Posts Tagged ‘film trends’

Apollo’s Girl

March 11, 2016


apollo and lyre


Let’s Meet Again…

Filmmakers are like architects: whatever the time and costs involved, they’re always ahead of the game; cresting the wave of the future, anticipating the next Zeitgeist. And so it is at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema. Gone are most of the ruling Gallic rom-coms, the brilliant historical pageants and adaptations of classic plays (though there is a lot of sex…). rendezvous 2016In only three years, this always-provocative festival has become a reflection of France now and in the foreseeable future, its cultural, racial and linguistic issues front and center in 2016.

Well, there are two exceptions: on opening night, The Valley of Love, starring the iconic Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, filmed in Death Valley (largely in English), reaffirmed the French connection to world cinema that began with the New Wave.

thethreesistersAnd although (strictly speaking) by Chekov, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi has turned The Three Sisters into a gorgeous souffle of a tragicomedy that while quintessentially French, is, somehow, more Russian than Russian in its mercurial shifts and failed trajectories. The cast (from the Comédie Française) is superb in every part. But the décor, the costumes, the shorthand translation carry us to the Russia-that-was and will-never-be-again faster than the speed Chekov imagined in 1900, yet with no less power, and with tender attention to spirit and detail that marry the best of Now and Then. (The opening scene is absolutely Now!)

That said, Rendez-Vous’ focus on the present offers a wide-ranging slate from new and seasoned directors (more than one-third of them women) with original ideas about the human condition.

fatimaFatima (Philippe Faucon) is a real honey; one of many entries about Muslims adjusting to (and changing) French culture. In its quiet way, the lives of a divorced mother and her two daughters make a great impact because of the film’s modestyits whisper is stronger than any shout. While one daughter is a rebellious teenager who turns her back on her first culture, the other struggles to become a doctor. The mother (Soria Zeroual) supports the family with cleaning jobs as she navigates the rigidity of the Muslim community she remains part of, yet determined to give her children a future. She keeps a diary (in Arabic) that reveals the keenness of her sensibilities, and studies French to be able to live more fully in her new home. The film’s last image (devoid of any show, any effects) is simplicity itself; yet carries a soaring emotional charge that simply explodes in joy.

While The Story of Judas (Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche)
judascould be described as an historical film, it’s definitely not an historical pageant, but rather a fresh re-imagining of the Biblical story that could never have been part of Hollywood’s overblown Biblical canon. Like Zaïmeche’s earlier Smugglers’ Songs, it reminds us that legends are always based on elements of reality; in this case, Judas’ part in Christ’s death, as well as the roles of Pontius Pilate, Carabas, and others we think we know reduced to their essence in vivid snapshots among the mountains and deserts of Judea. The air shimmers with heat and dust, the clothes are ragged and begrimed. You are left to connect the dots on your own, based on what you see and what you remember. It’s a challenge worth taking, hard to resist, and definitely original.

The Great Game (Nicolas Pariser) is a politicapoupaudl thriller in the tradition of the British The Ghostwriter, but with an even twistier plot and more populous cast starring Melvil Poupaud, who proves once again (as in last year’s Fidelio: Carol’s Journey ) that he has aged remarkably well. The politics here are still being played out in France between the police and a group of idealists trying to live in communal peace; it’s a dark (and accurate) view of limited choices.

Alice Winocour’s Disorder combines the PTSD of a disorderveteran of the war in Afghanistan (Matthias Schoenaerts) with the desperation of a wealthy weapons dealer’s wife (Diane Kruger) and some really terrifying thugs seeking revenge into a fast action movie that had a critics’ audience gasping more than once. Schoenaerts is believable, scary and sympathetic in every scene, and Kruger torn between her sense of entitlement and intense attraction to him (equally believable).

La Tête Haute (Emmanuelle Bercot) reflects a French juvenile justice system reminiscent of the elementary school lunchroom in Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. The phalanx of judges, therapists, teachers and counselors deployed for a decade in the tete hautultimate salvation of a recidivist punk is in stark contrast to our own tradition: Reflect on our teens unlucky enough to be sentenced to serve time and unlikely to receive either sympathy or support, or to be able to rejoin society as functioning adults. (Just as the students in Moore’s film can look forward to a leisurely gourmet feast every day, while lunch here is fast, brutal, and largely about starch, fat, sugar and salt.) Definitely food for thought…


chant d'hiverWinter Song (Otar Iosseliani) As complex as Georgian culture and language, Iosseliani’s brilliant jigsaw puzzle of a film is a real pleasure at every level. His ability to deploy crowds of unforgettable characters defined in seconds like Japanese brush-strokes is equaled by his genius for keeping them moving through brief scenes as they skitter in and out of each other’s lives. His gift for connections is both visual and narrative; his tongue forever in his cheek. Worth seeing twice just to join the game going on in his artful and prodigiously humane imagination.

my kingMy King(Maïwenn) stars Emmanuelle Bercot as a lawyer with a broken leg and a persistent memory for her affair with and marriage to Vincent Cassell. As for Cassell? He’s trouble with a three-day stubble (uh-oh), dancing in the street, sweeping her away on a motorcycle when they first meet, laughing her into bed shortly thereafter. Complications ensue. They love each other, but drive each other crazy for a long time. (One suspects that there may be a great deal of autobiography lurking about in Maïwenn’s script, and a brief survey of its watersheds would heighten that conclusion.)

Dark Inclusion(Arthur Harari) is set against a fascinating and uncommon backdrop: the diamond business in Belgium, where gems mined in Southdark inclusion Africa go to Antwerp to be cut and polished. It has been dominated by close-knit families (many of them Jewish) for generations and remains cool to outsiders. While diamonds are at the center of the plot, it is spun by family ties unraveled and ultimately spun again; blood proves thicker than water. As one trick after another unfolds and alliances shift, the multi-cultural nature of the gem trade now includes Arabs, Indians, Jews, Africans and the Belgians who cut the stones and each others’ profits. What goes on behind the closed doors of offices and workshops leaves you wanting to know more.

Summertime (Catherine Corsini) With its theme of intense love between two womenespecially since one of them is named Caroleit’s hard to avoid comparing Summertime to this season’s Carol, a mainstream feature on the summertimesame topic. Yet Carol, despite its outstanding performances and really stunning production, remained, for me, a tale worthy of respect for its achievements, but always a bit chilly under its high-gloss surface. Summertime, on the other hand, while certainly beautiful to behold, was on fire with emotion and the caprices of real-life women with deep conflicts (for different reasons) over the connection that brings them together. It’s definitely not because of the external differences in their lives when they meet, or that they regret their surrender to one another as often as they are torn by it, but the gritty reality (with its constant shifts and contradictions) that frames their every move into, and away from, the flame. Its evocation of city and countryside in the France of the 1970s is immersive. And both Izia Higelin and Cėcile de France capture your attention and your sympathy full-time.

Dheepan (Jacques Audiard) Ever since seeing Read My Lips, I’ve had a thing about Jacques Audiard. No one does light and dark quite the way he does, shooting and cutting at high speed while always digging deep into his characters. dheepanMore often than not, they are flawed, yet give hints of redemption on closer look. Dheepan shifts the balance in the other direction: its hero (Antonythasan Jesusthasan) rejects the violence of his military service in Sri Lanka and emigrates to France to start over again. He is a man of conscience who works hard, sees everything, says nothing and earns the respect of those who share his life in a grim housing project on the outskirts of Paris. Until he’s forced to take a stand. Then he, and Audiard, deliver the kind of electric finale you’ve been waiting for.

Apollos Girl

October 30, 2013

Film, Lots of It



One Fearless Prediction, One Festival
Coming Up…


Before getting into the recent New York Film Festival at 51, I have an urgent bulletin: the Film Society of Lincoln Center is doing all of us an enormous favor by presenting a week of Harold Pinter’s Comedies of Menace and Quiet Desperation. Made over a three-decade period of creative fever, Pinter’s pinter3-460_1212041c films are in a category by themselves. Not only menacing and quietly desperate, but (although often funny) also heartbreaking. They have remained in memory all these years, waiting to be revisited, or shared with friends who weren’t lucky enough to see them when they were new.

These ten classics, reflecting an infinite landscape of imagination, are still fresh, powerful, and guaranteed to knock your socks off. If you’re smart, you’ll get tickets to all of them (with discounts for three or more). For most, there are multiple screenings, from November 22 – 28. Just go to ; you will be stunned by the Who’s Who of directors and casts and realize you’re getting a bargain. And yes, you may thank me afterward.

And, while you’re there, check out FSLC’s Next Big Thing: Making Waves: New Romanian Cinema, November 30 – December 3. It showcases Bucharest’s best and brightest, notably Corneliu Porumboiu, who will present When Evening Falls on Bucharest, or Metabolism for the closing night. But he’s also the subject of a retrospective featuring police adjective(my favorite!) Police, Adjectiveseen twice, with pleasure – now it’s your turn. Be sure to take it. 

And now…

captain phillipsBecause this year’s NYFF marked a transition from Richard Peña’s 25-year reign as artistic director (more foreign films), to Kent Jones and a new direction (more domestic), there was a distinctly different vibe for its opening night, centerpiece, and closing night selections. (Captain Phillips; Secret Life of Walter Mitty; Her). All secret-life-of-walter-mitty-posterthree were impressive, but Spike Jonze’s Her retained a whiff of the European hersensibility for which the NYFF was once famous. And, with three cinemathèques to fill with more screenings, sidebars, and conferences in addition to the main slate at Walter Reade, it was a non-stop binge for cinephiles. No matter; there were plenty of serious contenders from abroad, including 12 Years a Slave (a UK/USA production), now in wide release, surely barreling toward a multi-Oscar sweep. 

Slave is not the first film to deal with the subject, but is surely the most devastating. Credit Steve McQueen’s direction, meticulous and passionate, and a brilliant cast speaking, for once, credible 19th-century American English. 12 yearsNothing is held back, and the emotional impact of every scene, hard to bear, doesn’t let up for a second. Because the cast makes the characters indelible, they don’t disappear at the end of the film. For a fascinating account of what happened then, see

Of course, these recommendations are entirely personal, and perhaps idiosyncratic. But the major releases have had, and will get, tremendous publicity; others, less mainstream, may not. So that’s where this post is heading: First, Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun (Dir: Nancy Buirski); it will turn up later this season on PBS’American Masters. Le Clercq le clercq2cast, and still casts (in this film), a spell. Even in many archival excerpts in grainy black-and-white kinescope, her singular, angular grace and unconventional beauty are an odd parallel to Audrey Hepburn en pointe, forevershadowed by the cruelest of fates. Just before leaving on a tour with the New York City Ballet in 1956, Le Clercq refused to get a polio shot and got, instead, the disease itself, becoming paralyzed for the rest of her life. It was tragedy on a Greek scale foreven though her then-husband (GeorgeBalanchine himself), family, friends and colleagues surrounded and supported hershe was unable to dance, or even walk, afterwards. Grainy kinescopes or even still photographs notwithstanding, we will not see her like again. See this in a theater or on your home screen to   capture briefly, her real, enduring magic.

What Now? Remind Me…(Dir: Joaquim Pinto)

In describing his own film as “…the notebook of a year of clinical what nowstudies with toxic, mind-altering drugs as yet unapproved,” Pinto does not do himself any favors. But then, this rara avis with extraordinary sensibilities and a profoundly generous heart has chosen to share both with everyone who sees the film. Pinto and his life partner (Nuno Leonel) are Portuguese, in Spain not only for the clinical studies but to return to and farm the land, explore the local caves (full of prehistoric artifacts), visit antiquarian archives, listen to every kind of music, cook, connect, and keep a record of their time together. Every minute of it is precious, and intensely lived. 

what now2Pinto has had a long career as a sound recordist for great directors, and has made (with Leonel) many films of his own. Sound is important to him; its use, along with his choice of music and visual effects enhance the film; the sensual rhythm of the editing and cinematography will have you rushing to pack and catch the next plane to Iberia. Despite his physical discomfort (and his occasional inability to deal with it bravely), Pinto is someone you’d love to know: reflective, raucous, lyrical, wickedly funny. You will meet him and Leonel, their four rescue dogs and their friends, and come away wanting more. His has been a life well-lived to the hilt, savored, and offered as a gift . You will have to look for ways to find What Now? Keep trying!

 Burning Bush (Dir: Agnieszka Holland)

If you don’t have HBO, get a subscription before Burning Bush is broadcast. The only catch: for now, it has to be HBO Europe…
burning bushBut, also for now, you can at least see a five-minute trailer that might inspire you to bombard HBO with emails suggesting a westward Atlantic passage for this gorgeous mini-series (originally the Czech nominee for Best Foreign Film, later disqualiied because it appeared on TV before its theatrical release). It’s top-of-the-line filmmaking from a director known for atmosphere, probing character studies, and seamless blending of
sound and image, who was studying in Prague in 1968 when the events took place.

Nominally a true story about a young Czech’s self-immolation in protest of the Soviet occupation of his country, it begins as authorities investigate his death, determined to prevent other protesters from following in his footsteps. Gradually, as the investigation broadens, the film becomes a mirror of the forces working at cross-purposes behind the scenes, following activists, heroic jurists, the secret police, and government officials as they ensnare and oppose one another over a period of twenty years. It’s a twisty, enthralling tale, with the darkness hollandof the 60s and 70s giving way, color by color, to the the light of the post-Glasnost conclusion.
There is nothing, by now, that Holland doesn’t know about how to balance action, issues, and emotion. The script (by
Štĕpán Hulík) is a marvel of complexity made crystal clear, perfectly enhanced by Antoni Komasa-Lazarkiewicz’ subtle music. This is a haunting, yet fast-paced thriller that digs deeply into the bleak realpolitik of postwar Eastern Europe without dropping a stitch. The press screening of the entire series (in one gulp) lasted almost four hours. No one talked, no one texted; we were pinned to our seats the entire time.  How can you see it? Do something! 

Jehane-Noujaim480-w_-cameraThe Square (Dir: Jehane Noujaim) Currently at the Film Forum.
Noujaim has received many awards for her films, often for their penetrating views of difficult subjects. But the one award
she hasn’t received (because it doesn’t exist yet) is for absolute fearlessness. The Square is a film in progress, i.e. it was begun in 2011 and shot continuously, updated as events prevented any conclusion to the story of Egypt’s revolutions, deposed rulers, and political future.the squareIt’s all there: the factions, the economic woes, the uncertainty as to who, and what group, will prevail.  She and her crew think nothing of wading into huge demonstrations that crackle with danger, often turning violent in an instant. Her six protagonists include members of the Muslim Brotherhood,  and many Muslims determined to support democracy and prevent an extremist Islamic state. Their opinions evolve over time, but quickly. Noujaim’s fluent Arabic and encyclopedic knowledge of these complicated and volatile issues make The Square an essential primer to the as-yet unfinished narrative, and to the future of the Middle East.

inside llewyn daviesInexplicably absent from NYFF’s three featured slots, the
Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis was definitely a Festival favorite. Yes, tongue-in-cheek (one of many selections in that category, which wears well over time), and right on the money, but always affectionate. Oscar Isaac’s mournful folksinger is a brilliant turn, matched by John Goodman, Justin Timberlake, Stark Sands (of Kinky Boots fame), Carey Mulligan and (I think) several marmalade cats playing one on whom the plot depends. (Could (s)he be 2014’s Uggie?) And, of course, assorted characters  you could encounter in those days at any coffee house or dinner party.  

Like most of the Coen brothers’ films, there is a gentle, persistent rhythm,
an inspiredcoens conspiracy of image, sound, and music that starts with the first scene and lasts til the last, and you are part of its deliciousness. And for those who’ll get them: a few memorable Early Music jokes that really hit home. Opening in December nationwide. If you want to see a movie that you’ll walk out of smiling (and who doesn’t love to smile?), make room for
Inside Llewen Davis. It will do the job.

only loversThen there was the Festival’s polished shot at the current vampire epidemic, Only Lovers Left Alive. Like Inside Llewen Davis and Spike Jonzs’ Her, Only Lovers keeps its tongue (and its fangs) firmly in its cheeks. It’s a paradigm of controlled perfection from Jim Jarmusch, with Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, John Hurt, and Mia Wasikowska not so much playing their elegant roles as timelessly  inhabiting them, offering us a dark and original view of history among the undead. What makes it go every minute is the celestial pitch-perfect tone sung by everyone involved, all crowding on to the same page at the same time, never straying from it. Like a kind of deadpan chamber music made visible. Huge plus: it’s also literate. Be grateful! 

Finally, there’s…..Her (Dir: Spike Jonze)Very much today, but even more tomorrow, it’s Artifical Intelligence evolving faster than a flu virus. Voiced by Scarlett Johannson, its easy to think of Her scarlet(Samantha) as a lot more than an operating system that can improve and co-opt your so-called life before you can say R2D2. In the same class as Inside Llewen Davis and Only Lovers, Her is a deadpan (though a bit mournful) pushback to the mediated lifestyle, defined by electronic hard-and-jonzesoftware, that has become today’s normal, tomorrow’s necessity. Jonze has his hands firmly, but delicately, on the reins all the time. You’ll have to wait until January to see (and hear) Her, but in the meantime you can have all the quirky fantasies you want to decide what you’d do in Joaquin Phoenix’s place. 

So having stepped up to the plate to identify some of the NYFF contenders (I did pretty well last year), and trying to describe the kind of shift in focus that they represent, let’s say that the emphasis on European and/or foreign films that was once NYFF’s hallmarkat least for its three top slots—has been changed to feature American product.  

Though all three examples were well-chosen, there is something else on the horizon: three films that are also all-American, masterpieces of deadpan art and craft (from the Coen brothers, Jim Jarmusch, and Spike Jonze).  Each relies on tone, texture, and the delicate tongue-in-cheek understatement that satisfies and delights, while bearing the unique stamp of its particular filmmaker.  A new category, perhaps? Watch this space to see what happens…

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