Robert Bresson: A Man Escaped
Despite the title sequence in the beginning of Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped, he limits the scope of his story, about a German-run French prison during WWII, incarcerating thousands, including our protagonist Fontaine (Francois Letterier). I’m not saying it’s a worse movie for that but it’s unconventional, the form loyal to its cagey content. It’s a pathway connecting different eras of European cinema, the bare walls and close-ups evoking Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc while its narration is a precedent for Truffaut’s episodic storytelling. This undecorated approach however doesn’t stop its audience from finding details, helping us scrutinize the world that the movie presents as well as the characters within it. Assuming that the Germans are using French prisons, why aren’t they improving on the infrastructure to keep the inmates in? Does this mean that French prisons are easily breached at the time? This movie also presents questions on what would happen if this kind of subjugation, God forbid, happens again, and whether and how it would help both the guard and the detained.
That doesn’t mean that the weak security is doing most of the work. Much of the film are close-ups of Letterier and his gaunt yet brilliant face. He’s our voyeur, looking at the objects and people around or outside him to decide which ones will help him escape. And as he forges and bends metal with his own hands this movie also turns into a love letter of proletarian ingenuity and he makes it look both effortless and skilled.
With his actions and bragging to the other prisoners come the expectation for his escape, that pressure escalating when, as more French men get captured, the inmates have to bunk up including Fontaine. His roommate (Charles Le Clainche) is an overgrown urchin. The two are symbolic of the dual reactions occurring within a conquered people. Fontaine sticks to his guns as the elder man attached to his nation’s sovereignty while the younger, more malleable man chooses resignation, that this situation can happen, accepting his inevitable death. His character’s introduction also subverts the Darwinist pecking order worldview that most war/apocalyptic movies have. In any other movie this cellmate would die like any character showing weakness. It instead follows the adage that who people know is as important as what they know. Their unlikely friendship actually helps the cellmate’s education, giving him the instinct to fight that he couldn’t have learned otherwise.
Post-VDay Movie: Cafe de Flore
Don’t be mistaken – I like Jean-Marc Vallee’s Cafe de Flore. A friend of mine criticized its ‘acid trip aesthetics’ but I like how it flows, showing osmosis between oceans and generations, characters dancing to variations of the same life, like the song sharing the same title as the movie. It visualizes the present and the different healing practices of a complex middle class Montreal family – yoga, jogging, floating in an incubated tub, reading about dreams and past lives, the odd joint. The family’s head is Antoine (Kevin Parent), a man with an ex-wife and girlfriend, a DJ nonetheless who has to work with lights and laptops and music of different tangible and data formats. The objects around him are disposable yet still beautiful.
Antoine’s story is an intertwining half of another taking place forty years beforehand, where Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) cares for her son, Laurent, with Down syndrome. If the present day scenes scream ‘The future is now,’ the portions may be set in 1969 but might as well have been any other decade, Jacqueline and child in earth tones walking the unwashed cobblestone of Paris. Her working class conditions also seem impervious to the Yves Saint Laurent Mondrian dress that another mother in her school wears.
Its implicit worldview also concerns itself with the hierarchy of boundaries. The middle class are supposedly better than the poor, the present an improvement of the past. Jacqueline feels inferior because of Laurent, studying ways to improve his brain, subconsciously thinking that educating and raising him properly will lead to a cure. That while the present day characters, surrounded by their comfortable, manicured property, disregard what someone like Jacqueline would have worked hard for while being petty and vindictive towards each other.
The movie eventually connects both plots, bringing us to flaw number three, that the mysticism that Antoine’s wife dabbles ends up revealing her ‘punishment’ and the justification for his adultery. It imposes this viewpoint upon her while she suffers through mental issues while all he has to do is to fall in love. This new family situation is also imposed on Antoine’s children who prefer her as the parent. But I’m making it seem more one-sided than it really is, as Antoine and his ex-wife explore their pasts, within memory or otherwise, portrayed as vividly in flashbacks. His new girlfriend joins in with the introspection, questioning the replaceable aspect of love and lovers and searching for the happiness and stability within it.
- Cafe de Flore, A Dangerous Method lead Genie nods (vancouversun.com)
Thinking About These Two Movies…
Saw Jean-Marc Vallee‘s C.R.A.Z.Y. during Canada Day/Pride week. It was fun and by fun I mean trailer trash, which I liked because there’s often something authentic in trailer trash. In one scene, Gervais (Michel Cote) asks his son Zac (Marc-Andre Grodin) how Zac has become a sexually confused problem child since the former never beat his children. It’d be easy to say, ‘Well, you’re still a shitty father,’ but how do parents discipline his children in a changing world without being labeled an abusive father? Head to YourKloset for a few more words about the movie.
Andrew Rossi‘s Page One: Inside the New York Times is about the Media Department of the NYT facing its headless enemies – the first is the front page that Media is trying to get to, the second are the market forces trying to put an end to the paper industry and the NYT itself. After the screening there was a Q&A with NYT Media Editor Bruce Headlam. Appearing in the documentary along with his columnists, Headlam self-effacingly describes the movie as showing a bunch of white dudes answering phones. Noticeably these people, notably Bruce, have a lot of red spots on their faces, possibly from scratching, possibly from stress. However, I couldn’t write that on my review for Anomalous Material, it’s too unclassy for that website. Head over there and give me your thoughts.
Speaking of white people, Susan G. Cole‘s review of the film negatively pointed out that the NYT workplace depicted in the documentary is whiter than Obama’s dance moves. The rest of this paragraph will show my weird expectations about the film and the institution, the expectations being that it’s all ‘liberal’ elite kind of white. However, they do show it’s Iraq-war pushing history or David Carr looking like the kind of guys that hung out where I would shoot pool when I was in high school. I don’t mind white as long as it’s not vanilla.
- Here’s Why There Are (Almost) No Women In The Big NYT ‘Page One’ Documentary (thenewspundit.com)
The High Cost of Living
The film’s first scene intercuts between polar opposite people within a city we can assume is Montreal. It isn’t long until drug dealing Anglo-American Henry Welles (Zach Braff) is driving drunk into the posh neighborhood’s narrow streets and pregnant French Canadian Nathalie Beauchamp (Isabelle Blais) is trying to get to the hospital by herself that we know that he’s going to run her over and their lives will forever change. He tries to find out through his friend who she is, if she’s all right, his conscience suddenly appearing.
She impulsively leaves her husband and moves in with him. His successful attempts in accommodating her and her willingness to befriend a stranger shows how malleable these characters are written. It’s part of the urban condition for them to find each other, as many movies have told before. Nathalie discovers Henry’s version of her city before his secret is revealed. The story’s recycled, but Deboarh Chow extracts raw performances from the leads, reminding us that Braff is a capable actor, and now I have to watch his CV.
- Photos: The best of Canadian cinema in 2010 (thestar.com)
20:10: Make yourself at home
Original idea from Nathaniel Rogers and The Film Experience, I’ll screen cap the twentieth minute and tenth second of random movies. ‘But shouldn’t it be 20:11?’ Shut up. Also, these films are from my laptop.
The couple looks at each other. This is the most human Vincent Gallo will look.
[The image that should be between these two contains nudity and will not be posted.]
“Make yourself at home.” She fakes a smile, the start of a grueling proecess.
‘Closer,’ the magician implores and successfully gets the child’s attention.
Looking behind him. He knows he’s being followed, putting his brother in danger.
After she gets bad news. Her oblivious daughter watches the television. She keeps silent.
‘As a side note…’
Her daughter looking for old records of mommy’…A girl for you, a boy for me…’
A woman tells them to take off their clothes and hat. “He’s doing well, eh, Itzhak?”
‘Terrible.’ As she enters, feeling the constraints of costume.
‘Thanks, Cooter.’ She kisses the man on the lips.
Telling her plan to the other girls, fitting in with the unionized workers.
Canada’s Top Ten: Incendies
Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) leaves a will to her fraternal twin children. She gives each of them a letter, one for their father and another for their half-brother and tells her children to give those family members the corresponding letters. Her son Simon (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) hates his mother and doesn’t want to follow the will’s instructions, while daughter Jeanne (Maxim Gaudette) is dutiful enough to do her part.
The film, essentially, would cross-cut between the siblings’ and their mother in her youth, both stories paralleling in the same, storied homeland. Thankfully the boring first five to ten minutes end with a gunshot killing the Christian Nawal’s Muslim refugee boyfriend Wahab. This act of violence gripped my attention for the rest of the film. They try to kill her too but her grandmother intercedes. Finding out that she’s pregnant, her grandmother takes her in to seclude her until delivery. She is then told to leave for a bigger town.
Azabal’s a regular player in films about the Middle East that get some recognition outside that region. The foreign-educated, rational Palestinian who has a quick relationship with a terrorist in Paradise Now. The guarded sister to the Iranian woman being romanced by Leonardo di Caprio in Body of Lies. She does some of the same things here as she would on those two movies, crossing borders, argue ideas, live through political conflict. The most popular image of the film, her face brushed with blood, fires burning behind her, suggest many things but subtle. Yes, the film has its decrescendos but the film still embodies the insanity of war within one woman. As she puts on different hats while trying to survive within the war-torn area, she convinces both as victim and victimizer. We’re thankful that she’s getting a vehicle in the form of this movie.
As this film fits well with Azabal’s characters it does the same with Denis Villeneuve’s other film Polytechnique, as both concern violence against women. The clean cinematography in the earlier film reflects the Canadian scenes in Incendies, while it’s more textural in the Middle Eastern scenes, the latter reflecting the violence in that area.
Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play, the film is far away from a ‘theatre film,’ making me curious to compare the two versions. The Greek tragedy elements, especially with the shocking revelations, still resonates within this adaptation.
Les Innocents (Adult Film)
An open letter to the province of Quebec.
I channel surfed my way into a film called Les Innocents, which turned out to be Bertolucci‘s The Dreamers. Having seen it before, the French dubbing makes hasn’t changed how this film is a cineaste quiz that, unlike Tarantino films, gives the audience the answers with delight. It is a love letter to cinema after all, and that this second time watching it, I’m getting and remembering more right answers. One of these days I hope to match the trio’s film knowledge, winking at each other’s references after going to the movie theatre. Also, how it has Eva Green‘s character Isabelle instead asking ‘quel film’ and for that matter, that this film introduces us to Eva Green and we still thank it for that. That there is no way Eva Green isn’t or doesn’t speak French. How Michael Pitt‘s body makes me not wanna eat anything. How I will always want to visit Paris because of how they visually capture the city’s energy and anger. How I still vie for and romanticize revolution and that I still think of the joy of watching Michael Pitt’s Matthew as he dresses up like James Dean, walking the streets of Paris, and thinking to myself ‘That’s a real cinema lover,’ and not those snobs polluting universities today. How I wanna run through the Louvre with two people I love in a fraternal way, because I’ve accepted the possibility that no other gay guy loves movies. All because of this movie.
This was my first Bertolucci, a director I know now through his portrayals of flapper girls, threesomes and the dangers of fascism and communism.
And the nudity, which you guys are probably used to more than we are. I don’t remember much nudity – I’d remember such things. Well, aside from Isabelle dressing up as Venus de Milo – real cineastes are well rounded people who know art. Or Isabelle finding her picture on Mathew’s crotch, but not the crotch itself. Or the three young people discovered by Isabelle and Theo’s (Louis Garrel) parents, the former naked and sleeping peacefully like angels. But there’s more. Isabelle Matthew have sex on the kitchen floor while protests are happening outside, As both Matthew and Theo find out that Isabelle loses her virginity that night, Matthew and Isabelle kiss, her blood on Matthew’s hands and on both their faces. When she finds out about her parents discovery, she dresses up and tries to kill herself, but is stopped when something breaks their windows. Here, like in any Bertolucci film, sex and politics clash as they take on their most primal, animalistic and violent forms.
Enough of my pontificating. First. No scaring by putting it on the TV Guide listings as an adult NC-17 film. Although yes, it made me feel cool to finally have seen an NC-17 film.
Second. We English Canadians are generous enough to use subtitles when we put movies with your language and other language on the big or small screen. Do the same, please. During the commercials, you guys renamed that horrific Leighton Meester movie ‘Le Coloc’ and dub it in French! I don’t care if you’re trying to preserve your culture by Frenching everything, we in English Canada do that by watching hockey or something. I know it’s ridiculous if I’m trying to play with my rules on your channels, or that I’m complaining about characters in Paris speaking French. That I’m complaining even if the actors themselves did the dubbing. That I’m complaining about the dubbing of a minor masterpiece and a piece of crap instead of the apparent dubbing of the Marx Brothers. None of this dubbing crap. I’m actually one of those people who wanna remember the conversations between the sex scenes.
Christmas: Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin’s acting chops at the time is him mugging for the camera, and is nothing compared to the ten-year old child actors we have today. Joe Pesci is delightfully not a ham, and whatever internet snark anyone may have for this being his Norbit is unfounded. Oh hai, John Candy! Why are there no black people in this movie? The guy playing Macaulay’s brother is not the most attractive child. The script isn’t pedophile proof, with mentions of his older brother ‘pounding’ him.
Also, that child is really immersed in American gun culture. Of course, I wonder how verbose the last 30 pages of the script are. the words ‘I’m gonna kill this kid’ is just as effective as the f-word. The film is an interesting perspective of how a child brushes off fear. Both children and the adults in the film expose their fears especially about families and homes. His family is terrible, using numbers instead of names for counting the children. Weak grocery bags suck.
This is my snappy write-up.
Repulsion‘s first few minutes might be mistaken for a Godard film. A young Belgian woman named Carole (Catherine Deneuve) works as a manicurist. After work, her effortlessly chic self walks the streets of London to softly energetic non-diagetic jazz music, guys both working class and skinny tie-wearers (Jon Fraser) hit on her. She often looks like she’s daydreaming, her voice evinces little excitement. Instead of Carole’s politics, director Roman Polanski‘s more interested in the psychological conflict, which, in Carole’s case, is barely seen by the other characters until it’s too late.
Polanski doesn’t explain Carole’s building insanity in ways others have – relationship complexes, haunted histories, addictions. Instead, she notices a crack on a kitchen wall. Her sister’s (Yvonne Furneax) boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry) calling her ‘the beautiful younger sister,’ a throwaway comment that Carole interprets as a menacing sexual come-on. A night after he stays over for sex, she sees him shirtless and her sister asks her how she slept the morning after. She then takes those little things and associate them with nightmares, as I imagine most people in a state like hers do.
It’s easy to say that instead of being silent, Carole should say how she feels. However, the film’s shows how words are inadequate since the other characters are reductive towards her. A customer tells Carole she’s in love – all problems are male related. Her boyfriend’s friends call her a tease. Also, her little acts of verbal resistance against her sister aren’t heeded. Her sister’s dismissal won’t help her talk about the terrible things she dreams about. I can’t settle on her real problem – fear of men, an idle mind, wanting to be alone. In other words, the other characters often think of a quick word or solution for her, and these quick solutions don’t help her slowly progressing dementia.
At first underwhelmed by Deneuve’s deadpan line delivery, easily enough an aspect of her character. She then thrills her audience as she responds to the walls of her apartment, or attacking men as if she’s a sleepwalker, using candlesticks and books like I’ve never imagined anyone doing. It’s hard to understand her in the first scenes of the film, but she perfectly fleshes out a new breed of character in horror film. She’s a monster within the victim in a genre that mostly shows the monster as external and separate from the victim. Deneuve’s Carole is groundbreaking in this and many other aspects, an integral part of Polanski’s vision of the macabre.
- Black Swans double vision (theglobeandmail.com)
Hunchback of Notre Dame ’86
Mom came home with a DVD of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Not the Disney one, the Charles Laughton one nor the silent one. Turns out it’s from a Australian company that released the movie in 1986 and the guy who does the voice for Quasimodo is this Canadian guy who has a lot of acting work in Australia. His Quasimodo sounds like Laughton too. I like the shaded-in quality of the colour, which isn’t the way animation does colour today. The colours that dominate the movie are mostly brown and gray, depicting a Paris gritty like every Medieval European city, centuries before it became fashionable. And the way they coloured the bell is amazing.
This is my first time seeing a full adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel. There’s Quasimodo and his damsel of distress Esmeralda, fighting against the mob who judge them for their appearances. Oh, and where all the male leads have to do is talk funny and people think they’re great, Angela Punch McGregor has the difficult task of playing Esmeralda, and she fails. Her tone doesn’t change whether in distress or not. She doesn’t even sound convincingly in distress when needed.
In between watching movies from the Wright Stuff series and watching Scott Pilgrim, I watched another hipster romance movie – Marie Antoinette. Before I get to the meat of this post, I just wanna say that I have to discuss the traces of what I have read or heard about the woman whose life this movie is depicting, and how true this movie is to the life of said murdered queen – if I used the word executed it means she deserved it, which she partly didn’t. Some people believe that the dead are fair game, but then we’re talking about one of the most slandered women in history, so every time Coppola or the film trips, we deduct a point.
I remember the pre-blogging glory days of trying to defend this movie while calling out the royalists who trolled the Marie Antoinette forum on iMDb. That was where I read someone who compared the movie to a series of paintings. And probably where I read someone mistake Marie Antoinette’s (Kirsten Dunst) alleged Swedish boy toy Count Axel von Fersen (Jamie Dornan) as Napoleon. And/or make a comparison between Madame du Barry (Asia Argento) as a Disney evil queen – she did NOT look like that nor act like she was depicted in the film, by the way. There are other directors who make a collage of pop culture references in their work. Those anonymous readings, however, show that Coppola isn’t able to mold those separate images and/or incorporate them into what should be a believable and seamless biopic. I don’t fully believe that it would have been a better decision to invent her own images of these people instead recycling old/different/inaccurate ones, but I’d imagine there’s some who watched this movie who would choose the former over the latter.The movie has always felt like ‘This is what I imagine her life to be,’ which has driven a lot of history nuts crazy.
Need to remind you guys that Coppola’s direction of the character Marie Antoinette evoked Paris Hilton. And being inundated by that comparison by the media, oh my God. Which leads us to Coppola’s apparent aim of turning Marie Antoinette’s story as a satire of the nepotism – biting the hand – and decadence of the government and celebrity culture of Bush-era US. Which is great, but why can’t Marie Antoinette simply be Marie Antoinette?
What is different between 18th century Versailles and 21st century America is the treatment of children’s sexuality. Adults both blue and red-blooded obsessed over Marie Antoinette as a sexual being. It’s tragic how her mother, Maria Theresa (Marianne Faithful) has fought for and keep the crown of the Holy Roman Empire as a woman and became the most powerful woman in Europe after Catherine the Great, only for her daughter to be trampled so easily. Coppola gets it right in this movie by actually showing the ‘people of France’s’ real problem with Marie Antoinette – that it dragged on before she was able to produce an heir. And how full the operating room was when Marie gave birth to, unfortunately, Therese. Also consider the hypocrisy of spying on adolescents’ bedroom action and the Christian notion of not talking about sex and not teaching the poor couple how to have sex.
Marie eventually becomes corrupted by this oversexualized society, having knowledge of her grandfather-in-law King Louis XIV’s (Rip Torn) affair with Du Barry. Marie then derides this fake aristocrat. In Coppola’s film, she unknowingly she becomes just like Du Barry, carrying out her own affair with the Swede.
Today, a 14 year old’s responsibility is his or her homework and some household chore. Marie, turning 14 when she did, has had a quick transition between childhood and adulthood, just like that insufficient carriage ride to the French border. At least two years into adulthood in that day’s standards, she has a responsibility that reminds her that she is still a second class citizen under Salic law. No wonder, as Coppola shows in the film, Marie regresses.
Flaw – The scene when Marie walks with Austrian Ambassador Mercy (Steve Coogan) and Therese in the gardens. The Princess du Lamballe (Mary Nighy) runs to the three and informs them of the Austrian Empress’s death. How did the Austrian ambassador not know that first?
In Roger Ebert‘s review of this film, his second point called Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette as ‘pitch-perfect casting.’ It’s not Interview with a Vampire, or to compare it to the other performances that year, she’s no Penelope Cruz. It’s wonderful watching Dunst’s face react to her husband King Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) wolf down his food, or how her face reaches us through that infamous zoom out, saying a lot while standing still. Having to go across the palace to a private room where she could cry or fawn – a measured release of emotion from one place to another. Worn down after the deaths in her family. Her poised diplomatic voice as she talks to her husband’s cabinet and even to her own brother, the Holy Roman Emperor (Danny Huston). As some blog I used to read has said in defense of her performance, Dunst was obedient to Coppola’s vision.
The State of Movies Today
Just after work, I run into a coworker my mom’s age who’s waiting for a bus taking her down to the subway line. I tell her ‘I have the choice of watching a 1960’s movie about French guys teaching a loose woman a lesson or a new movie about alien sex.’
She oohed and replied, ‘Good luck with that.’ Then we talked about how useful her sons are in the kitchen. I tried to steer back the conversation to my topic. ‘I was thinking about this yesterday, that I’d rather be the new school film lover who says “Fuck Citizen Kane, 2010 is a great year” instead of the one who says “Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever, get off my lawn.” But then I feel like the latter right now.’ She laughs.
I’ve always been the kind of person who thinks that good movies are there if you find them, but with financial constraints, it’s really hard to do that now.
I then look at my other choices, eventually becoming entertainment for the both of us. ‘On Etobicoke, there’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. You should have read how Norah Ephron made fun of the lead character. “I’m gonna smoke intensely because I have small breasts.” ‘
‘Poor girl. Small breasts are nothing to be ashamed of.’ We get off the bus into the station, walk down to the platforms.
‘On the West end, there’s a movie where Michael Caine shoots a bunch of teenagers.’
‘Yeah, I’ve heard of that.’
‘There’s a probably old movie called What I Learned from LSD, playing in some guy’s living room. I’ve been there -‘
‘That’s the kind of place you only go to once. Promise me you won’t go there,’ she says in her best mother-like tone.
‘Fine. That reminds me of a short experimental film playing tomorrow afternoon at the Harbourfront called The Power of the Vagina.’ She then reverses her motherly tone by making jokes about vaginas and barbells. Don’t worry, I wasn’t freaked out. We’re close. And I’ve said a lot of stuff to her that’s too much information for her. Or anyone.
ph. Whitney Seibold
‘On the east end, there’s the Tom Cruise movie.’
‘I can’t stand looking at his face. It’s like with Angelina Jolie.’
The train stops at St. George. My coworker asks, ‘Is this your stop?’
I answered ‘It would be if I was watching the French orgy movie. I’m gonna go with the weird alien sex one.’
‘Ok, have fun.’
I get off at Bathurst. I dig down my pockets for my phone. There’s two messages, the first from a friend who has the hat I lost on a birthday party. The second is from Lars, who told me about the End of Youth Triple Bill on TVO, with The Last Picture Show, Y Tu Mama Tambien and River’s Edge. I gratefully replied ‘Thanks for the heads up, I was almost gonna see Splice.’
By the way, how much are prices at the Carlton these days?
I’m trying to be nicer to this movie because what Roger Ebert and Liza Schwarzbaum and one other critic I can’t find have said about this movie are valid. Girls like sisters Elena, 15 and the titular fat girl Anais, 12, or at least adolescents, can be cruel to each other and then hug and comfort each other the next morning as if nothing happened. And yes, what happened in the ending can happen. You can’t blame the mother (Arsinee Khanjian) for making her choice because motels are just as creepy.
But there’s three things that bugged me during the movie. First is the mother’s thin characterization Her blase response to her husband’s question that “young people meet” makes her a passive accomplice to Elena and Anais’ sexual misadventures. Elena flirts with law student Fernando while Anais is the same room, while the parents are in the same house. Fernando and Elena opens doors, they converse, the smoke cigarettes, Elena has anal sex with Fernando for the first time. The first thing on that list should have woken the parents up. Then when Fernando’s mother reveals the relationship, both mothers are shocked as if nobody knew what was going on.
Second, that Elena is stupid enough to fall for Fernando’s lies. Anais is Elena’s foil in that she’s smarter and more jaded about sex despite being a virgin. She represents the contemporary adolescent, in theory smarter than their predecessors. Elena’s smitten by Fernando, and she really wants the experience. But she doesn’t even listen to reason, even from Fernando. When I was watching this movie, the future parent in me came out in full fury.
Lastly, there were parts when I felt there wasn’t enough of Anais. She is the fat girl in the title, why can’t she have her own misadventures? And the ending doesn’t count as one.
Julie and Julia
Am I the only one who thinks that Amy Adams wasn’t that bad in Julie and Julia? Other critics get reductive when talking about her performance, pronouncing it as one nail in the coffin of her career – the other would be “Leap Year.”
It looks as if some of the critics were just watching the trailer. An actress’s look pigeonholes her, so she’s gonna look cute until she reaches an age. Her performance wasn’t aiming for cute, she was aiming for outright misery bathed with obsession and narcissism. I’m projecting a bit yes, since she’s part of the lost generation. You have no idea how many married people I see who are twice my age yet dress like freshmen skateboarders. Just like her.
Julie belongs in that cover of New York Magazine. She is the face of her generation, a carte blanche that has assigned herself to live up to the archetypes of a previous generation. She aspires to become a great cook like Julia Child, who has already made a mark on an already over-saturated American culture. Julie can only fawns and sighs at this unattainable perfect vision. How can she top that? She also covets what she sees every week – her suit wearing, phone call interrupting bitch friends. The only redeeming part of this table of friends is that Casey Wilson is a good character actress and is funnier here than she was in SNL.
You know who else is awkward, Julia Child (Meryl Streep). So much has already been said about her part and performance on the movie. I’m also the only person who thinks her accent goes in and out, but the stature and mannerisms are there. I still feel the same sentiments when this movie came out, that having Streep in a movie is almost lazy casting. That I don’t know if, say, a more deserving Kathy Bates too on the role and would have gotten the same nomination.
There are so many parallels with the characters Julie and Julia. Both are fish out of water in the recovery periods of tumultuous eras. Both were miserable at the things they were doing before they found their paths. Both adopt the American frontiersman attitude. Julie wasn’t the first blogger nor Julia was the first cook, but they were the right persons at the right time. Some critics just wanted to drop the Julie thing altogether, but Julie makes Julia more human and relatable by showing that Julia was at one point lost like we are lost now.
Also, Jane Lynch and Stanley Tucci steal their own slices of the show from Meryl. Fun movie.
Robin Wood – Code inconnu: Récit incomplet…
The Robin Wood retrospective offered a film by my second favourite director, Michael Haneke. He directs like a painter. In “Code inconnu,” Anne’s (Juliette Binoche) boyfriend’s teenage brother Jean throws food wrapping at a beggar named Maria (Luminata Gheorgiu), angering Amadou, a young bystander.
Wood said of the first eight minutes of the film as “among the most astonishing instances of virtuosity in the entire history of mise-en-scène.” It’s not showy, and subtlety must be part of the criteria for a great long take. Haneke makes the conversations as the star instead of his own camerawork, and the events in the background are unmistakably authentic. The scene shows the experience of new Paris like any other city, with unrelated events and shops strung together in a street. When something happens like a confrontation between two teenagers, it feels more like a steady fire than an explosion.
This film uses Binoche in her best capabilities, and it’s a sadness as a latent actress lover that I haven’t had a chance to watch all of her films, especially the ones in French. That said, I’m ambivalent about Anne. She’s an inconsistent actress – she delivers one of the intentionally worst readings of Shakespeare on film – she’s passionate about the people in her life, and she’s probably racist. I do have a few problems with her character. Why does she have the worst wardrobe in Paris? Why would she be grumpy to a boyfriend that hot? Why wouldn’t she complain about her neighbours?
The same questions arise with the other characters. Why is Jean unhappy about both the city and the country? Why does Maria go back to Paris after being deported, as the film shows how happy she is in Romania? Why is Amadou so nice all of a sudden? And does Anne’s boyfriend Georges realize how creepy it is to take people’s pictures on the subway?
The man who introduced the film also said that the film encapsulates the capitalist lifestyle that continuously exploits. Another way of looking at the film is that terrible things happen to four people and more terrible things happen to them while they go on their separate ways. It doesn’t stop. It’s an onslaught on anomie and cruelty coming from strangers, yet they’re not more angry as they should.
This film’s one of the greatest movie about cities, perfectly capturing the meanness and cadence of urban streets. It shows multiculturalism as tense yet not in an aggressive way. It lets people meet and meet again in different places and circumstances, and one seeing another like a different person than before. And it shows people being alone in a densely populated area. This is also surprisingly one of Haneke’s most accessible films, neither sprawl-y nor thesis-y like his other, more acclaimed films. Also, if you’re a fan on colour blind casting or acting, this movie might be for you. The names Luminata Gheorgiu and Maurice Benichou – the latter merely has a bit part, but I care not – are now in my mind. I hope so will be yours when you watch this.
And I will never forget that ending.
The French: Exit Through the Gift Shop
“Exit Through the Gift Shop” has two subjects. The first one is Thierry Guetta, a Frenchman who moved to Los Angeles into his adulthood so the accent is still there. He makes a living by buying warehouses full of crap clothes and turning them into hipster vintage that sell for hundreds of dollars a piece. He also videotapes everything that’s happening in his life. This obsession on documentation roots on missing his mother’s death, presented and effectively pulling on heartstrings.
Thierry’s cousin is graffiti artist Space Invader. For some reason he videopates the latter doing his so-called work, and eventually does this to other graffiti artists like Shepard Fairey, known for the Obama Hope poster.
Then Thierry finds his way to videotaping the second subject of the documentary, Banksy. Banksy’s career turns from art terrorist to the prized artist whose work completes art collectors. I swear I’ve met girls who will turn into the woman collecting ‘the Banksy.’ He wanted to make Thierry’s footage into film because he was probably tired of the stigma of being called a mere ‘tagger,’ nor did he wanna be a pawn in the game played by Sotheby’s and the champagne class.
In a way this film elevates Banksy into a legitimate, unique artist. I mean, he deserves it. The subjects of his work are original and witty. Banksy, without knowing the consequences, advised Thierry into art, having a hand in making the latter into a commodity machine of bad art by creating pedantic work.
This movie typically makes Banksy look good by making someone else look bad in comparison but then a) Banksy doesn’t seem mean but is actually protective of his genre, b) he calls Thierry a friend and sees sympathetic sides of the latter’s one-track but devoted mind, c) his once democratic ‘you can do it’ attitude is radically changed and now he knows only to encourage emerging artists to improve their form and method instead of encouraging them to just do whatever, and d) I have never cringed at artwork the way Thierry’s work has made me.
At the same time I don’t completely buy the argument that despite his lack of method Thierry’s work is is moronic. For argument’s sake, the artwork stands as its own text and a viewer’s interpretation might be more important than the author’s intention. Another version of this argument is that rubber was made by accident, but a good accident indeed. Thierry’s specific representation and repetition of the Marilyn hair pasted on other celebrities, suggests, with or without intention, that all celebrity is repetitive and wants to emulate ‘celebrity’s’ golden age. We see the emulation of Marilyn through Madonna, Chuck Klosterman’s awful assessment of her, notorious photo shoots of both celebrities and models posing as her, biopics both past and in development, etc. He’s just commenting on that.
Most art before late Rembrandt was repetition. Before him, everyone was making copies of what the classics made or what their fathers have handed down to them. They fuck it up all the time, which makes things more interesting, but we can’t call every era as one that radically pushes the border of art since most of what happened in a century is a baby step from what happened before them.
As mentioned in the beginning of this post, Thierry made a living turning shit into gold and is doing the same thing here. The film tells us that Thierry made a million bucks through his ambitious show. As Banksy admits, that must mean Thierry’s art works.
And you can say the same thing about Banksy. He turned what is still an illegal art form into something legitimate.
And now I kinda want Banksy to do a documentary on Thomas Kinkade.
The French: Gigi
(Oh no she’s one of them now. ph. MGM)
Honore Lachaille’s (Maurice Chevalier) songs were creepy, and the sprechgesang killed me during the movie. But by being pretty, this movie can get away with not aging well in content. Now that that’s out of the way, Lachaille’s first song, although it raises eyebrows today, is about the new generation. It’s up to personal interpretation whether it foreshadows what changes the new generation it might bring.
“Gigi,” set in the French Gilded Age, fits well in the 1950’s depiction of women as it turns her from whore into wife. In the centre of all this drama are two relatively young people, teenager Gigi (Leslie Caron) and Lachaille’s nephew Gaston (39-year-old Louis Jourdan). Both have complaints about the life they’re born into. Gigi feels tiresome of the ‘love’ everyone talks about, while Gaston sings about boredom, an audacious statement for someone of his stature living in that era. They fall in love, he asks for an arrangement for her because her family’s breeds courtesans, not wives.
The end of the movie obviously has its pivotal moments. It’s Gigi’s first time at the notorious Maxim’s but she talks as if she knows everybody’s business. She talks about dipped pearls, but pulls back into a mature version of a comment would have reminded him when she was young and innocent. But he’s still angry about this new Gigi, takes her home, but changes his mind, breaks her family tradition and asks for her hand in marriage. Anyone else can look at the situation as a man still having control of his woman. What I see is Gaston putting a stop to the condemnation of womanhood that his civilization is used to.
Gigi is also played by Audrey Hepburn in a 1952 stage play version. I like Leslie Caron better, incorporating exuberance, flexibility and self-doubt into the character. Hepburn’s played period princesses in the golden age of her career, but I always feel her performances are a bit flat. Someone prove me wrong, please.
A Prophet and Love Songs
(Warning: post contains violent images, written content sexual innuendo and stuff like that.)
I first saw “Un Prophete” at TIFF. I didn’t start my blog sooner and I paid 12 more dollars to see the film again, bringing a total of paying 52 dollars to see the movie.
My love for the film is less than unconditional at this second screening. First of all, we have to consider the prison as a national metaphor. That said, Malik El-Djebena’s (Tahar Rahim) is a likeable character but not sympathetic. Instead of being rehabilitated, the prison turns him into a wiser, slightly more determined criminal. However, a typical prisoner becoming a non-criminal after a six-year term is highly unlikely, and that is a Hollywood thing to portray.
Then I also overlooked that the Corsican prisoners step on Malik and he must abide by the rules of the other prisoners and bribed jail guards to get what he wants. Despite the possible metaphor in the film, his actions are mostly motivated on a personal level. He avenges when someone wrongs him, and thankfully at the right time. Knowing when to strike is one of the unpolished skills that he has entering the prison, and as the years go, he begins to think strategically. There is a scene when he helps his Corsican ‘boss’ Cesar Luciani (Niels Aestrup) deal with the new Muslim inmates, his advice thus surprises Cesar. You sympathize with him when he’s down, when he’s getting himself back up, and even when he’s killing a few people.
Brad Brevet from RopeofSilicon wrote about Malik’s prison education. Interestingly enough, this is a story of a man who learns from his enemies, a theme relegated to the sidelines in other crime films. Cesar and the Corsicans inadvertently teaches Malik strategy and ruthlessness and their native dialect. Another prisoner, Reyeb, tells him to come out of prison a little smarter. Malik becomes part of the cycle by advising – instead of using a rousing speech – the Muslims who had shunned him to fight for their rights in the prison. All actions are tough to pull off.
All in all, a very cinematic and enjoyable film. Those two adjectives fit even if the film features a guy cutting up his own moth with a razor, another guy having blood erupting out of his jugular, and a third guy putting a spoon inside the first guy’s eyelid. And that French prison food is awesome.
(French Robert Pattinson and French Haley Joel Osment make out)
Three hours before that I saw “Les Chansons D’Amour.” Ismael (Louis Garrel) is romantically pursued by a gay guy after his girlfriend (Ludivigne Sagnier) dies. I am proud that the gay one can sing the best in the movie, but I am very protective of gay characters. I like them flawed, but I do not like them fucked in the head. I do not wanna see them stalk straight people, I do not want to see them snivel, I do not want to see them get the straight guy that easily.
I do like Ismael’s nuanced world before tragedy happens. I also like how the film tackles the girlfiend’s death like a sledgehammer instead of a dramatic device. Deaths like this happen unexpectedly, and I feel that in the movie. Ismael does not deal with grief perfectly but the film does not paint him as a man whore or a sad little boy needing a shoulder to cry on.
Lastly, with the exception of Piaf and Josephine Baker, hearing French sung by these people in their twenties is as awkward as watching my mother get drunk.
Through the Toronto Japanese Short Film Festival that wrapped up this past weekend, I finally saw the Oscar-winning “La Maison en Petit Cubes,” which is what I imagine what “Up” would be. Yes, I haven’t seen “Up.” It can wait when it premieres on Teletoon. Shoot me.
It’s about a self-sufficient old man who has outlived his adult children. It’s about seeing a man and as he scuba dives down to submerged foundations of his home, we come with him and see his lives the way he does and the way we never get to towards other people. He looks at the foundations of the homes around him and imagines them as the scattered farm houses of his youth. At first we ask why this fictional world exists in this state, but eventually we just go with the emotional ride. Screening this short after “Gaki” puts in context the Japanese skill in parchment, because stereotyping is faster. Or I could be an asshole and say that this movie is about global warming.
La Maison in Petit Cubes is part of a program in the festival I assume as the animated short category. Also in the program is the cute overload of “Komaneko -The Curious Cat- ‘The First Step’ ” and “Mitsuko’s Freedom,” which is by far the weirdest homoerotic thing I’ve ever seen in my life.