Sunday, May 31, 2015

New Old Nightmare

Parasomnia (2008) - Malone
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A creepy 90s throwback of a movie in terms of tone and look, Parasomnia is an all together a different, fresh horror film compared with the current, too-clever-for-its own-good horror trend. While visiting his friend at the hospital, art student Danny falls for Laura (Cherilyn Wilson), a virginal sleeping beauty who suffers from a medical condition which makes her sleep away most of her life, only waking up for short period. Determined to 'save' her, Danny sneaks her out of the hospital into his pad, only to find out that she is under the spell of mass murderer and mesmerist Volpe, who is chained and gagged in the same hospital she's been staying at. Bloody murders are happening around Danny and Laura even attacks him in her sleep state. And cops are looking for Laura and the murderer. Danny has only one way to save Laura, kill Volpe!

Part Nightmare on Elm St., part deranged Tim Burton movie charting almost Clive Barker territory, Parasomnia is a totally above average horror/fantasy flick. Willam Malone's imagination is up there with early Bernard Rose (Paper House, Candy Man) in my book. Oh, horror great Jeffrey Combs shows up as a cop.

Small Time Crooks

The Pope of Greenwich Village (1984) - Rosenberg
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Charlie (Mickey Rourke), a divorced working stiff with style who lives with a beautiful dancer/aerobics instructor girlfriend Diane (Daryl Hannah), wants to get by by earning an honest living as a maitre-d. Money's tight for Charlie - he still has to pay for child support and Diane just declared she is pregnant and it's his cousin Paulie (Eric Roberts) who can't stay out of trouble and always drag Charlie with him down the hole. When one of the Paulie's scam- stealing the police payoff to a local mob boss, Bed Bug Eddie (Burt Young) goes awry (a cop falls to his death while they are cracking the safe), it's not only Bed Bug and his goons after them, but also NYPD.

The Pope not only features great performances by Rourke and Roberts, it's also peppered in with great bit characters - Geraldine Page (The Day of the Locusts, Interiors) as lower class, chain-smoking widow of a dead cop, Kenneth McMillan (Dune) as a good natured clockmaker-cum-safecracker.

It's a typical small time crooks story - one trying to go straight, the other digging an early grave and loyalty through thick and thin (we Italians stick together!) kinda thang. But Rosenberg gets everything right in painting the scummy 80s village in NY dominated by Italian mobs and give each scene plenty of breathing room whether it figures much in to the main storyline or not. There are many great scenes, like when Paulie pours in laxatives to an asshole traffic cop's drink and jumping up at down and screaming, pointing at the distressed cop. "The cop shat his pants! the cop shat his pants!" and Charlie dancing with Diane in the street- Charlie asks a kid with a boombox to turn the volume up and the kid goes, "Sure thing Charlie." I love these moments! Their gumbah world might not be your cup of tea but Rosenberg and co, keep you engaged throughout the entire 2 hour movie.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Through a Glass Darkly

Mildred Pierce (2011) - Haynes
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Michael Curtiz's 1945 noir classic with Joan Crawford became an unofficial Mother's Day film and made Crawford an emblem of saintly mother for generations of people, even though the ending suggests even a saint won't protect a murderous offspring. Written by pulp writer James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, Postman Always Rings Twice), the Depression era Southern California set Mildred Pierce is a highly melodramatic film about conflicting American values which are surprisingly not too different from our current society in the 21st century: a very Ayn Rand style self determination, the pitfall of class differences and star envy, thankless motherhood and the bad seed....

I'm not a fan of old Hollywood melodramas and don't claim to be Douglass Sirk aficionado. I haven't seen Haynes' parody/elegy to Sirk, Far from Heaven. But I really dug I'm Not There, his inventive take on Bob Dylan's public persona and Velvet Goldmine, about Glam Rock era and admire his artistry on parodying something he loves with so much affection and care. With this five part mini-series, Haynes is apparently a lot more faithful to the Cain's source material than Curtiz's very studio version with 7 writers credit attached (William Faulkner was supposedly involved).

Haynes's version is a handsome, impeccably recreated period piece. The great Kate Winslet plays a title role, married to a good-hearted but luckless, ambitionless Bert living in the Los Angeles suburb. After debts pile up and Bert's not up to providing, she divorces him and starts looking for menial work. Just like any mother would do, she wants to provide her two daughters with all the material goods. Older daughter Veda resents her working as a waitress at a hash diner. Mildred builds up an empire of restaurants named after herself, but nothing of her success is impressive under the scornful eyes of increasingly hauty Veda. Talking like Grace Kelley in pictures, Veda becomes a manipulative and unbelievably snotty bitch.

Haynes, obviously loves the hightened melodrama - a younger daughter dies of pneumonia while Mildred is having a night of passion with a LA playboy Monte (Guy Pearce), who largely figures in to the fiery finale, Veda's ridiculously theatrical mannerism, Mildred keeps saying, "I'm size ten!" out loud to anyone who care to listen. There are a lot of face slapping, a lot of yelling, a lot of emotional fireworks.

Edward Lachman's sumptuous cinematography reveals something more sinister from the chapter one. Throughout the whole series, Mildred is seen through a glass windows and display cases, giving the audience the slightly distorted images of her. It becomes all clear in Veda's final accusation in the series's finale- that she used all the men around her to her advantage - Bert, Wally and Monte, non of whom are portrayed as a typical male bruts or evils but rather sheepish and powerless. That her rise and fall has more to do with the highly materialistic world we live in. That in fact Veda, however manipulative and artificial she seems, is the one who saw, unveiled eyes, Mildred's pathetic middle class ambition - the hollow American dream, while sacrificing 'family'.

Evan Rachel Wood who plays older Veda eschews the hammiest role in the latter part of the series. Her spiteful, opportunistic beauty gets the ultimate revenge on her forever low-class mother by becoming an opera singer, then sleeping with Monte, a has-been playboy and emasculated, newly minted husband of Mildred. When it is first revealed this handsome playboy is dating her dumpy mother, Veda's thought is surely not "oh fuck, my mom rocks!" As she snarls through the dark sleeping chamber of her Monte, fully naked and touching her vagina in front of her mother is perhaps the most perverted and delicious revenge scene in any films in recent history.

This deconstruction of the saintly mother Crawford is what's most interesting about Haynes' interpretation. As Crawford's Mildred finally abandons her bad seed to incarceration, Winslet's Mildred finally, bitterly utters, "To hell with her!" But there is no recognition in her eyes registering what Veda said about her being an opportunist. Mildred Piece shows how skillful Haynes is at presenting a melodrama so perfectly put together but at the same time, sees the cracks in this otherwise sordid story and elevate it to a subversive social commentary.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

I like This Small Territory I Occupy: Stéphane Lafleur Interview

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It's a good time to be a filmmaker from Quebec these days. With the international successes of the Quebecois directors- Denis Villeneuve (Incendies, Prisoners, Sicario and tapped to direct upcoming Blade Runner sequel), Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., Dallas Buyer's Club, Wild), Philippe Falardeau (Monsieur Lazhar, The Good Lie), Quebec is once again recognized as a great incubator for cinematic talent.

I discovered director/musician Stéphane Lafleur at this year's New Directors/New Films series. His lovely film Tu dors Nicole had me searching for all his previous films. Unlike the above mentioned directors, Lafleur possesses altogether different sensibilities: his droll, absurd humor and portrayal of loneliness are often akin to that of many Scandinavian filmmakers or Urlich Seidl or even early Tsai Ming-Liang.

I had a chance to talk with him on the phone prior to the US theatrical release of Tu dors Nicole on 5/29, about his films, his influences and the prospect of ever going Hollywood, maybe.

So TU DORS NICOLE is your third feature film. I noticed that the age group in each of those film is getting younger, not the other way around. How did TU DORS NICOLE come about?

Stéphane Lafleur: (laughs) You are right about that. The group age is getting younger in my films. I guess the idea for this film came with the title. The name Nicole in Quebec is an old name. It belongs to my parents' generation or even older. And it's a name that's starting to come back but it's not a common name for a girl in her twenties.

There are a lot of films about teenagers, you know, that's when they experience everything for the first time. Then there are plenty films about people in their 30s and unhappy about their jobs and unsure about having kids and all that. I thought there was a gap in (portraying) that in-between period. And this gap is actually the gap in life where you are not sure where exactly you wanna be or don't know what you want to be.


You are old enough to have certain responsibility, but you are trying to pull the elastic of your teenage years at the same time. I thought there was something interesting in there. I think it's a film about the in-betweens. In between two age groups. Summer being in between spring and autumn factors in too. I don't know. it started like that.

That's interesting. I was gonna ask you about the summer aspect of the film as well. Because your previous films take place in winter. And you also shot black and white for the first time. Can you elaborate on these choices?

My experiences of wandering around in the summer played the part. I thought there was something interesting to explore there. When I was a little younger, I used to do 'camping in the backyard' thing and just walk around the neighborhood at night. I wanted to recreate that feeling. It's not nostalgic feeling but there is certain melancholy of it that I wanted to capture.

The idea of shooting in black and white came during the writing of the film. First it was supposed to be in color and my cinematographer, Sarah Mishara (who shot all my films) showed me a book of Robert Adams, an American photographer. He did this wonderful book called Summer Nights, Walking. The mood and the emotion I was looking for was all in there. The emotions I was talking about- of walking at night and seeing, peeping through the windows of neighbors who are still awake... it was all there. Even the warmth of the summer was in those pictures. so I thought there was something interesting about it, especially the film we were talking about, in-between - two states of minds one being awake and one being sleeping. So the idea of shooting black and white formed from those pictures.

Was it difficult to portray summer in black and white?

Of course it was a bit of a challenge. I like to control what's in the frame. But in the summer you lose those control because there's so much stuff everywhere and so many different colors. So shooting in black and white sort of took care of those problems. (laughs) So I could put my effort in other things like, texture and light. We didn't want want to do a classic - sunshine and saturated colors, we wanted to shoot summer in a different way.

It looks really beautiful though. Black and white photography really captured those mood of insomnia really well I thought. I really loved the scene of Nicole walking around at night and hearing that whale sound.

How did you find Julianne Côtè for the role of Nicole? Also you do these bitter sweet ensemble pieces and I wonder how you keep everyone on the same tone.

The casting of Julianne was... well the whole casting process was a really long process.  First I wanted to go with non professional actors, like I did before with my previous films. For the band aspect of the film, I wanted them to play for real. So I started by casting musicians from Montreal I knew. At the same time I was casting some girls who had no film experience in front of camera at all. Then I quickly realized that it wasn't good for me because the way I'm directing everything is so planned and placed that I needed professionals. There was no improv, everything was written and all precisely planned. It would've been very hard (with non actors) especially when you don't have much time to do a film. So slowly my casting process was shifted to seeing people with experience.

Julianne was one among the actresses I saw. She started acting when she was 11 or 12 years old and she's been acting in TV and small parts in films. So this was her big role as a lead in a film. And she is great.

And the same thing for musicians- I kind of shifted my gears to look for actors who play instruments and that's how I did the casting. But in the beginning we've seen so many people and realized that it's not a good way.

 As for directing, of course it was not a film where we did a lot of rehearsals. It's mainly simple actions- be there, place that microphone there, and so on. What I wanted to make sure was that everybody was acting in the same film. So what I'd done was having lengthy discussions around the table, answering all the questions they had and tried to explain as much as I can, letting them know what I expected from each scene and how I saw each scene. There were a little bit of suggestions from the actors while we were talking about them before the scenes but there were little to no improvisation at all.

For the humor part of the film, the rule was always the same. If the scene would be funny, it will be. The actors didn't have to overplay to be funny. Everything was written. If the joke didn't work it was because I wrote it badly. (laughs)

It was funny to me. Among all three of your films, I thought this definitely has the most humor.

Yeah I think it's the most accessible one of my movies. Maybe it's because of the subject and the age of the characters. I think people are getting this film more than the other two, I dunno....

Music, as you explained that you wanted to find people who could really play in the film. You worked with Francis La Hay before. He plays a drummer whom Nicole becomes attracted to. Is he a musician?

Well the thing is, how he came to play that part is quite funny. I was casting and looking around for finding the right guy for the drummer part. I saw many many people, and was getting frustrated because I couldn't find the perfect person. And some one told me, "You know Francis plays drums." I was like, wha? So I called him. And he said, "Yeah I knew you were casting everybody in the city but I didn't want to disturb you, I don't know...." So he did the audition with Julianne who was already cast at the moment. And the relationship between them was so great. He did a wonderful audition and we decided to go from there. Because you know, playing drums you can't really fake on screen. So I really wanted someone who could play for real.

The music they play is quite different than what you play with your band (a folk band, Avec pas d'casque). did you write those music in the film yourself?

You are right. It's really different from what I do. But I didn't want it to be mixed up with my music. I wanted the music in the film to be much louder than what I usually play. I decide to work with a guy I knew (musician Rémy Nadeau-Audin) who has been in several band in Montreal who play that kind of music. So it came naturally to him for the film. My only reference was of Fugazi, the band from DC.

Oh, of course.

So that was my reference. I asked something that is loud but melodic at the same time that we can enjoy you know. Rémy wrote twelve pieces in a month and I think we kept 7 for the film. And the actors learned the songs.

That's great.

All your films in one way or another deal with alienation in the post-modern society. Your films remind me of the works of Urlich Seidl, Michael Haneke and Roy Andersson or even the works of early Tsai Ming-Liang. Can you tell me if there were any particular influences you are drawing these themes from?

Those filmmakers you mentioned definitely have influences on me. Also some independent filmmakers from the US of course. I guess we are all sum of everything we've seen or heard, good stuff and bad stuff as well. We kind of sum it up and filter it.

For some reason with my three films I was interested in aimlessness of characters, in a way, you know. I don't know why exactly but I think it's got to do with where I am coming from, the country I am living in. I don't know it's really hard for me to analyze everything I'm doing. I try to give a lot of room to my instinct while I'm writing. With Nicole I think I am closing the chapter of a triptych. When I look at the three films as a whole, it feels like they are talking to each other. The characters are really similar in a way. And I feel like I reached the end of something. I feel the next film will be...not totally different but...there will be something different.

Tell me about your next film.

I have no idea. To be honest, I've always been interested in Sci-fi for a long time. As you know there are always surreal moments in my films.

Like 'the man from the future' from Familiar Ground?

Yeah, you can always name one or two from each of my films. But I want to go a little further, but without a big budget. It will still be a lo-fi affair in a Sci-fi setting but I'm still looking for the right idea.

It seems there is a Quebec cinema boom with Denis Vlillenvenue and Philippe Falardeau (Lafleur served as editor in his film, MONSIEUR LAZHAR) going to Hollywood doing big budget films. I am wondering if you are following the same step as those directors.

Honestly I don't think that's what's going to happen for me. I do films and I have a band. I try to spread my time doing all these different activities. I still want to do films and getting financing here. I feel my audience is getting larger with each film and the fact that we are talking together right now, Nicole getting released in New York are proof of that. So from film to film hopefully people will be more interested in what I do and we will see what happens with that.

So you are not flying to Hollywood and make a film with Reese Witherspoon (who stars in Valée's WILD and Falardeau's THE GOOD LIE) anytime soon?

(laughs) The thing is when I was in film school we didn't have those model directors going abroad and doing those big films. That was not something that we thought of. I'm glad that there are those successful directors that today's young directors can look up to. I remember my first class in film school, the teacher asked us, "Who wants to be a director?" and many of us raised our hands and he asked, "What do you want to direct?" and some said Jurassic Park and he said, "Forget it, it will never happen." (laughs) That was the thinking back then. It's kind of changed now. I think it's a good thing for many young filmmakers, but I've always been a filmmaker with small ideas. I like those small films. I like this small territory I occupy. So I think I will keep doing this.

Tu dors Nicole
opens at Lincoln Plaza Cinema in New York, 5/29. For more information and dates in other cities, please check Kino Lorber website.

Read my review of Tu dors Nicole here

Sunday, May 24, 2015

America Über Alles

Two or Three Things I Know about Her (1967) - Godard
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Not as angry as Weekend, but as cynical as Godard can be, Two or Three Things attacks American style consumerism relentlessly in Paris projects background. In Godard's eyes, Paris of 1966 is one whole construction site not dissimilar to Antonioni's world.
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In order to afford all the comfort of modern living, or name brand dress, a low-class housewife and mother of two, Juliette Jesen (Marina Vlady) resorts to prostitution. Raoul Cotard's cinematography (in anamorphic format and technicolor) here is all pop.
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It seems Godard is not really interested in actors despite Vlady's lovely hot mama. It probably had to do with Godard's breakup with Anna Karina and Vlady's rejection of his marriage proposal still fresh right before shooting of this film. But objects in this film, as he narrates in hushed whispers about objects and subjects and objects and people, has more importance. At one points he whispers that 'objects are more alive and people are already dead'. With that, a cup of black coffee becomes our galaxy.
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Godard's idea of language vs images is strong in this film. He plays with iconic posters, brand names and signs to illustrate the easily malleable nature of words.
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With Vietnam War still raging, Godard has a lot to say about American Imperialism and rampant capitalism it represents. 'America über alles' as one of the characters says.
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19-year old Juliette Berto is a stand in for Anna Karina in an extended cafe dialog scene as she flirts with the intellectual garage worker husband of Jesen (Vlady).
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Trapped in crude capitalist system, everyone has to prostitute himself to live. Vlady's Juliette remains distant as she addresses directly to the camera, emotionlessly. She is not a hapless victim but a willing collaborator in the monstrous system and therefore deserves Godard's contempt.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Not Quite Thoroughly Modern Bathsheva

Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) - Schlesinger
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In anticipation of Thomas Vinterberg's remake, starring Carey Mulligan, I decided to visit Schlesinger's original which I wanted to see for a long time. Shot in anamorphic and unmistakably Nick Roeg (cinematographer here) style in its presentation - jarring wideshots, zoom-ins and beautiful visual transitions, the great John Schlesinger's Far from Madding Crowd is a handsomely told tragic romance of a prudent, independent woman and her three suitors on the rolling hills of English countryside.

A young farmer Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates) loves her neighbor, Bathsheva (Julie Christie) and proposes to her. She turns him down as she is too proud and regards him unworthy of her. Soon Bathsheva inherits a big farm from her dead uncle and moves out of his life. Gabriel loses everything when his inexperienced sheep dog drives his entire flock over the cliff. This bad luck leaves him to wander to find work in neighboring town.

They meet again when he puts out the fire at her farm. She reluctantly hires him to look over her farm. In the mean time, Mr. Boldwood (Peter Finch), a wealthy but cold farm owner next door gets smitten by Bath's jest involving a valentine's card, but she turns him down too, not promising anything.

Then she meets a dashing army sergeant Troy (Terrence Stamp). His thrilling display of swordsmanship on the hills takes her breath away. Deeply infatuated, she hastily marries him. Alas, Troy's heart belongs to poor young Fanny (Prunnella Ransome) who stood him up at the altar not long ago. He is also a compulsive gambler and not interested in farming. He also makes a big enemy out of Boldwood. As Fanny turns up again, things get complicated.

Not quite thoroughly a modern woman, Bath is conflicted by her ever shifting feelings. No one in Madding Crowd is truly evil or has harmful intentions. Who gets Bath's heart at the end? Trusty servant/long time friend who she can always depend on? A dreamboat who can stir fire in her with one look? A wealthy, kindly benefactor who'd tolerate her equivocation til kingdom come?

All actors are fantastic in their respective roles. And Julie Christie is very lovely indeed. Thomas Hardy's portrayal of a nineteenth century woman is an overly melodramatic one for sure, yet it's a very entertaining one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Minimalist Vampire Flick

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014) - Amirpour
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Vampire genre has been explored and elaborated in a lot of different ways in literature and film. What else is left there in it to explore? Ana Lily Amirpour's minimalist vampire flick in farsi has a couple of things going for it. One is moody, beautiful night time b & w cinematography. The second is Sheila Vand who plays a mysterious young woman. She listens to 80s pop songs in her dark basement apartment, skates in the empty streets at night and happens to be a vampire.

There is Arashi (Arashi Marandi) and his junkie father and Atti (Mozan Marnò) the prostitute storylines that intertwine with the girl's, but who really cares? She listens to Lionel Richie and she ends up with a big fluffy cat that belonged to her victim! The film is a sly take on Iranian society, being a lonely, young, moody person. There is nothing much going on and substance is lacking, but I can't help being pulled in by the film's seductiveness.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

George Miller is a Miracle Worker

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) - Miller
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Full of smashing metals, grit but short on dialog, Mad Max: Fury Road is just the antidote we've been hoping for in yet another slumming Hollywood superhero movies season of tight costumes and heroic speechifying in front of green screen backdrop. From beginning to end, Mad Max is first and foremost, just like its predecessor, Road Warrior, a chase movie. Max hisself is, as he always ever were, a loner whose only concern is his own survival in a dusty, dog eat dog world of the future. He is not as cunning as Yojimbo, nor as cynical as man with no name in Leone's Spaghetti Westerns. He just wants to be left alone. He was a good man once and there is a remnants of that man still alive inside that rugged exterior and hidden in that indecipherable grunts.

Miller at 70, who still has a vastly different ideas and aesthetics on how to make an action movie (thank god for that), concocts a movie that is so impossibly refreshing, you just have to sit back and admire his singularity. Whoever decided to give him millions of dollars- that blind faith, just like they did with Peter Jackson some time ago, needs to get credit for its success.

The movie's real hero is Furiosa (Charlize Theron), a one-armed, dusted, chiseled, smeared tanker driving megababe who turns her back on whatever the hideous bad man's name is (and it's not important) and decides to save a handful of teen supermodels who are kept wives of that hideous man. And if this sounds extremely sexist a la Reagan era 80s, you just wait, for there are a bandit of kick ass grannies living in the desert! (I mean, Miller must be channeling some Ursula K. Le Guin fan fiction here, jesus christ) And it works! Miraculously! I love this movie and am going to see it again in theaters soon!

My Mother My Sister

Sister (2012) - Meier
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Simon (Kasey Mottet Klein) is a young boy who lives in a some economically depressed Swiss town right below a ski resort. He makes a living stealing skis and gears and brings them to whomever want to buy it, pretending he is one of the rich tourists with masks and gloves and ski boots. He blends right in. He lives with his older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) who's not really home much. She's always out with some guys with expensive cars. Their apartment is a mess. It seems it's Simon who provides food on the table and money too. He obviously has mommy issues as he clings on to a svelt English speaking tourist (Gillian Anderson) who is there with her two young sons. He lies to everyone that his parents were long dead from an accident, or owns a big hotel but too busy to be with him.

Simon tells his sister that his ski stealing business is a low risk job. But he gets caught and roughed up from time to time. Since it's Switzerland, there are no law enforcement anywhere it seems. No one really cares since the business around skiing is a seasonal affair- for both who work in the resorts and skiers.

Ursula Meier examines the class disparities as well as interesting family dynamics. The 'big reveal' is pretty devastating. Seydoux is lovely, so as Anderson, but it's Klein who shines in a psychologically complex role. Simon is a tragic figure - lonely, small kid who is left in his own devices to fend for himself as he grapples himself with the idea of 'family'. Great little movie.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Not Without My Daughter

In the Name of My Daughter (2014) - Téchiné
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Based on the memoir of Renée Le Roux, about the disappearance of her daughter Agnes, André Téchiné, the French master of subtle psychological dramas, tackles real life intrigue with In the Name of My Daughter. The Le Roux case held on to French public's attention for the last 30 years and still retains some mystery. It is the esteemed director and Catherine Deneuve's 7th collaboration to date.

Deneuve plays Renée, a widow and owner of the last remaining casino that is not yet taken over by mafia. She is aided by her loyal lawyer Maurice (Guillaume Canet) to tread the troubling times. It's Maurice's cunning political maneuvering that makes Renée to take total control over the casino. But her daughter Agnes (Adèle Haenel, Water Lilies, House of Pleasures and this year's Cesar Award winner for Best Actress for Love at First Fight) arrives, expecting to cash in on her inheritance and set up a little business for herself. Athletic, sultry Agnes slowly but surely falls for studious and enigmatic Maurice who is married and also has a string of mistresses.

After getting rejected by Renée for advancement, Maurice, along with Agnes arranges for ousting of Renée from the leadership of the casino. Lovesick Agnes becomes completely dependent on him. Even though he tells her that he can never reciprocate the love she has for him, she leaves all her money matters to his able hands.

in the name of my daughter poster.JPGBut things aren't going well. Agnes, jealous of Maurice's other women, becomes suicidal and one day disappears without a trace. There are no evidences of foul play, except desperate phone calls made by Agnes to Maurice. Soon after, Maurice transfers all of Agnes's money to his account. After a long investigation, Maurice is cleared of any wrong doing.

Twenty years later, Maurice is flown back to France from South America where he lives now, to stand for the trial, accused of the murder and disappearance of Agnes, brought on by diligent work of Renée. Even though her daughter betrayed her along with him.

Building suspense or clear resolution is not what Téchiné's after in his films. Despite its terrible American title (its original title is L'homme qu'on aimait trop which means 'The Man Who Loved Too Much' which makes much more sense in the film's context), the film is yet another great example of Téchiné's astute examination of unpredictability/duplicity in human nature that he is known for.

All three principal actors are terrific in their own hammy roles. But it's Canet, whose becoming a major force in French cinema, steals the show. There is intensity and danger hidden behind his calm demeanor and small physique. He shines as a duplicitous Maurice, the inscrutable.

Beautiful French Riviera setting helps too, shot energetically by a veteran cinematographer Julien Hirsch (3 Hearts, Bird People, Godard's In Praise of Love and Notre Musique as well as Téchiné's Unforgivable and The Girl on the Train), the film is another strong outing from Téchiné.

In the Name of My Daughter opens in New York and LA in 5/15. National roll out will follow. Visit Cohen Media website for more info.

Dark Desires

Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World (2014) - Sallin
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Hans Ruedi Giger, the artist known for his nightmarish vision, passed away in 2014 at the age of 74. Luckily for us, Swiss documentarian Belinda Sallin has made a comprehensive, yet intimate portrayal of the artist just before his passing.

It was his Oscar winning work in Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi, Alien - the facehugger, the phallic, acid bleeding creatures, the skeletal inner sanctums of the creatures, based on his paintings and sketches from his book Necronomicon (1976), that really put his often obscene dreamscapes of birth, death and sex into the mainstream consciousness.

With such dark imaginations, you'd expect a tortured soul. But as Sallin invites us into Giger's home in Zürich, Switzerland, you soon find out the opposite is true. Mild mannered and soft spoken in the last of his years, the famous artist's look and demeanor don't really match his famous creations or vice versa. His old house, filmed from corner to corner by Sallin, is like a living museum, packed with his paintings, sculptures, mountains of books filling every square inch. The front yard is planted with Giger artifacts everywhere, complete with a little haunted house ride where you literally go through trauma of birth- through the vaginal gates and with hundreds of deformed fetuses adorning the walls.

The film starts with Giger holding his first human skull, given by his father. He talks about his fascinations with death early on. He dragged the skull around on a string to get over the fear. He is surrounded by admirers and supporters (current wife and director of Giger museum Carmen Maria, poster designer and colleague Leslie Barany, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, musician/assistant Tom Gabriel Fisher among them) who talk about Giger's incredibly kin sense of perception and appreciation for humanity's deepest, darkest desires and fear. His works are like his subconscious channeling through the other side. Many juicy anecdotes are told, including his early obsession with the Egyptian concept of afterlife after seeing a mummy in a museum and the heavy use of LSD in the 60s.

darkstarposter.JPGWith a wealth of archival material and interviews, Sallin charts the young artist selling posters of airbrushed, almost photographic images of biomechanoids which had become his signature work in the 60s and 70s. His dark images were used in many album covers as well. People flocked around him, especially women. They found his nightmarish images erotic and beautiful and full of energy. Li Tobler, a Swiss model who was depicted in many of the Giger's famous paintings, as they were deeply involved, wasn't as lucky as him channeling inner demons. Her suicide in 1975 from depression is one of the things Giger still has difficulty talking about. He chokes up as he says that not only his art couldn't help her but was possibly responsible for her demise. 

Dark Star gives us an incredible access to an artist and his dark art. It's a portrait of an artist at his most natural environment: he sketches, has a dinner with his friends, cuddles his loveable Siamese cat Müggi. Sallin also knows how to satisfy fans of the artist by providing many previously unseen Giger works and plenty more as she and crew explore nooks and crannies of his Zürich house.

Many talk about Giger's generosity to younger fans. Even after the success and fame he had found in Hollywood, he's been answering fan letters and corresponding with many of his admirers. It is still evident in book signings- whether it's at a museum in Lintz, Austria or at Giger Museum (Chateau St. Germain, which he purchased in 1998) in Gruyéres, Switzerland, that he connects with all his fans from all over the world. Most touching scene plays out when a heavily tattooed diehard fan breaks down and cries in front of his idol.

As his bookkeeper/mother-in-law tells Sallin, Giger is a very normal man who used his art to confront his fears. People tend to suppress their nightmares and dark desires, but Giger with his airbrush confronted these inhibitions head on. The images in his head was so frightening, he had to depict it. It was a form of art therapy.

Intimate and thoroughly insightful, Dark Star is a great ode to the prince of darkness of the art world.

DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER'S WORLD opens across the U.S. and Canada theatrically on May 15th. Check Icarus Films' website for more info and dates.

Cobain Remembered Expansively/Expensively

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) - Morgen
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It's been more than 20 years since the death of Kurt Cobain. Crazy. And here I thought Montage of Heck is too soon. Then again, I remember watching the unwatchable doc called Kurt & Courtney where its director interjected every five minutes, "The song I just described here I can't play because Courtney Love people didn't grant me the rights to it." With an unprecedented access (with blessing of Love and everyone else), Brett Morgen paints almost a complete picture of the life of Kurt Cobain. Like many others and being in Seattle around the time when grunge happened, I too, took to the music. It wasn't the thrift shop flannels or sulking teen angst but Cobain's tortured voice that stood out among the rest and made an impression on me. Where were you the moment you heard the news that Cobain passed on? I was in college in Boston at that time. Many of us are bummed for many months.

With audio tapes, home movies, drawings, journals and beautifully animated sequences, Morgen charts mostly familiar territories - loner kid from broken home, unloved and angry, grows up to be anti-social punk rocker who couldn't handle his sudden stardom. But it's done so beautifully. His drawings come alive, and his agonized writings get accentuated. And I find the faults in its beauty. Nothing can be as dramatic as the life Cobain led and how he exited, for sure. But the slick filmmaking plays up to that with dimmed lighting and introspective framing. The whole thing feels like the director fell on a pile of money to make a documentary about the grungiest musician ever lived.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

No Subtitles Necessary

The Tribe (2014) - Slaboshpitsky
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Miroslave Slaboshpitsky literally 'shows' that basic human emotions doesn't need translations. A silent film comprised only of highly choreographed long, wide steadicam shots, the Tribe is technically brilliant. Bleak, dehumanizing setting - a deaf school doubling as lowly criminals' den ripe with violence, theft and prostitution, is not particularly interesting though. Yes it is a cool concept to have a film entirely in sign language without subtitles. Violence, love and revenge- all easily understandable but what else is there? Everyone in the film is a stock figure, even the good natured boy in the beginning who falls into 'the tribe'. He is nothing but a schoolboy crushing on a blonde who is used as a truck stop whore. And I'm sick and tired of this type of schoolboy macho filmmaking.

I really don't see any merit or intelligence beyond the initial concept of The Tribe. I just hope Slaboshpitsky comes up with something for the next film to prove me wrong.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Happy Accidents

Familiar Grounds (2011) - Lafleur
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Maryse (Fanny Mallette, from Lafleur's debut, Continental) leads a quiet, boring existence day in an day out. Her absent facial expression says it all. But lately, small things are getting to her - a mini forklift parked right outside all winter in front of her house, clogged sink, daily chitchat with her husband...everything. Her brother Benoit (Francis La Haye, also in Lafleur's Tu dors Nicole) is a ne'er do gooder. He keeps screwing up his relationship with a devorcée with a son who hates him. He is a child in grown man's body, still living with his aging dad. Then there is a man from the future. He is a local owner of a car dealership. He just happens to be from the future 6-7 month ahead.

Familiar Grounds is split in 3 chapters - Accident #1, 2 and 3. These accidents slightly propels the film forward. First one is offscreen severing of a worker's arm at a cardboard box factory Maryse works at. This makes her preoccupied with the thought of putting a severed arm in ice in order to reattach it later. The motif of arm, whether it's her examining hers in front of the mirror for hours or people raising their arms to say hi or that of mannequins courses throughout the film. Lafleur's connecting visual gags are perhaps the subtlest of them all in cinema and I love it. The second "accident" is a small bird running into Benoit's window. He cooks it for dinner (it was still alive according to him), not realizing that it is too small for 4 people. The third one concerns the man of the future, as he tells Benoit that his sister is going to be in a fatal car accident. He also tells him that it will be a beautiful summer. And Benoit decides to take charge.

Then the film becomes a road movie with the siblings going up to their dad's old cottage to get a trailer (to get rid of the forklift) in the blizzard. Winter has been long and miserable for both of them. Something's gotta change....

Wry, affecting and inventive, Lafleur's world has a unique, quiet charm all to itself. These accidents in life are not going to be life changing for these lonely, confused, disconnected people, but they give them a some sense of comfort for us to know that whether they know it or not, that we are all somehow connected in this world.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Invisible Connections

Continental: A Film Without Guns (2007) - Lafleur
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Stéphane Lafleur's debut film charts a group of lonely people in Quebec. As he indicates with the title, Continental is a film without ever showing or firing a gun. Nor does it have any nudity or touching. Urban loneliness of Lafleur's world has more common with 90s- 2000s Asian films than any pretentious North American indies with the same theme with some quirky premises. Quietly, Lafleur paints these characters with real care and feelings. Their small connections don't feel labored or out of place. Their interactions are full of awkwardness and longing and their desires as grand as that of gods. They show their care in almost invisible ways but for us to see.

Monday, May 4, 2015

NY African Film Festival 2015

Scanning through the list of this year's New York African Film Festival, I am once again astonished by the breadth and scope of African diaspora in the 21st century transnational society. The countries represented in this year's festival, excluding the ones from the continent, are: Denmark, Spain, Brazil, Israel, Czech Republic, France, United Arab Emirate, USA and Canada. All in all, the staggering lineup represents 25 countries from all over.

22nd edition of the festival places special emphasis on digital technology and short form filmmaking which freed new generation of filmmakers from budgetary and technical limitations. The highlight of the result is shown in Women in the Media and Afripedia sidebar sections as well as two feature length documentaries - 100% Dakar and Stories of Our Lives. These films and filmmakers respresent the vibrant, multi-ethnic, collaborative art communities that are springing out from everywhere throughout the continent that we don't hear much about.

The Festival also put a spotlight on the modern classics of African cinema, including Kirikou and the Sorceress (1998), Mossane (1996) and last year's Oscar nominated Timbuktu.

*Read my interview with Abderramane Sissako (Timbuktu)

*Read my review of Timbuktu

Many of the filmmakers and actors will be on hand for the Q & A sessions after the screening of each film.

The quality of all 7 feature films I was able to preview here for this year's festival is quite extraordinary. For the list of the films and tickets please visit New York African Film Festival website.

The festival runs from 5/6 - 5/12 at FSLC, 5/14 - 5/17 at Maysles Cinema Institute and 5/ 22 - 5/25 at BAM Cinematek.

Cold Habour (Dir. Carey McKenzie, South Africa) *Opening Night Film
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Sizwe (Tony Kgoroge) is a beat cop and an ex-soldier against apartheid. He is a hard working man, but finds himself pitted against corrupt police establishment and former comrades-turned-criminals.

While investigating the death of a Chinese triad member at the harbor, involving illegal abalone poaching and drugs, he gets a much sought after promotion as a detective. But forces behind the promotion are dictating his actions. Sizwe must play his boss, seductive Chinese triad boss (scrumptious Nan Yu) and the Specialist (underworld crime boss and his former comrade in struggle) in order to survive.

Cold Habour is a superb policier from South Africa. Moody and understated, McKenzie's cold palette is big a contrast against sunny and earthy disposition of other recent South African films. Tony Kgoroge has a real presence as a brooding cop whose loyalty is being tested in an uncertain world.

Wednesday, May 6th, 7pm (Q&A with Carey McKenzie and Tendeka Matatu) – Walter Reade Theater, FSLC

Monday, May 11th, 2pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

100% Dakar - More Than Art (Dir. Sandra Krampelhuber, Austria/Senegal)
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Austrian filmmaker Sandra Krampelhuber documents a booming artist community in Dakar, Senegal. These young musicians, rappers, graffiti artists, fashion designers and dancers talk about their beloved city - Dakar is where it's at. For an African artist, days of being an expat, living in Europe or America is over. As the case of many interviewees, they were educated in other parts of the world but all have decided to come back.

They are short on resources, but counting on the country's 60% population being under the age of 25, they see a great potential being just where they are.

They talk about success in collaboration. These business savvy artists seized the opportunities after historic presidential election in 2012 where corrupt incumbent prez Abdoulaye Wade lost in a landslide. The young Senegalese said goodbye to the old ways of doing things- depending their future solely in the hands of politicians and authorities. As one says in the film, 'cultural activism became much more effective than political one.'

These artists are like kids left to their own devices. They are full of enthusiasm while being practical. It's their sense of optimism that I take away the most from watching 100% Dakar. And it's a good feeling.

May 9th at 4:15pm (Q&A with Sandra Krampelhuber)
Tuesday, May 12th at 4pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

Love the One You Love (Jenna Cato Bass, South Africa)
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Terri (Chiedza Mhende) works as a sex phone operator and Sandile (Andile Nebulane) works at a dog shelter. They are a great couple. All their friends say so. They themselves seldom question this fact. But deep down, Terri wants more than just love. She never utters "I love you"s but receives it aplenty from Sandile. For her love is the most insidious weapon there is. There is a world out there and South Africa is too small for her.

Everyone, including a shaman and a priest, reiterates that the commitment to love is a burden- might be a light one, but all the same. Terri's indecisiveness becomes a great chasm between them.

Then there is Nelson (Nelson Da Neves), having a hard time letting go of the memories of his ex. He hangs out with the ex's younger brother and leaves the side of the bed where she used to sleep untouched, keeping his melancholy vigil of the love that got away.

A conspiracy finds its way to the two interweaving stories - Sandile is convinced that it's some kind of outer force working against their happiness. Nelson finds an undisputed fact on the internet that he and his ex are meant to be together.

First time director Jenna Cato Bass has a delicate, fluid touch in sketching out the big questions/minutia in love and relationship in multi-culti, burgeoning Johannesburg. Love the One You Love is honest depiction of a relationship that is both charming and melancholic.

Friday, May 8th, 9:00pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

Red Leaves (Bazi Gete, Israel) *Centerpiece Film photo 3b45227c-be82-434c-be52-6ad02bff83f9_zpslgwzti6x.jpg
Ethiopian Israeli director Bazi Gete tells a King Lear inspired story taking place in bustling cosmopolitan city, Tel Aviv, starring non-actors. Not long after his wife's passing, an old Ethiopean-Israeli patriarch, Meseganio, announces at the shabatt dinner that he sold his apartment and that he intends to move in with one of his children. It's a shock to all three of his children, who have their own family to take care of and have gotten used to modern way of living.

Meseganio goes to his older son only to discover his daughter in-law being disrespectful and his daughter disobeying his wishes. Disgusted and upset, he leaves for his second son's house. Everything is ok at first, but soon he finds that there has been rift between his womanizing son and his long suffering wife. They fight like children in front of him and their teenage son. It is too much to bear for an old man who is a forever immigrant in a foreign country where he doesn't even speak the language.

To make matters worse, two sons decide to suggest Meseganio go to an old folks home, full of white Israeli retirees. He throws a fit, and leaves the house, only to be picked up and handcuffed by immigration services.

Red Leaves is a film that is shot like an observational documentary. Easy comparison can be made with Ozu's seminal Tokyo Story. But unlike the Japanese counterpart with its passive, aging father, Meseganio is still spirited man who is too proud to give up his old Ethiopian ways. His belligerence is treated without any sympathy. It's a harsh reality both generations have to face with head on and Gete doesn't shy away from its ugliness.

Friday, May 8th, 6:45pm (Q&A with Bazi Gete)

Sunday, May 10th, 4:15pm (Q&A with Bazi Gete) – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

The Narrow Frame of Midnight (Tala Hadid, Morocco/France/UK)
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A stunningly beautiful, haunting film about displacement, memories and human connection. Moroccan-Iraqi Zacaria is on the road to find his brother, Yoseph, who went back to Iraq. Yoseph always has been the brave one, the one who had conviction.

Zacaria's path crosses with Aicha, a little girl kidnapped and sold to some Westerner sleazebag for pleasure, on route to a meeting point with her pimp and his girlfriend. She's come from a long way and wants Zacaria to take her away with him. He drops her off to his former French lover/wife Judith (Marie Josée Croze) living in remote Moroccan village. His journey takes him to Turkey then to Iraq.

Rather than long expositional dialog, director Tala Hadid relies on impregnated, poetic images and flashbacks to roughly sketch out the character's back stories. Lensed by Sokurov cinematographer Aleksandr Burov (Second Circle, Father and Son), the images and colors have real impact on understanding the violent history of the region and sorrows and loneliness of the displaced.

Monday, May 11th, 6:30pm (Q&A with Tala Hadid and Danny Glover) – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

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Dieudo Hamadi documents trials and tribulations of high school students in Democratic Republic of Congo as they prepare for the National Exam. It's a do or die situation for many impoverished students because without the diploma, their fate is pretty much sealed in living in poverty forever. The school year has been bad - teacher's strike left many of the students lagging behind their studies. Teachers subsist on student's fees, so unpaid students get kicked out of the classroom every morning, during the roll call. It's cutthroat like that in Kisengani. The students who can't afford, and there are many, get together, chip in a little money for marquis (common house), start living together to study day and night for two months for the exam.

It's mindblowing to see how motivated and driven they are to pass the exam. It's an intense religious affair also- a preacher at the church blesses their ball pens, a girl falls down to the floor because she is possessed by ghost of her family members who don't want her to pass the exam so she needs to be exorcised, a kid goes to see a traditional witch doctor to bless him, etc.

Corruption is rampant. There is a racket for selling leak answers to the exam and everyone talks about strategies on how to cheat. Teachers come in to their marquis, complaining how they are not getting paid.

Come the exam days - one day it's a disaster because of leaks didn't provide right answers, the next day everyone's overjoyed because the given answers were right. Two months later, there are mad celebrations on the street. Then there are heartbreaks. We talk about our education system being broken. National Diploma is an eye opening experience into an education system that has everything going against students.

Sunday, May 10th, 9:00pm – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC

Run (Philippe Lacote, Ivory Coast/France)
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A gritty modern parable that reflects recent civil war of Ivory Coast. Run tells an orphan boy named Run (played by Abdoul Bah as a boy and later Abdoul Karim Konaté), always running away from his ever changing circumstances and changing his allegiance.

Run starts first as the rainmaker's apprentice which signifies the west African country still steeped in mysticism. It's his hand that the rainmaker has to be sacrificed but he runs away. Then runs into and becomes an assistant to 'greedy Gladys', a plump woman touring and making money off of binge eating reflecting short-lived good times and greed after the country's independence. When she can't eat no more, he denies his acquaintance to her and joins a rebel group, Young Patriots, on the street. Young 'admiral' as their leader, the rebels act as the invisible arm of the government who incites jingoistic patriotism against all foreigners. Run, again, with shifty identity, running from one situation from another out of survival, has no loyalty toward the group.

It's Assa (Isaach de Bankolé), a father figure who gives him a purpose in life by training and arming him to kill the newly minted country's Prime Minister (who happens to be Admiral of the Young Patriots) for the better future of all Ivorians. The act also corresponds with the old rainmaker's prediction in the beginning what Run is destined to do.

From it's cyclical structure to beautifully shot and edited images, Lacote's skillful filmmaking is in its highest order. Combining elements of mysticism, political intrigue, gritty urban drama, Run is hypnotic and original film artfully reflecting the beleaguered nation's complex history.

Monday, May 11th, 9:00pm (Q&A with Isaach de Bankolé) – Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC