Thursday, March 30, 2023

Familial Boundaries

The Line (2022) - Meier the line The film starts with a tour de force slo-mo of household items thrown against the wall – the plates, bottles, records, vases, anything that is in the reaches of Margaret (Stéphanie Blanchoud) can hurl at her mom Christina (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi). It’s a total mayhem. The scene ends with Margaret striking Christina in the face and her head hitting the grand piano in the living room.

Next, we see is Margaret getting a restraining order. She can’t be within the hundred meters of the Christina’s house. With nowhere to go, Margaret, a singer, take temporary refuge in her former lover and bandmate, now a music producer Julien (Benjamin Biolay)’s apartment.

It’s up to Margaret’s young stepsister, Marion (Elli Spagnolo), a churchgoing devout middle schooler, whose communion’s coming up, to keep peace between her mom and her sister as they are both very volatile people. To prevent Marion from getting into more trouble with the law, Marion decides to paint the boundary around the house a hundred-meter distance fence made of light blue paint, this means the field, the road, the creek that goes through the small Swiss town they live in.

In the school, they already make fun of little Marion as a chubby little goodie two shoes. With the scandal Margaret caused is well known in the small town, the taunting is worse. But Marion doesn’t care. She loves them both equally: her imperfect mom, a former famous concert pianist, who doesn’t seem to find a true love and taking up one young boyfriend after another, and her emotionally unstable, violent sister Margaret. She prays day and night for reconciliation of the two.

Marion and Margaret meet at a field just outside the blue line overlooking the house to practice Margaret’s choir singing for her communion with an extended power cable for Margaret’s guitar amp. She incessantly asks for how mom’s been doing. Marion’s reluctant to tell her that her attack left mom half-deaf on her right ear and had to stop giving piano lessons.

Ursula Meier examined what constitutes home and family and its physical and metaphorical boundaries with her previous features – Home (2008), and Sister (2012). With The Line, she continues to illustrate the theme with literally drawing the line on the dirt. The line must be respected and cannot be crossed, not only because it’s against the law, but it is drawn by an innocent child. It would be a betrayal of her love and trust to break it.

Blanchoud, the wild-eyed actress and musician is perfect for volatile Margaret, whose hot temper drives people away from her. Bruni Tedeschi is also superb as a self-centered, nihilistic woman-child who had kids too young and too old.

As usual, Meier sketches out a dysfunctional family which is still a family, nonetheless. And she is wise enough not to question her characters motives or dig their backgrounds too deeply and let silence do the talking.

The Line opens on 3/31 at Metrograph, New York, as part of Permeable Boundaries: The Films of Ursula Meier and also Lensed by Agnès Godard. Meier and Godard will be at the Q&A post-screening on 3/31 and 4/2.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Emotional Necessity

Tori and Lokita (2022) - Dardenne Tori and Lokita The Dardenne Brothers, Jean-Pierre and Luc have been making social realist dramas since the 90s. With Tori and Lokita, they tell a heartbreaking tale of two immigrant children bonding over their traumatic experience and trying to survive in a foreign country. Their makeshift family is quite different from that of Kore-eda's films: if Kore-eda's characters bonded together because of economic necessities, Tori and Lokita's bonding is simpler and based on innate emotions first and foremost: the everyday violence and fear the immigrants face on all sides are quite real and immediate and their need for each other's presence in absence of adults is even greater.

It starts with a teenage girl Lokita (Joely Mbundu) being questioned at a panel hearing which will determine whether they will grant her the necessary papers to stay in Belgium. But her story doesn't quite add up to prove that she is indeed Tori (Pablo Schils)'s older sister. She is prone to panic attacks, and they have to stop the interview. Later we see that they are rehearsing their questions and answers together (Tori already has papers). While staying at a communal housing provided by authorities, the two are inseparable, sharing a bed together where Tori only falls asleep to Lokita's lullaby. They sing together at a restaurant for money and Lokita delivers weed to client. It's Betim, the restaurant's chef, who runs the drug business out of his kitchen in the basement, that she works for. With the African smugglers, who brought them first to Europe from Benin, constantly demanding money with threats of violence, and Betim asking sexual favors all the time, it's quite difficult for Lokita to send money home where mom and five siblings are dependent on her, and also subsist a living in an unforgiving foreign country as a child. But Lokita is insistent on Tori continuing his education and not get involved with Betim's business.

The point the Dardennes are driving home with the film is pretty clear. It's the shared trauma that bonds Tori and Lokita together as they met on the boat that took them to Europe. Their bond is quite simple to understand – going through horrendous hardships together thousands of miles from home. Their need for emotional support for each other is tremendous. Lokita's panic attacks and their need for seeing and talking to each other every day is well illustrated throughout the film.

Things get darker when Lokita agrees to work at a weed farm in a faraway undisclosed location, tending weed while locked in the facility for days at the promise of fake documents that will let her stay in the country. It’s a modern slavery at work. Tori's desire to be reunited with Lokita and his resourcefulness locates her. He sneaks in through the ventilation system of the compound, and they plan to rip the chef off of his game. But they get caught.

Tori and Lokita hits you hard. It's one of the most brutal and emotionally bare films the Dardennes ever directed. Mbundu and Schils are terrific as two young leads. The film addresses some uncomfortable truths about horrible immigration system and lack of support for refugees, especially the children, to survive and deal with the trauma.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Hong's Multiverse

Walk Up (2022) - Hong Screen Shot 2023-03-17 at 10.51.20 AM A little three-story white building in Seoul is the setting for Hong Sang-soo's new film, Walk-up (Tab in Korean which means tower or monument). Kwon Haehyo plays Byeungsu, a film director of some repute. Always playing supporting role in Hong films, this is the first time I remember Kwon playing the main character. Like many of his previous films, Hong plays with multiple scenarios and possibilities involving same set of characters in the same place, all the while contemplating about steady companionship vs being alone, being productive, retirement, health and mortality.

Byeungsu is seen arriving in a European made small car with his daughter, Jeongsu (Park Miso, Introduction). He is trying to get his shy, estranged daughter a job through an acquaintance who is an interior designer Ms. Kim (Lee Hye-young, In Front of Your Face) who is the owner of the said building. She has a cafe on the first floor and rents out the second and third floor. The top floor has access to the roof. After introducing his daughter, Byeungsu leaves for an important meeting nearby, promising to come back soon. Jeongsu and the cafe owner converse awkwardly over some wine while waiting for Byeungsu to return. A couple of wine bottles later, Jeongsu drunkenly puts herself forward, aggressively asking for a job. Then she goes out to get more drinks.

When Byeungsu comes back on foot, he, Ms. Kim and Sunhee (Song Seon-mi), one of Ms. Kim's tenants, a cook and a big fan of Byeungsu, start drinking. Byeungsu tells them that his new project that he was working on for the last two years just got rejected by the investors. They also talk about how Jeoungsu working for Ms. Kim didn't work out. And there is palpable attraction between Byeungsu and Sunhee as they keep drinking and exchange their mutual admirations.

When we come back to the scene again, it's them as a couple living in the tiny place and Ms. Kim as their landlord. The ceiling is leaking, and the toilet doesn't work well. And Byeungsu is having health problems. Even though they seem happy together and Sunhee cares for him, feeding him some fresh salad concoction. But something is still off. And it bothers him that she is going to go see her old frenemy he doesn't approve. The place, once a charming space becomes unbearable tiny trap. Byeungsu wonders to himself that if being alone is better.

Next time we see him, he is living with yet another woman (Cho Yun-hee), a very supportive, affectionate woman who brings meat to grill and soju, while also getting Korean medicinal roots preserved in honey. This is an ideal scenario for an aging man. Is this his imagination, daydream or real?

With its elliptical ending, Walk-Up concocts different alternatives for our director protagonist. There is a natural flow to Walk Up that is harmonious and playful, yet never disruptive. It's as if Hong was daydreaming about the possibilities of his future, dreaming about retiring in Jeju Island, possibly with someone who will support him and spoil him. It's funny that this simple small white concrete building in the middle of glass urban jungle serves as an oasis that inspired Hong to dream up Walk Up. It's a good addition to Hong's expanding multiverse.

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Preview: First Look Film Festival at MoMI

Once again, First Look Festival at the Museum of Moving Image in Queens, New York, is upon us, showcasing new, adventurous films from around the world. Encompassing features, shorts, narratives and non narratives, this year's wide ranging selections feature Tori and Lokita, a new film from the Dardennes, this year's Sundance favorite, Fremont and Mami Wata (Opening Night and Closing Night film respectively), a new Koji Fukada (Love Life), plus films from Argentina, China, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Senegal and whole lot more.

First Look has been and remains to be the unmissable go-to New York film event for surveying the exciting current filmmaking from around the world and discover new talents. I am very privileged to sample the following:

First Look runs 3/15 - 3/19 at Museum of Moving Image. Please visit their website for tickets and more info.

A Little Love Package - Gaston Solnicki A Little Love Package It's 2019. Vienna, the last bastion among the European cities where smoking in cafe has been allowed, bans smoking indoors. It's the end of an era. Two women, played by Angeliki Papoulia (Dogtooth) and Carmen Chaplin are looking for a house to buy. One is rich and very picky about her choices and the other, her interior designer is getting frustrated as her suggestions get rejected one after another. The rich woman's child wants private music lessons from a Korean pianist in Vienna, because she doesn't like the strictness of the music conservatory. After the rich woman finds an apartment, Carmen, the interior designer, travels back to her home in Malaga to visit her aging parents and argue with her sisters about the future of their home and parents.

Shot beautifully by Rui Poças (Tabu, Zama, The Ornithologist), A Little Love Package is loosely associated ideas and images with free-flowing narrative. Argentine Gastón Solnicki's experiments with improvisation using, for the first time, professional actors and also their real family, bear interesting results that are oddly engaging and liberating.

Rodeo - Lola Quivoron Rodeo Street smart misfit Julia (Julie Ledru) is passionate about the underground dirt bike culture. She wants to ride like those boys doing dangerous bike tricks on social media. Her specialty is seeing bikes for sale online, meeting the owner and asking for a test ride and just taking off. She falls in with the B-More, one of the bike gangs on the street at night showing off their skills. The gang is headed by Domino who runs the group from a prison cell with a mobile phone. Because Julia has skills for hustling off the bikes from the rich, Julia gets recruited to work for him. But because she is a girl and rising the ranks in the gang, there are some jealous members trying to shake her down.

Lola Quivoron's verité style energetic direction takes us to the dirt bike subculture with some stunning riding scenes. Ledru is a revelation as a tough as a nail Julia, who hails from Guadeloupe, the tiny French colonial island in the Caribbean, rides bikes and does her tricks, not for money but for the adrenaline rush. The film climaxes to her big idea of doing a heist of a truck full of high-end dirt bikes while on the road. Rodeo plays out if Cassavetes’s directed Fast & Furious.

Huahua's Dazzling World and Its Myriad Temptations - Daphne Xu Huahua Huahua lives in Xiongan, one of the designated 'new areas' in rapidly developing rural China, south of Beijing. She makes a living livestreaming her life, putting on colorful costumes and beautifying filters. She dances and sings, and chats online with her fans. Director Daphne Xu follows Huahua from her most mundane life: cooking, doing household chores, chiding her grandkids in her squalid home, to her internet persona. With her gambling, physically abusive husband, she goes through life's hardships, just like many of the illiterate, working class women. She faces censorship; there are certain words she can't use, and frequently has her channel taken down for a week or two as punishment. She is constantly angry at the realities of life, but she puts on a happy face and an upbeat attitude on the internet for her viewers. She understands that she gets laughed at for her videos, but she takes the live streaming as a means of making a living for her children. She also gets a new husband doing it.

Huahua's Dazzling World reflects the digitally infused world, where there's little distinction between reality and fantasy, commerce and art, exploitation and self-promotion all melding together into one. It's frightening and beautiful at the same time.

Herbaria - Leandro Listorti HERBARIA_15 Leandro Listorti, an Argentine filmmaker with background as a film archivist, investigates the sinewy connections between disappearing plant life and disintegrating old films. And he has a wealth of archival footage to draw from. And it is a beauty: early, discarded films with decaying marks from fungus and other elements, plants filmed in 1912, as well as 16mm and 8mm shot footage of painstaking fieldwork of plants being collected, dried and pressed, then archived. Narration from botanists, scientists, archivists and film projectionists are woven together to create fascinating layers of ephemera that are disappearing.

Herbaria recalls part Bill Morrison, part scientific documentary and part tone poem for everything physical and its eventual disintegration.

The Taste of Mango - Chloe Abrahams TheTasteOfMango How do you reconcile generational trauma that puts cracks in a mother/daughter relationship? Chloe Abrahams' documentary about her mother Rozana and grandmother Jean is a delicate family portrait about unconditional love, resolve and hope. Capturing candid moments with prodding questions, Abrahams tries to understand her mom's traumas stemming from sexual assaults she endured in the hands of her male relatives while Jean remained silent back home in Sri Lanka 40 years ago. It all makes sense to the 27-year-old filmmaker now why her mom never allowed sleepovers when she was a child. All her decisions throughout her life in England, was to protect her daughter from harm with her trauma playing out in her mind. Rozana is a radiant, intelligent woman who constantly sings American Country music songs all intimately captured in Abrahams' handicam. When Jean visits them in England, it's an uneasy stay. It's Abrahams being a mediator, loving two women unconditionally, being the bridge to the two women living in island nations.

Lyrical and heartbreaking, The Taste of Mango is a home movie about three generations of women and how they deal with sexual trauma.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Helping Hands in Godard's Films: Pierrot le Fou

screen shot 2023-02-17 at 10.45.28 am   One can argue that human hands represent progress, creativity, guidance, assistance, also destruction and violence. It is then no surprise that hands are a recurring motif in the works of Jean-Luc Godard, one of the key figures of French New Wave, championed the Auteur Theory and who, for the last six decades, labored over making connections between art and life. The connection between the act of creating and the presence of hands has always been present in Godard’s filmography. They represent both a sole authorial voice and steady companionship in many of his late period films. Alexandre Astruc’s article, The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: La Camera-Stylo, was a basis in defining French New Wave and The Auteur Theory a decade later. In it, Astruc advocates that film directors have the same authorial voice in much the same way that writers would write with a real pen; it was in other words, a call for a new kind of cinema, in which the vision of the ‘author’ – or auteur of the film was central. (Martin 2013). The recurring motif is in many of his 80s and 90s films and most prominently in his epic Histoire(s) du Cinema. What I am trying to suggest here with this article is that not only the act of writing, signifying the authorship is shown but helping hands and companionship, or lack thereof, through hands were presented as early as (if not earlier), in Pierrot le Fou.

  Pierrot le Fou was Godard’s tenth feature, shot in Techniscope for widescreen presentation, based on a crime novel Obsession by Lionel White. It is a road movie with a political intrigue, starring Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo. Godard had established himself as a formidable director by then, having a string of successes after Breathless; A Woman is a Woman, Vivre sa vie, Contempt, Band of Outsiders, etc. No doubt the success was due, in large part, to Karina’s on-screen presence. But their real-life relationship was tumultuous, and their marriage was dissolved after 5 years in 1965, with Pierrot being their first and last post-divorce era collaboration. Things were dicey in France during and after the Algerian War, 1954 - 1962. Even the north African country won its independence from France through armed struggle. Both in France and abroad, OAS, the extreme Right Wing militant group, carried out a series of violent attacks against those who advocated Algerian independence. The Vietnam War was still raging, and national protest was mounting, and all these sentiments would accumulate to May 68’ three years later. American culture and material goods were flooding in. So were sense disillusionment and escapism in rapidly changing society. This climate is all presented in Pierrot.

screen shot 2023-02-17 at 10.02.25 am   The story concerns Ferdinand (Belmondo) who flees his Parisian bourgeois family life with his former lover and family’s sometime babysitter Marianne (Karina), who has ties with dangerous illegal arms dealers. After finding a corpse with scissors stuck in his neck in Marianne’s apartment, the pair escape armed OAS goons and head for the south in the dead man’s car. After a crime spree and ditching two cars- one burned and the other willfully plunged into the water, they settle themselves on an island for simpler life. But the couple soon find out that they are very different from each other - while Ferdinand/Pierrot buries himself in books and writing, Marianne gets bored and longs for civilization and consumerist comforts. After getting caught by the criminals and tortured, they are separated. They find each other again at a marina in Toulon where Ferdinand works as a cabin boy for a woman who claims to be a Lebanese princess in exile. Marianne convinces him to swindle a briefcase full of cash and promises to run away with him afterwards. But she double crosses him with her real boyfriend gunrunner Fred and sails to an island where Fred has a mansion. Ferdinand/Pierrot pursues them and shoots them down. He then paints his face blue and wraps red and yellow dynamite around his head and blows himself up.

IMG_3618   I found a referential detour in Pierrot le Fou in two places. The film shows Ferdinand keeping a journal and constantly writing on graph paper. The act of writing is not new to Godard films; as early as Une Femme Coquette, his first fiction short from 1955 and Karina composing a letter in Vivre sa vie are examples. In Pierrot, it’s his own cursive being written in that journal. Godard’s monumental epic on history and story of cinema, Histoire(s) du Cinema is also ripe with visual motifs of hands. It starts with Godard furiously typing away on his electronic typewriter with that unmistakable screeching of an electronic machine from the 80s. Godard snarls in his throaty voice, “Man’s true condition: to think with hands,” borrowing from the Swiss writer Denis de Rougemont. (Vishnevetsky 2018) The presence of hands particularly stands out in those embodiments of his thoughts, because the essay film is practically a filmed writing process. (Kim 2018)

screen shot 2023-02-17 at 10.45.05 am   About two-third way into Pierrot, the second detour to hands appears with Raymond Devos, a well-known comedian of that time period, who plays a nostalgic man striking up a conversation with Ferdinand/Pierrot at the dock, a place where betrayed Ferdinand/Pierrot embarks for his revenge. The man proceeds to tell a long and convoluted story, with wild gesticulations, about his lost loves. He says he hears music in his head all the time and keeps asking Ferdinand if he hears it too. “Est-que vous m’aimez…?” He keeps singing the song and we hear the music that is in his head, identifying with the man. He says he was wooing a woman by holding and stroking her hand. The story goes that he asked if she loved him, and she said no. The second woman said yes but he didn’t. The third woman said yes, and he held on to her hand for ten years. “You don’t hear the music? You can come right out and tell me if you think I am crazy!” Ferdinand replies, “You are crazy” and hops on a boat to go to the island to kill the double-crossing Marianne and Fred. There are many comedic moments in Pierrot - at a gas station where the fugitive couple steal Ford Galaxie convertible (Godard’s own) off the pneumatic machine, the couple’s reenactment of Vietnam War at a pier for money where Ferdinand and Marianne play grotesque caricature of an American GI and a literal yellowface Vietcong are some of the prime examples. But five minutes of uncut reverie of Devos’s lovelorn loser routine is such an anomaly and comes out of left field at a pivotal, somber moment. Yet it comfortably fits into Godard’s antics- narrative dissonance that he cultivated both visually and aurally through the edits over the years.

  The Devos scene reveals a lot about the fraught relationship between Godard and Karina. “With the end of his marriage to Anna Karina came the end of his quest for a form in which to represent and reinforce it; his new formless way of filmmaking mirrored a frantic state of mind that left no illusion of balance, finish, or grace.” (Brody 2009, 237) When Godard was visiting Serge Rezvani, a musician who contributed two songs that Marianne sings in the film, he was apparently struck by the harmonious relationship Rezvani had with his wife Danielle. “Gazing at the Rezvanis, Godard beheld, to his amazement, an artistic couple that was thriving. Godard’s subsequent contact with the couple, Resvani noted, showed how consumed he was by the problem - by his failure and their success.” (Brody 2009, 242) It makes sense, given Godard's personal, reflexive filmmaking, that he saw himself as the sad philosophizing clown who was betrayed. And underneath Devos’s funny antics hid the longing for the lost love and fantasy of that perfect union of artistic minds and unwavering support that he did not find in Karina. Therefore, through a glass darkly, Pierrot can be seen as a self-damaging, violent, dark fantasy reflecting on his real-life relationship.

52723215446_7e4410fddb_o 66C647CF-820C-4330-B876-F75A61886A6E 52723618855_64fe3b209f_o 52723618840_838dfbafed_o   The visual and thematic motif of helping hand dominates Nouvelle Vague, Godard’s renewal of the new wave spirit in 1990. Not only the repeated close-up of hands that are shown in the film but thematically, from helping hands to a bum on the side of the road, pulling a drowning woman out of water, to lending a hand to the world in turmoil, the film is riddled with the metaphor of helping hands. Then there’s the pointing hand of Leonardo da Vinci’s St. John The Baptist in The Image Book, a hand over a naked young woman’s abdomen in Hail Mary, connecting the motifs with creation and divinity. In First Name: Carmen, an open hand covers the TV snow as if embracing the technology. In Film Socialisme, Patti Smith’s outstretched hands, trying to reach or caress the other side of the port, as the European Union tries to reconcile its colonial past. Thinking about all the visual motifs of hands in Godard’s filmography, I would say that this scene in Pierrot is perhaps the beginning where he incorporates the idea of helping hands.

anna-karina-jean-luc-godard   Pierrot le Fou reflects on a lot of social and political upheavals, as well as cultural trends of its time: The extreme right-wing violence, The Vietnam War, widely popular crime novels, rampant consumerism, yearning for simpler life and disillusionment of love. Every film needs to be seen and examined with a proper context. As reference heavy as Godard's films usually are, the visual motif of hands in Pierrot gives a great deal of insights to not only the filmmaker’s creativity and control over his craft, but outside the frame and his life in general. It all makes sense with Ferdinand constantly writing, in Godard’s own cursive and own words. Marianne, whom he thought he was in love with, turns out to be a double-crossing, morally lacking, consumerist manipulator. She’s not the like-minded sister-in-arms toward the artistic struggle. He tells her to “Shut up, I’m writing!” Twenty-five years old when they were filming Pierrot, Karina wanted to be free. Pierrot was the last collaboration between them and in his depressive state, he was able to exercise his dark fantasies one last time.


Brody, Richard. “Everything is Cinema: The Working Life of Jean-Luc Godard.” Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt & Co., New York, 2009

Kim, Jihoon. “Video, the Cinematic, and the Post-Cinematic: On Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinema.” Journal of Film and Video 70.2, Summer 2018

Martin, Sean. “New Waves in Cinema.” Oldcastle Books, 2013

Vishnevetsky, Ignatiy. “The Hand of Jean-Luc Godard.” Mubi Notebook Feature, December 25, 2018

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Preview: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2023

Showcasing the best of contemporary French films, this year's Rendez-Vous with French cinema features 21 features from old masters to newcomers, including new films by Philippe and Louis Garrel, Arnaud Desplechin, Dominik Moll, Patricia Mazuy and Léa Mysius. Though I feel like I say this every year, about this ultimate festival for Francophiles, but this year's offerings are possibly the strongest in terms of quality and cinematic audacity, in years. Guest attendees include Virginie Efira, Louis Garrel, Christophe Honoré, Alice Winocour, Patricia Mazuy, Melvil Paupoud and more.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema is presented by Unifrance and Film at Lincoln Center and runs 3/2-3/12 @filmlinc

Here are 5 films I was privileged to sample for the festival:

Brother and Sister - Desplechin Sister and Brother Arnaud Desplechin, one of the most literary minded film directors of our time, comes with Brother and Sister, a family drama rich with beautifully written characters. It stars Marion Cortillard and Melvin Poupaud as Alice and Louis, as estranged siblings coming to terms with their differences after fatal car accident involving their elderly parents. It starts out with a flashback at the wake of Louis and Faunia (Golshifteh Faranahi)'s young son where Alice and her husband are turned away at the doorstep by angry Louis. The film goes back and forth, peppered with flashbacks, giving the fraught sibling relationship its necessary contexts. It turns out that Alice, now a famous stage actress resented her younger brother's success as a writer. After many years of books by Louis writing about their thinly veiled relationship, they are not in speaking terms.

Things get very awkward while both parents are hospitalized because the siblings tiptoe around their visits, trying not to cross paths, while their partners, other siblings and friends encourage and discourage their possible encounters. Both Cortillard and Poupaud are marvelous as they act out the beautifully written script by Desplechin. It's the most emotionally resonant Desplechin film in years.

The Night of the 12th - Moll Screen Shot 2023-02-24 at 8.56.05 AM Gilles Marchant and Dominik Moll, the writer-director team known for tight Hichcockian psychological thrillers over the years, come with The Night of the 12th. It's a policier in the same vein as Memories of Murder and Zodiac. In a picturesque small alpine village near Grenoble on the night of October 12, a young woman is torched to death with a gasoline fluid and a lighter. It devastates the whole town and stumps its police department, headed by young captain Vivés (Bastien Bouillon) with lack of concrete leads. Moll deftly examines inherent sexism rampant in French society and generational differences in approaching romance and relationship. With its economical storytelling and sharply drawn characters, The Night of the 12th is an immensely watchable crime film.

The Five Devils - Mysius Five Devils - Still 2 Léa Mysius's follow up of her stunning debut Ava, is a time traveling queer love story starring Adèle Exachopoulos. The title refers to a small town overlooking the rugged mountain peaks in the southeast region of France. Exachopoulos plays Joanne, a swim teacher at a local pool living a mundane life with Jimmy, her firefighter husband and their adorable daughter Vicky.

Vicky, bullied constantly for her big afro, lives in her own world mostly and has a keen sense of smell of all things. She collects objects in jars to preserve their smells and has visions of the past. Things get shaken up when Julia, Jimmy's sister and Joanne's former flame returns to town. The Five Devils turns into a poignant story about prejudices and acceptance with black girl magic elements.

Winter Boy - Honoré Winter Boy Winter Boy tells a story of Lucas, a 17 year old gay high school student trying to come to terms with the sudden death of his father (played briefly by director Christophe Honoré) which might have been suicide. After the funeral, he tags along with his older brother Quentin (Vincent Lacoste) who is a burgeoning artist in Paris for a week. There, Lucas experiments with anonymous sexual encounters. He also falls for Lilo (Erwan Kepoa Falé), Quentin's roommate. Quentin gets furious when he finds out his sexual shenanigans and sends him home. Lucas then cuts his wrists while with his concerned mother, played by Juliette Binoche, and ends up in a rehab.

The film is set up like a confessional, with both Lucas and later mom talking to a dead father, as they try to deal with grief and absence of a loved one. Like many Honoré films, Winter Boy is a beautifully drawn, melancholic film dealing with truthful emotions when life hits you like waves. The living can't stay mad at the dead. We have a living to do, even with a hole in our heart.

Saturn Bowling - Mazuy Screen Shot 2023-02-26 at 7.09.11 PM Shocking in its depiction of violence against women, Patricia Mazuy's serial killer noir is extremely disturbing and uncompromising as it examines the origin of violence in our patriarchal society. Half-brothers Guilaume and Armand reunites after their father dies. Guillaume is a cop and just inherited a bowling alley from his dad. The bowling alley is a hub of his dad's big game hunter friends who want to keep things as it is. Guillaume doesn't want to deal with the business, so he offers Armand to run the place. Armand reluctantly accepts.

But it turns out Armand is a violent serial killer who preys on young women who frequents the bowling alley. He uses his dad's pad to have sex and kill them there. Bodies mount and unsuspecting Guillaume gets frustrated with the investigation. To complicate things, his love interest is an animal rights activist who doesn't see things eye-to-eye with the big game hunting crowds. With its deliberate pacing, simmering nighttime photography and daring perspective shifts, the film has a peculiar way to get under your skin while condemning male tendency or desire to kill. Making a point in a most brutal and succinct manner, Saturn Bowling is one of the most daring and unflinching film I've seen in a long while.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Burnt Offering

Silver Haze (2023) - Polak Silver Haze Dutch director Sacha Polak teams up again with Vicky Knight, a British actress and a star of her previous film Dirty God, in her new film Silver Haze, which premieres at this year's Berlinale's Panorama section. Knight, who sustained serious burn on one third of her body as a child, plays Franky, a young woman who is a victim of a fire and carries the stigma both flesh and mind. Her East End family home is a mess - mom, an alcoholic who never recovered from her husband leaving for another woman, a younger sister who has yet to find her identity and an older male relative who is not quite the role model. Even though Franky is sleeping with a local boy, everyone close to her knows that she has lesbian tendencies. While working as a nurse at a hospital, she befriends a suicidal patient Florence (Esme Creed-Miles) and starts seeing her after being discharged. Florence, a young woman from a wealthy family, has been staying with Jack, her autistic brother, in the home of family friend Alice (Angela Bruce), an old black woman dying of cancer, near the beach in the south of London. Forever moody and unpredictable, Florence warns Franky that she is a bad person. Yet, Flo is the first person who makes Franky smile in a long time. She is the person who encourages her to come out of a shell. For the first time since she got burned, Franky can go out to swim, exposing her scarred body to the world.

But Flo is also a bad influence on Franky. She's Franky's id personified. After arguing and breaking up and disappearing for days on end many times, Flo encourages Franky to firebomb her dad's new house where he lives with his new family. It is dad's new wife whom she believes is not only responsible for the breakup of her family but also for setting a fire in the pub where she got burned.

Franky finds a makeshift family in Alice's home, away from daily bullying, physical, verbal abuses, and self-doubt. It is Jack, who has no filters, tells like it is - that the fire where Franky got burned might not have been an arson, that it could have been caused by a lot of different things, exposing Franky's hate and anger, and her desire to put a blame on one person all her life might have been willfully misdirected and a self-denial. Like the cannabis strain that Franky grows with care, where the title comes from, the film is about the smoke screens as a defensive mechanism to cope with life's traumatic events. But somehow you will need to face the reality to move on.

In the tradition of British kitchen-sink realism of Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold and humanist makeshift family dramas of Kore-eda, Polak and Knight create an emotionally resonant film about forgiveness and finding peace via self-reflexive storytelling. Knight is a natural born actress and camera (captured by DP Tibor Dingelstad) adores her. Her brevity in using her life story and stigma she carries on screen is quite remarkable. Sensitively written and directed with clear eyes, Silver Haze is a great little gem and first great discovery of the 2023.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

I am Here to Create the Most Fascinating Images Possible: Albert Serra Interview

AC_Website Event Hero 620 x 348  (3) - Albert Serra Headshot Albert Serra is a mad man. His latest, Pacifiction was my favorite of 2022. Its almost stupid bravado took my breath away. It's all in his digitally captured decaying grandeur of the first world; the remnants of colonialist spy game playing out in paradise, was perhaps the most audacious cinema I've experienced in a long while. Serra is a real auteur in every sense of the way. He might come across as arrogant at first, but listening to him at length, talking about his methods, you find that he is an adventurous soul, always looking for the ways to find images that goes beyond earthly concerns, yet deeply humanistic. It was a privilege to talk to him for the second time, even via Zoom.

Pacifiction opens this Friday, 2/17, Film at Lincoln Center in New York.

How are you?

I am good. I am in Dublin now. It’s late.

Are you working on something there?

I am just checking out the possible locations. Just randomly. I haven’t written any script or anything. But I shot here some years ago. (Singularity, for Venice Biennale, 2016) I dunno…I like some places I’ve seen and wanted to come here and see there’s something inspiring. I have some ideas. Sometimes I have this real place in mind. It’s an interesting thing. It helps to make the process more organic.

Was it the same for you with Pacifiction?

Well not the same because as I said, I couldn’t travel because of Covid, but in the end it was almost the same result. I couldn’t go but I was inspired by some books, you know? But some ideas are mine. Possible nuclear tests were mine! I never heard it or read it anywhere. It was totally an invention but became a visionary, because Russia invading Ukraine and all the talk of nuclear war became popular again.


Everyone has forgotten it. Now it’s the center of the topic again. We went there to shoot, and I shoot very fast. With 4 weeks of preparation, we started shooting- preparation meaning, casting there, looking for locations. We do it very fast. But it was 2020.


Because of Covid, on the third week, we had to leave.


Because everything was locked down. So, we came back. Then I was thinking about the film in more concrete terms. I knew some of the locations and a little bit of casting and from what I saw there. So, before we started to shoot, already I had some cumulated volume in my head. But the film started very artificial, with plot being on the edge of being ridiculous. But I found it organic in a way. This is the balance I try to find: very artificial idea and setup, with the performances, the wilderness of its surroundings. It makes actors believe in everything they do even though its half humorous, half ironic, half visionary, half political, half serious…I don’t know.

Unlike your other films, this one takes place in the present. But it almost has an aura of the Cold War era paranoia and the colonial past. You said it was partly based on what you read. It feels very much like Conrad or Graham Greene.

Graham Greene perhaps. Conrad, I haven’t read it. It’s a strange thing I haven’t read the Heart of Darkness because it’s very important and good and I read a lot. Of course, there’s a link with Apocalypse Now! with this strange character that Marlon Brando plays because you don’t know if he’s good or bad – whether he is the beginning of something very bad or the end of something very good. But I think there’s something that is connected with his mental state. I don’t know if that is something specifically colonial. My film is more on the contemporary side where the savior/villain has no face. Nowadays everything is spread out, like a virus. Everything is based on total opacity of power – who makes decisions? What are the reasons behind these decisions? And which are the interest parties behind these decisions? Before, there were good people and bad people. Coppola’s film was the end of that illusion. Kurtz was the beginning of that ambivalence. Now we are in this era, and everything is flatter. Everything is less interesting, it’s more like the internet, you know. Real life dissipates, everyone has no face, and things are still going wrong and getting worse. And everyone feels it. Inequality and wealth gap keeps getting bigger and bigger. Everyone knows it and feels it. And no one knows how to correct it. This lack of humanistic approach to solve the problem brings something purely technical, they don’t take account to the souls of people therefore they don’t solve anything. Maybe to you the film feels like Conrad but it’s very contemporary. It’s something that is happening now.

How did you like Tahiti?

I don’t care. I try to force myself to think against cliché. For example, I try to think that these people are not victims of history. Because they do nuclear testing there, so they suffer from this and that. That they lead a very simple and quiet life and suddenly colonizers are sending these nuclear scientists and doing tests in paradise, whatever. But why do I want to tell that story? To say something about these injustices? These are things even a child knows. Everybody agrees. Then I force myself to go there and look for the faults of these people. Sure, they may be victims of history. But they might have bad genes and are lazy. Or maybe they receive a little too much aid. You know where I am going with this. But in order to see things the way they truly are, I have to let the images flow, let the images flow without control and without any meaning from my end. The idea that they are some hapless victims, it would be a cliché. But the reality is not so easy, especially nowadays. So, when I am in a place like this, I try to think the opposite, just to make things more complex and not to reduce the complexity of the matters. And I think it works. That everyone sees that things are unbalanced. When everyone thinks and goes the same direction, and I present the opposite, something happens. It’s a more faithful way to paint that place that you are in. I get the real inputs from the place just because I use this technique. I put myself in the position that I don’t have anything to say. I am here to create the most fascinating images possible.

Talk about being there and finding something. The character Shanna fascinated me. I am very interested in how you casted Pahoa Mahagafanau in that role and what her character means in the film?

She’s a non-professional actor, like all the indigenous people on the island. I have an intuition for people who are interesting and quite natural. They look natural and spontaneous, and I like them as human beings, you know. This is the main thing when I choose actors. There should be something in them I like as human beings. Something I respect, in order to start disrespecting them and start creating my own idea against them, but there should be this equilibrium between us. Not as much as collaborating with them but to abandon them to their own devices and this creates a little bit of tension and that generates interesting images in the film. In her case, I like her very much. She is very spiritual. This idea of transgender, from a strictly visual point of view, not moral or political point of view or anything, I think there’s some purity and ambiguity in her that was extremely fascinating and photogenic. The extraordinary thing is that there is no contradiction in her, not one single moment of tension between two human beings in one. One that was before and the one that is now. There is this pure way of being in her and I like that very much. Transgender thing always has to do with makeup and costume and attitude, you know. They don’t decide to be transgender, it's a family decision in their culture. For example, if they have two boys, depending on the places, if the third one is also a boy, they dress them and raise them as a girl. They do this at a very young age, so they don’t realize all the stigmas that we modern society have on transgender people. They don’t distinguish gender like us. There is no vindication. There’s no gender politics.

I have to ask you about the scene where the surfing contest takes place in the water. It’s so stupendous and surreal, I couldn’t stop laughing at its bravado.

Why not?

It’s so fascinating and spectacular–

It’s spectacular because he (De Roller, played by Benoit Magimel) is there. If you search YouTube, I am sure you can find much more spectacular surfing videos with great waves than this one. But you are not a motivated spectator unless you are a professional surfer. It’s because the actor is in there riding the waves. As you said, it is grotesque and makes you laugh. But at the same time, you are still fascinated by it because the actor is still not breaking out of his character. You question yourself what kind of film you are watching. It questions you a lot of different things. And this is my aim. The plot is very plastic with submarines and all that. You know him looking for a submarine with a torch light at night. And at the shady discotheque where things get very paranoid. It’s very ridiculous and dangerous and extremely cynical. It’s a mixture of all kinds of different things and layers and tonality. At the same time, it’s very compact. It’s hypnotic on the edit and the flow. For me this was the main discovery of the film. The possibility of mixing all these impossible things. And it still works.

Is this how your work usually is - you finding out as you go along?

Yeah. But other films were mainly historical, and you have to be a little bit more respectful. You couldn't open it too much for other tonalities. If it was too grotesque, it would’ve destroyed the credibility of historical ambience. You had to be much more careful with those. Too risky. too risky.

Did it take a long time for you to set that wave scene up?

One morning. 3-4 hours.


The whole thing? 24 days of shooting. 1 day of reshoot. 25 days total.

That is fast!

Yes, that is fast. when I was 18, 19, I was working as a construction worker. My boss, who was teaching me, told me one good lesson. He said, “You have to work good and fast!” It stuck with me, and I do the same with cinema, 20-30 years later.

Pacifiction kept reminding me of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Yes. Here is what I said before. The grotesque element is there. The political element is there. The scary future of the war is there. The humor is there but it’s a fiction and that makes him a total liar. Therefore, it's less hypnotic, less fascinating, less complex and there is less mystery. The mystery comes from how close to the truth it is or how close to the real show or fake show. The kind of images you see in Kubrick films are much clearer. I work with digital images. There is less control and therefore could be more dangerous. It means they can really capture things that are around that are even out of my control. This content can reveal something that is not so nice. I think it is important to keep the door open. But it’s also a commitment. It’s not that easy.

This is not a political question, but I am wondering is this how you see that it will all end? Unbeknownst us, a bomb goes off without warning?

Iam very pessimistic. I can tell you. Capitalism is spinning in a very harmful way. With the internet it’s even worse. All the human relationships among people are already damaged and the internet just accelerated the damages. The financial inequality and wealth gap grows exponentially and there is no way to stop it. And the tensions grow, and the revolution is not possible because power has all the instruments. The people in the colonies and who are still colonized understand this because that’s how they lived all their lives like that.

I don’t know. Maybe I will do a comedy musical next. Where people dance around and sing happy songs.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023


Godland (2022) - Pálmason screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.36.43 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.35.30 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.31.31 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.44.40 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.36.32 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.46.18 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.36.07 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.46.50 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.38.04 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.39.23 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.40.10 pm Godland, directed by Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason, is inspired by the first photographs found in the early settlement in the southwest of Iceland. The film has an awe-inspiring, majestic setting characteristic of many films shot in the active volcanic island nation. Indeed, everywhere Pálmason and his DP Maria von Hausswolff points their camera to, in its full frame portraiture style, the film is cinematic as hell. But it's not the gentle, sun-kissed nature we see in Terrence Malick films. Rather, it's an unforgiving, overwhelming, and downright threatening environment. There's little poetry or lyricism. Matching that backdrop, the film is not about one man's admirable, unwavering faith or enduring love. It's about guilt, envy, pride, prejudice, distrust, lust... in other words, humanity in a nutshell, and its insignificance against Mother Nature.

Young Danish priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) is ordered to travel to Iceland, which was a remote Danish Territory back in the late 19th century, to build a church for the small Danish settlement there. He is assigned a translator (Hilmar Guðjónsson) who is a half Dane and half Icelandic, and a small crew of Icelandic laborers. With his clunky large plate camera set up always tethered to his back (with upside down tripod sticking out over his head and shoulders like some sort of a religious artifact), he is an uneven match against scruffy crew of seasoned working-class journeymen.

When they get to the shore of Iceland, they hook up with Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), a brutish Icelandic man, as their guide. Ragnar's down-to-earth workingman ethics and his local knowledge of the land is a stark contrast to Lucas's nebbish priest from the so-called civilization. They don't see things eye to eye on many occasions.

At first it seems reasonable to trek the rugged surroundings, as they soak in the beauty and adventure spirits. But things fall apart quickly when they reach a river crossing. Against Ragnar's advice, Lucas orders the party to cross the raging river. Some of the horses carrying the supplies get swept away in the rapids, resulting the drowning of the translator whom the priest built a sort of friendship with. Wrecked with guilt, Lucas has a nervous breakdown shortly thereafter, and falls gravely ill. It is Ragnar who carries Lucas, tied to the back of the horse, all the way to the settlement.

Lucas is recovered in the care of Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and Ida (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), two daughters of Carl (Jacob Lohmann), a statesman of the settlement who helps build the church next to his home. Carl is stupefied for the fact that Lucas and his crew came all the way on foot, rather than sail to the settlement which would be much easier and faster. “To see the land and get to know its inhabitants?” he muses, puzzled.

Lucas is smitten by the older daughter Anna. Carl, sensing there is a weakness in Lucas’s character, warns her not to get close to him. These people come and go, he says. But Anna secretly yearns to go back to the motherland, back to civilization.

As the church construction is near completion and Ragnar and his crew is about to head back to their dwellings, things get tense between Lucas and Ragnar. First Lucas scoffs at the idea of Ragnar being interested in Christianity. They confront each other at a local celebration where they take part in traditional wrestling match in front of all the settlers and laborers. Then Lucas refuses to take photographs of Ragnar as a parting gift. Lucas’s deep seeded prejudices comes bubbling up to the surface. These Icelandic savages don’t deserve God’s love. Ragnar counters with extreme measures.

With its circle of life ending, Godland is a contemplation of us humans’ fleeting existence on earth. In a true Herzogian sense, with large brushstrokes, Pálmason draws a grand allegory that we are after all, elemental. And it's magnificent.

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.