Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Life's Curve Balls

One Fine Morning (2022) - Hansen-Løve One Fine Morning After experimenting with the self-reflexive Bergman Island where she explored the origins of the artistic inspirations and the nature of art influencing life and vice versa, esteemed writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve comes back to her usual theme of grief and passage of time with quietly devastating yet lovely, One Fine Morning. The theme, I truly believe, that no other contemporary film directors can put in words and on screen, as acutely and sensitively as she can. With exceptional script and acting, One Fine Morning is a finely composed filmmaking at its best.

Léa Seydoux plays Sandra, a Parisian widow juggling life with tending to her grade school daughter, taking care of her aging father while working as a translator. She leads a relatively quiet existence with her loving daughter Sarah in her tiny apartment. She is a learned woman who speaks several languages and is very efficient at her job. But it's her father, Georg (Pascal Greggory) who's in sharp cognitive decline, and in great need of help with everything from opening the front door of his flat, to going to the bathroom. He often forgets where he is and where he places things. With her siblings busy with their own lives, it seems the duty to look after him largely falls on Sandra. As she and her mom/Georg's ex (Nicole Garcia), discuss the next steps, she realizes that Georg is facing grim prospects- Retirement home in Paris is expensive, has a long waitlist, and his pension alone will not cover it. And they've heard so many horror stories about the condition of many of these establishments. They are pretty much a waiting place for undignified death. He will also need to sell his flat, which is filled to the brim with books, as he was a scholar and a teacher. 'What do we do with all of his books?' Sandra wonders out loud. 'These were his life.' Françoise, maybe cold but more practical, tells her that they will have to throw away most of them. 'Why don't you just burn them?' She quips. Hansen-Løve doesn't shy away from all the life's complications. These are real quandaries people actually face in life. So is love and relationship.

Sandra finds love in an unexpected place. She runs into Clément (Melvil Poupaud), an acquaintance of her dead husband, at a playground while playing with her daughter. He is married and has a young son. He is an astro-chemist and takes long expedition trips to the remotest areas. There is a mutual attraction and they can't help but fall for each other. But he is not ready to leave his family for her. This is again, another added complication Sandra wasn't really looking for in life. Even though she still pretty young, she had given up on any romance long ago, resigned to the idea that part of her life is already over. But life throws curve balls at you like that.

It is almost unthinkable to see Seydoux, a glamorous international movie starlet as a sad, frumpy, middle aged single mom. But with short haircut and no makeup in her mom jeans, she is remarkably natural as Sandra, who thinks she is over her prime, weathering life's problems. In her understated way, Seydoux conveys Sandra's enormous compassion toward her father and deep understanding of his predicament - a brilliant academic whose age rapidly robbing away at what he once was and awkward shyness of finding herself to love and be loved again which she already had given up on. It is by far the best performance of her career if not the most poignant. Greggory, once a dashing leading man in French cinema not twenty years ago, plays demanding role of a brilliant mind in cognitive decline. Garcia gives matter of fact, no nonsense woman who provides much needed dry humor as she banters with her new husband about the state of French politics, portraying the embodiment of a Macron liberal. Poupaud is also on point with nerdy energy and charm, equally surprised by his own forwardness with the declaration of love.

As with all of her previous films, Hansen-Løve is a keen observer of fleeting life. This time she is tackling the theme of aging and decline, which is not a subject many filmmakers touch upon. This is part of life many people don't want to think about but fast becoming an issue as the elderly population grows larger. It makes you think about the attitudes towards elderly. Once brilliant, vibrant minds who need our compassion and treated with dignity, not pity and sympathy. Because we will all become old one day. One Fine Morning, as the simple title suggests, all we can do is face the life one day at a time. Leave all the sorrows of yesterdays behind because there will be another beautiful morning tomorrow.

One Fine Morning opens 1/27 in New York and Los Angeles. National release will follow.

Cinema Saved My Life: Mia Hansen-Løve on One Fine Morning

Mia-Hansen-Love It's always a pleasure to talk to Mia Hansen-Løve, one of my favorite contemporary directors in French cinema. Her astute observations of life and time passing always gets me. Her new film One Fine Morning, featuring mega movie star Léa Seydoux in an unrecognizable role as a single mother who juggles motherhood, aging parent and love, is a truly touching and moving film. The interview was conducted via Zoom in December. We talked about the film in detail, about Seydoux, her obsession and how filmmaking saved her life!

One Fine Morning opens 1/27 in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The national roll out will follow.

The title of the film One Fine Morning/Un beau martin is a simple one and it reminds me of Yasujiro Ozu’s. The theme of time passing and family relations are all familiar Ozu territory. Is it safe to assume Ozu’s influence in your films?

Thank you for comparing my films to Ozu’s. I am a big admirer of his films. Yes. I loved his minimalism and also how restrained his style is, the way he looks at life without adding documentary to it, how he presents it straight with proper distance, proper frame and proper rhythm. There’s a feeling of truth, you know. I don’t pretend to say that I do the same way. I’m trying to find my own language, but I am sensitive to that kind of philosophy of filmmaking. His film Late Spring, for instance, haunted me a lot. There’s a lot of father-daughter relationships in Ozu’s films. It’s the subject I am very sensitive to.

I don’t know if I can say I ‘chose’ the title. One Fine Morning. It was some kind of illumination. During the writing process, the title just appeared to me. It was the same for my first feature, All is Forgiven. You don’t even know why, but there it is, and that is the title. I like it because it was not an intellectual process. It’s there where it should be. The title has to impose itself and then you can intellectualize about it and find reasons to it, not the other way around. Those are the best titles. Now I know what the title means: there’s the notion of the beginning, of clarity. Clarity is a word that matters to me a lot as a writer and a director but also as a person in my life. I enjoy that the notion of clarity in this title. But there is also a fairytale aspect of it. Do you know il était une fois, in German it’s Es war einmal…

You mean ‘Once Upon a Time…’?

And to me One Fine Morning is another kind of ‘Once Upon a Time’. There is something that has to do with storytelling and innocence. It’s like the lullabies in my films I use. I love lullabies in my films and it connects with the childhood, also we hear them as adults too and there’s a connection with this title as well. It’s a poetic idea of course.

Something like a New Beginning.

Yes, new beginning and it’s a difficult story and a sad story but there is a pleasure of a story being told. There’s something cathartic about fairy tales. We love to be told stories. It’s all unconscious though. I am thinking about it now and analyzing it now. (laughs)

I think choosing that title has to do with the desire of not only dealing with harsh reality but also has to do with romantic, cathartic way to hear stories and to tell stories.

Speaking of music and speaking of lullabies. I noticed Jan Johansson’s music in the beginning. Is there a story behind it?

Do you know Jan Johansson?

I’ve heard of him, but since I saw your film, I’ve been listening to him a lot.

I have to confess something I did here that I'd never done and probably will never do again, I stole that track from one of the lesser known Bergman films--


The film that I love, it’s called The Touch. If you have seen the film, it would make sense. The two films have something in common in a way – an adulterous passion outside of a marriage. It’s a Bergman film that has been haunting me when I was preparing the film. And that music was haunting me so much that I couldn’t think of any other melody for my film. The music was not composed for Bergman by the way, it existed before. And I am using it again.

Interesting. Good to know.

Thinking about the role of Sandra. I wasn’t expecting Léa Seydoux in that role. Seydoux is a glamourous movie star and here she plays a single mom without any makeup. How did you get to choose here for the film?

Yes she is glamourous and yes she can be sophisticated in films and as a person too, but there is also a rawness about Léa. It’s not only that she plays with simplicity and rawness, but also there’s something almost masculine side of her. You feel she can be both, which is quite special, even without knowing her personally. While working with her it is quite apparent that her rawness is almost Bressonian. I find her presence very strong. On the one hand she has this star quality about her on the other hand, she is extremely simple and plain in her acting, like an Ozu or Bresson actress – she doesn’t force anything, there’s no intention and that’s all I care about when I deal with actors. I still love working with unknown, non-actors and with children and teenagers, as well as working with Isabelle Huppert, Vicky Krieps or Nicole Garcia. Both cases, what I care about is innocence. That’s what I admire. And sometimes it’s challenging when I work with actors who has great deal of experiences. It’s challenging to have them get rid of all their habits and let them show themselves as who they really are, and not pretend, you know. With Léa, it was incredibly easy. Easy for me at least. It’s what I am looking for in actors. She preserved the quality of innocence in her acting. It’s so easy with her, it’s almost embarrassing for me. Even with all the films with all these directors, she still has that innocence about her. Even more impressive is the emotions she brings on set. I mean, all the actors know how to cry on command, but it can be very mechanical without emotions. But when Léa cries in the scene, I cry. It never happened to me before. It’s hard to tell with her if she is acting or really living the scene. It is almost disturbing. Even when it’s not in the script, in some moments, just reading the lines with Pascal (Greggory) who plays her father, she becomes very emotional. She becomes the character and they become virtually the same.

Pascal Greggory’s character, once an intellectual person who is losing himself due to Alzheimers was heartbreaking. I was thinking about the physicality of your being. That all you have left at the end is your books. Do you think about your mortality often and what you will leave behind? Is that what this movie is partly about?

I think of that all the time. (Laughs) That’s why I started making films when I was 18 years old. I was obsessed with passing of time and what we are going to leave behind, at the age when you are not supposed to think about those things. I think that’s partly why I became a director. Some people would say naïve, but for me it was very efficient way of fighting against time and destruction it brings. The fact that life and death happen and time carries on and vanishes everything… I had that obsession ever since I was young. That makes me say today that I was a very melancholic young woman. And that’s why I say sometimes that cinema saved my life. Because cinema brought me back to the present. It made me enjoy the moments. It made me feel more rooted, thanks to the intensity of making films, especially the actual production (shooting). The intensity made me feel that I was alive and present in life, you know. Before I discovered making films, I always felt a little bit disconnected – the awareness of the passing of time took too much space in my head and it unbalanced my life. It all started there for me. I think it’s easier for me now but that obsession is still part of who I am. It influences my inspiration and my characters and art.

The father character who figuratively disappears which is inspired by my father. It is difficult to see my father disappear. But I want to and need to believe that there’s something remains. When I made this film, I am trying to meditate on that. I don’t want to cheat or tell lies to myself. I am trying to look at life the way it is. But I am trying to look further and find meaning to that. And I am trying to cling on to the idea that there is a soul, even with or without believing in god. And I am trying to approach the idea of what a soul is.

You will not be forgotten. I can tell you that.

(Laughs) I was talking about my father…

I know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Body Parts

Une femme mariée (1964) - Godard screen shot 2023-01-14 at 11.23.16 am screen shot 2023-01-14 at 12.31.22 pm screen shot 2023-01-14 at 7.42.49 am screen shot 2023-01-14 at 8.02.49 am married woman 1 screen shot 2023-01-14 at 11.49.42 am screen shot 2023-01-14 at 11.56.42 am Macha Méril's Charlotte is a coquettish married woman vacillating between two men: a brutish plane obsessed husband (Philippe Leroy) and a narcissistic actor lover (Bernard Noël). It starts out with the static shot of each body part of Charlotte. Her days are spent on shopping, going to the cafes and the movies. She finds out that she is pregnant but doesn't know who the father is.

Godard's take on women being objectified in the consumerist 60s is on full display here. Also the talk of holocaust hangs like a cloud. Charlotte doesn't know what Auschwitz is as the men talk about it on the way back from the nazi trials in Hamburg. Biting and provocative.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Worldly Desires of Intellect

Yo, la peor de todas/I, The Worst of All (1990) - Bemberg Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.17.18 AMScreen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.26.56 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.33.18 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.55.43 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 10.09.08 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 10.09.14 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 10.51.30 AM Based on a historical figure, Juana Inés de la Cruz, I, The Worst of All, tells trials and tribulations of a catholic nun who lived in the 17th Century Mexico. Sister Juana who was a poet, playwright, theologian and a philosopher. And because it was unorthodox for woman to be an inquisitive and brilliant intellectual in the age of inquisition, she was persecuted by the patriarchal church and forced to denounce her 'sins'. Maria Luisa Bemberg directs the unflinching version of Sister Juana's story. Assumpta Serna plays Sister Juana, whose brilliance was the subject of both envy and jealousy in the convent. She is afforded with a large library and fine material things, like a telescope and harpsicord within the convent walls. She makes a big impression on the viceroy sent from Spain to the new world, and strikes up the friendship with the Vicereine (played by Dominique Sanda) who feels a certain kinship with the Sister (convent/marriage = jail). The Viceroy and his wife become an ardent supporter and protector of Juana against the vicious archbishop who thinks Juana is a nothing but a harlot and heretic.

Things get dire when Viceroy is called back to Spain and replaced by another. With her protection gone, Sister Juana becomes the target of archbishop's fury. Bemberg paints rampant religious hypocracy and sexism where women's intelligence were lauded only on the surface but ignored and actively repressed under the eyes of the church. Many of her supporters turn their backs on her. Then the plague hits the convent, where she devotes herself to the caring for the dying. It is her only confessor, the unnamed Father who reappears at the end to hear her confession, of her pride, her self-love and praises. He tells her that it's her selflessness in the time of plague is what God wanted all along.

I, the Worst of All, is a searing indictment of hypocracy of the religious institution and clear eyed examination of the true devotion and worldly desires of intellect. What happened to Sister Juana is a real tragedy.

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Not so Goodtime

Le bonheur (1965) - Varda le bonheur François and Thérèse are young ideal working class couple with two adorable children, living in a provincial town. He’s a carpenter and she is an occasional dressmaker working at home. It’s all love love love happiness and happiness until he meets and starts having an affair with Émilie, a post office/phone clerk. He is happy with having two loves and Émilie contends with him being married. But what a girl to do, as long as her man is happy? The trio’s sunny happy lives come crashing down when he tells Thérèse about his affair, since he proudly says he doesn’t want to lie. He loves them both and happy with having more happiness. After seemingly agree with the arrangement and after they make love in the park near the lake, Thérèse drowns herself. After bit of mourning period, Émilie slides into Thérèse’s place and they continue to go on their lives with little changed.

Le bonheur is a really subversive film and a great counterpart to what was happening with male dominated French New Wave at the time - 1965. It's a film that challenges the patriarchal society's notion of happiness. Why does a woman's happiness always have to be tied to her man's? Why does she have to settle for what she has or be the one making sacrifices?

Shot in idyllic summertime w/sun-kissed photography, the film hides its real prodding intentions very well. Varda was much more than some frivolous artist Godard regarded her as.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Oh Captain My Captain

Triangle of Sadness (2022) - Östlund Triangle of Sadness Good comedies are hard to come by these days. Ruben Östlund, riding the success of absurd satires like Force Majure and the Square, comes back with another over the top-class satire, with international cast, in Triangle of Sadness. He starts out with modeling tryouts with hunky Harris Dickenson (Beach Rats). At one point, a casting director tells him, “Why don't you lose that triangle of sadness between your eyebrows?" Yes, male modeling is easy to make fun of, as well demonstrated in Ben Stiller's Zoolander. But what's easier? Social influencers. They live off their good looks. They make the age-old meet and greet of asking 'what do you do for living?' completely obsolete. So, what would be the ultimate setting for a class satire? On a luxury cruise ship, of course.

So, a model Carl (Dickenson) and his influencer girlfriend Yaya (Charlbi Dean) gets invited to a luxury cruise filled with uber rich crowd. It's an old money and new money alike: a Russian fertilizer tycoon, an English arms dealer couple, a lonely internet security expert and Carl (Dickinson) and Yaya. There's a team of dedicated crew who waits on the customers hand and foot, to attend their every absurd demand - like stop everything they are doing and jump on the water slide on the side of the boat, to celebrate their class consciousness(?). There's a recluse, alcoholic, Marxist captain (Woody Harrelson) who finally emerges from his deck only to go mano a mano with the Russian on which is better- Capitalism or Communism, while looking up and exchanging memorable quotes from google. After a big storm with everybody's projectile vomiting and shitting subsides, the ship is hijacked by pirates and the ship sinks.

Only a few survivors wash up ashore in what seems like a remote island. The water and food supply are limited. Paula (Vicky Berlin) the yacht steward, tries to keep everything and everybody in order, but soon realizes that there is no hierarchy anymore. Abigail (Dolly De Leon), a Filipino crew member who oversaw cleaning the toilet, emerges to be the leader because she is the only one who knows how to start the fire, how to fish and she gets to decide who eats and doesn't. She soon chooses Carl to be her sexual pet.

The reversal of roles is cathartic and delicious, but short lived. Östlund let you not forget that we live in an overly developed world that capitalism took over every corner of the world that it can't be defeated that easily. The world of pretend, married to our phone and constant flux of information that we rely our identity on, will not let you go. With all that cringey funny business he is so good at, at heart, Östlund is true Haneke pupil. But whereas Haneke has courage to cut the cord/throat/head off, two-time Palm d'Or winning director doesn't, as the murky ending suggests. And just like the people onboard of the yacht, when the movie is over, we laugh and pat ourselves on the back because the ordeal's over and exit to the elevator.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Top 30 Favorite Films 2022

OK. The world is going back to semi-normal, although with Covid variants still lingering, war in Ukraine has no end in sight, Trump and Kanye announced that they are running for president again, scientist found zombie virus under the permafrost and astronomers suddenly discovered a black hole ten time the size of our sun, some 16,000 light years away. But everyone was cautiously optimistic, or at least in a better mood in general this year. Cinema too, saw a spurt of ambitious and energetic filmmaking after two years of gentle, introspective and contemplative films, comparatively speaking. Caught some quality home viewings too, namely, Olivier Assayas's reworking of his own Irma Vep as an 8 part series for HBO, David Bruckner's reimagining of Hellraiser and Dan Trachtenberg's fresh take on the Predator franchise, Prey. All of which gave new dimensions to the notion of, and elevated the status of, remakes, revivals and new interpretations of the existing material.

There were some great films which largely benefitted from being seen on the big screen, once again, making a case for theater viewing experience that it still has a place in cinema discourse. Pacifiction, Decision to Leave, Tár, Moonage Daydream all excelled in larger format cinema experience.

*Petite maman, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Tsugua Diaries, In Front of your Face, Neptune Frost all made last years list.

1. Pacifiction - Serra PACIFICTION - TOURMENT SUR LES ILES (2022) A grand, most intoxicating cinematic experience in recent memory, Pacifiction stood far above anything else I'd seen this year. Its invisible enemies and wildly outdated Cold War paranoia of the first world suits Serra's cynical, comic take on the impotence of the former colonizers whose meaningless posturing and silly power games is spot on. This is our generation's Dr. Strangelove.

2. Aftersun - Wells Aftersun Memories are subjective and selective. They also make us who we are. Charlotte Wells's poignant film about the memories of a young woman about her absent father shows us the fragility of our construction of self. Aftersun is a melancholic, futile attempt at reconciling the facts with our embellished and suppressed memories. It nearly broke me.

3. Decision to Leave - Park Decision to LeaveNot as bombastic or fantastical as his previous films, but Park's Decision to Leave is any less brilliant in its intricacy and execution. Its down to earth tone and Tang Wei and Park Hae-il's empathetic performances resonate emotionally more than any of his films. A supreme entertainment.

4. Hit the Road - Panahi Hit the Road A political urgency balances out with humor. In the tradition of 'moving pictures' of Kiarostami and Jafar Panahi, Panah Panahi's family road trip film is life affirming and full of humanity.

5. Irma Vep - Assayas Screen Shot 2022-10-24 at 6.09.37 AM With the long form storytelling (as an 8-part HBO mini series), Olivier Assayas is allowed to develop and elaborate more from his Maggie Cheung starring 1996 film. As usual, fluidly infusing his life long obsessions, reflections on film history and compulsion to create, in order not to get lonely, Assayas creates light, airy and playful love letter to creative process.

6. El Gran Movimiento - Russo Untitled Much more inviting and personable than Koyaanisqatsi trilogy, melding of old and new, El Gran Movimiento is a stunning visual tone poem of the world in crisis complete with a dance number.

7. Hytti nro 6 - Kuosmanen compartment 2 Compartment No.6 has everything I love about cinema - Wanderlust, human connection, loneliness, trains, cold weather. Juho Kuosmanen, working from a novel by Rosa Liksom, finds a delicate balance in chiseling out beautiful moments of human connections without unnecessary backstories or dramatics. It's a little romance without all the fuss and stylings, but only warmth and silent mutual understanding.

8. Tár - Field TÁR (2022) Talking about gender equality in the face of sexual misconduct in the social media era, Todd Field's biting and grandiose character study Tár is at once current in its sexual politics and old fashioned in its rise and fall narrative of its subject. But Field really achieved something remarkable with Tár. It’s one of those big character driven film that is rare to be made nowadays. With its mesmerizing closeups and Blanchett’s commanding performance, the film is espetically spectacular on the big screen.

9. Un beau martin - Hansen-Løve un beau martin Mia Hansen-Løve does it again, so well, observing the time passing and melancholy of life. Seydoux and Gregory are both fantastic. This year's The Worst Person in the World without all the spunky enthusiasm.

10. Nope - Peele nope Nope is actually very much like a Spike Lee joint, packed to the brim with ideas and messages, but in a simple, breatheable, cinematic symbolist way. It has little to do with character development or backstory or the classic structure. Things go haywire with unexpected twists and turns. Its references range from Roy Rogers, Close Encounters, Phenomena, 90s TV sitcoms, reality TV, tabloids, to Akira even, not to mention all the other clever pop culture references. It speaks volumes about the notions of the untamed west, nostalgia, colonization, captivity and spectacle. And the gaze: one of the many brilliant moments comes in when OJ understands not to look at the predator in the eye, like many traffic stops POC faces everyday. Loved the unconventional design of the entity as well as hilarious use of the air balloon modeled on Steven Yeun as a weapon. There are many more details I am forgetting to mention here.

11. Unrueh - Schäublin Screen Shot 2022-10-30 at 7.35.49 AM Cyril Schäublin sets up the two contrasting forces - capitalism fueled by industrial revolution versus collectivist agitation in his beguiling, the Swiss Jura mountains set period film, Unrest. It is a great allegory of the society we live in now, where commodifying time, as demonstrated by the news of instating permanent Daylight Savings time, as if we only exist to be productive at work. It advocates for the balance, and better yet, anarchy!

12. Geographies of Solitude - Mills Geographies_of_Solitude_Landscape Filmmaker Jacquelyn Mills, in collaboration with Lucas, lovingly documents all that a windswept remote island can offer - sand dunes, horses, seals and insects, its intricate ecosystem. She also comments on the human footprints on environment through Lucas while capturing some of the most breathtakingly gorgeous images on 16mm film. It includes naturally exposed film stocks only by moonlight and hand printed footage using natural surroundings, like horse dung, sand, kelp and yarrow.

13. Crimes of the Future - Cronenberg Crimes of the Future Watching Crimes of the Future immediately reminded me of the famed painting by Rembrandt - The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. The painter was commenting on the inadequacy of seeking knowledge and truth in the human body in the Age of Enlightenment. And this is the point Cronenberg has been making all his career- our futile quests for answers in what makes us humans, in our bodies which are the most personal, tangible things that each of us possesses, and not finding it there. And pursuing so hard to find something in all the blood and guts, you lose sight of whatever the humanity that's left in us. In a way, Cronenberg is going back to the basics - to the flesh after more cerebral musings in searching for the soul (Dangerous Methods, Cosmopolis).

14. A Night of Knowing Nothing - Kapadia Screen Shot 2022-02-03 at 3.18.18 PM Memories fade, but nostalgia remains. From Godard and May 68', Mythical Hindu God films, to Chris Marker, A Night of Knowing Nothing weaves intoxicating visual, textural contemplation of our relationship with cinema as an unintentional but nevertheless undeniably nostalgic medium, even if the image is from only few years ago. Another beautiful contemplation of memories and what they mean to us I watched this year.

15. Serre Moi Fort - Amalric Hold Me Tight Vickey Krieps gives a gut-wrenching performance in a film about grieving and letting go that is so portent and heartfelt than any other film I've seen in a long time. Constantly going back and forth with her and her family, feeling the absence of one another yet articulating the connection in a very ingenious way, Amalric, adapting from Claudine Galea's play Je reviens de loin, makes perhaps the most heartfelt film as a writer/director. Give Krieps all the acting awards there are!

16. Das Mädchen und die Spinne - Zürcher Screen Shot 2022-04-03 at 12.23.05 PM Mara, our static figure on the sidelines, is not immune to be the object of desire, as she gets attention from both sexes. Is she taking a break from the sinewy human connections because of the STD? Or is she somewhat autistic the way talented people are (she sketches gorgeous portraits of people around her). She is also capable of cruelty. Does the spider which gets passed on from Mara to others and back, signify a disease or desire or both? Twin siblings Ramon and Silvan Zürcher's second film, after enigmatic The Strange Little Cat (2013), is yet another chamber piece as a microcosm of people's inner yearning and desire to connect in the modern society. And The Girl and Spider is just as ambiguous and non-conclusive and formalist as the former, if not more so. And it's a delicious concoction.

17. The Eternal Daughter - Hogg https __cdn.sanity.io_images_xq1bjtf4_production_25e9d3aa5b338cb55e5a31c542f1257d2e185161-5760x3840 Using the Victorian Gothic trope, Joanna Hogg creates yet another meta-autofiction about her own complicated relationship with her mother. A family is the source for all your sorrows and joy and regret. After all, many of Victorian ghost stories are manifestation of repressed emotions and feelings. Swinton is glorious in a dual role in her white wig, pretty much carrying a conversation with herself. It is a subtly devastating performance - in many of the film's close-ups both as a mother and daughter, she conveys that nervousness of not trying to hurt one another, or in this case, herself, in that educated, polite British way. Hogg aces again.

18. Avec amour et acharnement - Denis Screen Shot 2022-11-22 at 10.04.35 PM Shot during the pandemic, with her frequent collaborators, Claire Denis's moody chamber piece, Both Sides of the Blade, might be seen too wordy and conventional for the die-hard Denis acolytes who prefer her blissful visual filmmaking with colors and textures. But rest easy, because the film is nothing but. It contains enough visual/aural power and beauty, combined with blistering performances by Juliette Binoche and Vicent Lindon.

19. Ahed's Knee - Rapid Ahed's KneeIt culminates to Y making Yahalom admitting that there is strong censorship within the art community in Israel, and deep down she knows it is wrong. Ahed's Knee directly confronts the well-intentioned liberals and criticises for their sheepishness and passivity. It's an angry film and shows its director's resourcefulness in saying what he has to say in the strongest terms (in the guise of making a fiction) while getting away from the grips of the censors while making a film within the country. Unflinching and direct in its message with kinetic visuals and breathless pacing, Ahed's Knee is another strong film from a talented filmmaker with strong point of view.

20. Eo - Skolimowski EO The film, mostly shot from the donkey's point of view, with jarring close-ups, has a visceral, raw quality only seen in haptic cinema of Sensory Ethnography Lab (SEL). Unlike some cute Disney family movie starring a talking donkey, Eo is not a fairy tale. It can also be seen as sobering examination of the meat industry. But more importantly, it is an allegory for how people from different parts of the world, not by their own volition, get uprooted and go through unimaginable hardships and alienation only to be at the mercy of a handful of strangers who ultimately don't have any stake in their lives.

21. The Novelist's Film - Hong Screen Shot 2022-06-12 at 6.27.12 AM So goes another meta autofiction of Hong as he reveals sliver of his filmmaking process - 'compulsion' to make films in the director's earlier days are gone, giving way to stagnation, brought on by success, relative comfort and getting old. Story isn't as important. It can be as simple as something from the real life. Inspirations and directions can't be forced and life provides them in unexpected ways. With his consistent output, Hong's metaverse has become as comfortable as home for his fans. Watching his films is like meeting and conversing with an old friend now - they know you, you know them. But also, you start noticing small things, a delicate story within a story and small nuances in characters that you find pleasurable. The Novelist's Film is just that. And we find pleasure in many small details in the film.

22. We're All Going to the World's Fair - Schoenbrun Screen Shot 2022-05-14 at 8.33.24 AM The main point of the movie is that in the internet discourse, no one knows one another, there is no distinguishing between what's real and what is not,that everyone has been circling around one another, for comfort, for lust, for real human connections, reaching out ever so timidly and endlessly without no tangible satisfaction. On a larger context, for the last two decades, this has been the case for millions of lonely souls. There has been some internet themed horror films in recent years, but none really concentrated on the alienation and performative aspects of the internet in a heartbreaking and poignant way Schoenbrun presents here.

23. Saint Omer - Diop SaintOmer The film doesn't end with the verdict of the trial, but rather, ends with defense lawyer talking directly to the camera/audience and explaining the clinical term, a microchimera, an inter-change of cells between a fetus and its mother that goes both ways. That, in metaphorical sense, all women are chimeras, the mythic monster composed of different parts of the beast. Diop here is making a powerful statement, about the highly patriarchal society, colonialism, racism and women's rights, both subtly and unsubtly.

24. New Old Play - Qiu A New Old Play Spectacular handpainted sets and backdrops (production design done also by Qiu) and with simple but clever camera staging - slow dolly tracking and playing with deep focus, A New Old Play has in common with Roy Andersson's and Wes Anderson's cinema, if only aesthetically. Through its 3 hour runtime as these carefully orchestrated sets and movements settle you in to lived-in, comfortable feeling. And its Qiu's unbiased approach to Chinese history that gives melancholic resonance and wisdom being a witness to history on a personal level. Qiu hits home the idea of life being a stage, where we live and die on it.

25. Trenque Lauquen - Citarella Trenque-Lauquen-Still-3 Trenque Lauquen plays out like a funnier, warmer and more intimate version of 'disappearance of woman' films a.k.a. L'Avventura, seen from a woman's perspective. Endlessly charming and entertaining, the film is very much like watching a Hong Sangsoo film without all the drinking; the intricacies of character interactions, the intrigue of every day life, the men's folly, the urge to escape the city living and enjoy nature. And most of all, freedom.

26. Mato seco em chamas - Pimenta, Queirós Screen Shot 2022-11-27 at 9.37.45 AM Pimenta and Queirós fluidly combines fictional elements with reality, highlighting the lives of people in Sol Nascente are often stranger than fiction. But it's the defiance and fierce independence and self-reliance that matter. The film ends with the wrecked armored car on fire, like a carcass of completely hollowed out animal in flames.

27. Showing Up - Reichardt Showing up Many films on art and art-making, the centerpiece is usually the art itself. In those films, we are reminded of the transformative power of art and the suffering the artists must endure to produce such sublime masterpieces that inspire us all. In Reichardt’s film the art itself is secondary. The perserverance of their creators is. Showing Up is emblematic of small pleasures we get from our creations that success doesn’t measure in fame and fortune. It’s self-satisfaction of showing up every day to your studio (or basement, or shed, or garage) and create.

28. Moonage Daydream - Morgan Moonage Daydream Morgen also uses Stan Brakage inspired animation of exploding primary colors to accompany the glorious music, punctuating the isolated beats and guitar riff that starts many of the Bowie's famed songs. More than anything, Moonage Daydream sounds and feels like a rousing concert documentary where one can't help but feeling emotional several times.

29. Rien à foutre - Lacoustre, Marre Zero Fucks Given With verité style candid cinematography by Olivier Boonjing and Exarchopoulos's committed performance, Zero Fucks Given comments on hyper capitalist society where work and personal life exist like oil and vinegar, yet one dictates another whether we like it or not.

30. Hellraiser - Bruckner Hellraiser If the original Hellraiser film by Clive Barker was all about pleasures of flesh and dark human desires, this David Bruckner version equates cenobites with manifestations of the imaginings of a vulnerable mind and how it causes the sufferings of people around her. There has been a lot of emotional trauma horror films in recent years which I am not a big fan of, but Bruckner's Hellraiser is just gorgeous to look at.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Top 10 Discoveries 2022

2022 was a recovery year. A mixed bag of getting back to work excitment and exhaustion. Vacation ruined because of still raging covid in the summer and family having tested positive, it has been an emotionally and physically unsettling year. And this choice viewing list, taking from variety of influences and sources reflects on that volatility. Sometimes fulfilling, sometimes directionless, these films guided me through some unknown territories. I am eternally grateful to Kelly and Carol for introducing me to some of these films.

Listed chronologically

Hindle Wakes (1927) - Elvey bfi-00m-kqo_copy_800x Unlike Hollywood films of this time - think of Clara Bow's It, Britain's Hindle Wakes' take on the definition of a job and woman's place in the post-industrial society is surprisingly progressive of its time. Fanny, in her Louise Brooks wig, is a mill worker who gets noticed by a mill owner's engaged son at a company sponsored outting. She gets stranded and spends the night with him in the countryside (big scandal!). Her father, a foreman of the mill and the owner tries to plug the scandal by a hasty arranged marriage. Nonplussed, Fanny announces that she is moving out of her parent's house. The ending of Hindle Wakes killed me. "I can get a job anywhere where there is a mill."

Hotel du nord (1938) - Carné Screen Shot 2022-10-12 at 8.22.17 AM There's a casualness in Hotel du Nord - amorality is given - a husband is ok with his wife being asked to go out by a womanizing cab driver, homosexuality is out in the open, prostitution is just a profession.... People hook up and break up on a whim and pledges their love as if it is as easy as blowing their noses. Are these doomed lovers an omen for the upcoming world war...I ponder.

Bringing Up Baby (1938) - Hawks J28k9qnHNCASAIf9kEJFc4N7mCRCiU_original Not into Hollywood comedies or comedy in general, but Bringing Up Baby’s unrelenting forward momentum is truly a juggernaut of manic energy. It was easily watchable and digestible without thinking too deeply about it. It doesn’t give you much time to mull anything over because it is over by then. It’s that unpredictability and over-the-top-ness that was enjoyable.

Los Olvidados (1950) - Buñuel screen-shot-2014-05-02-at-11-06-01 Fuck them kids. Wow. Bleak. It is easy to take a jab at the bourgeoisie, but portraying the poor this way, since no one cares about the poor, only thing Buñuel was offending was the box office numbers and sensibilities of some liberal’s misplaced nationalistic pride.

Niagara (1953) - Hathaway Screen Shot 2022-01-11 at 4.16.23 PM Rose (Monroe)'s prolonged, almost silent murder scene is as good as it gets and puts most stylish giallos to shame.

Nostalgia (1971) - Frampton cm-capture-4 I really enjoyed Hollis Frampton's Nostalgia. His out of order narrations as he burns each photographs on an electric stovetop was at once whimsical and self-reflexive. I've been reading Byung-chul Han's Disappearance of Rituals. In it Han says that the lack of physicality and lack of rituals in the internet age, makes people lose respect for each other. The physicality of materials which automatically makes them nostalgic in our eyes in the modern world, in this case photographs with stories attached to them, and ritual of burning them one by one while giving it slightly out of sync context really spoke to me.

India Song (1975) - Duras Screen Shot 2022-01-17 at 9.40.12 AM Meticulously staged and filmed with slow tracking shots and intentionally wooden performances, India Song strongly resembles fellow nouveau roman scribe Alain Robbe-Grillet's Last Year at Marienbad, directed by Alain Resnais. Highlighting decadence of the Western colonizers with their completely out of place sense of entitlement and how it rots the human hearts, India Song is a cinematic achievement that encompasses all of Duras preoccupation- colonialism, war, love, memories, from a woman's point of view, equally as man's.

Asparagus (1979) - Pitt Asparagus_window Pitt's magical asparagus reminded me of Fantastic Planet but more coherent and subversive in its sexuality. Her combination of two dimensional, primary colored animation and claymation was really awe inspiring.

August in the Water (1995) - Ishii Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 11.48.26 AM Mixing New Age spirituality, animism, astrophysics and advancement in technology, Gakuryu Ishii's trippy 90's relic, August in the Water can be seen as the quintessential film for vaporwave - the synth tinged soundtrack, dolphins, rainbows, dated computer graphics, aliens, etc.

O’er the Land (2008) - Stratman Screen Shot 2022-12-01 at 12.34.07 PM Deborah Stratman's film made a big impression on me. Without being didactic or judgmental, the film poses a lot of questions by showing series of seemingly (at first) unrelated images with voiceovers, resulting in viewers examining his/her own views on the society where it seems that reconciliation or understanding one another is not possible, because our paths have branched off long ago. Things have gone the opposite way and the urbanites have nothing in common with gun totting, high school football participating, RV driving and border sweeping people on any level. "We come out here for freedom. This is the only place on earth we have this freedom to do this," a man says over the image of carnage of what seems to be a gigantic gun range. What I was seeing was just as eerie and incomprehensible as the jet pilot describing his descent after ejected from the plane in the latter part of the film.