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.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Bright Lights, Big City

All We Imagine as Light (2024) - Kapadia AWIAL-photo-principale-validee-e1716489610494 Payal Kapadia's soul stirring docudrama, A Night of Knowing Nothing, delicately weaved India's national politics, student protest movement and cinema and its nostalgia in 2021. Her follow up narrative film, All We Imagine as Light proves that she is one of the most exciting new talents emerging in the current international cinema scene.

All We Imagine as Light starts with the documentary style footage of bustling Mumbai, as its citizens start the day in a 'city symphony' style intro paired with voice-overs of actual workers who came to the big city, looking for work: street vendors getting ready for their businesses, people hanging on the back of trucks in a packed traffic, large crowd milling in to the commuter train stations, filling in a crowded train cars, talking, sharing music, taking a nap - it's a cacophony of sight and sound of the city of 22 million souls. With this routine, everyday chaos as a backdrop, we are introduced to Prabha (Kani Kusruti) and Anu (Divya Prabha).

Prabha is a practical, sensible head nurse working in a busy hospital. Her young roommate Anu work at the same hospital as a receptionist. Just like many people, they are transplants from the rural villages who came to look for work in Mumbai. Prabha hasn't seen her husband in years - he left right after their arranged marriage for a factory work in Germany. Anu is a subject of a gossip at work, as she is constantly coming home late, prone to daydream at work and always short on money, that she is secretly in love with Shiaz, a young Muslim man - the relationship that their parents don't approve of.

A mild-mannered doctor takes an interest in Prabha, since he too is a transplant from Kerala region and he can comfortably speak with her in Malayalam, as he still struggles with his Hindi at work. He walks her to the train station and shyly gifts her with his book of poems.

Nights take on a different air in the film as the craziness of the daytime activities slow down and give the city’s inhabitants a slight reprieve. It affords some of the most lyrical scenes in the film - with the rain hitting the window in what seems to be the middle of the region's rainy season, Prabha reads the doctor's poetry with only her phone flashlight while sitting against the window as the train goes by outside her window. After cleaning up the rain leak on the floor one night, Prabha hugs the brand-new red rice cooker that her absent husband supposedly sent (as a farewell gift?) And Anu and her boyfriend frolicking through the night market and sharing a passionate kiss in dimly lit underground parking lot of a mall.

Parvaty (Chhaya Kadam), a hospital cook, is about to get evicted from her home, in which she has been living in for more than twenty years, due to a shiny new development. Prabha tries to help her by contacting a lawyer. But because of Parvaty's lack of papers - her late husband didn't leave any of the paperwork necessary to prove her residency, she has to resort to go back to her rural village in the south.

Fluidly switching from documenting what it's like living in bustling Mumbai to the melodrama of these three women with their emotional and economical insecurities, All We Imagine as Light comments on many social and political issues in India. The early voice-over suggests that at least one of the family members in each household from the country leaves home to go to work in Mumbai. Anu wears burqa to have a secret rendez-vous with Shiaz in his predominantly Muslim neighborhood, which is an indicative of Modi's right wing Hindu government making it harder to reconcile between Hindu and Muslim relationship. Parvaty attends worker's rights meeting at night and Prabha and Parvaty clandestinely throw stones at the billboard advertising near Parvaty's house, that reads, "Class is privilege reserved for privileged." Kapadia's tapestry of sensorial storytelling and sociopolitical commentary of Mumbai is on the level of Jia Zhangke's observations on changing Shanxi province he frequently depicts in his films.

In the third act of the film, Kapadia changes the film's tempo and breaks the physical, social, political confinement of the city life for the women as Prabha and Anu accompany Parvaty to her home in rural India. In a fantasy sequence where Prabha resuscitates a castaway found on the beach, tells the yearning of a woman who was cruelly abandoned, to imagine a better life. Shiaz who followed Anu to the countryside, gets to be acknowledged in public without scrutiny. All We Imagined as Light is a major work of contemporary Indian cinema. Kapadia along with Chaitanya Tamhane (Court, The Disciple) showcase the emergence of new voices that is not by the Bollywood system, depicting underrepresented working-class India from a woman's perspective, in a still heavily patriarchal society.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Sad King

Cerrar los ojos/Close Your Eyes (2023) - Erice Screen Shot 2024-05-23 at 12.33.05 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-23 at 11.49.44 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-23 at 10.21.33 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-23 at 1.27.02 PM Screen Shot 2024-05-27 at 12.56.50 PMScreen Shot 2024-05-23 at 1.47.13 PM It's been 50 years since Victor Erice made The Spirit of the Beehive where he introduced a wide eyed, then 6-year-old, Ana Torrent to us. And it's been 40 years since his last feature, El Sur came out. So, what does the now 83-year-old director come up with, after all these years? Close Your Eyes is a masterpiece that celebrates the history of cinema and its workers- directors, actors, editors and even researchers. It brings the big emotional ending that shows the power of cinema as well, not in a grandiose, self-congratulatory way, but somber, melancholic way he always has done in the past. And it’s beautiful.

Set up like a mystery and a film within a film, Close Your Eyes tells a retired filmmaker, Miguel, in search of an actor and friend Julio, who disappeared on the last day of filming his never finished film, The Look of Farewell. It a producer of a TV show, Unresolved Cases, that initiates Miguel to talk about his famous actor friend, Julio, who vanished 30 years ago, leaving his daughter Ana (Ana Torrent, now 57 years old) to grow up fatherless. It stirs up Miguel's past as he digs up memorabilia from the storage spaces for the production of The Look of Farewell and reconnect with not only Ana and his old flame but with his editor friend who owns impressive number of films in film cans including footages from his unfinished film.

He comes back from Madrid to his tranquil existence in a small coastal fishing village where he tends to his dog, vegetable gardens and spends his days fishing. But the news of Julio's reappearance disturbs his tranquility, and he is on the road again to locate his old friend. Julio who doesn't remember his past, has been working as a handyman in a retirement home run by nuns. With the help of nuns and the worker of the facility, Miguel approaches his old friend who doesn't recognize him. There's an old remnant of him, carrying a picture of a Chinese girl who was in the film, and a tango tune he whistles. Miguel is determined to have Julio's memories back, with Ana's help and showing him the footage of his unfinished film starring Julio.

More than anything, Close Your Eyes is a tribute to cinema- the strange power of it that mesmerizes and enraptures us. Erice understands the iconic power of image. He understands time passing and its melancholy as well. Sad king indeed.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Food porn at its finest

La passion de Dodi Bouffant/Taste of Things (2023) - Tran Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 9.31.08 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 8.53.42 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 9.17.30 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 9.27.18 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 9.27.30 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 9.27.40 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 9.53.12 AM Screen Shot 2024-05-22 at 10.06.19 AM Sumptuous filmmaking for food lovers. Tran Anh Hung pleases the senses with always moving camera, capturing delectable food preparations with very handsome couple Juliette Binoche and Benoit Magimel, who were in relationship in real life. They obviously have a good chemistry together. The terminal illness plot aside, Taste of Things is about passion and passion for food that transcends love. Tran seems to be settling in for more soft-edged, traditional, French costume dramas, akin to Scent of Green Papaya, his Vietnam set debut. I'm not complaining, since he seldomly makes films and I welcome all his gorgeous offerings. But still, I'd love to see a spark in his filmmaking again, once displayed in Cyclo (1995) and I Come with the Rain (2009) and even in his Haruki Murakami adaptation of Norwegian Wood (2010).