Tuesday, January 31, 2023


Godland (2022) - Pálmason screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.36.43 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.35.30 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.31.31 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.44.40 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.36.32 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.46.18 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.36.07 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.46.50 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.38.04 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.39.23 pm screen shot 2023-01-24 at 9.40.10 pm Godland, directed by Icelandic director Hlynur Pálmason, is inspired by the first photographs found in the early settlement in the southwest of Iceland. The film has an awe-inspiring, majestic setting characteristic of many films shot in the active volcanic island nation. Indeed, everywhere Pálmason and his DP Maria von Hausswolff points their camera to, in its full frame portraiture style, the film is cinematic as hell. But it's not the gentle, sun-kissed nature we see in Terrence Malick films. Rather, it's an unforgiving, overwhelming, and downright threatening environment. There's little poetry or lyricism. Matching that backdrop, the film is not about one man's admirable, unwavering faith or enduring love. It's about guilt, envy, pride, prejudice, distrust, lust... in other words, humanity in a nutshell, and its insignificance against Mother Nature.

Young Danish priest Lucas (Elliott Crosset Hove) is ordered to travel to Iceland, which was a remote Danish Territory back in the late 19th century, to build a church for the small Danish settlement there. He is assigned a translator (Hilmar Guðjónsson) who is a half Dane and half Icelandic, and a small crew of Icelandic laborers. With his clunky large plate camera set up always tethered to his back (with upside down tripod sticking out over his head and shoulders like some sort of a religious artifact), he is an uneven match against scruffy crew of seasoned working-class journeymen.

When they get to the shore of Iceland, they hook up with Ragnar (Ingvar Sigurdsson), a brutish Icelandic man, as their guide. Ragnar's down-to-earth workingman ethics and his local knowledge of the land is a stark contrast to Lucas's nebbish priest from the so-called civilization. They don't see things eye to eye on many occasions.

At first it seems reasonable to trek the rugged surroundings, as they soak in the beauty and adventure spirits. But things fall apart quickly when they reach a river crossing. Against Ragnar's advice, Lucas orders the party to cross the raging river. Some of the horses carrying the supplies get swept away in the rapids, resulting the drowning of the translator whom the priest built a sort of friendship with. Wrecked with guilt, Lucas has a nervous breakdown shortly thereafter, and falls gravely ill. It is Ragnar who carries Lucas, tied to the back of the horse, all the way to the settlement.

Lucas is recovered in the care of Anna (Vic Carmen Sonne) and Ida (Ída Mekkín Hlynsdóttir), two daughters of Carl (Jacob Lohmann), a statesman of the settlement who helps build the church next to his home. Carl is stupefied for the fact that Lucas and his crew came all the way on foot, rather than sail to the settlement which would be much easier and faster. “To see the land and get to know its inhabitants?” he muses, puzzled.

Lucas is smitten by the older daughter Anna. Carl, sensing there is a weakness in Lucas’s character, warns her not to get close to him. These people come and go, he says. But Anna secretly yearns to go back to the motherland, back to civilization.

As the church construction is near completion and Ragnar and his crew is about to head back to their dwellings, things get tense between Lucas and Ragnar. First Lucas scoffs at the idea of Ragnar being interested in Christianity. They confront each other at a local celebration where they take part in traditional wrestling match in front of all the settlers and laborers. Then Lucas refuses to take photographs of Ragnar as a parting gift. Lucas’s deep seeded prejudices comes bubbling up to the surface. These Icelandic savages don’t deserve God’s love. Ragnar counters with extreme measures.

With its circle of life ending, Godland is a contemplation of us humans’ fleeting existence on earth. In a true Herzogian sense, with large brushstrokes, Pálmason draws a grand allegory that we are after all, elemental. And it's magnificent.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Life's Curve Balls

One Fine Morning (2022) - Hansen-Løve One Fine Morning After experimenting with the self-reflexive Bergman Island where she explored the origins of the artistic inspirations and the nature of art influencing life and vice versa, esteemed writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve comes back to her usual theme of grief and passage of time with quietly devastating yet lovely, One Fine Morning. The theme, I truly believe, that no other contemporary film directors can put in words and on screen, as acutely and sensitively as she can. With exceptional script and acting, One Fine Morning is a finely composed filmmaking at its best.

Léa Seydoux plays Sandra, a Parisian widow juggling life with tending to her grade school daughter, taking care of her aging father while working as a translator. She leads a relatively quiet existence with her loving daughter Sarah in her tiny apartment. She is a learned woman who speaks several languages and is very efficient at her job. But it's her father, Georg (Pascal Greggory) who's in sharp cognitive decline, and in great need of help with everything from opening the front door of his flat, to going to the bathroom. He often forgets where he is and where he places things. With her siblings busy with their own lives, it seems the duty to look after him largely falls on Sandra. As she and her mom/Georg's ex (Nicole Garcia), discuss the next steps, she realizes that Georg is facing grim prospects- Retirement home in Paris is expensive, has a long waitlist, and his pension alone will not cover it. And they've heard so many horror stories about the condition of many of these establishments. They are pretty much a waiting place for undignified death. He will also need to sell his flat, which is filled to the brim with books, as he was a scholar and a teacher. 'What do we do with all of his books?' Sandra wonders out loud. 'These were his life.' Françoise, maybe cold but more practical, tells her that they will have to throw away most of them. 'Why don't you just burn them?' She quips. Hansen-Løve doesn't shy away from all the life's complications. These are real quandaries people actually face in life. So is love and relationship.

Sandra finds love in an unexpected place. She runs into Clément (Melvil Poupaud), an acquaintance of her dead husband, at a playground while playing with her daughter. He is married and has a young son. He is an astro-chemist and takes long expedition trips to the remotest areas. There is a mutual attraction and they can't help but fall for each other. But he is not ready to leave his family for her. This is again, another added complication Sandra wasn't really looking for in life. Even though she still pretty young, she had given up on any romance long ago, resigned to the idea that part of her life is already over. But life throws curve balls at you like that.

It is almost unthinkable to see Seydoux, a glamorous international movie starlet as a sad, frumpy, middle aged single mom. But with short haircut and no makeup in her mom jeans, she is remarkably natural as Sandra, who thinks she is over her prime, weathering life's problems. In her understated way, Seydoux conveys Sandra's enormous compassion toward her father and deep understanding of his predicament - a brilliant academic whose age rapidly robbing away at what he once was and awkward shyness of finding herself to love and be loved again which she already had given up on. It is by far the best performance of her career if not the most poignant. Greggory, once a dashing leading man in French cinema not twenty years ago, plays demanding role of a brilliant mind in cognitive decline. Garcia gives matter of fact, no nonsense woman who provides much needed dry humor as she banters with her new husband about the state of French politics, portraying the embodiment of a Macron liberal. Poupaud is also on point with nerdy energy and charm, equally surprised by his own forwardness with the declaration of love.

As with all of her previous films, Hansen-Løve is a keen observer of fleeting life. This time she is tackling the theme of aging and decline, which is not a subject many filmmakers touch upon. This is part of life many people don't want to think about but fast becoming an issue as the elderly population grows larger. It makes you think about the attitudes towards elderly. Once brilliant, vibrant minds who need our compassion and treated with dignity, not pity and sympathy. Because we will all become old one day. One Fine Morning, as the simple title suggests, all we can do is face the life one day at a time. Leave all the sorrows of yesterdays behind because there will be another beautiful morning tomorrow.

One Fine Morning opens 1/27 in New York and Los Angeles. National release will follow.

Cinema Saved My Life: Mia Hansen-Løve on One Fine Morning

Mia-Hansen-Love It's always a pleasure to talk to Mia Hansen-Løve, one of my favorite contemporary directors in French cinema. Her astute observations of life and time passing always gets me. Her new film One Fine Morning, featuring mega movie star Léa Seydoux in an unrecognizable role as a single mother who juggles motherhood, aging parent and love, is a truly touching and moving film. The interview was conducted via Zoom in December. We talked about the film in detail, about Seydoux, her obsession and how filmmaking saved her life!

One Fine Morning opens 1/27 in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. The national roll out will follow.

The title of the film One Fine Morning/Un beau martin is a simple one and it reminds me of Yasujiro Ozu’s. The theme of time passing and family relations are all familiar Ozu territory. Is it safe to assume Ozu’s influence in your films?

Thank you for comparing my films to Ozu’s. I am a big admirer of his films. Yes. I loved his minimalism and also how restrained his style is, the way he looks at life without adding documentary to it, how he presents it straight with proper distance, proper frame and proper rhythm. There’s a feeling of truth, you know. I don’t pretend to say that I do the same way. I’m trying to find my own language, but I am sensitive to that kind of philosophy of filmmaking. His film Late Spring, for instance, haunted me a lot. There’s a lot of father-daughter relationships in Ozu’s films. It’s the subject I am very sensitive to.

I don’t know if I can say I ‘chose’ the title. One Fine Morning. It was some kind of illumination. During the writing process, the title just appeared to me. It was the same for my first feature, All is Forgiven. You don’t even know why, but there it is, and that is the title. I like it because it was not an intellectual process. It’s there where it should be. The title has to impose itself and then you can intellectualize about it and find reasons to it, not the other way around. Those are the best titles. Now I know what the title means: there’s the notion of the beginning, of clarity. Clarity is a word that matters to me a lot as a writer and a director but also as a person in my life. I enjoy that the notion of clarity in this title. But there is also a fairytale aspect of it. Do you know il était une fois, in German it’s Es war einmal…

You mean ‘Once Upon a Time…’?

And to me One Fine Morning is another kind of ‘Once Upon a Time’. There is something that has to do with storytelling and innocence. It’s like the lullabies in my films I use. I love lullabies in my films and it connects with the childhood, also we hear them as adults too and there’s a connection with this title as well. It’s a poetic idea of course.

Something like a New Beginning.

Yes, new beginning and it’s a difficult story and a sad story but there is a pleasure of a story being told. There’s something cathartic about fairy tales. We love to be told stories. It’s all unconscious though. I am thinking about it now and analyzing it now. (laughs)

I think choosing that title has to do with the desire of not only dealing with harsh reality but also has to do with romantic, cathartic way to hear stories and to tell stories.

Speaking of music and speaking of lullabies. I noticed Jan Johansson’s music in the beginning. Is there a story behind it?

Do you know Jan Johansson?

I’ve heard of him, but since I saw your film, I’ve been listening to him a lot.

I have to confess something I did here that I'd never done and probably will never do again, I stole that track from one of the lesser known Bergman films--


The film that I love, it’s called The Touch. If you have seen the film, it would make sense. The two films have something in common in a way – an adulterous passion outside of a marriage. It’s a Bergman film that has been haunting me when I was preparing the film. And that music was haunting me so much that I couldn’t think of any other melody for my film. The music was not composed for Bergman by the way, it existed before. And I am using it again.

Interesting. Good to know.

Thinking about the role of Sandra. I wasn’t expecting Léa Seydoux in that role. Seydoux is a glamourous movie star and here she plays a single mom without any makeup. How did you get to choose here for the film?

Yes she is glamourous and yes she can be sophisticated in films and as a person too, but there is also a rawness about Léa. It’s not only that she plays with simplicity and rawness, but also there’s something almost masculine side of her. You feel she can be both, which is quite special, even without knowing her personally. While working with her it is quite apparent that her rawness is almost Bressonian. I find her presence very strong. On the one hand she has this star quality about her on the other hand, she is extremely simple and plain in her acting, like an Ozu or Bresson actress – she doesn’t force anything, there’s no intention and that’s all I care about when I deal with actors. I still love working with unknown, non-actors and with children and teenagers, as well as working with Isabelle Huppert, Vicky Krieps or Nicole Garcia. Both cases, what I care about is innocence. That’s what I admire. And sometimes it’s challenging when I work with actors who has great deal of experiences. It’s challenging to have them get rid of all their habits and let them show themselves as who they really are, and not pretend, you know. With Léa, it was incredibly easy. Easy for me at least. It’s what I am looking for in actors. She preserved the quality of innocence in her acting. It’s so easy with her, it’s almost embarrassing for me. Even with all the films with all these directors, she still has that innocence about her. Even more impressive is the emotions she brings on set. I mean, all the actors know how to cry on command, but it can be very mechanical without emotions. But when Léa cries in the scene, I cry. It never happened to me before. It’s hard to tell with her if she is acting or really living the scene. It is almost disturbing. Even when it’s not in the script, in some moments, just reading the lines with Pascal (Greggory) who plays her father, she becomes very emotional. She becomes the character and they become virtually the same.

Pascal Greggory’s character, once an intellectual person who is losing himself due to Alzheimers was heartbreaking. I was thinking about the physicality of your being. That all you have left at the end is your books. Do you think about your mortality often and what you will leave behind? Is that what this movie is partly about?

I think of that all the time. (Laughs) That’s why I started making films when I was 18 years old. I was obsessed with passing of time and what we are going to leave behind, at the age when you are not supposed to think about those things. I think that’s partly why I became a director. Some people would say naïve, but for me it was very efficient way of fighting against time and destruction it brings. The fact that life and death happen and time carries on and vanishes everything… I had that obsession ever since I was young. That makes me say today that I was a very melancholic young woman. And that’s why I say sometimes that cinema saved my life. Because cinema brought me back to the present. It made me enjoy the moments. It made me feel more rooted, thanks to the intensity of making films, especially the actual production (shooting). The intensity made me feel that I was alive and present in life, you know. Before I discovered making films, I always felt a little bit disconnected – the awareness of the passing of time took too much space in my head and it unbalanced my life. It all started there for me. I think it’s easier for me now but that obsession is still part of who I am. It influences my inspiration and my characters and art.

The father character who figuratively disappears which is inspired by my father. It is difficult to see my father disappear. But I want to and need to believe that there’s something remains. When I made this film, I am trying to meditate on that. I don’t want to cheat or tell lies to myself. I am trying to look at life the way it is. But I am trying to look further and find meaning to that. And I am trying to cling on to the idea that there is a soul, even with or without believing in god. And I am trying to approach the idea of what a soul is.

You will not be forgotten. I can tell you that.

(Laughs) I was talking about my father…

I know.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Body Parts

Une femme mariée (1964) - Godard screen shot 2023-01-14 at 11.23.16 am screen shot 2023-01-14 at 12.31.22 pm screen shot 2023-01-14 at 7.42.49 am screen shot 2023-01-14 at 8.02.49 am married woman 1 screen shot 2023-01-14 at 11.49.42 am screen shot 2023-01-14 at 11.56.42 am Macha Méril's Charlotte is a coquettish married woman vacillating between two men: a brutish plane obsessed husband (Philippe Leroy) and a narcissistic actor lover (Bernard Noël). It starts out with the static shot of each body part of Charlotte. Her days are spent on shopping, going to the cafes and the movies. She finds out that she is pregnant but doesn't know who the father is.

Godard's take on women being objectified in the consumerist 60s is on full display here. Also the talk of holocaust hangs like a cloud. Charlotte doesn't know what Auschwitz is as the men talk about it on the way back from the nazi trials in Hamburg. Biting and provocative.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Worldly Desires of Intellect

Yo, la peor de todas/I, The Worst of All (1990) - Bemberg Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.17.18 AMScreen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.26.56 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.33.18 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 9.55.43 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 10.09.08 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 10.09.14 AM Screen Shot 2023-01-02 at 10.51.30 AM Based on a historical figure, Juana Inés de la Cruz, I, The Worst of All, tells trials and tribulations of a catholic nun who lived in the 17th Century Mexico. Sister Juana who was a poet, playwright, theologian and a philosopher. And because it was unorthodox for woman to be an inquisitive and brilliant intellectual in the age of inquisition, she was persecuted by the patriarchal church and forced to denounce her 'sins'. Maria Luisa Bemberg directs the unflinching version of Sister Juana's story. Assumpta Serna plays Sister Juana, whose brilliance was the subject of both envy and jealousy in the convent. She is afforded with a large library and fine material things, like a telescope and harpsicord within the convent walls. She makes a big impression on the viceroy sent from Spain to the new world, and strikes up the friendship with the Vicereine (played by Dominique Sanda) who feels a certain kinship with the Sister (convent/marriage = jail). The Viceroy and his wife become an ardent supporter and protector of Juana against the vicious archbishop who thinks Juana is a nothing but a harlot and heretic.

Things get dire when Viceroy is called back to Spain and replaced by another. With her protection gone, Sister Juana becomes the target of archbishop's fury. Bemberg paints rampant religious hypocracy and sexism where women's intelligence were lauded only on the surface but ignored and actively repressed under the eyes of the church. Many of her supporters turn their backs on her. Then the plague hits the convent, where she devotes herself to the caring for the dying. It is her only confessor, the unnamed Father who reappears at the end to hear her confession, of her pride, her self-love and praises. He tells her that it's her selflessness in the time of plague is what God wanted all along.

I, the Worst of All, is a searing indictment of hypocracy of the religious institution and clear eyed examination of the true devotion and worldly desires of intellect. What happened to Sister Juana is a real tragedy.