Thursday, October 19, 2023


A Woman Under the influence (1974) - Cassavetes Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.30.18 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.35.10 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.36.06 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.40.15 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.41.56 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.42.45 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.43.35 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.44.19 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.45.16 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.46.08 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.48.45 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.50.42 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.35.55 PM Screen Shot 2023-10-18 at 10.52.47 PM What more can be said about John Cassavetes's A Woman Under the Influence, I mean really? The immediacy, the realness of it all. Gena Rowlands's performance is perhaps the greatest of all in the cinema history?

Always portraying working class people with eccentricities, people who are little bit out of the norm. I keep thinking that all the people who are considered being on the spectrum and there's a large support community nowadays, if Mabel would be perceived differently today than back then - at least the frustration of Nick (Peter Falk) would've been largely aleviated because a half of the film is about him not knowing what to do about his cooky wife, other than raising his voice and knocking her down. For today's standards, Mabel might not have that much filter when it comes to social interactions, but it's not too extreme to be that upsetting. It says much about Nick and misguided masculinity as much as her.

Overall, it's a great, affecting love story between two people. Also I have to say kids performances are also amazing, especially the little girl who plays Maria. The beach scene where Nick agressively dragging his children to 'have a good time', and Maria running away was so good. These women can not be contained! What a film! Instant favorite!

Monday, October 16, 2023


Ferrari (2023) - Mann Ferrari Rubber, metal and mayhem ensue in Michael Mann's biopic Ferrari. Gone is his digital experimentation (Miami Vice, Public Enemies and Black Hat), but the testosterone level remains high and stoic manliness remains. Plus, it has Penelope Cruz chewing up every scene she is in as Laura Ferrari.

After almost comical monochrome footage of old car racing with Adam Driver's face grafted on them with old timey music and everything, the film settles on 1957 and silver haired Enzo Ferrari (Driver) is seen gently sneaking out of the idyllic villa he shares with his mistress Lina (Shailene Woodley) and their young son. Unbeknownst his fiery wife Laura (Cruz), who shares the ownership of the company, Enzo has been living a double life.

In Moderna, a quaint small town that hosts powerhouse custom sports car companies like Ferrari and its rival Maserati, where the local priest preaches in car metaphors, the times are changing. These local prides are having financial difficulties. For Enzo, it's all about craftsmanship and racing. But the company's finance in red, unless he and Laura goes on partnering with bigger companies, like Ford or Fiat, and mass produce, the company will go out of business.

Having lost his son to illness, the Ferraris' marriage has gone cold. Mann, based on the late Troy Kennedy Martin's script, presents both funny and revealing moments with Enzo and Laura visiting the grave of their son separately, back-to-back, to mourn the dead alone. Enzo talks to his dead son. Laura smiles in silence. But being a former racecar driver himself, Enzo's focus is always on racing and forming a winning team in the future races. After losing one of his drivers in a terrifying accident during a test run, he gives a chance to a young gun, Portago (Gabriel Leone). Enzo, addressed as commendatore by the locals, is seen as cold, uncaring man who only cares about winning.

Back then, racecar drivers are as popular as movie stars, every boy wants to be them and every girl wants to date them. Portago and many of Ferrari drivers are followed everywhere by adoring fans and paparazzi and subject of gossipy magazines. It's the danger where a millisecond decision-making can mean life or gruesome death that enthralls the spectators. It may also have to do with custom made, curvy, phallic shaped, sleek red cars they drive. Enzo instructs everyone to write a letter to the loved ones and leave them in their hotel room before every race, as it is customary to the profession.

Adam Driver, whose physiognomy could go either appropriate or not depending on the project, is convincing as a man in his late 50s, if he doesn't remind you too much of his old man skit from SNL. Driver portrays Ferrari's swagger and arrogance naturally and amiably. But it's Penelope Cruz who steals the show whenever she's on screen. Her Laura is a gun wielding firebrand who doesn't back down from anyone and anything. There is a great scene where Laura agrees to hand over her part of the ownership of the company, in order for Enzo to negotiate the possible partnership with bigger companies. Under one condition, she says. She wants her handgun back, which she'd fired on him before for his infidelity. After a brief tense moment, they smile at each other and proceed to tear each other's clothes off. It's that Laura he married long ago and Cruz embodies her with gusto. Shailene Woodley plays Lina with earnest. She is the proto-feminist type who doesn't want to stay behind the doors as a mistress forever. It's her soft feature that contrasts Cruz's angles. Patrick Dempsey shows up as Piero, a seasoned silver fox of the Ferrari team, who ends up winning the race.

The horrifying accident scene in the beginning presages what's to come as the Ferrari team prepares for the grueling, more than a thousand miles open road race, Mille Miglia, that encompasses Rome, Bologna, Florence, Parma and others. The route goes through densely populated cities, snaking roads up in the mountains and small rural towns alike with thousands of spectators on the side of the road. Stakes are very high, so is the danger. Mann, with his team of drivers, along with stunt coordinators, provides spectacular experience and unapologetically graphic mayhem.

Compared with his foray into digital technology over the years, Ferrari feels much more sumptuous. With production design and period costumes - men in dark suits and glasses, it resembles Godfather - especially with the opera and church scenes. But it's the racing scenes that are pure Mann - with tight close-ups and shaky camera; the speed and tension presented on screen are palpable. It's all about craftsmanship, on both counts - the filmmaker and the subject he portrays.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Native Americans Take Flight

Eureka (2023) - Alonso Eureka Argentine filmmaker, Lisandro Alonso, breaks 9-year silence with Eureka, after Viggo Mortensen starring meta-western Jauja. In an episodic structure, the film freely contemplates the state of indigenous people of the vast American continents, the past and present, as well as their uneasy relationship with cinema. It's perhaps his most expansive and ambitious film to date. He digs deep into the distorted representation and history, the effect of colonialism and the influence of Western culture that displaces the natives who are left out of place and out of time. Using his minimalist, elemental way of filmmaking, combined with Deleuzean look at time-image non-linear approach and Native American spirituality, Eureka is a deeply contemplative, perplexing film.

The first segment is a black and white western in full frame, starring Viggo Mortensen and Chiara Mastroianni. With coverages, combining wide and close-up shots, this is very much like a conventional filmmaking, not like Alonso's other works that utilize uninterrupted long takes and wide shots. Also, it's a rehash of Jauja's themes - looking for a daughter kidnapped by natives in the wild west, which the director intentionally appropriated from John Ford Western, The Searchers. The gunslinger named Murphy (Mortensen), tracks down where his daughter's kept in a small-town sheriff’s office. With the help of El Coronel (Mastroianni), he makes his way in with his vengeful guns blazing, to confront the captor of his daughter. But it is the daughter, the same daughter from Jauja (Dutch actress Wilber Malling Agger reviving her role), now all grown up, who turns a gun on him.

It turns out, the first part is movie within a movie, playing out on TV in a household in the Sioux reservation in South Dakota. More of a background noise for a Native American cop Alaina (Alaina Clifford) and her young basketball coach niece Sadie (Sadie Lapointe) as they get ready for their work. Alaina is taking her night shifts patrolling the neighborhood. Snowstorm is about to hit the area and she has to stop in, as her dispatcher send her to the origins of one distress call after another.

In a documentary style, we see the devastation of the Native American population living in the reservation - poverty, violence, incarceration and alcohol and drug use are everyday occurrence and Alaina being a good cop, she attends her job dutifully. Shot in a documentary style, the prolonged segment is as real as it gets. While white folks are playing out The Searchers fantasy for a century, the Natives are struggling with the bleak reality they inherited.

Mastroianni makes another appearance as a French actress researching the reservation life for a film who got stranded in a storm. She is our interlocutor, El Coronel, an unwitting bridge to the natives from as far back as Cortez days. Sadie visits her young cousin in jail, then goes to her grandfather's trailer. Grandfather tells her, "Time does not exist. It's a human invention." She says she is ready to go away. Her grandfather gives her an herbal tea which will make her sleep and wake up in another life. Say bye to everyone you know. He says. Lapointe, just like many of Alonso's non-actors, shines, as a young woman, who wholly embodies the terrible fate befallen to Native Americans in the 21st century.

Uncharacteristically for Alonso, we are presented with beautiful transition dissolves into the next segment, which takes place in Brazilian Amazon jungle, where a small tribe of peaceful natives who sit around and talk about their dreams. Their clothes and an old-style soda can tell us that this takes place in the past, during the Amazon's gold-rush days of the 1970s. A fight breaks out of their tranquil existence as jealousy between two men over a woman which results in stabbing and the stabber fleeing the village. The man then joins the gold-rush prospecting party nearby. El Coronel makes a third appearance, this time as a white man in charge of the prospecting operation. He is a typical middleman who would do anything for money. El Coronel tells the man that he doesn't belong there and would help him to get out of there.

With such a strong and engaging middle part with Alaina and Sadie, the third part of the film doesn't quite gel with the rest of the film. But overall, Eureka is always a fascinating watch with full of ideas swimming around your head long after you leave the theater.

Sunday, October 8, 2023


Retratos fantasmas (2023) - Mendonça Filho Pictures of Ghosts Kleber Mendonça Filho, whose films- Neighboring Sounds, Aquarius and Bacurau became arthouse darlings in international festival circuit and in turn, made his hometown of Recife, a city in northeastern Brazil, a center for a surging new Brazilian cinema. Living and working there in his beloved city for the last forty years, it is only natural that his new film, Pictures of Ghosts/Retratos de fantasmas, is a love letter to Recife. But the film is not merely all melancholic look back on the past. With the film, he is using his personal story, through the geography of the neighborhood and the historiography of cinema to illustrate the rapidly changing nation, and it's a charmer.

Mendonça Filho, who has seen his beloved city morphing into skyscrapers and shopping malls, fondly remembers his upbringing. His single mom Jocelice, a local historian, brought him and his siblings in a two-story apartment building, which has been a location for his several films, all the way back when he was making films with other cinephile friends using VHS camera, making action/horror films, to his more recent films. Part one of the film is dedicated to this house and neighboring buildings.

Physical buildings can be torn down and repurposed, but people and animals who inhabit the area linger in one way or another. The filmmaker, a well versed in cinema history and studies, puts an importance on oral history and ephemerals when drawing a complete picture of the place. There is a funny bit on a neighborhood dog, whose day and night barking that drove everyone crazy. The barking so distinctive and recognizable and ended up in many of the filmmaker's films unintentionally. Decades later, he was startled by the barking, only to find out someone was watching one of his films in the living room. Pictures of the Ghosts are filled with stories like that.

There are no shortage of local historical artifacts and news reel footage, including Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh's visit to the city in 1961. Chic boutique and luxury shops dotted the street near the riverside. Part two is dedicated to the cinemas and downtown Recife. Back in the heydays, being an important commercial hub of the northeastern Brazil, the downtown was booming with foreign investments and money pouring in. And it hosted many opulent cinema houses, where Mendonça Filho spent most of his teenage days. Now the money is gone, the downtown Recife is a hull of its glorious past, with faded buildings and most of its gilded cinema palaces either abandoned or turned into a shopping mall. In Pictures, the person in charge of changing the marquee of the cinemas become timekeepers, as the film titles appear in the background of historical photos in the papers, some of their letters obscured by trees, traffic and even marching soldiers during military incursions, presenting unintended Godardian wordplay. We see the lobby cards, movie posters and other movie paraphernalia being sold in an outdoor market outside those closed movie houses.

Mendonça Filho also has a video footage of a projectionist of one of the great cinemas he frequented with, asking earnest questions about his career and the prospect of the cinema house closing its doors. And the shot of one of the projectors kept in a locked room in now a shopping mall for posterity's sake.

The part three is 'Churches and Holy Ghosts'. The filmmaker connects an early Anglican church becoming a cinema house, then turning into Evangelical church. His criticism of the rise of Evangelicals (including the extreme right-wing Bolsonaro regime) in the country, is there, as he bluntly puts it, "Evangelicals bought cinema." The movie ends with whimsical taxi ride, throwing shades on Hollywood's superhero movies. The 80s Michael Mann vibe with night lights reflecting on the car, as it rides the bridge at night with smooth jazz - reminds the audience that the Brazilian director undoubtedly grew up loving the 80s Hollywood cinema.

Pictures of Ghosts is a loving, intimate documentary on ephemeral nature of our lives. Our loved ones grow old and die, buildings get torn down, video footages disintegrate, but there is evidence of those lives lived and experienced all over, if you know where to look. Combining his own experience and his love of cinema, Mendonça Filho serves as our expert guide to his beloved city of Recife. And It is definitely my choice for the documentary of the year.

Friday, October 6, 2023

Overhanging Dread

The Beast (2023) - Bonello la-bete-the-beast With arresting visuals and seductive filmmaking, Bonello has been chronicling our troubled 21st century like no other, with a string of films that are pretty, but not too pretty: House of Tolerance (sex workers rights), Nocturama (aimless angst of youth), Zombie Child (haunted by colonialism). and most recently Coma (Covid-19 lockdown). This time, Bonello is freely adapting Henry James's turn-of-the-century novella, The Beast of the Jungle, which tells of two would-be lovers forever beset by a sense of doom always hovering over them. It is a good parallel he is drawing with the state of things here and now.

The dawn of the 20th century was an exciting time, both socially and politically. And the possibilities with the advancement in science and medicine were endless, at least for the citizens of the first world. But there was also volatility in every corner of the street. Violence, disease, extreme wealth and poverty and uncertainties everywhere. Bonello taps on that anxiety with The Beast, a beast of a film, with these hefty ideas swirling around and stylized to perfection, also greatly helped by mesmerizing performances by Léa Seydoux and George MacKay. This timeline-jumbled, massive film is set in three distinctive time periods (1904, 2014 and 2044); Bonello effortlessly shifts from one point to another.

We first see Gabrielle (Seydoux), an actor playing a scene against a greenscreen on a soundstage. The off-stage direction tells her she is supposed to be afraid of some monster that will be filled in later, with a close-up of her frightened eyes dotting side to side. The only prop she has is a small knife she takes up to protect herself. When the invisible monster appears, she shrieks, and we are presented with an ugly digital smear along with the title sequence. Then we jump into 1904, which plays out like a typical Victorian-era period film. In beautiful dresses and constant close-ups, Seydoux has never been more radiant as Gabrielle, a married, upper-class woman living in Paris with the thought of impending doom.

She meets a British man, Louis (MacKay), whose life is entwined across time with that of Gabrielle's. He hears her feelings of omen and swears to protect her from it when it happens. And it does happen when the city floods, making historical connections with the 'flood of the century of 1910,' which submerged Paris for weeks.

In 2044, it's AI that rules the world, and the humans will need to undergo a medical procedure to cleans their DNA of any generational trauma, in order to be more productive members of society. It's their emotions that hamper whatever work they do. Gabrielle has reservations about the procedure. Wouldn't it erase what makes her herself? Yet, she can't get quite get rid of the sense of doom she has had since she was a child. Bonello is suggesting that this angst is what makes us human. Something that we have to carry around all the time. The melancholy and pessimism are ingrained in us, considering the world is hurtling toward ecological disaster. and its speed and ferocity are only accelerating.

A doll is an recurring theme throughout. Gabrielle's husband is an owner of a doll factory. The production is in transition from porcelain to silicon to be current with the times. Louis asks if all dolls have their own expressions, and she demonstrates their neutral face by freezing herself with a blank expression for several minutes for our amusement. Indeed, you can't deny Seydoux's porcelain beauty in her close ups. It goes the same with MacKay's pale face, in his period costumes. The doll factory also provides some spectacularly beautiful sequences when it catches fire during the flood, and the would-be lovers are forced to escape by swimming underwater for the exit. Then there is Kelly, played by Guslagie Malanda from Saint Omer, a doll assigned to help Gabrielle to better acquaint with the AI-dominant future. Then there's a Chucky-inspired talking doll in the Los Angeles part of the film.

Now we are back in 2014, and the images are mostly shot with crude cellphone-video aesthetics. Gabrielle is an actress in LA, milling about taking auditions for modeling and acting jobs. Louis is now a 30-year-old incel spouting YouTube manifestos and planning to kill all the girls who rejected him. It's interesting that Bonello is connecting the bowed celibacy of Victorian era to the incels of the YouTube age here, perhaps making fun of the seriousness and self-importance in both eras. With an opulent LA glass house with security monitors, the cat and mouse game playing and replaying out, the film is definitely in Haneke's Funny Games territory.

This is the thing - the images and sequences in The Beast often reminds us of the best of cinema, culled from, namely, Haneke, Lynch and Resnais. Bonello is certainly aware of the facsimile of images or sequences or even feelings. Watching it, my thoughts immediately connected with the debate in the art community about AI's takeover amid rising authenticity and copyright issues.

Back to the future, just like Last Year at Marienbad, These two would-be lovers find each other across time, again and again. Humans go to time specific theme clubs to mingle in 2044. One day it's 1972, another day it's the 1980s, another day it's 1963, and so on, accompanied by great music from those decades, trapped in generational trauma and memories of past lives, helpless to their fate to never be together.

The Beast is perhaps the most ambitious, seductive film that Bonello has ever done, filled with ideas to the brim. It also features the career-best performance by Seydoux. It's my frontrunner for the best film of the year.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

No More Moving Picture: Godard's Last Film

Trailer of the Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars (2023) - Godard It's hard to believe that it's been a year since Jean-Luc Godard left us forever in his own volition. His last moving picture, a twenty-minute preview of his contemplation on the state of the world we live right now, Trailer of the Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars, is a testament to his legacy as the most unique film director ever lived in cinema history. Originally wanting to adapt a communist Belgian writer, Charles Plisnier's Faux Passport in 2020, Godard began to create a book of collages based on the book's six chapters. But the project stalled because of Covid pandemic. So, he decided to make a trailer for the project, a snapshot of a film to come, according to Godard's close collaborator Fabrice Argano.

It's a series of his hand made collages on A5 Canon glossy printing paper with sporadic sound. With no sound for first five minutes, I was yearning to hear his gravelly voice one last time and was relieved to hear it again when he narrates about Carlotta, a heroine of short story by Plisnier, which he wanted to adapt. He says that the writer made portraits and it intercuts with the Olga Brodsky's face in the scene from his 2004 masterpiece, Notre Musique. And it turns out that that's the only 'moving image' we see in this short preliminary image book for a film that will never be made. It's also a rare glance into Godard's process in constructing his films. It's hand-made images - with pens, markers and underlined words and instructions, with photos, paintings glued on. And with sound, film, video clips and music combined, building/constructing thoughts for his essay films. And it's fascinating.

Plisnier turned his back on communism and Stalinism and became a Roman Catholic in his later years. Through the sound clips from Notre Musique, you hear the character replying to a Russian soldier, "I don't understand what you are saying, I do not trust that language." And I can't help him connecting it to the current situation in Ukraine. Godard had always been a keen observer, an oracle, and an ardent critic of the aggressors of the world. He knew which side he was standing on. It would have been great to see what his take on the whole situation with more elaboration.

Because he always charted his own course from the very beginning, Godard had no disciples or imitators. Each of his films were borne out of his unique method and technique and there's no substitute for his filmmaking. As the twenty-minute Trailer ends, realizing that this is the final official release of his moving-picture (even though I know for a fact that there is wealth of materials he left behind), that this is indeed the end of it, filled me with great sadness. No more Godard. This is it.

Trailer of the Film That Will Never Exist: Phony Wars, plays along with Wang Bing's Man in Black and Pedro Costa's Daughters of Fire at NYFF.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Dissection of a Marriage

Anatomie d'une chute (2023) - Triet anatomy-of-a-fall-duo A fallen death of a husband in a troubled marriage in a small town in French Alpes and a following indictment and trial of his foreign wife is what constitutes Justine Triet's Palme d'Or winning courtroom drama. It's a modern marriage maginified under a microscope, revealing the nitty-gritty life of a young couple as their power dynamic plays out in the courtroom for all to see.

Triet, with only 3 feature films under her belt, all of them comedies, shows her tight handling of a material (co-written with her partner Arthur Harari). But the real star here is Sandra Hüller (Toni Erdmann), a German actress whom Triet collaborated in her previous feature, Sybil. With the film's natural dialog and believable setup, Hüller manages to build a sympathetic character, a successful writer, a foreigner, a mom to a blind boy, trapped in a mountain town with a husband who has an inferiority complex.

At first, the police rules his fall from the attic window as a suicide. There were no witnesses. But there were some forensic evidence casting enough doubt that it might have been a murder. Sandra (Hüller) gets indicted and the case goes to trial. With her lawyer Renzi (Swann Arlaud) who was a college friend who was in love with her, Sandra defends herself from a vicious procecuter who accuses her of ill-tempered and violent woman who couldn't stand her loser husband.

As the trial plays out, it's revealing that there's prejudice against Sandra, a foreign woman, in a place where her husband grew up and had community. The film becomes less of a murder mystery but a procecution of a woman in the eyes of judging public. The unrelenting media blitz surrounding the trial and everyone painting her as an unfaithful harlot who blamed her husband for his own shortcomings.

Anatomie d'une chute paints a complex picture of a marriage where no one particular party is to blame. It's people's pre-ordered hate that makes one party more at fault and not the others. The real life isn't that black and white, especially when children are involved. Even the court decisions in family court can't ever paint the complete picture. Triet is very good at showing these nuiances and balancing all the points. The reenactment of the couple's violent argument recorded by the deceased as a material for his book, Triet skillfully cuts away to the courtroom, leaving us to guess who's throwing glasses and who's hitting who. Moral muck, guilt, ambiguity are bread and butter of every day life. Their son Daniel grows increasingly uncomfortable around Sandra as she tries to shield him from all the ugliness of the grownups - the money problems, dad's depression and taking anti-depressants, her own infidelity, etc. But he ends up becoming a pivotal witness to testify.

Well tuned and balanced, Anatomie d'une chute is a revealing film about this day and age where patriarchy and everyday sexism is slowly losing its grip on our society (or lets hope). Sandra Hüller again, is fast becoming the heroine we need in this social climate. Also, Triet, as with Sybil, examines the nature of art and literature- the art immitating life, plagiarism and even autofiction in a very captivating way.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Zone of Unsubtlety

The Zone of Interest (2023) - Glazer The Zone of Interest The film starts with a family, a father fishing in the creek with his children. It's peaceful and there's nothing that suggests that he is an SS commandant in charge of operations at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Maybe not nothing, since he has the buzzcut that is most severe as far as cinema memories go, he has to be a nazi. It turns out Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel of Amour Fou, White Ribbon, Babylon Berlin) is indeed a commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He and his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and his Aryan children live in a brick and mortar house with a perfectly manicured vegetable and fruit garden, overlooking a barbed wire fence and a very active furnace of the camp. For Heddy, who hated city life, the place is a dream come true, more space, a garden, extensive supply of servants (from the camp), material goods (fur coats and jewelry, also collected from the camp), and fresh air(!) for the children. She touts proudly that she is known as the queen of Auschwitz in her social circle.

The Zone of Interest features great sound design and score. Low rumble of industrial machination (furnace) is always heard, so as frequent muffled screams and gunfires while they dine, sleep and play in the garden. Glazer doesn't let you forget that these banalities of evil are built on power and dominence, that they are not naive people shielded from what's going on just over the fence. They were consciously aware of what they were doing the whole time.

There are some striking sequences, like Höss hurriedly getting his children out of water when a sudden flow of ashes and bones flashfloods the creek they were frolicking in. The swanky garden party features active furnace spewing human ashes in the background just over the fence. And cutting between the past and present days at the end is also very powerful. But as a feature length film, the premise already has overstayed its welcome within thirty minutes of the film.

The miscalculation of the filmmaker here is that obvious visual metaphor doesn't quite work in a serious feature film, especially one about the holocaust. The point Glazer is making, the characters' willful blindness and absurdity and evilness of it, serves much better in shorts. I kept thinking of one of Roy Andersson's masterful absurdist short skits where he balances humor and tragedy perfectly.

The Zone of Interest is an obvious misfire from Glazer. Maybe his craftmanship is more suited for shorts and music videos after all.