Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sneak Preview: Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2017

In its 22nd edition, Rendez-Vous with French Cinema at FSLC remains to be one of the main attractions for cinephiles in a crowded New York Spring film event season.

This year's lineup features 23 films from established filmmakers and newcomers alike, including - François Ozon, Bertrand Bonello, Bruno Dumont, Rebecca Zlotowski, Jérome Salle, Chrstophe Honoré, and the list goes on.

In conjunction with Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, FIAF presents Agnès Varda: Life as Art, taking place February 28–March 21.

A special exhibition imported from the esteemed photography festival Les Rencontres d’Arles will be on view in the Walter Reade Theater’s Furman Gallery throughout the festival, displaying newly discovered color photos from behind the scenes of Fellini’s black-and-white masterpiece 8 1/2, shot by the late Paul Ronald and accompanied by recollections from the film’s co-star Anouk Aimée.

And, for the first time, a Film Comment magazine presentation within Rendez-Vous with French Cinema: Julia Ducournau’s cannibal thriller Raw which titillated audiences at Toronto and Cannes.

The series runs March 1 - 12. Visit FSLC website for tickets and more info. And here are my samplings this year:

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Frantz is as usual for Ozon, a seductive concoction. Disguised as period costumes and sumptuous monochrome cinematography that bursts in to color in pivotal moments, but the film hold some sinister undertones of lost innocence and pain/joy of growing up.

Paula Beer, a young German actress is marvelous here to carry the whole movie on her shoulder. It's perfectly normal to see the film from a female perspective in Ozon's films, and obviously he flirts with sexual attraction and sensuality (albeit very subtly). But Anna being a German lost in unforgiving world of its enemy gives another layer.

Ozon, the master of a twisty narrative, packs much more interesting development in store in the second half- part detective story, part romance and part reflecting the current climate of the rise of nationalism where the relationship between two old neighbors - France and Germany and Europe as a whole is being tested. One of his very best films in years.

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Because of subway delays Chataigne (French comedian Vincent Macaigne), a thirty-something portly intern of Ministry of Standards, is assigned to French colonial Guiana to report on the progress of an absurd public works project titled Gui-snow, the first ski resort which will be built in the jungle of the tropical country. With a resilient tax agent mistaking him for tax evader and nothing really to live for, Chataigne head for Guiana with a second grade computer and a thick red French standard guide book. In Guiana, because he doesn't have a license, he is assigned a driver named Tarzan (Vimala Pons), another intern from the Ministry of Versailles, seeing over the completion of French style garden. With humidity, mud, millions of manacing insects, allegators, monkeys and other jungle elements hostile to humans, the duo soon gets lost in the jungle. They have to survive by their wits.

It's another madcap comedy by Antonin Peretjatko and starring Pons, a circus trained actress who worked with Peretjatko and Macaigne in The Daughter of 14th of July. Taking a jab at absurd notion of taming the jungle and the first world arrogance, Struggle for Life thrives on slapstick comedy and racy humor a la Woody Allen's Bananas and largely rides on the charm of Pons who dons hot pants with cigarette forever dangling from her pouty mouth. Macaigne is a very lucky man to be paired up with Pons and spend entire film with her in the jungle alone. Oh, Mathieu Amalric shows up as a swinging bureaucrat in charge of Project Gui-snow in Guiana.

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One year artist residency in an ancient villa in sunny Medici is the setting for a delicious daydream that involves a budding writer Camille (Clotilde Hesme) and a photographer Axéle (Jenna Thiam).

There are illicit affairs, artistic jealousy, moving statues and ghosts. Camile's older and more successful writer husband (Tchkéy Karyo) tags along for the trip with their young daughter. But soon she finds his presence overbearing. Axéle's affair with a married man doesn't lead her anywhere and she soon has an artistic identity crisis.

Daydreams has self-reflexiveness of Philippe Garrel (director Caroline Deruas' older, more established husband) and Ozon's playfulness. It's a very accomplished debut of a talented writer/filmmaker. Daydreams also allots ample screen time for Hesme's big green eyes in series of close ups. Great.

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A young blonde boy, Simon, wakes. He kisses his girlfriend who's still in bed, sneaks out of the window to join his buddies to go surfing. It's winter. The whole beginning sequence of Katell Quillévéré's Heal the Living has a fluidity and detached youthful spirituality of Gus Van Sant movie.

It's an organ transplant weepee - 'An accident cuts a young man's life short and gives another a second chance in life' story. We've seen this before, many times. What elevates this lifetime movie of the week premise is its ensemble cast which includes Emmanuelle Seigner, Kool Shen, Tahar Rahim and Alice de Lencquesaing.

Through Simon, we see the glimpse of other's lives - both professional or private in equal measure. It's the space between the brain and the heart- which makes us human that Quillévéré explores. It would've definitely turned out corny in less assured hands. It's remarkable that Quillévéré, with just 2 other films under her belt achieves something so graceful and thoughtful.

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Sophie (Caroline Grant), a mischievous young girl leads a normal bourgeois life in a chateau with a beautiful but sickly mom (Golshifteh Farahani). Sophie's antics could be sometimes too much for her mom and friends who could tolerate her as girl with the too much imagination and energy. But her journey to the new world (America) ends in tragedy and leaves her orphaned. She now comes back to the country under the care of strict, unloving stepmother Mme. Fichini. She rejoins with her best pals and their kind hearted mother Mme. de Fleurville (Anaïs Demoustier).

After sexually charged interpretation of Greek mythology, Metamophorses in 2014, Honoré returns with unabashedly unadulterated kid's movie, Sophie's Misfortune, based on a beloved 19th century children's story by Countess of Segur. He gets mindbogglingly true to life performances by youngsters. It reminded me of Jacques Doillon's Ponet. Great use of seamless animation too to portray kid's imagination running amok. I didn't expect this from Honoré and it's a nice surprise.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Eat the Old

The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) - McCarthy
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Now this is much better. There is fungal infection going around that turns people into a flesh eating zombies. In the bunker, scientists and military officers are trying to find a cure dissecting kids who are born infected and immune to zombies but can still think and talk like a normal human being. The carers have to be very careful handling these kids and follow strict regimen (tethered to a wheelchair days and nights at gunpoint), otherwise there will be hell to pay. One such carers, Ms. Justineau (Gemma 'sexy in Military sweater' Arterton) develops attachment with one of her subjects, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), the smartest girl in class. The inevitable happens and the base becomes overrun by zombies. Justineau, Melanie, no nonsense Dr. Caldwell (awesome Glenn Close) and hardass Sgt. Parker (Paddy Considine) escape and try to reconnect with civilization. Except urges to eat warm flesh here and there, Melanie is quite helpful and resourceful because she loves Justineau. But Caldwell wants to dissect her to save the humanity.

With such a premise, Colm McCarthy goes about his business serenely and slowly. There are jolts of violence but it's a thoughtful film without being corny. Gifts in the title doesn't refer to the kid's superpower or anything, but the ability to think for herself and it proves to be her best asset at the end. Great film.


The Lure (2015) - Smoczynska
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Half baked ideas and intentionally campy approach, The Lure is an epitome of an amateur hour at international film festival circuit. The title is an apt one. You are supposed to be lured in by a pair of young topless girls and candy colored palette and catchy 80s music numbers only to find there is nothing else in it. There isn't an ounce of creativity or originality.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Game Over Man, Game Over!!

RIP Bill Paxton

Make America Great Again?

I Am Not Your Negro (2016) - Peck
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American writer James Baldwin is the subject of Raoul Peck's searing documentary I Am Not Your Negro. Baldwin, extremely articulate in his own words (narrated serenely here by Samuel Jackson), tells the world, especially whites, what it is like to be a black man in America. Through the death of Medgar Evers, Macolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Baldwin examines the hateful history of the US, supposedly the greatest nation on earth, the land of freedom and aplenty.

Juxtaposing the footage of slavery, hanging, police brutality and what's been going on these days with Ferguson, Travon Martin and Black Lives Matter, Peck never let you forget what Baldwin taught us - being optimistic means very different in the lives Americans. Being alive is optimistic for blacks. Peck shows that nothing has changed since the Civil Rights Movement era. I Am Not Your Negro is an extremely pessimistic movie in that regard. Make America Great Again? You mean for whites? On the blood and sweat of all the others? Because America was never great to others, EVER.

I watched the film with the sold out crowd at Film Forum. It is sometimes comforting to watch a film in the room full of so-called cultured left-wing intelligencia. But I couldn't bring myself up to join them applauding at the end of the movie because I Am Not Your Negro is a definitely depressing movie, not a joyous one.

Cyber War and Its Presentation on Film

Zero Days (2016) - Gibney
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At the height of 'Iranian nuclear program' scare in the early 2010s, Obama administration and Israelis developed a internet virus called Stuxnet. The cyber attacks on nuclear centrifuge sites in Iran, Gibney presupposes in Zero Days, which interrupted Iran's nuclear ambition just for a little while, was carried out by impatient Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu after tweaking the virus without Washington's approval. Hence the appeasement from Obama administration with the historic nuclear deal in 2015 and brought on sour relations with the Israelis ever since. Also, this cyber aggression set the precedents for other nations doing the same on the US- glaring example being Russian hacking of the 2016 election.

It's all eye opening, mindboggling stuff. Gibney supports his thesis with interviews of countless heavyweights in gov intelligence community. But as with his other documentaries, Gibney almost ruins it with cheesy, completely unnecessary graphics. It's important information delivered badly, almost unbelievably so. There needs to be some sort of revolution in documentary filmmaking because so called reputable mainstream docs make me wanna vomit.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bressonian Comedy Fail

Slack Bay/Ma Loute (2016) - Dumont
Dumont does Discreet Charm of Bourgeoisie? Known for his austere films about human conditions or religious faith being tested, Dumont, hailing from Northern France, sets Slack Bay in Channel Coast, just like in most of his films. So how do I feel about Dumont doing comedy... I quietly bailed out on his 4 part TV series Lil' Quin Quin. I found its weird sets of characters (played by non-actors, true to Dumont tradition) coming across as extremely inauthentic, opposite of his dramas. He does another all-out comedy here, but this time with big French movie stars pitted against another set of weird looking non-actors.

The Van Peteghems, (Fabrice Luchini and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) with their two daughters are vacationing on the coast in their 'Egyption style' mansion, overlooking a picturesque bay consist of sand dunes and cliffs. They are soon joined by Aude (Juliette Binoche), M. Peteghem's sister with her tomboy daughter/son Billie (stunning newcomer Raph) and mentally challenged Christian (Jean-Luc Vincent), Mme. Peteghem's brother. Down below, the Bruforts, a long faced hearty fisherman clan live, making extra pennies by carrying visitors (man and woman) across the channel in their arms slogging through knee deep water- I guess rich doesn't want their clothes wet? People have been disappearing in the bay and Laurel and Hardy of a bumbling police inspectors are dispatched to solve the mystery. Just like the police in Lil' Quin Quin, the duo in Slack Bay are also extremely inept and disarmingly peculiar in their behavior and mannerisms.

The thing is, it's really uncomfortable to see all these esteemed actors acting grossly over the top characters- Luchini slurrs his lines in his hunchback posture, Tedeschi is overly hysterical, Binoche's acting, with rolling eyes and over-exaggerated faint spells, can only be described as camp.

Yes, the notion of 'Eat the rich' is literally fulfilled in Slack Bay. The Van Peteghems are nothing but snotty nosed inbreds. But Dumont doesn't show how the Bruforts are any better. There is a scene where Ma Loute Brufort (Brandon Lavieville) brutally beating Billie after he finds out she is a he. I find that very disturbing. The faces of Dumont's Bruegel-esque non-actors worked to his advantage to ground his films firmly on the ground. With well known actors acting like retards in Slack Bay, it loses grip on its reality and floats away like the obese police inspector does in the movie.

M. Dumont, you've proven that your Bressonian filmmaking doesn't work on comedies. Can you go back to searing dramas now?

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Kedi (2016) - Torun
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Long before the internet made cats everyone's favorite animal, the cat love has been going on for thousands of years in the city of Istanbul, Turkey. In the sprawling metropolitan city of 20 million people, hundreds of thousands of street cats co-exist, vying for every inch of its ever expanding territory.

Director Ceyda Torun and her cinematographer Charlie Wuppermann capture some of these beautiful, eccentric feline creatures and people who love them in the stunningly picturesque city.

Kedi starts out with a yellow tabby as she makes the daily rounds in the bustling neighborhood. She meows at humans at outdoor cafes for food. It seems she has her route all mapped out. She brings a piece of pastry in her mouth all the way across town for her four kittens. 'She's got character,' her human caregiver tells us. As the film concentrates on a handful of cats with their stories told by their human counterparts, we get the distinct feeling that many Istanbulites have accepted that cats are just as human and full of distinctive characters as they are.

Everywhere the camera points, we see cats: they are on the rooftops, building ledges, steps, cars, boats, tombstones, in the streets, basements, outdoor markets, cafes, restaurants... It's a city that seems to be completely devoid of animal pounds.The city can be easily renamed Catstanbul.

There is Gamsiz, a short haired black-and-white badass who forever seems to be in trouble. 'He was a mess, getting into fights with other cats every time,' his baker carer tells the filmmaker. 'Doesn't it get expensive?' Torun asks him off-camera. He tells her that everybody in the city has a running tab with the vets.

Then there is the neighborhood psychopath, a female cat who is very territorial and very good at stealing fish from fishmongers. She also prefers heavy petting. 'She likes it rough', her carer says at the outdoor tea house, massaging her as she lounges on a chair.

There is an aristocat named The Gentleman, an overweight smokey who appeared at a fancy restaurant one day and never left. He doesn't like to be petted nor wants to come in and beg for food, but when he gets hungry, he paws at the window.

Many humans in the film says it was the cats who saved their lives. When they were down and life seemed hopless, caring for them gave them peace and worked as the best kind of therapy. 'No drugs would cure me, but the cats did,' one carer recalls.

The general sentiment of the film is that if you don't love animals, you don't love people. The voice over in the beginning goes, 'Unlike dogs, cats know god exists. Dogs think we are god, but cats know we are just a middleman. ... If all the cats disappear one day, Istanbul will lose its soul too.'

Istanbul is a great mix of ancient culture and cosmopolitan living. Torun slightly makes a socio-political statement with the opposing shots of iconic mosques and their towering minarets by the sea and new modern skyscrapers. People in many gentrifying neighborhoods worry about not themselves, but the fate of thousands of cats who will be losing their green territories to the glass and concrete. There are stenciled graffittis against highly unpopular president Recep Tayyip Edogan- 'Erdo-gone!' in the background.

With the camera constanlty on the cat's eye level, the filmmakers follow the creatures through labyrinthine back streets. With some beautiful shallow depth photography and spectacular drone shots of the city, Kedi is a love song to Istanbul and its cats.

Just like watching cat videos on Youtube when you are feeling down, Kedi works as a purrfect antidote for all the ugliness going on in the world.

Oscilloscope Laboratories will release Kedi on February 10 in New York at the Metrograph and on February 17 in Los Angeles at the Royal. National expansion will follow

Monday, February 6, 2017

All the Pretty Horses

Michael Clayton (2007) - Gilroy
Was on TV. It was a pretty riveting. The moral angst in George Clooney and Tom Wilkinson's faces is so meaty and heavy, it could smother a dozen vegetarians to death. Tilda Swinton is superb as nervous as wreck corporate whore who gets her biggest comeuppances at the end. You can see the lineage of her Karen in Toni Erdmann's Ines. Really though, the best thing about Michael Clayton is that George Clooney is saved by bunch of horses.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Macabre Japan

Blind Woman's Curse (1970) - Ishii
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Wow, this movie is batshit crazy! Meiko Kaji plays Akemi, the head of the Tachibana clan, known for the dragon tattoos on their back. The rivaling clan wants to take over its territory by any means necessary- planting drugs in businesses in Tachibana controlled area, making alliances with shady and weird characters, hiring assassins, etc. One such assassin happens to be a vengeful blind swordwoman (Hoki Tokuda) who has grudge against Akemi ever since she slew her husband and blinded her. Director Teruo Ishii (Horrors of Malformed Men, The Joys of Torture series) known in Japan as king of cult, pulls all stops here with macabre images - an underground opium den orgies, water torture chambers, grand guignol style theater, supernatural forces, a creepy hunchback, a red loinclothed creepy man, expressionistic matte painting... the list goes on and on. Action packed and super violent, not only Blind Woman's Curse a showcase for Kaji's martial art skills but also her raised eyebrows and deadly stare, a prelude to what's to come.


Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (1973) - Ito
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Third in the Female Prisoner 701 series, Beast Stable finds Sasori (Scorpion, played by steely eyed Meiko Kaji) hacking off an arm of a pursuing detective with a kitchen knife in the subway even before the credits roll. It's not a chicks in prison movie as much as a girl on the run fugitive movie. The premise is lurid and way over melodramatic with a storyline involving Sasori's aide Yuki, a street walker with a retarded brother she regularly has sex with. But Toei studio director Shunya Ito (who has directed the first 3 Female Prisoner movies to critical acclaim) has enough flair for visuals to keep things interesting. Indeed, a nod to Yojimbo and the Third Man-esque sewer chase scenes have enough artistry to rise above its mere exploitation label the series is accustomed to.

Like a ninja, Sasori hunts down every man and woman who done her and Yuki and some other prostitute wrong and brings down a surgical scalpel to their necks. Feared by her enemies, she becomes a some kind of indestructible force, almost an imaginary boogey(wo)man by the end.

Kaji, in an almost silent, physically demanding role, lets her death-stare speak volumes as a dead-girl-incarnate for vengeance. She lets others do the baring - both soul and body. She fully becomes a persona, a symbol of vengeance, a kindred spirit of sisterhood to those who are abused. I vote Sasori for president!