Monday, September 28, 2015

Ubering with Jafar Panahi

Taxi (2015) - Panahi
 photo 05ccdf17-c9b8-41fc-ade9-43e0d7117850_zpskhrbqpef.jpg
Jafar Panahi was jailed, then put on house arrest and banned from filmmaking for 20 years by the Iranian government in 2010 when it deemed the award winning filmmaker an anti-government propagandist. This didn't stop the filmmaker from making films though.

At first, Panahi was creatively bending the absurd rules that were put on him by making unscripted films in his house with with a small video cameras and smart phones. His frustration and ingenuity were in full display in This is Not a Film and Closed Curtain. With Taxi, his latest, the Golden Bear winner at this year's Berlinale, Panahi raises his middle finger again. The film is yet another self-reflexive, droll, poignant whatsit and defies the powers that be.

In Taxi, very much in the tradition of the fellow Iranian great Abbas Kiarostami, Panahi uses the confines of a moving car to unfold the snapshot of Tehran and its inhabitants in real time. Things are little more sophisticated this time around. There are multiple angle shots, edits and the line between fiction and reality are blurrier than the previous two films.

Panahi himself sets out as a taxicab driver, picking up passengers and their interactions are all captured by small dashboard cameras. The passengers are as diverse as they get. Some get into a heated political discussion - the harshness of the Sharia Law. Ironically the one who advocates the capital punishment turns out to be a criminal.

A motorcycle accident on the street brings in a couple, an wounded man and his hysterical wife. On the way to a hospital, the bloody man orders Panahi to record his last will with his cell phone. He wants to leave all his assets to his wife. Panahi knows that his injuries are minor and will be OK. But after he drops the couple off at the hospital, he promises the wailing wife that he will make sure that she will get the footage.

Then there is an illegal DVD seller who recognizes the famed director. He is the reason how Panahi got to watch films like Once Upon a Time in Anatolia and Midnight in Paris in Iran where most of foreign movies are banned.

There are deeply superstitious old ladies who wants to go to Ali Spring to release a couple of goldfishes. They think their lives depend on the fishes being free. The hilarity ensues after the ladies break the fishbowl in the cab, due to Panahi's bad driving.

But it's Panahi's own niece Hana (Hana Saeidi), a precocious, button nosed young schoolgirl who steals the show. Armed with her tiny digital camera, she wants to make a 'distributable' film. The guideline to make a distributable film that her film teacher told her reveals a lot about the country still steeped in religious fundamentalism - respect the Islamic headscarf, no touching between opposite sex, no political discussion, voluntary self censorship ("deep down, you know what's best"), no sordid realism. After giving Panahi's human rights lawyer friend a ride to the jail where she is trying to visit a woman who is on hunger strike after getting arrested for attending a volleyball game (along with other women), bright eyed Hana asks her uncle what sordid realism means: "We are all real. And that means what we see is all truth." To this, Panahi replies, "There are some truth they don't want you to see."

I used to think that Panahi's more politically active approach in filmmaking is less elegant in portraying human conditions. With Taxi, it's either me warming up to his filmmaking or he is getting better and wiser as a filmmaker, even with much less resources and more restrictions.

The film shows regular Iranian's resilience. Many recognizes his dashboard cam and understands that Panahi is making yet another film. No one in the film hides his/her face or runs away screaming. Whatever the conditions your government put you under, the life still goes on. And the filmmaker has enough of a common sense not to put up the credits at the end of the film.

The film ends with a plain clothes government officials trying to steal the memory card from his dashboard camera while Panahi is out to deliver a purse that was left in the cab by one of the old ladies.

Deeply poignant in its simplicity and undeniably human, Taxi is one of the best non-political, political films I've ever seen.

Taxi will have its New York Premiere at BAM Cinematek on 9/29 and opens nationwide Oct. 2nd.

Eva Salina at Brooklyn Americana Music Festival, DUMBO 9/27/15

 photo 3f7a3155-0727-478f-afda-2f450b92e027_zpsjbqvnm75.jpg
I happened to be down in Dumbo today. Just walking around in a brisk fall weather. Then I heard this enchanting voice singing a song that sounded like a Balkan music. I followed the voice and ended up under the Manhattan bridge where they were having Americana Music Festival. The acoustics under the arch of the bridge is quite ideal but performers have to compete with the rumbling of subway trains constantly going by overhead. The voice belonged to Eva Salina. She sang mostly Balkan songs with or without her accordion and I was entranced and stayed there for the whole duration of her set. I got to record one of her songs:

Please visit Eva's website at

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Giving Them a Soul

The Walk (2015) - Zemeckis
 photo 34ad179b-88e7-48b2-bc58-59ce43059056_zpsx2nh6rhc.jpg
Forget about Joseph Gordon-Levitt's ridiculous Pepé Le Pew French accent. Forget about his weird toupé and blue contact lenses, forget about candy colored fairyland a.k.a. Paris in the first hour. Robert Zemeckis's new film The Walk still works as a thrilling movie experience because of its 20 minute sequence of 'the walk' itself, shot in stereoscopic 3D and presented in IMAX.

The film is a dramatization of a real event that took place in New York in 1974. A crazy little Frenchman, Philippe Petit, aided by his friends, pulled a stunning and ultimately awe inspiring stunt - high-wire walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, then still under construction. The thing is, we know about this event already, thanks to James Marsh's superb 2009 Academy Award winning documentary Man on Wire which played out like a great caper film.

Even though the film says it is based on a true story, the look and feel of The Walk is nothing but. Gordon-Levitt narrates his story from the CGI-ed torch of Statue of Liberty, looking like a caricature of a Frenchman in some corny children's book. The tone of a street performer/tightrope walker's early life is that of a fairy tale - an exotic foreign circus manager Papa Rudy (played by weirdly deflated Ben Kingsley) taking little Philippe under his wing, romancing a wide-eyed gamine street musician, Annie, (Charlotte Le Bon), and Philippe performing in the impossibly clean Paris street under CG Eiffel Tower. There is even a Keystone cop chase sequences in black and white for no apparent reason.

After successfully executing the walk between two steeples of the Nortre Dame, things get into a high gear once Philippe and his friends, who believe and shares his dangerous and beautiful vision, set the date of their coup and fly over to New York. With the help of newly recruited accomplices - a street smart electronics salesman (James Badge Dale) and a wildly mustachioed American insurance executive (Steve Valentine), who has an office on the 82nd floor of the North Tower as their inside man, they scout and execute the clandestine plan to get the wire across from the South to North Towers with the bow and arrow, while evading the eyes of security officers and construction crew.

Zemeckis is obviously targeting the widest audience with The Walk. Things are kept energetic and humorous and colorful, faithfully following the almost childlike enthusiasm of Petit as we saw in Man on Wire and his Oscar acceptance speech. But as an adult living in a cold, hard world and one of eight millions who calls New York home, I had a very hard time buying into the juvenile tone of the film. And is it only me who feels that Gordon-Levitt's face is growing more and more insincere every year? He'd make a great villain one day.

But it's all about the thrill of experiencing the walk itself between the 110 story Twin Towers: as we are watching from all the impossible angles as Philippe starts walking on the thin steel wire stretched across 140 feet. Especially when looking down, Zemeckis accomplishes the impossible feat of duplicating what it must've been like on the wire 1,300 feet above the ground. All it lacks from the real thing is the wind blowing on your face. Somebody invent The Blowervision already!

I always thought the Twin Towers were ugly. But I never knew that gazing at them from Radiohead concert at Liberty State Park a week before 9/11 was the last time I'd see them standing. Seeing the truss of the Twin Towers automatically gives many who remember a strong emotional response. Zemeckis handles 9/11 aspect of the WTC much more gracefully than I expected. One of the more poignant moments, Annie declares that what philippe's daring-do accomplished was to give a soul to those buildings. Petit's special bond to the towers was sealed early on, but it was to be forever.

But one of the reasons why Man on Wire is a superior film is seeing the emotional responses of the two events on people's faces. We can read it on faces of Petit and everyone involved as they reminisce the walk in that documentary coupled with the fate of those towers. You can't fake that even with all the technology in the world.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Island of the Dead

Casa de Lava (1994) - Costa
 photo 283e017d-bb70-4681-9d33-99053cd57494_zps9mwmzfqs.png
 photo c9149d4e-d209-499c-aa1f-6e9bf9358918_zps09o2nsaf.png
 photo 2c2b418a-aa6e-4e67-945c-88fdd54a6fba_zpst8gz4sxf.png
 photo ebb1135e-5d91-4f4e-8d4b-5b5fafe8af93_zpso9vlojsx.png
 photo 3cc7b88d-2839-443a-8b61-760cb5b4b5d0_zpsuzxfebet.png
 photo 4ae308a8-7a6b-4f7c-a651-b3f651c9a299_zpsoyzatana.png
 photo d73dd048-7fdb-47dc-88c6-fc942587efa9_zpsv1neoa2v.png
 photo f711269c-b81e-47be-a90f-e9bcff4b7600_zpsejczz2mj.png
 photo f0587b22-c1a1-48ec-94da-c4f2b3e70304_zps2oo6wu87.png
 photo 1ef9ad10-2459-4aed-96d4-ee1383d77766_zps1mwps9dm.png
Costa talks about Casa de Lava as the gateway to his subject of his four films, now gone, Fontainhas, an urban shanty town of Lisbon of which many Cape Verdean immigrants once called their second home. It was the otherworldly landscape of the volcanic island of Fogo, that he had heard so much about from the immigrant workers which lured him in.

A nurse named Mariana (Inês de Medeiros) accompanies a construction worker, Leão (Isaach De Bankolé), who fell into a coma from an accident (or suicide attempt?) to his home in Cape Verde. The transportation fee was anonymously donated by the inhabitants of that island nation who wanted him back. Taking a cue from Jacques Tourneur's I Walked with a Zombie, Costa equates Cape Verdeans or what's left of them (massive immigration to the mainland and many are still preparing to leave) to the dead and the dead are calling back Leão. Devoted Mariana isn't getting anywhwere, stuck in the land of the dead, stuck between her loyalty to Leão and the local white boy, the son of mysterious white woman Edith (Edith Scob).

The colonial past is ingrained in everyone's faces - former booming slave trading post, inhabited by pirates and also used as a penal colony, abandoned after 19th century, the mixed race faces are as distinctive and beautiful as that of Brazilians. Elliptical narrative has no stronghold in this but the glorious nighttime cinematography and the beauty of volcanic surroundings make up for its lyrical poetry. You can totally see his later impressionistic approach to filmmaking brewing in the midst of Casa.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Perfection: Cannonball Adderley's Autumn Leaves

In my early 20s, if I wanted to be anything, I always wanted to be a jazz music writer. Not music criticism per se, but more of a gushing appreciation that I couldn't contain in my head that I felt it was my duty to share with others how brilliant that particular piece of music is. Well, youtube and all the other social media killed my ambition pretty quickly over the years. I have to confess that I can't play any musical instrument. I failed at piano when I was young. But imho, I strongly believe I have musical ears and I pick up sound, especially jazz and can appreciate it much more than any other art form. I know I sound like Clint fucking Eastwood who is apparently a big jazz aficionado.

As I was listening to Cannonball Adderley's Autumn Leaves on the way to work, one brisk September morning, I couldn't stop but admire its mind blowing perfection as one succinct piece of art that is finite and infinite at the same time. It's up there with John Coltrane's My Favorite Things and Miles Davis & Coltrane's version of Bye, Bye Blackbird.

It starts slowly with simple but infectious rhythm by Hank Jones's piano, Sam Jones's bass and Art Blakey's struming. It transitions into birds chirping high up in the trees, letting you know the arrival of Miles Davis. Instantly recognizable by his delicate, emotive playing, he put you in that cozy melancholic mood associated with the composition right away. Adderley's sax exchanges dialog with Davis's then in turn with Jones's keys. Despite Adderley being the band leader on this, his showmanship never overshadows the whole piece and gives Davis a lot more playtime. The gorgeous melody goes on for eternity, and you never want it end. Then Miles's horn peaks and dies in around 8 minute mark, giving me a little heart attack until Jones's keys pick up where Davis left off, like, milliseconds ago, giving it the most thrilling transition ever in music history! Blakey and Jones pick up where they started. And in the dead last minutes, Davis is resurrected to give the smokey finish to the piece. I mean, what composition, what collaboration, what... dang.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Greenpoint Outing 9/13/15

Nicole and I went out to Greenpoint today to checkout Brooklyn Renegade Craft Fair. Most of those exquisite trinkets were too much to afford as expected but we had a great time walking around. Here are some pictures:
 photo 05918f2a-b6a5-477a-8e0d-5dfad3b03cb1_zps8ufrkawm.jpg
The setting sun hitting just the top of the Ed Hopper row houses on Kent Ave.
 photo bc130a5e-b51c-45e8-9e61-fbb40ecc70bb_zpsadxbzvqy.jpg
Nicole at The Bounty. They have a lovely backyard, well more like a greenhouse. We took a shelter as the rain drops fell. The sky was getting dark then cleared again.
 photo a8773500-b904-4565-95cb-c5f6fc5a81cd_zpslnr37e1k.jpg
The ceiling of the greenhouse.
 photo 27c490cc-668e-4f1a-aeca-f2a5fd5488d3_zpsnhfzyg3z.jpg
 photo 203ec110-698c-4e7a-9152-da6b399a0012_zpsapt1popd.jpg
Inside the Bounty Bar.
 photo cfc40ba6-fbb9-469a-9d42-d716a949ba61_zpsiffx9u8z.jpg
A window display of a house full of toys. This person must love showing off his toy collections.
 photo 4bc8362c-9a8d-4611-b2dc-b987ee46aa64_zpst01fpbrs.jpg
Empty lot near the East River overlooking across Manhattan at sundown.
 photo ad9c18c5-a7bb-4ffd-bb23-cd7099536ba5_zpsudbfvj4q.jpg
Ducks taking a bath in rain puddle.
 photo b6595ee5-bb1a-4aef-a83d-84fcf0c6b561_zpseiy79zha.jpg
Some funny Ad campaign.
 photo 07de30c3-913e-4132-a94a-870190008a19_zps2vpdh57h.jpg
On the Waterfront looking across Empire State Building at dusk.
 photo ae0af4c4-676d-4113-9441-04d16b23dcbd_zpssjipyql7.jpg
Some salacious poster for a show.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Where is Our Mommy?

Goodnight Mommy (2014) - Franz, Fiala *Originally Published March 26, New Directors/New Films
 photo 541673d5-6431-42b1-8173-4e70d7dcf4cb_zpsboqpdwc8.jpg
As far as creepy twins movies go, Goodnight Mommy tops it all. Impeccably executed and acted, this Austrian chiller rubs shoulders with Funny Games on cringy inducing level. It is no surprise then that the film is directed by the wife and the nephew of Ulrich Seidl. It's quite an achievement what they pulled out from the young real twin brothers Lukas and Elias Schwarz.

We are introduced to preteen twins, Lukas and Elias, playing in the corn field, then near the lake. Colors are lush and vibrant you can almost smell the warm Summer surroundings. Something dark and sinister is hiding just around the corner. You can feel it. Then there is mom (brave Susan Wuest), whose face is bandaged like a mummy. She is cold and distant and barks orders at Elias and doesn't seem to acknowledge Lukas's presence. It becomes pretty clear that Lukas doesn't really exist and that something terrible has happened before. But there is scarcely any dialog for the first half of the film. They are in the hiding in the ultra modern house in the country, away from Vienna. Lukas is feeding his brother some unspeakable thoughts: our mother isn't really our mother. We need to find out where our mother is from that woman who is not her. From then on, Goodnight Mommy slowly slips into very dark, dark territory.

Franz and Fiala know to build tension without the help of music or dialog. Goodnight Mommy is quite a feat for visual storytelling. Images, shots and editing matters. Not quite formalist approach of Seidl but the images have power in this film.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Interview: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala on Directing Creepy Twins in Goodnight Mommy

Franz Fiala
Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, first time (in narrative form) filmmakers hailing from Austria, made a fantastic yet deeply disturbing film, Goodnight Mommy. It's been garnering much deserved critical acclaim around the globe ever since it made a splash in the Venice Film Festival last year.

The film's disturbing content makes sense when you consider Franz is married to Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl (Import/Export, Paradise Trilogy and who serves as their producer) and Fiala being his nephew.

In person, they are very open and passionate film fanatics who finish each other's thoughts. They are an energetic pair whose enthusiasm for filmmaking is infectious. Our conversation was filled with film geekery and laughter.

GOODNIGHT MOMMY was great. But it was disturbing.

Veronika Franz (V): We ourselves want to be disturbed in cinema. That's what we expect a film to be. That it will do something, stir things up in us.

That's what Ulrick Seidl does. I got a chance to interview him when he was presenting the PARADISE TRILOGY.

V: Yeah, last year was it? Right. But these are different films. He presents kind of different reality with his films and we tend toward genre filmmaking.

Severin Fiala (S): I think it's maybe that we start at the same starting point but we walk different ways.

V: Yeah, that's it.

That's an interesting point. I know you guys have done a documentary on Peter Kern, a controversial Austrian director/actor.

S: It's the least successful Austrian film ever! [They explode with laughter.] It had 482 spectators.

V: We still think it's a good film, actually.

How different was it directing that and doing a narrative film?

S: From the outside point of view, you can say it was completely different. I mean one (Goodnight Mommy) was with a normal professional production. But I think every film is maybe the same -- circumstances might be different: in a documentary, you have a different working method to make things happen. But on one hand, you don't have Peter Kern shouting at you or you behave in a way that he shouts at you. And in Goodnight Mommy, things were completely different -- you have different means of achieving what you want. But it's the same drive to make things done.

V: And creating intimacy is important. It is difficult in terms of making narrative film to bring out intimacy, especially with child actors behaving naturally.

Exactly. Watching the film I was amazed by how natural those two kids were. You guys did a pretty remarkable job getting out those performances from them.

Well, thank you.

And with that dark subject matter...

V:We shot it chronologically. Like Ulrich's films we have a starting point, but don't give them the script and each day we just gave them basic suggestions, but reveal certain kind of information to them to keep their interests.

I see, I see.

V: We didn't give them dialog. But we sometimes had to tell them things because opposite of Ulrich's films, we had to get from point A to point B at some point.

S: Mostly we wanted to make the children feel that they could do anything in a scene, that they should feel free. But we had to find a way to navigate the way we wanted to have [things] happen. So the first thing we had to do was to tell the children that they don't need to know everything. Things will happen somehow but they don't need to know about the structure or anything.

V: It was tough in the beginning because you have like 30 people standing around you, waiting. A director tells the children something that they need to do.... It took some time for them to accept this environment.

S: It was impossible. It was cold the first day of shooting. We were really nervous. The children were there standing shivering. If you just have said, "now play," then they wouldn't have played it in the forest like they did. So we were running across the forest, throwing pine cones and we ended up in the frames because we were running around with the children. We wanted that natural feeling.

V: We moved in to the house that we were shooting at and decorated the house in such a way that they wouldn't feel it was like a stage, like strange surroundings for them. We used their twin-ness- we changed their roles--

S: Because it's not easy for children to repeat the same line over and over again. The delivery can become lifeless but we had to somehow rehearse certain scenes so we switched them around. We didn't know how the scene would go. It was the first time we were working this way. But the kids were really capricious. They wanted to do it better than the other one who did it before.

That's interesting. How was the casting process? I'm sure you've seen a lot of twins.

V: From Austria, we had about 130 pairs of boys from 9 to 11.

That's quite a lot.

V: Yeah it is. Austria is a very small country and we only looked in bigger cities. We didn't want them to have strong accents. We called many schools and of course they would know if they had twins in their schools and we would write them letters to invite them.

S: It was kind of normal. It wasn't difficult actually.

V: In the end we had three pairs who were really good. The last casting round was that we had an actress (in the mom role) tied to a chair. We told them, "OK, she's not your mom. Now try to find out if she is your mom or not. You can do whatever you want to find it out." Two pairs only circled the actress around asking, "Where is our mom, where is our mom?" But our pair (Lukas and Elias Schwarz), took a pencil--

S: And started toward the actress and we got up to stop them. [Laughs.]

V: They were very courageous. The thing is, we looked for beautiful children the audience could identify with.

S: But they should have some kind of secret to them below the surface. That was what we were looking for. But that's what we tried to convey everywhere in the film -- in the house, in the main actress, in the twins -- you could feel that there are secrets to them behind their masks.

Are Lukas and Elias completely identical, so that you can't tell them apart?

S: No, they are not.

V: When we first saw them, they were not identical enough. They had very different hair in the beginning and we had to call the hairdresser and told her to make them as close as possible because we thought they were not similar enough. But then, while shooting, we couldn't tell them apart. [Laughs.]

S: The continuity person had a hard time distinguishing them.

I was always wondering about whenever there were twins in a film if they actually shared some kind of connection?

S: They definitely do. First time we met them we were trying to play a game, 'Ich Seh, Ich Seh', which is referring to the film's original title, a children's game. We tried with them but it proved impossible because they always knew what the other one means.

V: We saw 130 pairs in casting, so we know about their connections. [Laughs.] We should make a scientific study about this. Rock paper scissors, they can play for hours. We even shot them playing it and we couldn't use it because it would never end!

Also there is a lot of doubling going on in this film. For instance, two directors, obviously. How do you divide your roles?

S: We didn't divide at all. We did everything together from the start until the last edit in the editing room, which is kind of easier for first time directors [as narrative filmmakers] because you are a lot stronger together when it comes to getting your idea through, against other people who constrain you with money or time or whatever. It's easier if there were two. And we know each other for a long time. We share the same vision of cinema and we want the same film. It's not about vanity or ego but it's all about the same film we want to make.

So even on set, you guys do everything the same.

V & S: Yes.

S: In a way we get extra chances to do it right. If we were shooting a scene once, one of us was talking to children and one of us would be behind the camera and we do it again and it's not good. And we do seven times and it's still not good, then we would switch roles and approach it the same way. But it would be completely different because we are different people and it would work.

V: You'd think that the process would be slow, but it's quicker, because we talk to each other right there and then, so we prevent each other from second guessing ourselves. It's the same in our writing process. We physically write together and talk our ideas through sitting at the same computer...

It was fascinating that in the first part of the film, about an hour or so, there is not much dialog. It's all visual storytelling.

V: Yes.

S: We understand that cinema is a story told in pictures. We approached it that way.

V: I always prefer films with least dialog. I hope I can make a film one day without any dialog.

The colors and everything are so intense in the film. Martin Gschlacht's cinematography is gorgeous. I've seen that Jessica Hausner film (LOURDES) he shot.

V: Yes, and he shot the Shirin Neshat film, Women Without Men.

I saw that! That was him too? And he shot THE WALL (DIE WAND)?

V: No, no. That movie was shot by many cinematographers, not just him. Only small part was shot by him. But yes, he is very good.

I saw the ending credit stating that it was 'shot in glorious 35mm'. I laughed at that. I am a film purist so I totally understand. But was there any consideration to shooting GOODNIGHT MOMMY in digital?

V: They recommended us shooting in digital.

S: Yeah it was the question of money and time and many suggested us shooting in digital since we are first time directors -- too much film stock, especially shooting with children and so on.

Thankfully, we had a producer (Ulrich Seidl) who understood our artistic vision and who fights for us to do that, which is rare for a producer.

V: We could convince him that it was a matter of aesthetics. And as you know, the process of shooting film on set is a lot different than just pushing a button and hoping something will happen. There is a discipline that goes with it. It's a complete concentration that you need to have shooting film.

This is what filmgoers don't really know about shooting film instead of digital.

S: Another thing is that shooting on film, it's the chemical process of shooting on a film stock that is fascinating because no one really knows how that really will turn out. It's not a perfect medium. We strive for perfection and shooting in film doesn't really give you that, which is fascinating. In digital filmmaking, the idea that you can make it look perfect afterwords seems strange to me.

V: The crazy thing is that Martin Gschlacht showed us that what they do now is digitally... you can... how do you say?


V: Yes! They can even paint certain things in where it didn't existed! It's a complete fake! Why fake something? That's completely fake, I think.

The process is completely backward: When you shoot film, you choose a stock and you build it from there. When you are shooting digital, you start it in edit stations.

V: Yes, exactly.

S: It's bad for your concentration because you think you can do it afterwards. I like where you have to make decisions while you are on set. Why would be on set if you don't make any decisions?


S: We don't like that way of thinking in the digital world at all. We like to have fun.

I have to say that the film is technically brilliant. It's beautiful and the editing is amazing. I want to ask you about some of the visual references. Especially ones in the forest and the twins exploring darkness. Was there something that you had in mind as visual inspiration?

V: One of the visual inspirations was an Austrian artist, Gottfried Helnwein. How do I describe his art... a pop artist? He is very famous. Inspiration in films, we watched all kinds of films for twenty years together and we love horror films. We have quite a big collection in our heads.

S: We wanted to not so much as emulate other films but going through the psychological aspect of two children. The thing was we wanted to watch some horror films with Martin but he is not a fan of that. He was afraid to watch some of the films we wanted to show! [They laugh.]

That's hilarious.

V: We ended up watching one of Dario Argento's films together with him. He was very nervous and excited.

What we wanted to do was playing with nature/indoors, light/darkness. The twins always want to go outside and play in nature. The mother is always inside as if she's a prisoner. The twins like the sun and light. Mother not much. We play around with that concept for two thirds of the film. Then it becomes more like cinema verité with handheld shots at the end. The blinds are open and the light comes in. That's why the horror and violence is more effective because everything is out in the open and light.

Right, right. But it's not all horror. There are many funny moments in the film too. Like, the--

V: The Red Cross

Yeah exactly. I noticed all the small moments in the film. Like the drunk with the accordion...

V & S: Oh yeah!

V: I'm so glad you mentioned him! He's one of our favorites. Almost no one mentions him! We didn't like him too much but we shot a lot of him. We had a hard time to cut the footage of him down to what was included in the film.

S: Because it was too much.

V: But he was a real character.

S: If you talk to him, you never understand him. He always shouts something but we can't make sense out of what he's saying. He lives in this kind of fucked up environment, more or less. He has a beautiful house but he doesn't live in there because he doesn't want to destroy it. He wants to make a brothel out of it. Or at least that's what I understood.

V: What unifies all these characters is that they are all real people. The Red Cross are real Red Cross workers because Severin knows them from work.

S: Yeah I was in The Red Cross.

Oh, I didn't know that!

S: Those are my colleagues. We wanted to have some real life bleeding in the film and it just worked out that way.

It was just announced that Goodnight Mommy is the official entry from Austria for Best Foreign Film at next year's Academy Awards. The film opens nationally on Friday, September 11.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Beautifully Rendered Teen Obsession Story by Melanie Laurent

Breathe (2014) - Laurent
 photo c486424c-58f5-42e3-b751-cc87f549acf1_zpsmzoepspm.jpg
On the onset, Breathe, an ingenue actress turned director Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds, The Beginners)'s sophomore effort, is just another typical sweet, slightly lascivious coming of age French fare with beautiful, young actresses. Rather, the film slowly charts an Ozon-esque territory (sans calculated plot twist and sadism) with the unexpected but well earned 3rd act. You are really in for a big surprise!

Her parents going through a bitter divorce at home, Charlie (Joséphine Japy) spends much time by herself and rely on few of her friends for companionship. Everything changes when Sarah (Lou de Laâge) shows up. For her exotic background (she tells impressionable classmates that she had to flee Nigeria when political climate got too dangerous for her NGO mom) and her mischievousness, Charlie is quickly drawn to her and they fast become bff.

Things slowly turn sour after the Sarah spends the summer vacation with Charlie's family; Charlie sees her new best friend's tendency to dominate and manipulate others. But she is madly infatuated with her.

When Charlie points out inconsistencies in Sarah's stories regarding her background and finds out who she really is, it's an all out assault from Sarah- she manipulates her friends, destroys her reputation by putting graffiti all over the school declaring Charlie is a whore, messes with her personal belongings. Torn between her loyalty toward her object of obsession and pending complete isolation and social stigma, things take a toll on good-hearted Charlie physically and mentally - soon she is failing classes and withdrawn from her friends.

Based on a best selling book, Réspire by young novelist Anne-Sophie Brasme (who wrote the book when she was 16), the subject of Breathe can be taken as those run-of-the-mill, catty High School dramas so prevalent in prime-time teen shows. But Laurent has such a knack for drawing out that indescribable feelings in those confusing, vulnerable and fleeting time we called teenage years with such tenderness and care, the film transcends its YA origins and becomes a deeply moving tragedy akin to psychological dramas of André Téchiné.

Acting in Breathe is phenomenal: Sarah, a sneering bad girl with a secret, Lou de Laâge embodies her with her sultry voice and full lips and steals the show as a typical femme fatale, yet never makes her character two dimensional. But it's wide-eyed ingenue Joséphine Japy who displays a greater talent. Playing a normal, slightly sullen good girl transforming into an emotionally distraught, ultimately destructive murderess, she possesses an amazing range. Her portrayal of an intelligent and innocent facade being slowly taken over by obssession strongly reminds me of young Juliette Binoche in Rendez-vous.

Gorgeously shot by Arnaud Potier (who also shot Laurent's debut film The Adopted) and rhythmically paced (with lots of, ahem, breathing room), Breathe is a very well orchestrated as well as acutely observed film about teen obsession that shows great and very promising directing talent of Melanie Laurent.

Breathe opens in New York on Friday, September 11 at the IFC Center and September 18 in Los Angeles.