Thursday, May 14, 2015

Not Without My Daughter

In the Name of My Daughter (2014) - Téchiné
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Based on the memoir of Renée Le Roux, about the disappearance of her daughter Agnes, André Téchiné, the French master of subtle psychological dramas, tackles real life intrigue with In the Name of My Daughter. The Le Roux case held on to French public's attention for the last 30 years and still retains some mystery. It is the esteemed director and Catherine Deneuve's 7th collaboration to date.

Deneuve plays Renée, a widow and owner of the last remaining casino that is not yet taken over by mafia. She is aided by her loyal lawyer Maurice (Guillaume Canet) to tread the troubling times. It's Maurice's cunning political maneuvering that makes Renée to take total control over the casino. But her daughter Agnes (Adèle Haenel, Water Lilies, House of Pleasures and this year's Cesar Award winner for Best Actress for Love at First Fight) arrives, expecting to cash in on her inheritance and set up a little business for herself. Athletic, sultry Agnes slowly but surely falls for studious and enigmatic Maurice who is married and also has a string of mistresses.

After getting rejected by Renée for advancement, Maurice, along with Agnes arranges for ousting of Renée from the leadership of the casino. Lovesick Agnes becomes completely dependent on him. Even though he tells her that he can never reciprocate the love she has for him, she leaves all her money matters to his able hands.

in the name of my daughter poster.JPGBut things aren't going well. Agnes, jealous of Maurice's other women, becomes suicidal and one day disappears without a trace. There are no evidences of foul play, except desperate phone calls made by Agnes to Maurice. Soon after, Maurice transfers all of Agnes's money to his account. After a long investigation, Maurice is cleared of any wrong doing.

Twenty years later, Maurice is flown back to France from South America where he lives now, to stand for the trial, accused of the murder and disappearance of Agnes, brought on by diligent work of Renée. Even though her daughter betrayed her along with him.

Building suspense or clear resolution is not what Téchiné's after in his films. Despite its terrible American title (its original title is L'homme qu'on aimait trop which means 'The Man Who Loved Too Much' which makes much more sense in the film's context), the film is yet another great example of Téchiné's astute examination of unpredictability/duplicity in human nature that he is known for.

All three principal actors are terrific in their own hammy roles. But it's Canet, whose becoming a major force in French cinema, steals the show. There is intensity and danger hidden behind his calm demeanor and small physique. He shines as a duplicitous Maurice, the inscrutable.

Beautiful French Riviera setting helps too, shot energetically by a veteran cinematographer Julien Hirsch (3 Hearts, Bird People, Godard's In Praise of Love and Notre Musique as well as Téchiné's Unforgivable and The Girl on the Train), the film is another strong outing from Téchiné.

In the Name of My Daughter opens in New York and LA in 5/15. National roll out will follow. Visit Cohen Media website for more info.

Dark Desires

Dark Star: H.R. Giger's World (2014) - Sallin
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Hans Ruedi Giger, the artist known for his nightmarish vision, passed away in 2014 at the age of 74. Luckily for us, Swiss documentarian Belinda Sallin has made a comprehensive, yet intimate portrayal of the artist just before his passing.

It was his Oscar winning work in Ridley Scott's seminal sci-fi, Alien - the facehugger, the phallic, acid bleeding creatures, the skeletal inner sanctums of the creatures, based on his paintings and sketches from his book Necronomicon (1976), that really put his often obscene dreamscapes of birth, death and sex into the mainstream consciousness.

With such dark imaginations, you'd expect a tortured soul. But as Sallin invites us into Giger's home in Zürich, Switzerland, you soon find out the opposite is true. Mild mannered and soft spoken in the last of his years, the famous artist's look and demeanor don't really match his famous creations or vice versa. His old house, filmed from corner to corner by Sallin, is like a living museum, packed with his paintings, sculptures, mountains of books filling every square inch. The front yard is planted with Giger artifacts everywhere, complete with a little haunted house ride where you literally go through trauma of birth- through the vaginal gates and with hundreds of deformed fetuses adorning the walls.

The film starts with Giger holding his first human skull, given by his father. He talks about his fascinations with death early on. He dragged the skull around on a string to get over the fear. He is surrounded by admirers and supporters (current wife and director of Giger museum Carmen Maria, poster designer and colleague Leslie Barany, psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, musician/assistant Tom Gabriel Fisher among them) who talk about Giger's incredibly kin sense of perception and appreciation for humanity's deepest, darkest desires and fear. His works are like his subconscious channeling through the other side. Many juicy anecdotes are told, including his early obsession with the Egyptian concept of afterlife after seeing a mummy in a museum and the heavy use of LSD in the 60s.

darkstarposter.JPGWith a wealth of archival material and interviews, Sallin charts the young artist selling posters of airbrushed, almost photographic images of biomechanoids which had become his signature work in the 60s and 70s. His dark images were used in many album covers as well. People flocked around him, especially women. They found his nightmarish images erotic and beautiful and full of energy. Li Tobler, a Swiss model who was depicted in many of the Giger's famous paintings, as they were deeply involved, wasn't as lucky as him channeling inner demons. Her suicide in 1975 from depression is one of the things Giger still has difficulty talking about. He chokes up as he says that not only his art couldn't help her but was possibly responsible for her demise. 

Dark Star gives us an incredible access to an artist and his dark art. It's a portrait of an artist at his most natural environment: he sketches, has a dinner with his friends, cuddles his loveable Siamese cat Müggi. Sallin also knows how to satisfy fans of the artist by providing many previously unseen Giger works and plenty more as she and crew explore nooks and crannies of his Zürich house.

Many talk about Giger's generosity to younger fans. Even after the success and fame he had found in Hollywood, he's been answering fan letters and corresponding with many of his admirers. It is still evident in book signings- whether it's at a museum in Lintz, Austria or at Giger Museum (Chateau St. Germain, which he purchased in 1998) in Gruyéres, Switzerland, that he connects with all his fans from all over the world. Most touching scene plays out when a heavily tattooed diehard fan breaks down and cries in front of his idol.

As his bookkeeper/mother-in-law tells Sallin, Giger is a very normal man who used his art to confront his fears. People tend to suppress their nightmares and dark desires, but Giger with his airbrush confronted these inhibitions head on. The images in his head was so frightening, he had to depict it. It was a form of art therapy.

Intimate and thoroughly insightful, Dark Star is a great ode to the prince of darkness of the art world.

DARK STAR: H.R. GIGER'S WORLD opens across the U.S. and Canada theatrically on May 15th. Check Icarus Films' website for more info and dates.

Cobain Remembered Expansively/Expensively

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (2015) - Morgen
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It's been more than 20 years since the death of Kurt Cobain. Crazy. And here I thought Montage of Heck is too soon. Then again, I remember watching the unwatchable doc called Kurt & Courtney where its director interjected every five minutes, "The song I just described here I can't play because Courtney Love people didn't grant me the rights to it." With an unprecedented access (with blessing of Love and everyone else), Brett Morgen paints almost a complete picture of the life of Kurt Cobain. Like many others and being in Seattle around the time when grunge happened, I too, took to the music. It wasn't the thrift shop flannels or sulking teen angst but Cobain's tortured voice that stood out among the rest and made an impression on me. Where were you the moment you heard the news that Cobain passed on? I was in college in Boston at that time. Many of us are bummed for many months.

With audio tapes, home movies, drawings, journals and beautifully animated sequences, Morgen charts mostly familiar territories - loner kid from broken home, unloved and angry, grows up to be anti-social punk rocker who couldn't handle his sudden stardom. But it's done so beautifully. His drawings come alive, and his agonized writings get accentuated. And I find the faults in its beauty. Nothing can be as dramatic as the life Cobain led and how he exited, for sure. But the slick filmmaking plays up to that with dimmed lighting and introspective framing. The whole thing feels like the director fell on a pile of money to make a documentary about the grungiest musician ever lived.