Monday, March 31, 2014

The Greatest Movie Never Made

Jodorowsky's Dune (2013) - Pavich
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Riding the tide of success he had with El Topo and Holy Mountain, Alejandro Jodorowsky and his French producer Michel Seydoux set out to make mind altering Sci-fi, the-humanity-will-thank-me-later masterpiece, Dune. Director Frank Pavich chronicles the failed process with great details with many main players involved and it's a fascinating one. Jodorowsky managed to amass these 'spiritual warriors' with his manic enthusiasm - the cast includes Dali, Orson Welles, David Caradine and his then 12 year old son as the film's titular character, Paul, and for special effects, Dan O'Bannon (who later did Alien), for storyboarding and concept design, Moebius (comic book artist who Jodo collaborated later), HR Giger to name a few. What Jodo and Seydoux did was making a huge, thick story book with all the concept drawings, character designs and storyboards with full color illustrations and circulated around the major studios for 5 million finishing fund. It was 1975, two years before Star Wars but no one was interested in it. With his heavily accented English, excited Jodorowsky dominates the show, reminding us, trying to help us imagine how great it would've been. With the help of animation sequences all based on Moebius drawings, Pavich makes the case also, how amazing, and to some extent, how impossible, the movie would have been. Nicolas Winding Refn claims he is the only one of the few who actually 'saw' the film with the help of the story book and Jodo's vivid description one night, when he was dining with the crazy Mexican. And he says, "it's awesome!" I believe him.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Glimpse of Beauty is What We Live For

La Grande Bellezza/The Great Beauty (2013) - Sorrentino
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With sweeping camera movements and energetic soundtrack, The Great Beauty grabs you from the get-go. It's Rome's socialite, Jep (Toni Servillo)'s 65th birthday. Jep wrote a famous book once, some 40 years ago. Now he is writing and interviewing people for some celeb gossip magazine. Living in an opulent building with the big terrace overlooking the famous Colosseum, Jep's life is one big party, night after night. His party guests are perpetually engaged in frivolous conversations and take jabs at each other when they are not dancing, drinking or fucking. Jep, always a cigarette and beatific smile fixed on his face, possesses a zen like tranquility. This is one the differences between him and Marcello from La Dolce Vita. Jep's in the middle of it, but he is also self-aware and sees through how silly his and his friend's lives are. A forever bachelor, he just observes everything from the center if that makes any sense. He made up his mind: after living 65 years, he will do anything he feels like doing. He breaks down a young performance artist who rams herself into a wall while being naked. She defends herself by saying that 'the artist doesn't have to explain herself'. He keeps asking the meaning of her art. She doesn't know. He gently tells off a snobby, condescending woman friend who accuses him of not contributing to society enough, that his book was pretentious. He quietly points out all the hypocrisy of her argument that she herself is a well-to-do, spoiled, rich woman. All they can do at their age, he says, is to go on without offending each other.

Even religion doesn't give Jep an answer to the spiritual longing to fill the vacuum. He realizes this when talking to a cardinal who's supposedly in line for the popedom and abandons the effort quickly. Funnily, the cardinal, who was rumored to be the best exorcist in his heydays, blesses him like he would the devil before taking off. A man who's been a husband of Jep's first love visits him and tells him that his wife has died. Upon reading his wife's diary, he found that it was Jep she loved all this time. But she left him back then. With this, Sorrentino opens up to the glimpse of the great beauty without sentimentality but with much grace and wisdom.

The Great Beauty is immaculately done film. It is truly virtuosic filmmaking from beginning to end. Obviously there are odes to Fellini- magician, a knife thrower and a fat woman who comes out of the birthday cake who resembles Saraghina on the beach from 8 1/2. If the film is a reflection of the Bellusconi bunga-bunga era and its hollowness, that's fine too. It still retains that melancholy and sadness and silence and thoughtfulness against that super stylized, slick, camera moves and gyrating, young bodies and loud dance music. One of the best films I've seen this year, so far.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Deadly Funny Business

The Loved One (1965) - Richardson
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A satirical look at Hollywood's funeral industry. While arranging his uncle (John Gielgud)'s funeral at grandiose funeral parlor complex called Whispering Glades, owned and operated by Rev. Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters), our nebbish Brit hero Dennis (Robert Morse) falls for a ridiculously naive and idealistic cosmetician Aimee Thanatogenous (Anjanette Comers). Aimee is also pursued by a creepy, mama's boy embalmer Mr. Joyboy (hilarious Rod Steiger). Penniless Dennis coos Aimee with his poetry while working at adjoining pet cemetery (Aimee hates it because she deems it as crass). He also has to fight off Joyboy's sabotage at his courtship along the way. There are so many wacky ideas and characters in The Loved One: whispering Glades' over the top pageantry, Aimee living in the house at the edge of a cliff, only a few stomps away from collapsing, Joyboy's obese mother demanding grand dinner in bed, a mocking newpaper advice columnist giving half-hearted advice to Aimee, a genius kid's idea of rocket funeral being first adapted by pet cemetery then by Glenworthy to solve the plot shortage problems. A cross somewhere between Soylent Green and Dr. Strangelove, Tony Richardson's black comedy is great fun.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


She's Lost Control (2014) - Marquardt
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Professional intimacy takes center stage in Anja Marquardt's She's Lost Control. 'She' in this case is Ronah (Brooke Bloom), a thirty something, confident, determined woman pursuing a masters degree who makes living as a sexual surrogate - arranged by her psychiatrist employer, she helps her clients who have physical and emotional intimacy problems by providing a safe mind space where they can explore physical intimacy. She's Lost Control is not some skin deep exploitation film about a sex worker, nor is it some romantic melodrama. Marquardt's brooding exploration has almost a look and feel of a clinical documentary.

Ronah is a complicated woman. She gives everything to help bring out these damaged men from their shells. Yet her private life is less than ideal- she leads a lonely life in a tiny, characterless New York apartment with bad plumbing. She willfully ignores her brother who desperately needs her help in looking after their senile mother in upstate NY. She frequently visits a fertility clinic to freeze her eggs, just in case she wants a child in the future. Then there is a phone stalker (presumably a former client) who is making her life miserable.

Things change when she takes on a new client, Johnny, a brooding, deeply withdrawn doctor. He is a hard nut to crack. One day it's a success and next it's terrible. It's a brutal tug of war - she uses different exercises and charms to bring him out with uneven successes. He can't trust Ronah's earnestness completely and certain small details turn him off to be intimate with
her. She finally makes him sustain eye contact. However tough Johnny is as a client, Ronah slowly begins to finds solace in their relationship while her private life falls apart.

Bloom gives a truly brave performance as Ronah. She is at once strong and vulnerable, wise and naive, plain and seductive. Marc Menchaca is also great as Johnny, a hulking, deeply wounded man. There is an amazing scene with Johnny and Ronah looking directly into the camera and addressing each other. It's one of the most powerful scenes I've experienced in cinema in quite a while.

She's Lost Control reflects on our society where true intimacy is becoming rarer, let alone general human contact.

After debuting at this year's Berlinale, She's Lost Control plays as part of ND/NF 2014, on 3/29, 9pm and again 3/30, 4:30pm. For tickets, please visit ND/NF website.

Mystery Well Worth Investigating

Finding Vivian Maier (2013) - Maloof, Siskel
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I became aware of Vivian Maier's beautiful photographs through my photographer friend about a year ago when he showed me a photo book he just purchased called Vivian Maier: Street Photographer.

Those Rolleiflex medium format shot black and white photographs of people immediately grabbed my attention. He told me a very improbable yet amusing story about how Maier's work was discovered. In 2007, a young man named John Maloof, while doing research on his Chicago neighborhood, happened to come across a box full of 35mm still photo negatives at an auction house. He then discovered that the box contained amazing works of art. They belonged to a reclusive woman who worked as a nanny and housekeeper all her life. Ever since then, Maloof has been doing everything in his power to get her work out into the world.

Curiosity really got to Maloof. Clearly not satisfied with getting out the book and the website dedicated to Maier's work, with a video camera, he, along with co-director Charlie Siskel (nephew of the late critic Gene Siskel), sets out to find just who this woman really was, interviewing an impressive amount of people who, one way or another, knew her. There is so much she left behind -- not only of thousands of undeveloped b&w and color film rolls, but also stacks of newspaper clippings she collected, receipts, letters, clothes -- that had been in storage, and would most likely have been thrown away if Maloof didn't intervene.

So who was she? Finding Vivian Maier works like a good detective story: a lanky woman with a French accent, who took thousands and thousands of photographs in her spare time, who appeared in many of her photographs herself, but never showed her pictures to anyone. Did she want her talent to be discovered or didn't she? The film traces her life as a nanny/caretaker in Chicago and the New York area by interviewing many of the families she worked for. It seems that Maier had a dark side as well, as some of the children (now adults), whom she took care of, testify about her condescension toward 'normal' people and their lives.

Maloof even travels to Maier's ancestral homeland in French Alps, a small town where her mother is from. There he finds a film lab where Maier corresponded with its technicians. Maier knew the importance of developing and editing her work. She wanted her work to be shown at some point.

Although this documentary doesn't go deep into her late years, it was some of the children, whom she took care of as a nanny, who came to her rescue to get her an apartment, and took care of her until the end of her life.

Finding Vivian Maier is a fascinating documentary about a person's life. And I give Maloof a huge credit for his dedication. Many interviewees snigger at his unbelievably good luck of stumbling upon Maier's work. One of the interviewees bluntly tells him in the beginning of the movie, "I just wish I discovered them (photographs) first, not you." The filmmaker demonstrates that the film's not about him, but all about his subject, by exiting the frame and letting the story unfold by itself early on. 

It is quite commendable to devote many years of your life cataloging and sorting through not only someone's life's work but also one's life story. It is Maloof's unwavering devotion to let Maier's work be known (with a great curatorial eye) to the world and the sincerity in his investigation into finding who she really was that I find extremely noble and moving.

Finding Vivian Maier opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday, March 28, and in other cities in April. Please visit IFC website for more information.

To see more of Maier's photos and information, please visit

Cesar Chavez, Done Justice

Cesar Chavez (2014) - Luna
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I gotta admit that I was very skeptical going into this movie. There is something very dreadful about patronizing Hollywood biopics that makes me shudder. But with its largely Mexican-American cast and Mexican actor-turned-director Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Milk) directing, and for the fact it's the first biopic on Chavez, one of the most important labor activists in American history, I thought I'd give it a go. Surprisingly, Luna does an amazing job here, wisely concentrating on Chavez's biggest accomplishment in mid 60s through 70s -- as he goes back working in the field to organize, to the great California grapes strike, to hunger strikes to end violence on both sides. He doesn't whitewash his subject. Chavez's constant absence takes a toll on his family. Direct and uplifting without being patronizing, the film does justice to its subject. Chavez is a loving tribute to an uphill battle that is not won yet.

Cesar Chavez, a civil rights leader, labor activist, co-founder of United Farm Workers Union (UFW) and the shining example of non-violent protests, is beautifully embodied by Michael Peña (The End of Watch, American Hustle). His Chavez is a no-nonsense, effective organizer, who also struggled at being a good dad: Chavez's warmth, strength and all-too-humanness is made palpable by his performance. America Ferrera is great as Helen Chavez, mother of their 8 children but also a fearless organizer and the backbone of the family. Rosario Dawson plays Dolores Huerta, a labor leader who co-founded National Farmworker's Association (which later became UFW) with Chavez. She plays it straight in a supporting role, not overshadowing anyone from the great ensemble cast, including John Malkovich (also serves as executive producer) as the main adversary of the struggle, the rich farm owner Bogdanovitch.

The controversy surrounding Chavez about urging deportation of undocumented workers who were brought in across the border as scabs by rich American farmers is not really explored in the film. However, there are scenes where Chavez and his strikers encouraging Mexican children who were brought in as scabs to join the union. These are bits and pieces of American history we don't learn in school. One thing critics should understand is that Chavez wanted to organize all workers and didn't want to see those workers, either documented or undocumented, who weren't in the Union, get exploited. I mean, that's the whole point of the Union.

The film's timely release (also coincides with Chavez's birthday 3/31), as the country's immigration law still tied up in the Congress and the existence of Labor Union being assaulted by politicians and large companies every single day, will hopefully revitalize the public's consciousness on these important matters. The kicker is, the struggle is not won for the farm workers, they are still at it after 50 years since Chavez began his work.

Cesar Chavez illuminates the small victories of these workers and reminds us what was possible before to overcome injustice and gives us hope that it is possible again in the future.

Cesar Chavez made its debut at SXSW and is coming to theaters on 3/28. For more information, visit Participant Media website.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Punk Soul Brothers

A Band Called Death (2012) - Covino, Howlett
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What a great story. The Hackney Bros from Detroit was the proto-punk band that predates The Ramones by a couple of years. In the leadership of David (Guitar, songwriter), his younger brothers Bobby Sr.(Singer, Bass) and Dannis (Drums) spent most of their teen years practices rock music. David was one of those super talented kid who was also somewhat of a dreamer - we all know a couple of friends who are like that. He had the whole concept set up in his mind. Death and triangle logo and everything. But it was their band name, Death, was a real killer from ever getting a record deal in Motown heavy recording industry at that time. The two brothers relocated to New England and pursued other things (forming some lame , christian rock, reggae band), and David perished without getting the taste of success that his talent deserved. In 2000s, Bobby's three sons, also amateur punk musicians, with the help of some punk collector aficionados (including Jello Biafra) discovered their Dad and uncle's music, which they deemed awesome and started promoting their music by covering Death. I mean, it must've been the greatest feeling for a teen to discover that his dad and uncles were a cool punk rock musicians (and not some lame-os who played in a reggae band called Lamb's Bread) by way of some hot girl playing their music at some hipster party. Even cooler, David the dreamer, shortly before his passing, handed Death's master tape to his brothers, saying, "Keep it, because one day, people will come looking for this."

System of Down

Quod erat demonstrandum (2014) - Gruzsniczki
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Yet another slice of social realism film from Romania under the Ceausescu regime in the 80s. Gruzsniczki shows the demoralizing effects of its oppressive system in the lives of three of its inhabitants. Sorin (Sorin Neoveanu), a brilliant mathematician is on to something big. His theories alluded to be the basis for all the future technology - internet, voice recognition, cell phones, etc. Fearing his defection to the West, the regime's making his life extra difficult, meaning, no Ph.D. candidacy, no promotions, no publishing opportunities, no visa. His old college friend Elena (Ofelia Popli) is under surveillance after her husband defected to France. With a troubled teenage son and an ailing father, her only hope is joining her husband in Paris. Alexandru (Florin Piersic Jr.) is a seasoned policeman who is getting snubbed when it comes to promotion. He needs to make friends in higher places and get a breakthrough to get ahead. All these life's struggles are captured in beautiful, crisp monochrome image in incredible details. It reminds me of Barbara by Christian Petzold. It's grittier and colder, and understandably so.

Thursday, March 20, 2014


Nymphomaniac: Vol. 1 (2013) - von Trier
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It's a teaser and an unimpressive one at that.
I understand that it's hard to take 4 hr movie in one sitting these days, but it's exactly half of the movie. So I can't make judgment on it let alone be satisfied in any way.
It tells a sex life of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg), an self admitted nympho, who is found beaten and laid out in an alleyway. It's Seligman (Stellan Skasgård), a good samaritan who finds her and brings her home. He is curious as to what happened to Joe. So he gently pushes her to tell her story.

Nymphomaniac is done way too tongue-in-cheek, I had a hard time taking it seriously. What I mean is that I can't really buy that von Trier is that corny to use Kaiser Sose/Kobayashi style free association, split screen and an old nickelodeon style moving image of walking naked man for Joe to tell her stories. Blasting Rammstein music bookending the film adds to my uneasiness whether he is knowingly fucking with you or not. I was deeply disturbed when the credits rolled with the preview of Vol. 2 appeared in partial screen, but not because of what's being played but because of its icky TV style preview. Only thing that was missing was a smokey voiced narrator saying, "Now from the next episode of Nymphomaniac, brought to you by Hyundai."

Graphic sex scenes don't make a ripple these days. If von Trier 's banking on young flesh (Stacey Martin, who looks like young Eva Green, rather than Gainsbourg), he is grossly mistaken in this day and age. Not that I'm not going to watch the next installment, but I really don't think Vol. 2 is going to make it a lot better. It might have some more emotional resonance and some meaning to it all, but there is no indication of it would be mindblowingly better than what I've just witnessed. But here's hoping. Sigh.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Witch of the East

The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga (2013) - Oreck
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As a lover of old, rustic folktales and being married to a descendant of an eastern European Jew, Baba Yaga holds a special place in my heart. Creepier and more twisted than the Grimm Bros' tales, Baba Yaga tells a story of a witch who lives in a hut that stands on giant chicken legs and eats children who get lost in the forest. In its many variations, the witch is often perceived as both venerable and monstrous.

Jessica Oreck's ravishing new film is not a mere anthropological documentary on Eastern Europe. As with her first two beautiful films, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo and Aatsinki: The Arctic Cowboy, Baba Yaga also falls neatly into region specific ethnographic study at first, this time, of the Slavic world. Of course, there is the region's bloody history with the footage of wars, destruction and remnants of The Soviet empire everywhere throughout the film. But then we realize how universal these images are -- cutting down trees, a wedding, highrise apartments, urban decay....

Mixing carefully selected quotes and voiceovers (in Russian and Polish) over soft, faded 16mm film shot footage of Russian landscapes (both city and forest) and animated sequences of a stunningly illustrated old storybook (its images strongly resemble the famous Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin's work), Baba Yaga takes on that magical, dreamy quality I've only experienced in watching Chris Marker's Sans Soleil.

Aided by woodland critters and magical beings in the forest, the two lost children escape Baba Yaga's spell. Is Baba Yaga a mere villain or the gate keeper of nature against human civilization encroaching upon its borders? Oreck gently equates the ambiguous folktale with modern day human existence where we face increasing man-made (un)natural disasters. The common theme coursing through all of her films has always been our relationship with nature: that nature is our friends, not enemies. Without ever being didactic, the filmmaker presents us with a meditative visual essay with much grace and beauty.

Memories, legends, nostalgia, dreams all intermingle in The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga. The film hypnotizes you for 72 short minutes that seem eternal -- in a good, waking-dream way. Baba Yaga is perhaps the most mature work to date from Oreck. Her infinitely wise, deeply philosophical approach to film, aided by Sean Price Williams's lyrical cinematography, is exactly what I look and hope for in documentary filmmaking. It's one of the first great films I've seen this year.

I can't wait to see this film again. Someone please pick it up and put it in theaters. In doing so, you will be making a great contribution to the world!

The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga will be shown as part of FSLC and MoMA's New Directors New Films series. The showtimes are on March 22 at 1:30pm and on March 24 at 6:15pm. For tickets, please visit ND/NF website.

A Frozen Kingdom for a Horse!

Of Horses and Men (2013) - Erlingsson
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Iceland's most celebrated theater director, Benedikt Erlingsson, makes a film debut with Of Horses and Men, a wry, episodic tales of love and death in a small community all reflected on the eyes of the much coveted Icelandic horses. The film garnered directing awards at San Sebastian and Tokyo Film Festival last year.

Despite their short and stocky physique, Icelandic horses are much prized for their stamina and hardiness and still factor largely into the lives of the inhabitants of the island nation. It's springtime and love is in the air. The setting is a windswept rural town and it's everyone's business what others are up to: they spy on each other with binoculars and gossip, not in words as much, but their frowning, weather beaten faces. First, it's a stately gentleman (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) who wants to show off his beloved white mare to his long time love interest, a homely widow (Charlotte Bøving) in front of her yard. He struts around proudly and even showcases the tölt (an ambling gait only inherent in Icelandic horses). But alas, the widow's black stallion, in his spring heat, gets loose from his inclosure and mount on the mare while its master is still on the saddle. Scandal!

As we hop from one episode to another, we discover there is a gentle rhythm, the harmony of everyday life at present in Of Horses and Men, just like the steady galloping of those majestic (despite their stature) beasts: there is a town drunk who takes his horse to the icy ocean to get to a passing Russian ship which supplies him with illegal booze, a young, perky Swedish rancher who shows her cowgirl skills in front of burly, slightly sexist Icelandic men, a feud between neighbors over a grazing ground that involves a tractor race ends in fatality, and an affable young South American man learning about how to survive in frozen landscape, Tauntaun-style from Empire Strikes Back.

Of Horses and Men are filled with these little absurd human/animal comedies all throughout against stunning Iceland backdrop. Its understated, dry humor and multi-culti, fish out of water segments strongly recall the films of Jim Jarmusch and Aki Kaurismaki. Erlingsson weaves the lives of the people and the animals effortlessly. With long takes and picturesque composition, there is a gentle lyricism in Erlingsson's storytelling that is quite unique and refreshing in today's 30 seconds attention span movie landscape. The film will delight the fans of Jim Jarmusch and deadpan comedies.

Of Horses and Men will be shown as part of FSLC and MoMA's New Directors New Films series on March 22 at 6:15pm and again on March 24 at 6:30pm. For tickets, please visit ND/NF website.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sweet Angel of Death

Miele/Honey (2013) - Golino
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Irene (Jasmine Trinca) lives alone by the ocean, and has a peculiar job -- assisting deaths in terminally ill patients and their families by observing and providing poison used in putting down sick pets. Assisted suicide is a taboo subject in deeply religious Italy. The drug is illegal, so she has to travel down to Mexico once every month to get it.

Having lost her mother to illness when she was young, Irene is somewhat of an idealist, believing that she's doing a good deed. With her cold facade, she hides her emotions remarkably well when carrying out her job- using her work name Miele (Honey), she usually stays with the dying person, reminding them constantly that it's not too late to change their minds. To them, she is an angel of death. Withdrawn and secretive, she hides her profession from her aging father and her lover whom she has a half-hearted sexual relationship. Always hooked up to her music, she leads a rather detached, solitary, yet tranquil existence.

Everything changes when she is assigned by her underground associate to assist the death of Carlo Grimaldi (wonderful stage actor, Carlo Cecchi), a cranky old man who doesn't want her to be a witness of his death. This arrangement is highly unusual for Irene and rubs her the wrong way. It turns out that Grimaldi is perfectly healthy and this goes against her morals. She tries to dissuade him and give up the drug, but the old man doesn't budge. Checking on him to see whether he's still alive becomes an obsession for her. Grimaldi is taken aback and annoyed by her insistence at first, but becomes an unwitting confidant for her as the time passes. A tender relationship emerges from this odd pair.

Actor turned director Valeria Golino (Hot Shots, Respiro, Indian Runner) has a very delicate touch. She turns a rather heavy subject matter into a warm, life affirming film. She doesn't push on characters' back stories or guess their motivations. Honey is a subtle, beautifully nuanced film that respects the audience's intelligence.

Jasmine Trinca (The Son's Room, Best of Youth) is fantastic as a damaged woman reconnecting herself to the world around her through death. It's Cecchi's frowning face that brings back that bashful, million dollar smile from Trinca. With its soft, faded look (shot by Hungarian cinematographer Gergely Pohárnok), the film has many gorgeous, lyrical moments, especially with Irene alone, swimming in the ocean and listening to her music as she cycles through the streets. With its rhythmic, everyday-life pacing and beautiful performances by Trinca and Cecchi, Golino's directorial debut feature is a welcome addition to recent upsurge of Italian cinema.

HONEY is the 2nd film in the Cinema Made In Italy Series (following, now the Oscar winner, THE GREAT BEAUTY), a program that gives major marketing and distribution support to 5 Italian films in the US created by the Instituto Luce-Cinecittà, the Italian Trade Commission and Emerging Pictures.

HONEY opens Exclusively on Friday, March 7th at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, FSLC, NYC.

Interview: Valeria Golino on her Directing Debut with Honey/Miele

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Italian actress Valeria Golino (Rain Man, Hot Shots!, Indian Runner, Respiro among others) makes an assured directorial debut with Honey/Miele, a drama about a woman who assists suicides for living. It's a beautiful film that plays out like a great piece of music accompanied by strong performances.

It was quite nerve wracking for me to meet Golino because I had a crush on her since I was young. Still stunning with her penetrating green eyes, kinky curls and smokey voice, she made my job of concentrating on my notes very difficult. But soon her unguarded candidness and enthusiasm got the better of me and we had a great conversation (I hope).

You are an established actor, working with a lot of different directors throughout your career. Was directing always in the back of your mind?

It was. It was in the back of my mind very often, sometimes more conscious and sometimes dormant. But I seldom talked about it (in public) because I found it very tedious to talk about your dreams, or things you are not doing. You might do that with your relatives or your loved ones, you know, talking about your desires and all that. But these are the things you talk about when you actually do it. So yes. I've had the desire to direct for a long time.

What made you to decide on Miele as your directorial debut?

There are different levels to this question I can answer. The more official one, official to me too, is that I read a book A nome tuo by Mauro Covacich. It seemed to me very interesting so I got the rights to the it and of course I changed it completely, as it often happens when you make an adaptation. But the book gave me this inspiration to direct. Having said that, I also came out of painful experiences of death in my family where nothing was said, nothing was ever talked about. It was as if death wasn't part of what was going on in our lives. There was never a necessary courage for us to talk about that someone we love was passing. So my idea of wanting to be a director and reading Covacich's book and the frustration I felt in my life- the fear of facing death all came together. I don't say this very often. I usually answer with the 'official' version. I think choosing the subject to direct is always personal. Even we don't talk about our lives, there is always an element that is autobiographical in whatever we create.

What's interesting about Miele is she is always dealing with death but she finds life in a very unexpected source. She finds it in a suicidal person.

Exactly. It's that suicidal person who helps her to be more alive. He looks at her and gives her a chance to look at her own pain. That's what it is. While she assists other people to die, she does it with tremendous empathy but not with real pain. Keeping distance is a necessary tool in what she does. And that's why she stops doing it because you can't help somebody die if you feel too much pain.

So yes, her change comes from a man who wants to die. And she wants him to live! The movie has a lot of...

It has a lot of layers. It's a beautifully drawn character study, embodied by Jasmine Trinca.

She plays the role with very rare grace.

So how did you decide on Jasmine in a main role?

I had her in mind since the beginning of the writing process. I thought of her in the role not for any rational reason, really. She just kept appearing in my thoughts when I was writing the script. The somatic traces of her just kept coming. Having said that, I did a lot of screen tests with other actresses, as if trying to forget her. I also did three screen tests with her and and she wasn't so good in two of them. But I knew it had to be her. Don't get me wrong she is a fantastic actress. Carlo Cecchi (who plays Carlo Grimaldi), the same thing. When you are creating something, most of the times, you just have to surrender to your intuition. It's not 'who is the most popular?', 'who is the best in the market right now?' If your intuition is working and you have these two people in your head from the beginning, you go with it. And I got who I wanted. I didn't get some compromise.

I know Jasmine from Nanni Moretti's THE SON'S ROOM and BEST OF YOUTH-

Of course.

This is a very different, darker role for her. But at the end of the film, she has that recognizable million dollar smile back again. And the universe was all right again.

Her smile is more powerful when you don't see it much.

Very true!

You see your childhood and joy and hope in that smile. I made her smile in the movie only two or three times because her smile is so powerful, with her crooked teeth and everything.

I hope she never fixes her teeth! (we laugh)

So I strategically used her smile since it's that powerful. If you keep seeing her smile it dilutes the effect! And she smiles most when she is with Cecchi, because he's funny!

Maybe it's just my limited imagination but I feel a lot of actor-turned-directors put themselves in the movie or mold their main actors in their own image: Robert Redford directed Brad Pitt in RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. Sean Penn directed Viggo Mortensen in INDIAN RUNNER in which you star in. I was thinking about MIELE the same way. Which brings me the question -- of course, Jasmine and you are physically very different...

But there are similarities.

Could you elaborate on that?

Jasmine is not a technical actress, meaning she is not a schooled actress, like me. No technique is involved whatsoever in our acting. We are very... raw. Of course I have more experience. I had many years to refine my tools and to create some kind of technique I had to create on my own. And there is a vibration, aura about Jasmine as a human being I recognize. It's something very familiar to me.

It's true that it's a role that I would've loved to play if a director wanted me. If it was offered to me when I was thirty, I would've played that role really well. It's a different story when I'm the director. I wanted a young woman to play that role. That's why I dismissed myself. When I was reading the script, I felt it was totally in my realm of roles. But more I thought about it and directing the movie myself, I realized that I am too old for this role. A woman in her forties has a gravitas that comes with the age and experience. In that role I wanted to show the possibility of change.

I guess one of the reasons why I chose her is also that there is a familiarity in her acting. It's physical thing too. She started to behave like me. As I was telling her to do it this and that, she started to reinterpret what was being shown. All good actors do that. she is a great actress.

Do you treat directing the same way as your acting, developing your own techniques as to how to put things together? Did you get ideas from many different directors you worked with over the years?

I learned so much from the directors I worked with. So much! There is no doubt. Every time I did a movie I learned. There were certain directors who taught me things about how to direct actors, others, working with images and how to create a scene. I've done 80 movies, so all this time there were so much to learn. Not always, but very often I worked with very talented people, so I stole a lot from them. There is nothing more that gives me satisfaction than stealing a shot! (laughs)

But I mean by the time it comes through me, filtered through all different circumstances and my imagination, it becomes mine. It may have come from Jane Campion or Gus Van Sant, but now it's different. It's mine. It's still beautiful because that's how art works. Reiteration of thoughts that comes in different periods but filtered by the person who's doing it at the time. I love that. It gives me a sense of belonging. Stealing gives me the sense of belonging! (we laugh)

The thing is MIELE is such a polished, well accomplished film. It moves along very fast then there is this tranquil moments. It has that fluidity almost like-

This is what I told my crew and collaborators when we started shooting. This movie is like music.


It moves fast then it stops, then starts again. It's the rhythm of the music I wanted to give. There is a rhythm to it but not for the sake of speed. It's more like giving a pulse, a breath.

You captured it so beautifully. There are so many beautiful shots in the movie. And the music, my god! Are those songs what you usually listen to?

A lot of it is what I listen to. But as you know there are many different types of music playing. For me it was a fantastic game- I didn't use a normal movie score as a running commentary. All the music is from the movie not outside of it. What Miele listens to is the music that cools her. And when she is with Carlo, they listen to different music. when they first meet, he is listening to this soprano singing Granados. Then we hear 70s French music. It's all the music I listen to but I could distribute it and I didn't care if it's new, old, in fashion or not. I was so free, it was one of my favorite moments making this movie.

You have a great taste in music.

Thank you.

Some fans of the movie already made a MIELE youtube soundtrack list. I was listening to it all day.

Really? That's so cool. I'm glad.

I had written Talking Heads' Nothing But Flowers into the script. Then there was a problem of getting the rights. We were asking ourselves 'Miele is a very small budget movie. How can we afford this?' Then circumstances go that Paolo Sorrentino, before The Great Beauty, makes this movie called, This Must be the Place (tribute to Talking Heads). So Sorrentino and my producer Viola Prestieri (who also produced Sorrentino's movies) know David Byrne, so I go to him and ask if he could give me the song for basically nothing and he says, "Of course I'll give you that piece of music because it's an inspiration."


You have a lot of difficulties doing a movie. You have to eat a lot of ka-ka sometimes, but also you get these presents sometimes and it's really joyful.

Are you going to direct more movies?

Yes I want to.

I'm sure the movie will be successful. It's beautifully done. It's shot by a Hungarian cinematographer?

Yes. Gerko (Gergely Pohánok, Hukkle, Taxidermia). He's fantastic. You know why he's fantastic? Because he is a virtuoso. He can do anything. But he is also very rigorous. There are some beautiful images in Miele but there were more, he makes it not too beautiful. Too beautiful, delicate images can breed aestheticism and they don't last long. I didn't want that. You have to have that rigor not to be too precious about things and you can imagine Gerko's is rigor because he's Hungarian!

Honey/Miele opens exclusively on Friday, March 7th at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center

Miele youtube mix:

Click Here

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2014 Preview

The 19th edition of Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance Films' celebrated annual showcase of the best in contemporary French film, hits screens at The Film Society, the IFC Center and BAMcinématek in New York, March 6 - 16.
It consists of 24 feature films making their New York, United States or North American premieres. The lineup includes new works from established masters like Bertrand Tavernier, Agnès Jaoui, François Ozon, and Jacques Doillon; critics' favorites Serge Bozon, Michel Gondry, and the Larrieu brothers. Alongside these known names are the key figures of what has been called France's next New Wave: a whole raft of emerging talents, including first- and second-time directors Ruben Alves, Sébastien Betbeder, Guillaume Brac, Thierry de Peretti, Katell Quillévéré, Axelle Ropert, Justine Triet, and Rebecca Zlotowski. And as the original New Wave was very much a boys' club, it's worth noting that nearly half the films in this year's selection were directed by women.

The series opens with Emanuelle Bercot's On My Way with venerable Catherine Deneuve and closes with Bertrand Tavernier's In the Loop style comedy, The French Minister. For tickets and more info, please visit FSLC's website.

Click through the gallery below to read more about some of the titles I had a privilege to have a sneak peek at.

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Just as sprawling as their last effort Happy End, the Larrieu brothers, Anaud and Jean- Marie, concoct yet another thoroughly absorbing but ultimately unsatisfying film. This time, it's set in beautiful Swiss Alps with Mathieu Amalric as Marc, a lit professor at the architecturally stunning snow swept college. Marc lives with his sister Marianne, with whom he has a complicated relationship. There are pretty young coeds everywhere at his disposal. Things get a little hairy when one of his pupils he had a thing with, disappears. Soon the missing girl's hot young stepmom Anna (Maïwann) comes snooping around. It's love at first sight for Marc. Apparently she feels the same way too. Situations are slowly getting worse for Marc though. He has episodes of sleepwalking and blackouts and aggressively pursued by yet another hot coed (played by one of the rising stars of French cinema, Sara Forestier), who threatens to make his life difficult if she doesn't get what she wants.

Love is the Perfect Crime is a funny film, but the Larrieus keep the mood of the film very ominous from the get-go. It doesn't quite work as a Hichcockian psychological thriller nor as Antonioni-esque environmental subjectivity themed movie. But Amalric is, as always, endlessly watchable and make your time worthwhile and the view of the snow-capped Alps is spectacular.

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Absolutely amazing. Love Battles doesn't have any lofty goal of bearing one's soul through acting or anything. But it's definitely not some skin-deep psycho-sexual drama. What I know of Doillon's films is that he gets unbelievable performances out of his actors. Two main actors Sara Forestier and James James Thiérrée, give all with incredible ferocity in physically demanding roles. Forestier plays a young woman whose father just passed away. She is battling with her siblings for inheritance. All she wants is a worthless old piano. She has some serious daddy issues. She visits her older neighbor (Thiérrée) to inform her father's death. She has a certain respect for this neighbor because he once refused her advances. She regards him as an equal and worthy opponent. Under the pretense of finding out why he didn't take advantage of her when he had a chance, she provokes him to a physical fight. He, taking the bait this time, assumes the role of an instructor for rough-housing sessions. They jab at each other sharply: her accusing him of too much self-esteem and him insinuating that deep down, she is not fighting him but her daddy.

These extremely physical brawls go on forever, leaving them with bruises and scratches (real ones). She wonders if she is falling in love.

Without any pretense of the usual psycho-sexual, destructive movie relationship, the couple engage in these loaded, violent encounters day after day. The attraction and sexual tension are palpable between them.

Doillon achieves something truly remarkable here with the help of fearless performers, especially from pint-sized Forestier who is a force of nature. Definitely an early contender for my favorite film of the year.

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An emotionally unstable deadbeat dad (comedian Vincent Macaigne of Rendez-vous with Deja Vu)visits his toddlers unannounced. The kids' mom (Laetitia Dosch), fearing for their safety, takes the kids to work which is crowded Paris street because she is a TV reporter. It happens to be the day of the French Presidential Election of 2012. Newcomer Justine Triet uses the chaotic street in real time as a backdrop for a domestic squabble comedy. It's pure genius to use a real life event to your advantage for your no budget indie film. The trouble is, she stretches that thin premise way too long. It all goes downhill right after the election celebration is over. The result is increasingly unfunny and uncomfortable acting exercise for young French comedians.

IF YOU DONT I WILL - Fillières
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Sophie Fillières's If You Don't I Will is perhaps the best written comedy about an adult relationship I've seen in a long while. Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos) and Pierre (Mathieu Amalric) are middle-age couple who's been together a long time. They've reached a stage where one another's mannerisms and incongruities seized to be adorable. They are not bitter yet, but don't have the hearts for asking each other if they still love one another. Things change when Pomme decides to stay in the forest after a squabble during their semi-obligatory nature hike. Pierre goes home and resumes with his life. It's been a week and Pomme is surviving alone in the forest, making fire and talking to woodland critters.

Devos is fantastic in portraying a middle-age klutz with all her insecurities and quirky qualities. Amalric, as Pomme's scruffy, antisocial husband, just shows why he is one of my favorite actors.

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A love triangle set under the shadow of nuclear reactors. Love is a disaster waiting to happen! Get it?! Grand Central concerns Gary (Tahar Rahim of Un prophet), a young underskilled worker being trained to work at a nuclear power plant. Gilles (Olivier Gourmet), the foreman of the plant workers takes Gary and some other youngsters under his wing. There is a mini, working class sub-society happening near the plant comprised of daisy duke and tank top wearing girls and manly men who can't have babies because of radiation. The film shows the safety protocols workers go through in painstaking details. It's a very dangerous job. But life continues and Gary falls for the older co-worker's girl (Léa Seydoux).

Rebecca Zlotowski (whose debut, Belle Epine again, with Seydoux also played here at Rendez Vous, couple years ago) is a confident director who knows how to put things together effectively, but tends to favor melodrama over social context. With the attractive leads she affectingly paints the picture of live-by-day lifestyle of these working class characters.