Monday, June 24, 2024

Same As It Ever Was

L'empire (2024) - Dumont Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 8.59.38 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.13.06 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.22.40 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.24.29 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.39.47 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 9.49.41 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.27.00 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.29.30 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.34.24 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-23 at 10.37.42 AM Bruno Dumont's cinematic stunt continues with a large-scale Sci-fi Star Wars/Dune parody L'empire. It's completely over the top and ridiculous, you wonder what happened to this once a practitioner of Bressonian way of filmmaking and lost his ways. For those who remember, Dumont's foray into absurdist comedies started with P'tit Quinquin, a 4-part TV mini-series taking place in his beloved Brittany featuring odd-looking locals and odder police pair Weyden (Bernard Pruvost) and Carpentier (Philippe Jore) investigating odd happenings in the windswept sand dunes of the provincial sleepy coastal community. That was a decade ago. Since then, the director's charade continued with Slack Bay, two Joan of Arc musicals, a sequel to Quinquin, a TV journalism satire, France. It's been 10 years of this funny/unfunny, French comedies. When would this end and when is he going to snap out of this cringe fest? Well with L'empire, not anytime soon.

Again, in a small windswept dune-y small French town, nothing is what it seems. The townsfolks are divided into the intergalactic forces of Ones and Zeros. Get it? Ones are the benevolent beings trying to defeat Zeros from taking over earth by siring a demon offspring called the Wain. Their spaceships are fashioned on a giant cathedral with stained glass windows (Ones) and a Marienbad inspired Palace (Zeros). Ones are trying to appeal goodness in humanity and Zeros are counting on bad, destructive impulses of humans. There's a local fisherman, Jony (Brandon Vlieghe) who turned into a black knight for the Zeros, protecting his infant son, the Wain who will bring out the apocalypse in the earth. Then there's Jane (Anamaria Vartolomei of Happening), a princess on the side of Ones. There's going to be light sabers battle, a black hole, dancing Fabrice Luchini in a funny costume as the ruler of the Zeros and of course, our clueless gendarmes Weyden and Carpentier too, oblivious to the dueling intergalactic empires in their backyard.

Jony and Jane hook up and have wild sex because Jony convinces prudish Jane that while they are in human form, they might as well enjoy. They are sworn enemies for eternity, but deep inside they are in love!

L'empire's ham fisted approach on colonialism - the European empires dueling for the 'heart of the people,' and its obvious parodying of Hollywood sci-fi epics, are funny for a while. But it’s also extremely silly and unengaging, save for the presence of Vartolomei and Lina Khoudri who plays Line, a selfie obsessed influencer who becomes a partner of Jony. I just hope someone talk some sense to Dumont and stop this nonsense. The joke has been going on for too long!

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Buried Alive

I Saw the TV Glow (2024) - Schoenbrun Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.07.57 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.08.29 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.10.19 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.11.07 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.11.47 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.12.14 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.12.57 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.13.04 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.14.19 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.15.13 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.18.11 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.22.14 AM Screen Shot 2024-06-19 at 9.22.39 AM Jane Schoenbrun's trans identity allegory aside (evidences are aplenty throughout and shouldn't be ignored), I Saw the TV Glow speaks to a very specific group of people who grew up in the 90s, consuming copious amount of late night TV alone. These are not the kids who were cheerleaders, football players, popular kids who bought into the Clinton era fake optimism. They were loners and weirdos who desperately clung to each other when they found one another.

You hoped that there was life beyond the suffocating High School years; you have aspirations and ambitions, to be somebody. But as you grow older, you find life under capitalism is just as suffocating, as if you are being buried alive. This is the feeling Schoenbrun captures so well with I Saw the TV Glow.

It tells Owen (Justice Smith), who befriends Maddy (Brigette Lundy-Paine), an older schoolmate who introduces to the world of late night TV show, Pink Opaque. For Maddy, it's more than just a kid's TV show. It's all consuming religion. The two main characters, Isabel and Tara become extension/cosplay of Maddy and her friend. But after the big boobied friend left her to join the cheerleading squad, timid Owen becomes de facto Isabel. In this show with elaborate mythology, the girls are psychically connected with the matching glowing ghost tattoo on the back of their necks, fighting a figure called Mr. Melancholy.

Owen is fascinated by the TV show, as well as alluring Maddy, but unsure about taking a deep dive in to Pink Opaque, as Maddy's life becomes increasingly blurry between what's real and what's not. Maddy disappears after the show is canceled. The last episode was a cliffhanger - Isabel's heart was ripped out and she was buried alive by Mr. Melancholy.

Life catches up with Owen, working menial jobs and ending up working for an amusement park. As an adult, rewatching the TV show now available on streaming, Owen finds that he remembers it quite different. Now it's a benign kid's stuff.

Maddy's reemergence rattles Owen. She says she has been fighting in the Midnight World the whole time, trying to rescue Isabel/Owen and get their hearts back.

Neon colored, dreamy look captures the sleepless nights of the lonely adolescent in the 90s perfectly. Underlit photography also captures that eerie feeling that something is askew.

There is a divide between what you wanted to be when we were young and what you are now. Just like Schoenbrun's last film We're All Going to World's Fair, I Saw the TV Glow is a sad film that lingers on after days of watching.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Metamorphoses

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 7, 2024

Another Generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Ministry of Fear

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

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

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

Monday, June 3, 2024

Joie de vivre

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 31, 2024

Flight of Fancy

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

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