek and Roman myths. Shot in various parts of New York state (including the town of Ovid), in different seasons over time, Ovid, New York is an anthology of sorts in 7 chapters, varying in tones and genre. But as they play out, you make out their intricate connections - it's as if the chapters are in conversation with one another, and it's loads of fun. The look of the film, in wide screen format, mostly shot on a now discontinued old, super grainy Agfa film stock, with its bleeding colors, the dirt and blemishes left in, along with lens flare aberrations, does not resemble anything that's shot with super sharp and clean digital technology nowadays.

First, we are introduced to a lonely hunter in wintry landscape in wide presentation. He is hunting deer in the woods. It invokes a Greek mythology of Actaeon, a hunter who was turned into a deer after spying on the goddess Diana bathing (which corresponds with the third chapter which has two talking sculptures (Hippolytus and Diana) in the park. The second involves a beautiful stage actress (Tina Makharadze) rehearsing Medea on stage. There are no infanticides, but it tells the tale of vengeful woman and her cheating husband. The fourth chapter is narrated in Japanese, shot in grainy hand printed monochrome picture. The fifth one features empty cicada shells and a talking praying mantis urging an entomologist to kill her pestering mother. The sixth tells a traveling hoover vacuum salesman who drowns in a bathtub full of green and very much alive caterpillars in a motel room. And the last one is about two bickering sharply dressed ferrymen twins advising a Belgian actor (played by director Rowlands in an inadequate costume and makeup) dressed as death from Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal.

Ovid's Metamorphoses is filled with myths and mythic creatures; animals, humans, gods, and demi-gods shapeshifting into one another in often bloody and violent ways. Rowlands’ Ovid, New York takes on these ancient tales and morphs them into reflecting the chaotic and tumultuous world we live in today, but with plenty of wry humor. I didn't expect the film to be this funny going in: especially a chapter with a talking homicidal mantis. The chapter ends in a hilarious blood-soaked dance in the field, evoking the non-sequitur opening dance scene from Bong Joonho's Mother. It's also very playful with its medium: using outdated technology- 8mm, 16mm and 35mm shot on obsolete film stock, the film renders not only its unique look on screen but also reminds the viewers of the tangibility of film and what cinema has evolved into these days- being described in words such as 'contents' and having 'that Netflix look.' The beautiful soundtrack (by Jordan Dykstra) closely resembles the work of great Michael Nyman (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Drowning by Numbers, Piano, Ravenous). Rowlands is also very much aware of cinema history, taking references anywhere from Sergio Corbucci's The Great Silence to Peter Greenaway, Ingmar Bergman and as mentioned before, Bong.

The clash of tone, texture, and sound (several different languages are spoken - English, Georgian, Japanese and Flemish) in Ovid, New York finds harmony, rather than chaos, all connected with theme of change. It's truly a unique film and one-of-a-kind viewing experience and I can't wait to see what Rowlands does next.

Friday, June 7, 2024

Another Generation

Adieu Philippine (1962) - Rozier Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 8.52.12 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 11.27.39 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 9.01.13 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 9.12.58 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 9.20.26 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 10.40.55 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 10.46.03 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 11.05.16 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-07 at 11.30.13 AM Jacques Rozier, an unsung hero of French New Wave, directed his debut feature Adieu Philippine in 1962, the same year as Godard's Breathless. In its free wheeling narrative, you can see the traces of Jules et Jim, many of Godard's road movies and even Vera Chytilova's Daisies. It's a pity that the film is just as cool and reflective of the emergence of the younger generation in French society in the 60s as Breathless, but Rozier and Adieu Philippine are much less known today.

It concerns Michel (Jean-Claude Aimini), a good looking young man who works as a cable runner in a TV studio and his on and off relationship with Juliette (Stephania Savatini) and Lilian (Yveline Céry) who are best friends since childhood. The year is 1960 and Michel is going to be called in for military draft in two months to serve in Algeria. The film tells the girls' vain attempt to stop the draft from happening while struggling with their jealousies.

The generation gap is stressed: while youngsters are working, they live at home and come home for dinner and listen to their parents. At the dinner table, the conversation ranges from the Algerian War to the legitimacy of television to financial contribution to the household. Older generation thinks the youngsters got it too easy. Girls use their charms on older men to get what they want but still very tame for today's standards.

While dating Juliette and Lilian separately, Michel gets fed up with the job at the studio and leaves for a Club Med vacation in Corsica where the vibe is very much like Spring Break in Florida. The girls follow him there to track down a sleazy film producer who owes Michel money for his commercial work. Driving and camping outdoors in a rugged Corsican coast tests the girls' resolve and temper. Their road trip comes to an end when Michel gets a notice to report in four days. He will need to sail back to the mainland.

Paris scenes are energetic in that verité style, filled with street tracking shots where people look at the camera. Michel's working in a TV studio as a working stiff is also well documented, so is a group of his friends buying an old car together to take turns to drive and pick up girls. The Corsica setting affords some very beautiful cinematography.

Rozier didn't make too many films and worked many years in TV. But if Adieu Philippine is any indication, he should be held in high regard as a pioneering director of French New Wave.

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Ministry of Fear

No Bears (2022) - Panahi Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 8.44.22 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 11.09.49 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 9.11.24 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 11.08.59 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 10.29.34 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-05 at 10.35.40 AM Jafar Panahi has been steadily making films in Iran despite threats of imprisonment and bans from making films and traveling outside Iran by the government. All things considered, his films made within the parameters of draconian restrictions he faced, were subversive, comical and even life affirming. No Bears is perhaps the most damning film about the oppressive Iranian regime and perhaps the saddest Panahi film I've seen. As usual, Panahi puts himself in the middle of his creation - film director in self-imposed exile in a small border town near Turkey, directing a film about an Iranian couple waiting for their passports by human traffickers so they can escape to Europe. Things are tough because he is directing it remotely and the internet connection is bad. He also has to deal with the locals who are uneasy about a famous film director staying in their midst with a fancy SUV and cameras. He gets embroiled in controversy when he takes some pictures of the locals and being accused of recording an illicit love affair that doesn't jive with the local tradition. The locals talk and it's a matter of time that police and the Revolutionary Guards showing up at the door of his rented room.

There's a poignant and telling scene where Panahi's assistant leads him to the dirt road to the border crossing, used by smugglers at night and urges him to escape. After they reached the hill, overlooking the lights of a Turkish border town in the distance. After receiving the signal, they can cross to Turkey. It's that easy. Panahi asks where the border is. His assistant tells him that he is standing on it. The camera tilts down to his feet and Panahi retracts like a turtle, down the hill to the direction where they just came from without saying a word.

No Bears confronts the perils of documenting the truth in an oppressive society. Beyond the theme of rural traditions vs. modern life, Panahi's film illustrates the underlying fear that is dividing people and making them hostile to each other. It also shows the limits of cinema as a truth telling medium, that things still go on after the camera stops rolling/recording. The film reminded me of the news of his fellow Iranian filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof's daring escape from the country to show his new film at this year's Cannes film festival, as he was sentenced to 8 years in prison and flogging by the Iranian government. No Bears’ two tragedies that Panahi witnesses in the film- the death of two people, even though they are fictionalized, they take on the new meaning, considering what the revered filmmaker is facing every day in the country that he still refuses to abandon.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Joie de vivre

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024) - Miller Screen Shot 2024-06-03 at 8.14.56 AM George Miller proved himself to be a unique action filmmaker when he revived his Mad Max franchise in 2015 with Mad Max: Fury Road with Tom Hardy as the titular anti-hero in a post-apocalyptic wasteland that was Australia. The kinetic energy, physicality, the mindboggling stunt work, rigging and colors with hardly any dialog looked and felt different than any Hollywood run-of-the-mill actioners. But there were two heroes that emerged from the film. One Mad Max, the former cop with his family murdered, wandering after the apocalypse to survive the dog-eat-dog world whose good heartedness has been hidden in grunts and cynicism. With its franchise history, we knew his background a little. We know what made him who he is. But Furiosa, the tanker driver, embodied by Charlize Theron, emerged from nowhere and stole the show. So, the next logical step for Miller to do is continue the saga with her in mind. And he does, gloriously.

Furiosa (Anya Taylor-Joy) is first seen being kidnapped by bandits from the Green Place- the place of abundance, governed by many mothers (who were shown as bike riding grannies in the previous film) who had sworn to keep the place secret from the outside world. Furiosa is taken to Demetus (Chris Hemsworth with a fake nose), a ruthless lord of a bandit gang. She is almost rescued by her mother, but Demetus recaptures them. Desiring to capture Immortan Joe's citadel which has water, food, and ammo, he exchanges Furiosa to become in charge of the Gas Town.

Furiosa, avoiding becoming a kept cycling baby machine for Immortan Joe, proves herself useful with machinery while posing herself as a boy, while scheming to break out of the citadel and kill Demetus. She befriends with Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke), the War Machine- a decked out tanker driver who becomes her mentor.

Just as the previous film, the set pieces featuring shiny silver tube War Machine on the road to and back from Gas Town is a movie-going experience to be had. The chase from both the ground and the sky, it's a spectacular display in acrobatics and vehicular mayhem.

Demetus, however brutal and ruthless he is, turns out to be a shitty leader. He cares very little about how to run his crew. He thrives in chaos. Immortan Joe is a cult leader, with those countless War Boys sacrificing himself for him for the promise of eternal life. Demetus's speech at the end to Furiosa reveals quite a lot, that he and she are 'already dead.' Come to think of it, Max and Demetus are just the flip side of the coin. He carries a teddy bear chained on his front, as a reminder for his wife and child who died, just like Max's. Even though they are from similar origins, Max bowed to avoid the human race and lead a solitary scavenger existence, Demetus became an all-out tyrant, relishing in chaos with joie de vivre attitude. It's the fleeting joys of destruction and cruelty he is after. And why not? Furiosa doesn't know it yet, but as we witnessed in the previous film, the Green Zone is gone. We know that she has to deal with the political bullshit of controlling and governing over marauding citizens of citadel. Who wants to deal with that?

But I hope Miller keeps making these. It's loads of fun.

Friday, May 31, 2024

Flight of Fancy

Perdues dans New York/Lost in New York (1989) - Rollin Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 7.55.58 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.00.48 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.04.01 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.06.26 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.07.27 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.08.04 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.10.09 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.11.54 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.13.34 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.14.27 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.15.12 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.16.03 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.23.27 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.26.50 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.27.48 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-31 at 8.32.31 AM Jean Rollin, the master of sodden poetic (and often sleazy) vampire films of the 70s, tries to make an art film in his late period in his little girl fantasy variety with Lost in New York. This almost wordless time and space jumping tale involves Michelle and Marie, two little French girls from the desolate coast of Brittany, finding an wooden African moon goddess sculpture which has a magic power of transporting them into their fantasy world in books they read. Obviously they choose New York and in their twenties. Then BAM! they are in New York, donning a tutu skirt and black suit pants with suspenders respectively, roaming the streets and rooftops of the greatest city on earth.

The magic is not exact science and they are transported to other parts of the town, always running and missing each other by the seconds. There's danger everywhere - a knife wielding (but pretty) street urchin in Chinatown, a see-through white dress wearing vampire haunt the pair in the streets and their dreams. As usual, there are cheap Rollin symbolism everywhere - roses, masks, etc. Don't matter, as many of his better regarded gothic films - Iron Rose, Nude Vampire, Two Little Orphans, Lost in New York retains that melancholic mood. Short and sweet. Just the way I like.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Femme Fatale

Bis ans Ende der Nacht/Till the End of the Night (2023) - Hochhäusler Screen Shot 2024-05-30 at 1.54.44 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-30 at 1.53.57 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-30 at 1.54.26 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-30 at 9.29.00 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-30 at 1.36.50 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-30 at 1.55.26 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-30 at 1.56.53 PM Leni (Thea Ehre) just got out of jail serving 2/3 of a 3-year sentence for drugs. She made a deal with the police to go undercover with Robert (Timocin Zeigler) as a couple to get closer to a former DJ/suspected drug kingpin Victor Arth (Michael Sideris) who sells drugs online. Arth used to know Leni when she was Lenard, his sound engineer in the past. Robert and Leni have been in a very unhealthy relationship - he psychologically abuses her but also can't get away from her. His behavior stems from his own identity issues. Their undercover status isolates Leni from her friends. An obtrusive ankle brace doesn't help the matters either. The couple approaches Arth and his girlfriend at the dance lessons and with their former relationship, Arth brings them into his life. Robert gets a job as Arth's driver, and they become trusted friends. As Leni and Robert get in deep in their cover, their friendship with Arth makes things blurry.

It's Fassbinder worthy of drama between Leni and Robert. But Robert really loves her and willing to give up everything. However hopeless Robert seems, Arth sees a beauty in their relationship.

Till the End of the Night is a sleek film noir with trans actress Thea Ehre as a femme fatale. Tall with big blond hair, she exudes the big time 80s Emily Lloyd vibe. Zeigler's ratty, greasy hair suits a police man who struggles with his sexual orientation. Sideris is great as not your typical villain but a reasonable man with a lot of compassion and envy. I just wish the script was a little tighter on the noir's pot boiling aspect, so we can feel more tension. But the rendezvous at the airport ending rolls on and Till the End of the Night is quite a satisfying noir.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Screen Test

Grandeur et décadence d'un petit commerce de cinéma/Rise and Fall of a Small Film Company (1986) - Godard Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 8.31.20 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 8.39.29 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 9.22.31 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 9.20.31 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 9.58.24 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 10.08.58 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 10.27.56 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 10.33.10 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 10.34.23 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-29 at 10.34.38 AM Godard was commissioned to make a TV film as a part of Série noire, a monthly film noir series, based on pulp fictions. His was supposed to be based on James Hadley Chase's Soft Centre. But it being adapted by Godard, obviously, wildly went off the rail. With the little success and financial stability from Hail Mary (thanks to Nicolas Seydoux, the head of French film studio Gaumont, who hired Godard on salary for his future film rights), Godard had established a small film company, dabbled in mini-industrial film production. But because of this little business venture, he had to deal with tax collectors scrutinizing every receipt and every financial record keeping for his highly unorthodox filmmaking activities. So instead of making an adaptation, Godard made Grandeur et décadence into, yet again, a deeply personal reflection on his filmmaking process and art. This video shot production is about a film producer Jean Almereyda (Jean Pierre Mocky, assuming Jean Vigo's real name), trying to keep his production company afloat, while dodging the German mob whom he owes huge amount of deutschmarks to, and a film director Gaspard Bazin, yes, Bazin (Jean Pierre-Léaud), embarking on a noir project based on Chase's novel with 'authentic' actors.

You can trace Godard's standard preoccupations - word play: "You know where the word secretary originates? 'Secret'," "Original...origin," and so forth. - experiments with video technology: rewinding and slowing down images, the glitches, etc. - beauty and authenticity of actors: revolving door of a screen test, an accidental actress, fame. - Cinema's place in the age of television and nostalgia: "Everything is going backwards today- fashion, politics, and whatnot. The cinema is going backwards too... So maybe since she (Eurydice, played by Marie Valera) is old-fashioned, she has a chance. To each his own freedom, after all. But you have to land in the right place. It's not a question of time or of era, it's a question of tempo." - classics: Western culture and Greek mythology.

In the end, Eurydice looks back and Jean meets his untimely end despite his disguise as a babushka to ward off the mobsters. Léaud, donning a dirty moustache, does his utmost best as an arrogant auteur whose casting antics - where auditioning each actor says the snippet of the words from Faulkner like an assembly line of word generators, get comeuppanced by auditioning for fashionable group of young people who took over Jean's office after his untimely death.

Again, as the title suggests, Godard bites the hand that feeds him. His plunge into Histoire(s) du Cinema only 4 years away, Grandeur et décadence shows him and his new cinematographer Caroline Champentier (who is in the film also as the wife of the director) experiment with video - slow zoom in, multi-layered dissolves, playing the defects of tape-based technology on images. It's a fun film.