Directors:

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Jules Dassin, Terence Davies, Rolf de Heer, Manoel de Oliveira, Brian De Palma, Vittorio de Sica, André de Toth, Guillermo del Toro, Jonathan Demme, Jacques Demy, Claire Denis, Arnaud Desplechin,

William Dieterle, Walt Disney, Xavier Dolan, Stanley Donen, Alexander Dovzhenko, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Bruno Dumont

 

 

Dabernig, Josef – filmmaker

 

By Andréa Picard  from Cinema Scope

“Someone ought to do a Dabernig Derby soon,” a North American friend and colleague recently exclaimed. And right he is. Aside from a sprinkling of screenings at obscure American underground film festivals and his inclusion in a group show at the corridor-shaped, formidable Storefront for Art and Architecture (www.storefrontnews.org) co-designed by Vito Acconci and Steven Holl in NYC, Josef Dabernig’s renown has not crossed the Atlantic. His name, unfamiliar even among cinephiles and art cognoscenti in North America, is a mainstay of the European avant-garde. Since the early ‘90s, Dabernig has been granted numerous film retrospectives and festival screenings, solo and group shows, including appearances at the Venice Biennale (2001 and 2003). He has guest curated both film and art, and is known for his work in installation, architecture, photography, and for his cultural theory, which reads as modernist-inflected gnosticsm. I’ve also heard from an Austrian curator who once commissioned an architectural installation from Dabernig that the Viennese artist is quite eccentric and almost pathologically meticulous. Reading some of his statements and seeing the precision with which his films are constructed, this comes as no surprise. His severe, stiff tenor, on the other hand, seems strangely out of line with the comedic charge running through his films—a register of absurdity which often aligns him with a certain Eastern European tradition. His work is more camp than kitsch, however, and the self-conscious performances that characterize his films are careful gesticulations of monotony, a physical disenchantment responding to the unfulfilled promise of modernism’s supposed utopia.

Dabernig’s short films have concurrent themes and motifs, each recognizably, unmistakably his. A cross between Béla Tarr, Jacques Tati, Samuel Beckett, and Aki Kaurismäki, these works ranging in length between seven and 24 minutes rely on minimalism to fashion portraits of modernist decay and the banal scenarios that occur amidst their structures. As much about architecture and history in place as they are about the ridiculous inherent in ritualistic exchange (between people, landscape, technology), Dabernig’s films exhort contradictions with every twist of road. A deadpan treatment of these existing and fabricated scenarios further distorts a definitive worldview, which, while puzzling, is alluringly bizarre and foreboding. The farcical elements, often physical, are laced with a dark, existential confusion—not only one which questions existence but every social interaction and prescribed decorum. A Monsieur Hulot-type character, played by Dabernig himself, often figures in the work, embarking on a set task which seemingly exists in a fully formed universe, but the audience is welcomed in perhaps mid-way through the endeavour (it is not clear). Much remains blurred in the work, but the repetition of imagery—of cars, trains, desolate and decaying landscapes, abandoned buildings and semi-futuristic, socialist architecture—suggests an ongoing narrative whose structural expectations are all but abbreviated in any given film. Difficult to situate, Dabernig’s films reside near the boundaries of both narrative and avant-garde filmmaking, resting unsure of either’s hypothetical position in today’s art world.

Wisla (1996) begins with a large, blocky, concrete structure jutting into the composition, a modern ruin standing proud despite its neglect. The camera then pans insistently to the left, surveying tops of structures barely penetrating the frame composed of a big, grey sky. Shot in soft black and white, the film looks and feels old, itself an implied remnant from another time. Two men in suits and ties walk through the concrete catacombs of a dilapidated, brutalist football stadium, to the coach’s bench, “Wisla” clearly labeled on the side of the glass structure where they settle and sit. This is the home of the famous Polish football team; off-screen sounds (Italian!) erupt as the game gets underway. Boisterous cheering and loudspeaker refereeing conjure the visuals of the match as the camera remains focused on the two men who are somewhat awkwardly playing out the clichés of a soccer coach and training assistant. Registering nervousness and frustration, their gestures are exaggerated and unrealistic. And yet, they are amusing, never maddening, nor nearly as unbelievable as the real thing. Dabernig’s character gets up, calmly walks to the edge of the playing field and signals to his make-believe players, and the camera responds to his order by quickly panning up to reveal row upon row of empty seats. This game (the imaginary football match and the film’s precise sound-image play) continues for a few more minutes until the two men rise, walk up through the bleachers and greet dignitaries watching the game. A series of handshakes takes place, and the two Wisla members walk off-screen, the camera pulling out to expose the barren stadium. Wisla ends as the Italian football commentary continues through the credits, which appear at the end of all of Dabernig’s films in a typewriter-like, anachronistic font. An introduction into Dabernig’s self professed “no-man’s land,” Wisla depicts the un-depicted, where familiarity is elided in exchange for the geometry of human-made interventions into the natural order.

Two years later, Dabernig co-directed Timau with German photographer Markus Scherer, a 20-minute, black-and-white, tripartite vignette which has been called a “workers’ melodrama.” The first shot reveals two men driving in a car through a beautiful, but treacherous, mountainous landscape, with lyrical lightplay being performed upon their car’s windshield. The sleepy passenger shifts to reveal a third person in the backseat—the entire film, like all of Dabernig’s, relies on a revelation-concealment structure. As they drive, we hear the distinctive but undetermined sounds of the car radio and see wondrous ruins like aquaducts and bridges from a distant era. Driving through tunnels, the passengers are alternatively obscured by darkness and obliterated from sunshine, this chiaroscuro peek-a-boo exchange acting as dramatic highpoint to the film’s uncertain storyline. Finally, they park next to a rock face that displays a mysterious rectangular delineation seemingly drawn with chalk, and fetch their gear from the trunk. As the tension for narrative builds, the second section of the film draws out the desire for story and refuses quick fulfillment. The three men, dressed in some kind of uniform, continue their journey on foot, lugging briefcases. The leader of the trio uses ski poles to help him climb the hilly, landscape. Timau adopts a silent film aura as they mount the brush ever upward, their steps unheard on the soundtrack, the quiet contradicting the arduousness of their hike. This oddly tranquil ascent seems to go on forever until eventually they reach a dark tunnel and the sound is restored. The light from the opening casts their plodding outlines in sharp contrast, and there is very little to see on screen except for shafts of light alternatively illuminating the top of their heads and then their feet. Laborious and claustrophobic, their trudging is enhanced through the sounds of heavy breathing. When they at last emerge into daylight again, the camera explores the jagged rock faces and catches a slithery snake as it cowers beneath a rock, this observational gaze belonging to none of the men.

The third section reveals what the three men have come to do, an uncanny denouement which is sealed through a formal pact (whose echoes will reappear later on at the end of Rosa Coeli, one of his best and most fascinating films). Deed done, wistful romantic music concludes this odd, elegant tale, the end of which I will not spoil. But it’s a typical Dabernig motif: the paradoxical coming together of old and new worlds. Unsurprisingly, his oeuvre has occasionally been read as a fabled Western excursion into the East; his camera and Hulot-esque character representing the European sophisticate (though awkward and misplaced) casting a peculiar look upon former Soviet states stuck in a time warp. While the aesthetic collision of rural and urban, and of traditional structures and modernist buildings recurs, the dividing line between old and new is not the dominant theme. Anything askew is.

Jogging (2000), for example, is wickedly strange. Again we begin in the car, this time in striking, saturated colour. Twentieth century orchestral music plays from the stereo as the car travels through a decrepit landscape marked only by unidentified communist architecture; the mood grows steadily eerie. The music, now haunting and gothic, grows louder as the camera voyeuristically glances through the sideview mirror, catching the reflection of buildings hovering in the background, compulsively observing the driver’s hands, pausing on the dashboard, and looking out the windshield from the backseat. The editing grows quicker as the collage of bizarre imagery (drooling and barking wild dogs, a herd of goats) increases with the music, culminating in an all-consuming state of disquiet. The ultimate destination is Renzo Piano’s UFO-inspired Stadio San Nicola, built for the 1990 World Cup. The car suddenly stops, and the Adidas-sporting driver (we never see his face) steps onto the pavement with his puffy black sneakers; the camera goes mad. Swirling out of control, the ethereal music still soaring, the camera finally rests upon the big blue sky as the film ends in a L’Eclisse extended finale shot, the doom of modernity hanging indeterminately in mid-air.

Two less successful works followed, Wars (2001) and automatic (2002), before Dabernig’s most ambitious film, 2003’s Rosa Coeli. (In between, Dabernig made a six-minute short, Parking, but I was unable to locate any information on it, let alone a screening copy.) Though sumptuously shot in pristine black and white, Wars is a bit goofy, with the service staff of a passenger train going through the motions with too much self-inflection, the props too perfectly positioned, and the end result stilted. The trademarks are all there: the unsigned landscape framed by a series of windows, the title of the film physically located in the space—this time over a baggage compartment and on the back of the seats in the empty restaurant compartment—the boredom and monotony, the rehearsal of motion and movement through time and space. It’s not tossed off by any means (how could it be with gleaming, precise cinematography that reveals the train compartment as a work of lacquered art?), but it is minor. The same can be said of automatic. Made with the music group G.R.A.M., the film is a drum-and-bass, pulsing, automotive musical taking place in a ramshackle parking garage. A road movie that never sees the road, this pared down curio is oddly reminiscent of Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1964), but the revved up homoeroticsm is here replaced by solitary and silly art-making. But the crafty interplay between diegetic and non-diegetic sound is remarkable, and reminds us of Dabernig’s clever and intricate use of sound overall. It’s not incidental that the car audio tape player (now virtually obsolete) figures so prominently in his works—that, and the chugging of trains, like the rhythmic mechanized sound at the beginning of Rosa Coeli.

A man (Dabernig) sits on a train ostensibly reading a newspaper. German voiceover recites his private thoughts, a dense and poetic text written by Bruno Pellandrini which lasts the duration of the film. En route to a small Moravian town, his birthplace, to bury his recently deceased father, the protagonist conjures his past inside his head as he physically goes through the motions of settling the formalities over his father’s death. A rumination on childhood, tinged with regret, sorrow, and existential longing, the beauty of the text is rendered elegiac through the masterful compositions highlighting the wonders of the land. As the village’s past and the ruining of its eponymous monastery, named the Celestial Rose (after which the wine of the region was christened), emerges through this internal monologue, the camera dissects this snowy, sleepy town, its feeble-bodied villagers, and the anachronisms of its interior design. Like Timau, the signing of a pact is the concluding gesture, but Rosa Coeli is imbued with the weight of psychological solitude, a Baudelairian recoil for which there can be little sense of accomplishment. A cloaked sense of irony surely lays hidden amidst this picaresque tale, but as it’s so different from Dabernig’s other works, it’s difficult to detect.

The same cannot be said of his latest film, the magisterial-farcical Lancia Thema (2005), showing in the Wavelengths program at this year’s Toronto film festival. Once again at the helm of a car, Dabernig plays a tourist driving through a lush, damp and kaleidoscopic landscape (looking very much like the Garfagnana region of Italy), listening to arias on his stereo as we get to take in the astonishing splendour of the scenery. Suddenly, he pulls over by a rock face (the same one as in Timau) and gets out of his Lancia, fumbles with his still camera and begins photographing his car. As he does so, the film’s gaze strays from the protagonist and contemplates the painterly surroundings. This gesture is repeated several times over between long stretches of driving; it’s like the Euro version of The Brown Bunny (2003), with opera instead of Gordon Lightfoot. An omnipotent eye oversees the world, is conscious of its geometries, of what is present, absent and celestial. The arias emerge from the audio tape, but it is the landscape that really sings, metaphorically but also in an otherworldly display—the enigmatic pull that figures in all of Dabernig’s works cannot be contained or explained. Despite the recurring image of Dabernig in his films, an unseen presence looms larger, effectively reminding us that there is something greater than both time and matter. However daunting, this we must accept as modernity’s grand narratives betray their promises.

Dabis, Cherien

 

BOMB Magazine: Cherien Dabis by June Stein   June Stein interview from Bomb magazine, Fall 2009 (excerpt)

January, 2002: Columbia University’s graduate film school. The winter sun flashed through the mini-blinds in my classroom, spilling slatted bars of light onto the beautiful face of a stranger in the corner. Who was she? It was a new semester, but “Directing Actors,” the class I teach, is a full-year course and I don’t allow new students to join midstream. Rules are rules, but I didn’t bargain on the likes of the force about to be born. Cherien Dabis stayed, busted her ass, and ate every pertinent molecule in that room. As my colleague, professor and filmmaker Katherine Dieckmann said: she was incredibly diligent, dogged, and determined to learn the screenwriting form. She’d rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. She was tireless. She just didn’t give up on her ideas until she got them right. Her great determination and focus were a huge factor in how she got her first feature made. Because she’s tenacious. Power to her.

Amreeka, a comedy/drama, premiered at Sundance in 2009 and played as opening night of New Directors/New Films at MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. At Cannes in 2009, it was awarded the prestigious FIPRESCI Critics’ Prize. The film is a universal journey into the lives of immigrants searching for a better future in America’s promised land. Muna, a single mother, leaves the West Bank with her son Fadi only to find undreamed-of challenges in a new world full of seismic changes.

I thought of my own young artistic ambition as I trudged up 85th Street, past a FedEx depot that used to be Merkin’s, a jazz-and-drugs bar. Bizarrely, Cherien’s apartment was in the exact same building that I had moved into exactly 40 years ago when I first came to New York, before Cherien was even born. Here’s the old wrought-iron fence! And the crooked little entrance facing the elevator that I got attacked in! God, the lobby hasn’t changed at all. I feel old, but proud. Cherien answers the door and we horse around, do some girl talk, and apply lip gloss for a photo shoot. Then she cracks a joke that she is clearly fond of, so please, LOL.

One on One: Najwa Najjar and Cherien Dabis | Sundance Festival 2010   January 19, 2009

 

Huffington Post Sundance Interview  Melissa Silverstein interview at Sundance from The Huffington Post, January 21, 2009

 

New York Magazine, "Arab in America: Cherien Dabis"   Kera Bolonik interview from The New York Times magazine, August 16, 2009

 

INTERVIEW: Amreeka's Cherien Dabis | Film Independent   Carolyn Cohagan interview from Film Independent, August 24, 2009 

 

Out director Cherien Dabis brings Arab Americans to the screen ...   Jen Sabella from After Ellen, August 25, 2009

 

Director Cherien Dabis straddles two worlds -- latimes.com   Reed Johnson feature and interview from The LA Times, September 4, 2009

 

Authenticity, Intimacy and Realism: Cherien Dabis Talks 'Amreeka ...   Interview by indieWIRE, September 4, 2009

 

'Coming to Amreeka'  Michael Archer interview from Guernica magazine, September 2009

 

BOMB Magazine: Cherien Dabis by June Stein   June Stein interview from Bomb magazine, Fall 2009

 
Cherien Dabis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

AMREEKA                                                                B                     87

USA  Canada  Kuwait  (97 mi)  2009  ‘Scope     Amreeka

The title is the Arabic word for America, so this film plants its feet firmly on an idealization, using a series of small real life incidents to help re-visualize a new image of what it is to be an Arab-American.  At least for me, I much preferred the opening sequences that took place in Ramallah, which show geographically how the Palestinian territories aren’t one continual land mass, but separate little entities, like islands, each of which is separated by an Israeli checkpoint.  Imagine traveling from Connecticut to Rhode island, but being unable to pass through any major cities, as 99% of Palestinians can’t travel through Jerusalem without an Israeli permit, so have to be diverted but also pass through several different checkpoints along the way where the guards have the authority to hold you indefinitely for as long as they want, intentionally leaving some travelers stranded for hours at a time, all under the security imposition that each Palestinian is a would be terrorist.  So a trip that might normally take 45 minutes ends up taking several hours instead.  (See a detailed map from  “Around Jerusalem to Ramallah” on August 18, 2006 by Ben here: B o s t o n t o P a l e s t i n e ..., where a 30 minute trip requires an hour and a half detour, and this is before you hit the checkpoints)  It’s very difficult to live and work under those conditions, but Palestine has been occupied for over half a century or more, forty years by the Israelis and twenty years before that by Egypt and Jordan, and still can’t rightfully call itself home.  Nonetheless, there are nearly 3 and a half million Palestinians living in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, while another 3 million live in Jordan.  The opening sequences show how aggravating it must be to endure these conditions on a regular basis, as Palestinians young and old are routinely subjected to abuse and humiliation by what amounts to Israeli kids holding machine guns. 

Newcomer Nisreen Faour in her first film is the slightly pudgy Muna Farah, an extremely warm and overly affectionate mother of a high school son Fadi (Melkar Muallem) living in Bethlehem with her own elderly mother.  Implications are that her husband has left the family for a younger, skinnier girlfriend under unpleasant circumstances that remain unspoken.  When she wins the U.S. immigration lottery allowing full admittance to America, all she can think about is how America will offer a better life for her son than the hatred and humiliation that greets him here at home.  It’s interesting to see the transition to America where the Israeli kids have turned into racist and profoundly ignorant American teenagers heaping scorn and ridicule upon Arab-American families, starting with the insults hurled at Arab named kids, so many of whom are compared to extremist Islamic terrorists simply by the sound of their names.  It’s easy, of course, for unaffected groups to simply not take an interest, as this doesn’t affect them, but intolerance and prejudice have been around for eons and spread like a cancer fomented by extremist nationalist ideology, such as the Nazi’s or the Japanese in WWII, or the slave-holding American South leading up to and even lasting a century beyond the Civil War, probably throughout history the singlemost cause of war and discord.  These perceptions, especially after 9/11 and accentuated by American troops being sent to the Middle East region in record numbers, are inflamed by a prejudice of hostile ignorance, as hundreds of thousands of Americans are sent to a region where they demonstrate little sympathy with the citizens, any number of whom is seen as a potential suicide bomber.  So out of self protection, the perception is to automatically racially profile and castigate everyone who looks or sounds Arabic, negative feelings that transfer to their own families who would prefer to believe soldiers are fighting for a freer and better country, which is not exactly the perceptions of those living under an armed American occupation.  But enough of the Civics lesson.  However it is to these inflamed and out of proportion perceptions, carried over towards Arab-Americans walking around the streets of the United States, not in a war zone, that this film was intended to redress. 

With only benign trace notes of political discourse mentioned anywhere throughout the entire film, this becomes instead an intimate family portrait where the idea of America becomes the focus of Muna’s journey, where she enters the country with such naïve, open-minded anticipation, eagerly believing she has finally found a place of acceptance, except she runs into a wall of resistance.  She begins to see herself in pathetic terms, as does her son during his own confrontations with bullying kids, as both are made to feel less than human.  The film appears rooted in realism, where the discord outside finds its way inside, where families are challenged by the fundamental indifference and ostracism shown to them by their neighbors, where your problem is not my problem, so why should I care?  It is here that the film falters somewhat, as it doesn’t really dig deep enough into the bitterness that develops when nothing but scorn is heaped upon you at every turn and in every layer of American bureaucracy, where people find themselves in a no-way-out pit, especially when they have no one and nowhere else to turn.  But this is not a political film, instead it uses warmth and humor to win our affection, where Muna’s smile alone is enough to brighten anyone’s day, and how could anyone not love Muna, who is simply a force of good will?  America is still too deeply mired in the Middle East war efforts and is not exactly ready to embrace a film that takes a pro-Arab stance, which is exactly the point of the film, where facing everyday prejudices becomes part of the human dilemma.  There is a sweet contextualization and something of a contrived Disneyland ending, using a liberal American school principal Joseph Ziegler, similar to Richard Jenkins in THE VISITOR (2007), to become a bridge between different cultures, where all things work out in the end, but also a terrific performance by an Americanized Palestinian cousin Salma (Alia Shawkat) who dates a black guy, so there is a United Nations goodwill feel to all of the characters, where the single-minded xenophobic white notion of what it is to be an American is seriously challenged.  

User comments  from imdb Author: hprockstar from United States

This story follows a Middle-Eastern woman as she struggles living in an military-occupied West Bank. When she receives notice that she has been chosen in a lottery for a U.S. Green Card, she has to make the decision whether or not to uproot herself and her son for greener pastures. After making the decision to go, leaving her mother and brother behind, she realizes that life in Amreeka (America) is not all that she had dreamed it would be. Facing prejudice everywhere she turns, she makes other hard choices in trying to support her family...the son she brought to America with her and the relatives that she is staying with in the Midwest who are facing prejudice and struggling to make ends meet. In the end, this film reminds the viewer of the importance of family and the sacrifices we make for those we love.

Village Voice (Ella Taylor) review

The thriving subgenre of immigrant displacement dramedy gets a confident new spin from Cherien Dabis, a Palestinian-Jordanian raised in the United States. Divorced, demoralized, and struggling with her weight, Palestinian bank employee Muna (a very good Nisreen Faour) leaves the occupied West Bank with her teenaged son, Fadi (Melkar Muallem), to find a new home with her sister (The Visitor's Hiam Abbass) in Chicago. The discovery that she has exchanged one set of checkpoints for another doesn't prevent Muna—an archetypical maternal survivor straight out of Italian neorealism—from buckling down to the business of survival in a culture whose traditional mistrust of dark-skinned foreigners is exacerbated by 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Dabis concedes only subtitles to Western sensitivities—the perspective is firmly with the newcomers, whose dialogue switches on a dime from Arabic to English, signaling the constant juggling every acclimating migrant must undertake. But there's nothing bitter or cynical about Amreeka, which is directed with impish wit, an observant visual competence, and an open, conciliatory spirit (Muna befriends her son's Jewish teacher) that embraces the marginality that Arabs and Jews share in common.

Paper Magazine, "Amreeka, the Beautiful"  Rachel Syme from Paste magazine, September 3, 2009

Growing up in small-town Ohio, 32-year-old director Cherien Dabis, the product of a Palestinian-Jordanian coupling, learned early on how it feels to be different in America. After the Gulf War began in 1990, the then 13-year-old Dabis's life exploded when local citizens began abandoning her physician father's practice because he was Arab. "We got death threats and someone even came to my high school to investigate my seventeen-year-old sister for an assassination plan against the president," says Dabis, speaking from her family's home in Jordan, where she is visiting and researching a new film. "I mean, things changed overnight, and I became very interested in the media's depiction of Arabs, and how to shatter the stereotypes."

Two decades later, Dabis has made a film her teenage self would be proud of: Amreeka, a runaway hit at Cannes, tells the story of Muna, a single mother who departs the Left Bank for Illinois with her teen son Fadi. Fadi navigates harsh bullies at school, and Muna makes her way serving up falafel burgers at the local White Castle -- but the film never feels heavy or sad. Rather, it tackles Dabis's memories with lightness and comedy, a treatment rarely seen in Arab-American film. "When I started writing it at Columbia in 2003, everyone was looking for heavy Iraq drama," says Dabis. "But now, things have really changed. The Obama of it all is really working -- his messages of acceptance. Now if only I can get him to see the film!"

Moving Pictures: Cherien Dabis - Amreeka   Article by Cherien Dabis from Moving Pictures magazine, December 2008

This past November, the country that Arabs call "Amreeka" proved that it's not what it had appeared to be. And, in doing so, it surprised the world by ushering in a whole new era - the era of hope. It is in this era that my first feature film, Amreeka, will make its debut. Though it was conceived during troubled times, much like Obama's presidency, it was born out of a desire for change and the hope for something better.

A first-generation Palestinian/Jordanian American, I grew in Celina, Ohio, a small town of little more than 10,000 people on roughly four square miles. Though I spent nine months of the year isolated amidst its cornfields, my homesick mother insisted that we travel back to Amman, Jordan, every summer for three months at a time. In Amman, I was known as "the American." But in Celina, I was known as "the Arab." In reality, I was neither, entirely, but both in part. My classmates - many of whom had never traveled beyond the state line - often asked, "Are there cars in Jordan?" Because I wanted nothing more than to be understood, to truly belong, I was plagued with the question, "How could I bring my life in the Middle East closer to my life in the Midwest?" How could I bridge the huge gap between these two distinctly different worlds?

Then the 1991 Gulf War hit, and the question that plagued me became the fire that fueled me. Virtually overnight, my family became "the enemy." My father lost many of his patients because people suddenly decided they didn't want to support an Arab doctor. We got death threats on a daily basis: "Love it or leave it." And: "We know what to do with you Saddam-lovers." But the icing on the cake was when the secret service came to my high school to investigate a rumor that my older sister threatened to kill the president. My eyes were opened to the racism that can result from the stereotypes that the media propagates. Not only did I start paying close attention to the ways in which Arabs were portrayed in the news and in Hollywood movies, I realized that I wanted to have a hand in changing the images that were (and still are) associated with being Arab.

It was in this spirit of activism that I discovered the power of filmmaking, the power to bridge cultures and bring stories to the masses, the power to use the universal language of emotion to effect change. A decade later, I moved to New York City to start the graduate film program at Columbia University. Coincidentally, it was September of 2001. And the events of that month very much set the tone for my film school experience. In the spring of 2003, Bush invaded Iraq, and history was repeating itself. I felt an enormous responsibility, both as a filmmaker and as an Arab American. Hearing stories of how Middle Easterners were once again being scapegoated was all I needed to realize that it was time to sit down and script my story. Rather than spin it into a heavy drama, I wanted to imbue it with humor so as to make it real and relatable. And I wanted to create an Arab character that was - to me - familiar, yet that no one would ever expect: a Palestinian single mom who has every reason to be cynical but instead is full of naïve hope.

Thus "Muna" was born. Inspired by the strength and optimism of my aunt who immigrated to the U.S. in 1997, Muna is a woman who doesn't see her own differences but rather assumes a sense of belonging everywhere she goes. She'll do anything for her family, except let them down. And though she starts off eager to run away from her problems back home, she learns that she must face them and stand up for herself. It's through her that I set out to uncover the truth of our shared humanity in a film that ultimately is a gesture of love for my own family and community.

Five years, countless drafts of the script and more than half a dozen development labs later (from the Film Independent Director's Lab to the Sundance Middle East Screenwriter's Lab to Tribeca All Access), I was in production. I'll never forget the feeling of pride that overwhelmed me when I stood on set watching my incredible international cast as we recreated - at least in part - my 1991 reality in Celina, Ohio. I couldn't help thinking that my true hope is that this movie be seen in small towns across the U.S. Naïve? Perhaps. A few years ago, I would have never thought it possible. But as Obama declared at Grant Park on election night, "Change has come to America." That gives me great hope for Amreeka.

review  Caryn James from The Daily Beast, September 1, 2009 

In the Sundance favorite Amreeka, a single mom goes from the West Bank to White Castle. The Daily Beast’s Caryn James on this fall’s most charming indie film.

Muna, the down-to-earth heroine of Amreeka, arrives in the United States from the West Bank with her 16-year-old son and offers only smiling agreement to an obtuse officer at passport control. “Citizenship?” he asks. Eager, endearing, speaking fluent but imperfect English, she says, “I don’t have.”

“Then you don’t have a country?” he says sarcastically. She cheerfully nods, and explains she’s from the Palestinian territory. And when he moves on to ask, “Occupation?” she innocently answers, “Yes, it is occupied, for 40 years." That’s as overtly political as this witty little film about Palestinians coming to America becomes.

Even though the movie pointedly takes place just as the U.S. is invading Iraq in 2003, politics creeps in quietly. First-time writer/director Cherien Dabis leaves it to us to notice the sign outside the White Castle burger joint where Muna works. With a couple of strategic letters missing, it reads “SUPPORT OUR OOPS.” (If only Bush’s famous banner had read “Oops!” instead “Mission Accomplished.”) But Dabis’ own girlhood as the daughter of Middle Eastern immigrants in small-town Ohio, which inspired the film, adds a valuable dimension we never see on screen.

The earliest scenes, set in the West Bank, make the film seem more blatantly political than it is. Muna has to pass through checkpoints to get home from her bank job, and when her son, Fadi, makes a wisecrack to the guard, the boy is hauled out of the car at gunpoint. Muna worries that in America, “We’d be like visitors,” but Fadi says, “It’s better than being prisoners in your own country.”

Even in this fraught political atmosphere, though, the film’s focus is on Muna herself. She is the kind of willful person whose determination has to overcome her lack of self-confidence; a pudgy middle-aged woman who calls attention to her recent weight gain before anyone else can, who is still wounded that her husband has traded her in for a younger, skinny wife. A new life is just what she needs. (Nisreen Faour, unknown here, makes Muna entirely sympathetic and real.)

She finds a different ordeal in Illinois, where she and Fadi move in with her sister and brother-in-law, and their two thoroughly American daughters. Muna is so embarrassed at having to mop floors and flip burgers for a living that she tells her family she is working at the bank next door. The family is mistaken for Iraqi and finds an anonymous threat in the mailbox. Muna’s brother-in-law, a doctor, begins losing so many patients that he can’t pay the mortgage.

Even the kindest characters display unexamined bias. Fadi’s high-school principal, who develops an instant crush on Muna, tries to reassure her when Fadi is bullied, telling her that kids ignorantly assume all Muslims are terrorists. Muna quietly says, “We’re not even Muslim.” Dabis makes all this part of the fabric of her characters’ lives, along with other strands as ordinary as Fadi getting stoned with his American cousin and learning how to dress so he’ll look cool.

As Amreeka was making the festival rounds, including Sundance and the opening night slot at New Directors/ New Films, Dabis often talked about how her girlhood shaped the film. (She has written for the Showtime series The L Word, but Amreeka is her first movie.) The daughter of Jordanian and Palestinian immigrants, she was 14 during the Gulf War. Her father, a doctor, lost patients; the family received death threats. And in an incident more dramatic than any on screen, the Secret Service investigated a rumor that her 17-year-old sister had threatened the president. It’s startling to realize how easily she was able to transport those memories intact from the first Iraq war to the post-9/11 world. But like the sign outside White Castle, Dabis’ memories enhance a film that is fundamentally quite cheerful, taking its cue from the ever-optimistic Muna as she successfully finds her way in a new country.

On the scale of current Iraq-themed movies, Amreeka is far less skewering than the gleefully anti-Bush In the Loop, but more opinionated than the determinedly apolitical soldiers’ story The Hurt Locker. Giving a fresh twist to the evergreen story of immigrants, Amreeka shows how politics infuses daily life, and how the muddled image of Middle Easterners in this country has persisted from that first Iraq conflict straight through to the Big Oops war of today.

Slant Magazine review  Ed Gonzalez

Christian Science Monitor (Andy Klein) review
 
CultureCatch.com [Brandon Judell]
 
filmcritic.com (Norm Schrager) review [3/5]
 
Eye for Film (Amber Wilkinson) review [3.5/5]
 
FilmJerk.com (Brian Orndorf) review [B]  also seen here:  Dark Horizons review  and here:  DVD Talk
 
Screen International review   David D’Arcy
 
The Land of Eric (Eric D. Snider) review [B]
 
Huffington Post Sundance Interview  Melissa Silverstein interview at Sundance from The Huffington Post, January 21, 2009
 

Out director Cherien Dabis brings Arab Americans to the screen ...   Jen Sabella from After Ellen, August 25, 2009

 

'Coming to Amreeka'  Michael Archer interview from Guernica magazine, September 2009

 

Authenticity, Intimacy and Realism: Cherien Dabis Talks 'Amreeka ...   Interview by indieWIRE, September 4, 2009

 

BOMB Magazine: Cherien Dabis by June Stein   June Stein interview from Bomb magazine, Fall 2009

 

Variety (Rob Nelson) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Walter Addiego) review [3/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review   September 4, 2009

 

Director Cherien Dabis straddles two worlds -- latimes.com   Reed Johnson feature and interview from The LA Times, September 4, 2009

 
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]
 
The New York Times, "Settlers from Afar, In Land of Lincoln"   Stephen Holden from The New York Times, September 4, 2009
 
New York Magazine, "Arab in America: Cherien Dabis"   Kera Bolonik interview from The New York Times magazine, August 16, 2009
 
Palestinian territories - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
Demographics of the Palestinian territories - Wikipedia, the free ...
 
Demographics of Palestine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 
B o s t o n t o P a l e s t i n e ...   “Around Jerusalem to Ramallah" by Ben, August 18, 2006

 

Dag, Umut

 

KUMA                                                                        B-                    81

aka:  2nd Wife

Austria  (93 mi)  2012  ‘Scope               Official site

 

An exposé on Turkish culture in an Austrian film is quite a novel undertaking, an extremely detailed slice of life, unraveling like a Turkish Madame Bovary, another realist work that was the subject of obscenity attacks in its era, written in mid 19th century France.  Similarly, the religious backwardness ingrained in these small Turkish sects existing today almost in secrecy brings ancient customs and beliefs into stark contrast with the modern world.  The story revolves around the idea of Turkish husbands taking a 2nd wife, something outlawed in Austria, yet continues to be practiced, albeit infrequently, outside the gaze of unsuspecting government officials.  What starts out as a festive, wide-open, country wedding in Turkey (where perhaps money changes hands) soon takes a quick turn for the worse, as the alleged bride and groom, the beautiful young Ayse (Begüm Akkaya) and handsome Haslan (Murathan Muslu), are quickly ushered back to Vienna with Haslan’s mother Fatma (Nihal G. Koldas) where we learn the wedding is a sham, as Ayse is really the 2nd wife of Fatma’s husband, the aging patriarch Mustafa (Vedat Erincin), already with 5 children, where the two older grown daughters, perhaps more Austrian than Turkish, disapprove of the younger Ayse from the moment she enters the house, turning this into a claustrophobic chamber drama.  Written from a woman’s perspective by Petra Ladinigg embellishing the director’s story, this is a small scale, realist work that eventually becomes suffocatingly melodramatic. 

 

The widescreen pan of the mountains of Turkey quickly give way to a secret, closed-off world that likely conflicts with Muslim practices as well, but are holdover family customs.  Fatma is extremely ill with cancer early on, as her condition is deteriorating with chemotherapy, requiring surgery, where she welcomes and embraces Ayse even over her own daughters, suggesting if anything happens to her, she wants Ayse in charge of her family.  Making matters more uncomfortable, the family must prepare a bed in the living room for the wedding to be consummated, where every sound reverberates through the thin walls, but Ayse is soon pregnant.  Like Cinderella, she is still treated within the family as a scrub lady, doing all the cooking and cleaning while everyone else has the freedom to live their lives.  Even when she visits the grocery store, she is labeled arrogant and snobbish by the Turkish women in the community for not engaging in the local women’s gossip, and she’s afraid to speak as she’s still learning the Austrian language.  Despite her best efforts to please her own family, she is constantly ridiculed and humiliated, as if she is the cancerous growth within the family.  The director, in his first feature film, plays on the audience’s expectations, offering a few plot twists that come unexpectedly. 

 

Pitting the old against the new, raising relevant but often embarrassing questions, each generation has to face its own challenges, where you’d think Ayse might be steered towards other 2nd wives, many of whom might be undergoing similar resentment, each having no one they can turn to, as their very presence is an abomination in strict Austrian society.  The featured characters are Ayse and Fatma, as it’s really their story, where the performances of both are standout.  Director Umut Dag, of Kurdish descent, aided by cinematographer Carsten Thiele, displays a special interest in the plight of his female characters, effectively making a ‘women’s film.’  Not welcomed and faced with overly harsh options are typical immigrant stories, where the severe treatment often backfires, forcing characters into making more reckless choices they’d never otherwise have considered.  The small, baby steps that Ayse has been taking throughout the picture suddenly turn into leaps and bounds, as the film takes a strange turn towards the end, but one which is telegraphed throughout, sending tensions literally skyrocketing through the roof, becoming an intimate portrait of women’s hysteria, where Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  The film is a wrenching glimpse of the underside of humanity, often tightening the noose around their own necks when they become the arbitrary enforcers of morality. 

User reviews  from imdb Author: tandrei2001 from Romania

I recently saw this movie at TIFF in my hometown. Although it gets a little time to get into the slower pace it deserves every inch of it. It is also a good insight of Turkish traditional family, although emigrated with strict rules that are carried on even in western countries. The film develops the drama slowly until the climax towards the end. The acting is very solid, although they are all Turkish actors. I don't know how famous are they in their own country, but I would give credit to Nihal G. Koldas as Fatma, the authoritarian mother of the family, and Murathan Muslu who plays Hassan, the hard working son hiding a secret that wouldn't be tolerated in such conservative environment. The biggest surprise is the 21 year debut Begüm Akkaya in the role of Ayse , a young Turkish woman sent out for marriage abroad by her family. Her performance is stunning, incredibly fresh and brilliant. I hope to hear more of her in the future. If you have the chance, go for it, you won't regret for sure. andrei Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Screen International [Fionnuala Halligan]

Kuma means ‘second wife’ in Turkish, and Umut Dag’s debut feature is indeed a claustrophobic domestic drama about a second wife, although, in the way of the Turks living in Austria who are depicted on screen, this film is quite deceptive and secretive in its approach. Posed entirely from a female perspective, Dag’s work is small-scale but cumulatively affective, even a little bit racy.

Exposure may well be limited, but this turns out to have enough heft to guarantee festival profile at the least. The events onscreen are greatly enhanced by a distinctive shooting style which presses in on the viewer in the subtlest of ways, until the limitations and tensions of the lives led onscreen become palpably real.

Kuma starts out wide, with a wedding in a Turkish village; amidst the clamour and the colour, several facts reveal themselves. Fatma (Koldas) is very ill; her son Hasan (Muslu) has just married a local girl called Ayse (Akkaya), which his sister Nurcan (Karabayir) resents; and they are all travelling back to Vienna where they will live together.

On their return, however, it becomes clear that all this is an elaborate ruse, and the young Ayse has been brought to Austria to become second wife to the ageing family patriarch, Mustafa (Erincin), with the full blessing - if not connivance - of his ailing first wife Fatma, who also has a son working in Germany, a married daughter in an abusive relationship, a teenage girl and a 10-year-old boy.

Once in Europe, the film quickly cuts from a wide shot of the mountains of Turkey to a closed-off world - the apartment, the local halal shop, the playground. This isn’t so much a film about integration - effectively, there is none, although Ayse does slowly learn to speak German - but the old ways and the new, the past and the future.

In this sealed-off Turkish community, appearances are everything and everybody guards their secrets, but the timid and well-meaning Ayse, brought in as a glorified housemaid, may yet effect a change.

Kuma isn’t evenly paced, and some of the early establishing sequences can tend towards the plodding. With a lot to shoulder, performances from the two leads are crucial and strong, although Koldas, as the somewhat saintly Fatma, only really makes her full mark in the final denouement - but it’s quite a mark.

Young Akkaya is certainly a face to remember, as is Muslu, as Hasan, her ‘husband’. Director Umut Dag, himself a Kurd, displays a marked sensitivity for the plight of his characters, turning in fundamentally what used to be called a ‘woman’s film’.  In his efforts, he is much assisted by intriguing camerawork from Carsten Thiele and a screenplay of some unexpected depth by Petra Ladinigg.

Hollywood Reporter [Deborah Young]

Director Umut Dag's quiet drama, which opened the Berlin Panorama, tells the story of a village girl who is recruited as a second wife.

An innocent village girl is secretly recruited as the second wife, or kuma, of a Turkish pater familias in Vienna, with a practical eye to having her take over the household when his sick wife dies of cancer. The perverse simplicity of the domestic drama in Kuma, a cleverly done, not overly ambitious first feature by talented young Austrian-Kurdish director Umut Dag, is heightened by young Begum Akkaya’s lovely and mysterious performance in her first major role. Making its weird premise seem plausible, this quiet drama, which opened the Berlin Panorama, is well-positioned for both fest and some art house dates.

If it’s hard for Westerners to swallow the idea of co-existing wives, one suspects modern Muslims have a few problems, too. Perhaps this is why Ayse’s (Akkaya) wedding to a nice, anonymous white-haired gent is passed off as a much more appropriate marriage to his handsome son Hasan. Only the family knows the truth: The pretty teenager is being shipped off to Austria as the old geyser’s second wife. No motivation is offered to explain why she agrees to such a thing, and no money is seen changing hands. The opening wedding scene is all about village life and obedience to tradition.

In Vienna, the family must adjust to the new situation. The most gung-ho to have Ayse move in is Fatma (Nihal Koldas), the mother, who is undergoing chemotherapy and will soon be operated on. She sees the frail girl as her care-taking replacement for her husband and five children when she’s no longer around. Still, preparing a sofa bed in the living room for the bride’s deflowering is a delicate matter, and there’s no getting around the awkwardness of those creaking springs as the family lays awake in the small apartment, listening. Before long, Ayse is pregnant.

The children’s reactions (two are already grown up) provide a reality check on the surreal situation. Though they still wear tightly wound headscarves out of doors, the two younger girls appear to have been born in Austria and to have absorbed many Western European values, which don’t include second wives for Daddy. With his perpetually downcast eyes and guilty look, Hasan has his own reasons for agreeing to the fake marriage, revealed in an affecting tete-a-tete with Ayse.

Just when things are settling down, a major plot twist sends the story rocketing off in a new direction. The second part of the film splits wide open in the kinky way Austrian films tend to do, raising all sorts of embarrassing social questions no character is prepared to answer. Finally, after all Ayse’s Cinderella-like masochism and self-sacrifice and the family’s outrageous bad faith, tensions explode in a highly satisfying, knock-down fight that sends genuine old Turkish values flying out the window.

The fine cast is exceptional in creating a closed-circuit world in which hidden passions can explode. Koldas’ mature performance is full of unspoken, repressed feelings, making an ideal foil for Akkaya’s blank-faced country goodness and apparently will-less compliance. The camera and tech work are modest no-frills.

Variety [Boyd van Hoeij]

 

Dahan, Olivier

 

THE PROMISED LIFE (La vie promise)            B+                   90
aka:  Ghost River
France (100 mi)  2002  ‘Scope

 

This had the makings of a great film, as it has the magnificent Isabelle Huppert in an unforgettable performance, with exquisite photography by Alex Lemarque, making this a truly gorgeous film to watch.  But along the way, we are subject to repeating expressions of flower images which grow burdensome after awhile, also some musical miscues, especially some overly explanatory American folk music, which was out of synch with the emotional complexities of Huppert’s performance, which was dark, mysterious, emotionally spare, distant, agonizingly protective and silent.  Huppert plays a street prostitute whose daughter, who has been living in a foster home, returns unexpectedly with disastrous results, causing an immediate getaway.  The rest is a road movie taking them into the rural regions of France, then into the French Alps, near the Swiss border.  Huppert doesn’t remember much about her past, but her memories slowly reassemble before our eyes through a series of flashback montages sparked by visiting people she hasn’t seen in years.  While this journey is problematic, as her past is filled with heartbreak, Huppert lights up the screen, providing an electrifying character that is deeply troubled, yet holds our interest through every frame.  Her 14 year old daughter (Maud Forget) is rebellious yet resilient, and may be more than her mother can handle.  In fact, everything seems to be more than she can handle.  “I feel like I’m living through someone else’s life.”  But little by little, small bonds of affection and trust bring them closer together.  So while there are moments of quiet subtlety, the power of the performances was compelling enough to make up for the film’s deficiencies.  The near wordless closing sequences are strung together by a single piano piece by Modern Jazz Quartet pianist John Lewis, sounding very much like Glenn Gould playing Bach, very controlled, yet effortless, then breaking into small jazz riffs as the film emotionally comes together at the end, returning to the precision and beauty of Bach.  

 

User comments  from imdb:  fha-2 (fha@bigfoot.com)  Pt Richmond, California:

 

"La Vie Promise" ("The Promised Life") is among the French actress' Isabelle Huppert's finest accomplishments. This amazing masterpiece presents Huppert in a character, which is a combination abrasiveness and vulnerability, she is both exasperating and at the same time pathetic, monstrous, and saintly. It is difficult to envision another actress who could embrace the complexity of her character and yet still present her persona in such an intriguing paradigm of humanity who magically captures our full attention while taking our breath away.

It seems palpably unfair when such other female film stars as Halle Berry, Julia Roberts, or Renee Zellweger win Academy Awards, whereas Isabelle Huppert has never been nominated for an Oscar. Over the last thirty years, this effervescent French actress has put forth a series of remarkable performances, capturing every aspects of the human experience with style and panache. Check out her brilliant performances in "Madame Bovary," `Merci pour le Chocolat' and "The Piano Player" or the delightful weirdness of "8 Women'.

Huppert's role is that of Sylvia, a sullen prostitute walking the streets of Nice in France, seemingly frozen in time with an obsolete sense of her rebellious prerogative. When the cameras dolly in for a close-up, her heavy cosmetic attempt to preserve the illusion of youth reveal their exercise in futility. Her brittle, oftentimes hostile attitude is typical of what one would expect of a seasoned hooker.

Sylvia seems in charge of her life until the appearance of her 14-year-old epileptic daughter Laurence (Maud Forget). Laurence is in foster care and Sylvia would prefer to have her out of her life, which becomes obvious by her callous rejection and disrespect even though it was Laurence's birthday. Laurence, desperate for attention, turns up again unexpectedly in Sylvia's apartment and observes her mother's pimp pummeling her. When the pimp's associate turns his attention to Laurence by sexually attacking her, she fatally stabs him, thus compelling mother and daughter to hastily leave town.

Eight years earlier, Sylvia had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized after giving birth to a son. The boy's father (whether he was married to her or not is not clear) lived in the north of France. Out of some sort of mysterious compulsion, she and Laurence journey North, traveling by train, on foot and hitching rides with strangers; in order to seek out her long abandoned son and his father, who represent perhaps a new beginning or sanctuary. It is on this journey that mother and daughter begin to experience each other as the seeds of love kindle what had been lost over the harsh years. While hitchhiking they encounter Joshua, (Pascal Greggory), a car thief and escaped convict who has taken an interest in the well being of Sylvia and Laurence and ultimately takes the time to bring them to their final destination.

The film has the inspiring appeal of a half-told chronicle where significant and intriguing passages are casually left unexplained. The full meaning and resolution of Sylvia's relationship with Laurence and Joshua's criminal career remain delightfully obscured; leaving us just enough information to maintain our interest, yet preserving the mystery that tweaks our attention. The audience must search their own repertoires of imaginations to conclude the story.

Director Olivier Dahan is daring enough to bring his camera into tight close-ups leaving Huppert's character displayed in unflattering poses while wearing harsh make-up and in poor lighting. Huppert does not attempt hide behind the cheap make-up in order to present a good performance. Her talent is sufficiently powerful to reveal Sylvia's inner strength and bring her true character bubbling to the surface. Her painted exterior suggests one stereotype while her eyes tell yet another story. This is an extraordinary film not to be missed.

 

LA VIE EN ROSE

aka:  La Môme

France  Great Britian  Czech Republic  (140 mi)  2007  ‘Scope

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]

 

Olivier Dahan's sprawling portrait of the life of Edith Piaf is the kind of grand, passionate historical drama that no one seems to be able to pull off any more. Dahan does so magnificently, thanks largely to a brilliant performance by Marion Cotillard.

Discovered singing on a Belleville street corner by a nightclub owner (a quick star turn by Gerard Depardieu) who nicknamed her "La Môme Piaf" (the Little Sparrow), Piaf rose from the gutter and gangster culture to nightclubs and finally concert halls to become a French songstress legend and cultural icon.

Cotillard plays the legend from 20-year-old street singer and hard-living urchin to superstar concert-hall vocalist to frail icon, bent and palsied from a life of drink, drugs and high living without ever losing the spark of the sassy street kid who muscled her way into polite company. Even when planted in front of a microphone, she stands aggressive and defiant, as if holding her ground and staring down the audience while belting out her stories.

The sprawling historical epic slips back and forth through her life, leaping from traumatic moments to quiet reveries with little apparent pattern. It tends to confuse her timeline, which already skips over her legendary work with the French Resistance during the German occupation. It's really less a biography than the sketch of a melodramatic life of triumphs and tragedies and a passionate woman who favored emotion and impulse over reason and restraint.

But no, she has no regrets, or so goes her signature song and lyric epitaph. While Dahan's take on her final moments may contradict the defiant lyrics of that song, Cotillard convinces that Piaf lived by that romantic and heedless philosophy.

The Village Voice [Ella Taylor]

 
Uplifted beyond its merits by a stunning performance from Marion Cotillard, the humdrum biopic of Edith Piaf, La Vie En Rose, jogs obligingly along with Piaf the legend rather than the woman. It's not hard to do, given the fuzzy borders between Piaf's undeniably scarred life and her relentless gift for revisionist autobiography. By any measure, France's favorite songbird had a lousy childhood. Shuttled from pillar to post of Paris's slum district by her mother, an alcoholic café singer and part-time hooker, Piaf was eventually dumped as a toddler by her father (a circus contortionist) on his mother, who ran a brothel. This serial abandonment led to a self-destructive streak that dogged Piaf through her years singing for scraps on the streets. A meteoric rise to fame did nothing to ease the existential panic, and Piaf spent years as a soused party animal with scads of unreliable lovers who made her miserable and vice versa. Two tumultuous marriages didn't help, nor did Piaf's addiction to morphine after a serious car crash. Dragging herself from one performance to another long after she should have quit, at age 47 she finally succumbed, defiantly but famously with no regrets, to cancer in 1963. If that's not a movie, I don't know what is.
 
Piaf was a brawling mess who parlayed the pain she wore on her sleeve into a glittering career as France's heartbreak balladeer. To this day her gravel voice thrills me, but she was also a rabid self-mythologizer who liked to play up her childhood travails. An unblushing fan, writer-director Olivier Dahan has bought the package and added a myth or two of his own, cooking up a fictional warm-hearted tart (Emmanuelle Seigner) who nurses little orphan Edith through a period of temporary blindness (unconfirmed) and drums up sufficient funds to dispatch the child on a pilgrimage, where Saint Theresa provides a miracle cure that Dahan hands us without so much as a cocked eyebrow.
 
La Vie En Rose trudges dutifully from one costumed "defining" event to the next, building to a kind of Piaf theme park that plays out like a bad parody of Dickens or Balzac. Slack-jawed proles wearing artistically grimy faces drop everything to gawk as the tiny waif belts out "The Marseillaise" on a street corner, followed by copious shots of rapt and bejeweled audiences in Paris's cavernous Olympia Hall as Piaf finds the voice and the style that seal her phenomenal success.
 
Quite aside from her towering vocal range and forcefulness as a populist interpreter of the French chanson, Piaf was an instinctive social leveler (she hobnobbed with Cocteau, but the love of her life was a married middleweight boxer and pig farmer) who became a unifying romantic voice for war-torn France. But there remains the murkier and still unresolved question of whether Piaf, along with her pal Maurice Chevalier, was a collaborator who happily performed for Nazi military bigwigs during the Occupation, or a clandestine protector of the French Resistance. Reluctant to muddy his diva with complication, Dahan sticks with neurosis, focusing in on the often yawning chasm between the terrified child and the grandstanding diva.
 
Cotillard doesn't do her own singing—who, after all, could replicate the soaring rasp that burst fully formed out of that tiny body? In a sense, every scene in La Vie En Rose is a holding pattern for the next ballad, which would reduce the movie to a musical were it not for Cotillard's command of character. Though she's far prettier than Piaf at any age and has to be heavily made up to come close to the bug-eyed jolie-laide that was la Môme, Cotillard not only has her fluttery mannerisms down, but the fragile sense of self that kept her always on the edge. With shoulders hunched, head tipped, and hands flung forward, Cotillard gives us a Piaf stranded between the mutinous child she never fully outgrew and the crowd-pleasing supplicant who could never get enough audience love. If Piaf was an empty shell, she knew how to put on a show, on and off stage. Channeling the shell, the performer, and the shambles in between Cotillard raises France's poor, beloved chanteuse clean out of mundane pathos, into the ruined grandeur she deserves.

 

Critique. La vie en rose by Olivier Dahan.   Emmanuel Burdeau from Cahiers du Cinéma

 

Reverse Shot [Chris Wisniewski]

 

Slant Magazine [Dan Callahan]

 

World Socialist Web Site  David Walsh

 

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin]

 

The Lumière Reader  Diane Spodarek

 

Last Night With Riviera [Matt Riviera]

 

Old School Reviews [John Nesbit]

 

Time Magazine (Richard Schickel)

 

La Vie en Rose [La Môme]  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

 

Creative Loafing Atlanta [Felicia Feaster]

 

Movie House Commentary  Johnny Web

 

Reel.com DVD review [Chris Cabin]

 

Austin Chronicle [Toddy Burton]

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Phillips]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 

DVDBeaver [Gary Tooze]

 

Dahl, Gustavo

 

UIRÁ, AN INDIAN IN GOD’S FOREST (Uirá, Um Indio em Busca de Deus)

Brazil  (90 mi)  1973                             

 

Brazil Film Update   Robert Stan from Jump Cut

Dahl's second feature, UIRA is a work of what the director calls "anthropological fiction." Based on research by the Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, UIRA tells the story, set in 1939, of an Urubu Indian who, in despair over his son's death at the hands of whites, departs with his family in search of Maira, the Indian Creator-God living in Paradise. During the course of his trip, Uira is harassed by whites, forced to wear European clothes, and imprisoned. Freed through the good offices of the Indian Protection Service, that agency begins to exploit him as a token example of governmental generosity. Scornful of such suspect benevolence, Uira flees from the whites and enters the river in hopes of finding Maira — through death.

In Gustavo Dahl's able hands, Uira's journey becomes a pretext for a ringing critique not only of the Indian policies of the Brazilian government (although the story is set in 1939, little has changed), but also of white capitalist civilization in general. Through Uira's astonished eyes, Dahl reveals to us the strangeness of our own customs — the strangeness of finding human nudity obscene or titillating, the strangeness of wage slavery and capitalist commerce. UIRA, in short, is an exercise in cultural relativism, a critical look at our civilization from the standpoint of La pensee sauvage. Avoiding the twin extremes of racist vilification and noble savage idealization, UIRA treats its native subject with rare respect and dignity, even while it offers a provocative critique of our own civilization and values. 

Dai, Sijie

 

BALZAC AND THE LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS (Xiao cai feng)                 B+                   90           

China  France  (116 mi)  2002

 

A French-Chinese co-production, this film features some lush cinematography by Jean Marie Dreujou, filmed in the remote Phoenix mountains area during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, where two friends, one the son of a “reactionary intellectual,” are sent to a Maoist re-education camp, a forced labor camp, where they are the only ones who can read, who know what a violin is, so they find out immediately that if they want to play Mozart on the violin, then they have to name the song, “Mozart is thinking of Chairman Mao.”  They meet a local village seamstress, read her some stolen, reactionary literature of Balzac, and it plays almost like a fairy tale of what could have been in the labor camp, a love story intertwined in the dreams and recollections of the two young men.  There were some beautifully constructed scenes, especially when the two boys were sent to view North Korean films, returning to re-tell the local villagers, who were none the wiser when they used these elaborately re-constructed stories of the forbidden reactionary literature to amaze them all.  This must be considered an overwrought, idealized, high drama, the style of film that should never work, but it worked for me, largely due to the gorgeous remote locations, some interesting storytelling, and a few magical moments that can only be described as the wonder of cinema.

Daldry, Stephen

THE HOURS                                                            A-                    93

USA  (114 mi)  2002

 

Day In The Life   Sheila Johnston from Sight and Sound

 

THE READER                                                         B+                   91

USA  Germany  (123 mi)  2008

 

If people like you can’t learn from people like me, then what the hell is the point?  —Professor Rohl (Bruno Ganz)

 

A decidedly somber work, which is appropriate, as the subject touches on the Holocaust, where in an unusual choice, Kate Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz, a Nazi prison guard who is brought to trial twenty years after the war ended.  What makes this even more unusual is a flashback sequence that opens the film in the late 50’s when she is working as a train conductor and has a summer affair with a 15 year old boy, Michael (David Kross), a young student at the time who has just recovered from scarlet fever.  Though they meet for sex, it’s clear her favorite activity is listening to him read classic literature to her, where she is frequently moved to tears from the stories she hears.  Unexpectedly, she disappears without a trace before that summer is over.  Michael goes on to study law where his class visits a Nazi war tribunal in the late 60’s where Hanna Schmitz is on trial for war crimes.  His emotional upheaval is the subject of the film, which brings into question the role of working class Nazi’s during the war, as some 8000 worked in the prison camps, but only a few dozen were actually tried or convicted of war crimes.  Winslet’s status as one of the leading actresses of her generation lends credibility and a bit of extra added emphasis to the role, and she does not disappoint, never excusing what she did, but also questioning what choice working class women had during the war, where prison guard work was probably one of the few reliable sources of income.  

 

Adapted by David Hare, THE HOURS (2002), from a novel by Bernhard Schlink, the film has a low key sense of detachment, which matches Michael’s moody introspection.  In this light, Hanna’s orderly existence with a boy twenty years her junior does not seem all that unusual, and certainly the effect she had on him was profound, but he got on with his life afterwards.  When she re-enters his life so unexpectedly, he is ashamed yet at the same time immeasurably moved by the experience, leaving him deeply haunted by the trial.  At one point he revisits Auschwitz today, which has been left as is, with the shower rooms, broken down beds, and the tens and thousands of shoes all neatly piled up.  One wonders if showing these scenes exploits the uniquely powerful impact in a fictional film, if it in fact diminishes the power of the event itself?  Yet it is done wordlessly and with utter detachment, without any added effect, simply shown without comment as if seen by any observer.  It can’t help but add an extra dimension to the film, as the camera takes you right there to the scene of the crime.  When it becomes clear that Michael has information that might effect the trial outcome, in particular the sentencing, he can’t summon the courage needed to act, which only makes him more ashamed of himself, as that’s precisely the crime of ordinary German citizens during the war. 

 

In fact, Michael’s behavior is suspect throughout his adult life, as he has a failed marriage (his wife is never seen), and an estranged daughter that he doesn’t see enough of, remaining largely closed off to her as well, so he is a man that lives behind layers of walls that he has built for himself, which perhaps defines how anyone copes with traumatic events in their lives.  Ralph Fiennes as the adult Michael has made his career out of wordless subtlety, and his growing sense of unease is exasperating, as one wonders why he doesn’t visit Hanna in prison, why he doesn’t confront his own past, and perhaps why he can’t forgive her.  The trial itself is exposed as a sham, because Hanna did nothing any differently than thousands of others, but unlike the other guards, she actually came forward and acknowledged her crimes.  Much is made of how different people perceived her actions, as she was the victim of a lynch mob mentality, as people so needed someone to blame, and others would just as soon put a bullet through her head.  Michael’s quandry is more personal, but he’s just as indecisive about how the law applies to her actions.  Her sentence carries with it a degree of certainty that the court got it right, that justice delayed is still justice served, but Michael remains in a moral fog, as does, I suspect, a majority of the audience, as it’s simply not appropriate to sympathize with a Nazi prison guard.  They personify how routine the Holocaust became to ordinary German people where one carried out one’s responsibilities and never thought to ask questions.  Only in hindsight were questions asked.  To its credit, what the film really shows is that we still can’t begin to fathom any answers.      

 

Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) review [B]

 

Bernhard Schlink's bestselling novel "The Reader" is about how the German generation born after the Holocaust coped with its legacy of guilt. The movie adaptation by screenwriter David Hare and director Stephen Daldry starts out choppy and overdrawn but develops a cumulative power. It's about a 15-year-old boy, Michael (David Kross), who in 1958 has a passionate affair with Hanna (an uneven Kate Winslet), a working-class woman 20 years his senior. Eight years later, while a law student observing the Nazi war crimes trials, Michael – played as an adult by Ralph Fiennes – is shocked to discover that Hanna, whom he had lost track of, is in the dock admitting her role as a guard at Auschwitz. The emotional core of "The Reader" is how Michael copes with this fact. His emotional transformation is not easily rendered on film but Fiennes knows how to do nuance. He brings to the role a shimmering subtlety.

 

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

People can give themselves away with a single word. Early in "The Reader," which is about words and literacy, and much more, Hanna Schmitz, a German tram conductor played by Kate Winslet, comes upon a teenage schoolboy who's obviously ill and takes him into her flat. "Have you always been weak?" she asks. The word sounds a faint alarm -- weak as opposed to Germanic-strong? -- that grows louder as the film swings between past and present, though also between impassioned and abstract.

The story starts in 1958. Hanna seduces the boy, Michael (David Kross), making him an eager slave who must read classic literature to her in exchange for their illicit sex. (He's under-age by several years.) Later, as a law student, Michael discovers that Hanna, as a young woman, was a concentration-camp guard. From that moment on, the young man (who's played in middle age by Ralph Fiennes) must struggle with the meaning of what he has learned -- he loved her, after all -- in something of the same way that modern Germany still struggles with the meaning of the Nazi era.

Stephen Daldry directed, skillfully, from David Hare's adaptation of a widely read novel by Bernhard Schlink. The elegant cinematography is the work of two of today's finest shooters, Chris Menges and Roger Deakins. (Mr. Deakins also shot "Doubt.") And the cast is superb: especially Kate Winslet, who transcends, by far, the limits of her character's narrow soul. Yet "The Reader" remains schematic, and ultimately reductive. It really is about literacy, which proves to be a dismayingly small answer to the enormous questions posed by Hanna's dark past.

Newsweek (David Ansen) review

Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader" was a terse, morally complex, erotically charged novel that examined the impact of German guilt on the generation born after the Holocaust. Director Stephen Daldry ("The Hours") and playwright David Hare have taken up the challenge of turning this double-edged, cerebral book into a film, and it's not surprising—movies being better at the visible than the internal—that the eroticism trumps the moral complexity.

Fifteen-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) is a well-educated schoolboy who, in 1958, falls into a passionate relationship with a secretive, tough, working-class wo-man 20 years older. Hanna (Kate Winslet) is a woman of few words, sudden rages and a hungry sexual appetite that's matched by her equal ardor for literature; she demands, as foreplay, that Michael read Homer, Twain and Chekhov to her.

Then one day, after seeing each other in secret all summer, Hanna vanishes. The next time Michael spots her, eight years later, he's a law student witnessing a war-crimes trial—and Hanna is in the dock. She's willing to confess her role as a guard at Auschwitz, but she has one secret—a far less damning one—that she clings to with even deeper shame.

"The Reader" is not about the horrors of the "final solution." It's about how Michael deals with the fact that the great first love of his life was implicated in these atrocities. Ralph Fiennes plays Michael in middle age— a parched, solitary man of the law whose unusual relationship with the older Hanna raises questions about his own moral compass. "The Reader" can feel stilted and abstract: the film's only flesh-and-blood characters spend half the movie separated. But its emotional impact sneaks up on you. "The Reader" asks tough questions, and, to its credit, provides no easy answers.

Slant Magazine review  Nick Schager

 

Once again drawn to a tale that alternates between (and often parallels) intrinsically connected pasts and presents, The Hours director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare exhibit, with The Reader, a continued inability to thrillingly translate literary forms to the screen. Even greater than it was in their previous Virginia Wolf-centric collaboration, the problem is that the two mediums aren't necessarily natural bedmates, as piercingly evidenced by the filmmakers' method of adaptation, in which faithful straightforwardness gets the particulars correct but makes their source material's plot tropes, symbols and mirroring structure both simplistic and obvious. Transposing German author Bernhard Schlink's novel about a young boy's maiden sexual relationship with an older woman and, years later, the devastating revelations that come to light about his lover's true identity, Daldry and Hare's film has the stately polish and thoughtfulness that's come to define award-courting season, a sort of faux-highbrow atmosphere whose measured deliberateness, when matched by intense star turns, implies prestige. Yet even a minor peek underneath this elegant surface reveals clunky conventions and superficial shorthand dramatizations, both of which are delivered with self-important sophistication intended to mask the fact that the affair is no more graceful or profound than your average Hollywood mediocrity.

Which is a shame, as The Reader occasionally bumps up against the pressing, universal tension that derives from furiously wanting to alter the past, and yet recognizing that not only is said desire impossible, but that one's anguish over this powerlessness can never be fully assuaged. This discord blooms in the heart of 15-year-old Michael (David Kross), who, stricken with scarlet fever in 1958, is aided on his way home one day by thirtysomething stranger Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). When he returns months later to thank Hanna for her kindness, she catches him peeking at her putting on stockings and responds by bathing him, pleasuring him, and then having him read to her. Their affair, depicted through the prism of adult, divorced Michael's (Ralph Fiennes) remembrances, is given flickering vitality by a few early offhand images (such as Michael's feet racing to another rendezvous). However, a dinner sequence in which flatware clink-clanging ignites Michael's memories of devouring Hanna is a thing of eye-rolling silliness, and moreover, their initial courtship—he tentative and excited by his first lessons in carnality, she concealing concern over their May-December amour with sternness—feels basic, familiar. And as Michael begins regularly visiting Hanna, Daldry's grip on the material quickly goes slack, beginning with the director's insertion of a needless, upfront articulation-of-theme from a teacher who opines that secrets define character.

This blunt thesis statement is followed by Michael telling Hanna that "I didn't think I was good at anything" and, intriguingly, a cutaway to the sight of him confidently, joyously dominating a game of gym-class handball. It's a tantalizing suggestion of dueling deceptions to come, but alas, The Reader never makes good on that promise, as once Hanna suddenly disappears, and her young beau grows into a joyless, emotionally detached law student studying, in 1966, under the tutelage of Bruno Ganz's professor, Michael is reduced to a man conflicted but not particularly complicated. Attending the war crimes trial of female SS guards who stood by as 300 Jews burned to death in a church during the Death March from Auschwitz, Michael is stunned to find that Hanna is one of the accused. It's a discovery that, regrettably, obliterates any potential focus on his own hinted-at (self-)deception and, instead, pivots the action around his agony over both adoring, and now despising, his former erotic muse—who, to make matters worse, used to make doomed inmates read to her, thus saddling Michael with the added realization that he unwittingly served as Hanna's concentration camp prisoner-by-proxy.

Michael's love/hate turmoil propels The Reader into a flip-flopping second half concerned with his attendance at the trial—in which he realizes that Hanna is secretly illiterate, hence her requests to be read to—and his adult efforts to grapple with the past, which mainly involve making audio recordings of books for the incarcerated Hanna. All the while, narrative echoes begin piling up, each of them so tidily schematic that the story's literary roots become distractingly glaring, a situation compounded by two protagonists who are embodied with earnest gravity by Winslet and Kross/Fiennes, yet, like the many plot device-only peripheral figures, remain fuzzy, shallow creations. Even more than the book-on-film atmosphere and the pitiful, disengaging old-age makeup Winslet eventually dons, it's the filmmakers' inability to immerse themselves in, and wrestle with, their characters' distress that ultimately proves most troublesome. Though nominally about individuals' inner—and, by extension, post-Holocaust Germany's national—struggles with history, The Reader remains a stiff, external affair, too refined to muck about in its protagonists' consuming confusion, and too leaden and contrived to allow anything to organically materialize, epitomized by a final conversation between Michael and the sole church-fire survivor (Lena Olin) that takes great pains to spell out those very thematic points which, in the name of subtle storytelling, should best be left unspoken.

 

The Reader  David Jays from Sight and Sound, February 2009

 

SpoutBlog [Karina Longworth]

 

PopMatters (Bill Gibron) review

 

Slate (Dana Stevens) review

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

CBC.ca Arts review  Katrina Onstad

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin) review [3/5]

 

Village Voice (Ella Taylor) review

 

The Onion A.V. Club (Tasha Robinson) review

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3/4]

 

Screen International review  Mike Goodridge

 

Reel.com review [2.5/4]  Sean O’Connell, also seen here:  filmcritic.com (Sean O'Connell) review [3/5]

 

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Entertainment Weekly review [B-]  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Peter Bradshaw's original review  from The Guardian, January 2, 2009

 

The lame, the weak and the godawful  Writer David Hare responds to a scathingly negative review from The Guardian, January 19, 2009

 

Sir David's attack on my Reader review is as glib as the film itself  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, January 19, 2009

 

Time Out New York (Ben Kenigsberg) review [1/6]

 

Tulsa TV Memories [Gary Chew]

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [2/4]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

The New York Times review  Manohla Dargis

 

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE             C                     74

USA  (129 mi)  2011  ‘Scope                             Official site

 

The post 9/11 movies worth considering are Spike Lee’s 25th HOUR (2002), Paul Greengrass’s UNITED 93 (2006), Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret (2011), also the video of Paul Simon singing Sounds of Silence at the 10-year Memorial Event  Paul Simon's Heartbreaking 'Sound of Silence' at Ground Zero ..., - - and that’s it.  You can forget the rest, which don’t so much examine the consequences as manipulate the viewer with plenty of tearful guilt that is really insignificant filmmaking, basically telling the viewer what they already know about losing someone, reminding us in many different ways just how bad it feels.  According to an interview with actress Sandra Bullock (The Cast Of 'Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close' Talk Navigating ...), “I think a lot of people haven’t been able to grieve.”  Just who are these people, and are they the same undecided voters who can’t make up their minds until they walk into a polling booth?  There have been endless discussions, news reports, magazine articles, radio chat sessions, online essays and personal recollections, fragmented memories, tributes, memorials, photos and video reminders, not to mention endless merchandising of the event, so certainly there has been time to process the event.  What we haven’t had before, which this film provides, is a child’s perspective, where despite the gravity of the event, this is almost exclusively viewed through the eyes of a child—not just any child, mind you, but a borderline autistic child whose brilliance is only overridden by his meticulously obsessive nature, where he views the world through a catalog file system that is nearly perfectly mathematically arranged.  In this way, the writers are allowed to paint with a broader brush, as this isn’t really a child so much as an overly mature young adult, but also one for which there is always a logical expression, where his brain continues to compute until everything makes sense, where the events of 9/11, of course, send the faculties of his brain into utter turmoil, where the computer does not compute and literally goes haywire. 

 

Despite an utterly maudlin story that tearfully shows a brilliant and highly sensitive 11-year old boy Oskar (Thomas Horn), with few social skills, on a journey through the streets of New York to find the connection between the father he lost on 9/11 and a mysterious key he found in his father’s belongings in an envelope identified only by the name “Black.”  In his mad rush to make sense of it all, he organizes everything with meticulous detail, like inventing a Dewey Decimal system for tracking down all the families named Black in the entire city, cataloging their addresses, where if he contacts each of them on foot only on weekends, taking no weekends off, he figures it will take him three years to complete his project.  Initially allotting 6 minutes per visit, he soon discovers that people offer him sympathy and hugs, have their own stories to tell, which takes considerably more time.  And while he enjoys the collective efforts to connect with him and offer some degree of comfort and friendship, snapping photos of those he meets along the way which he places in a scrapbook, all he really wants is to find out what the hell the key opens.  While the diverse population he encounters does resemble a portrait of those that lost their lives on that day, only two really stand out.  The first is Viola Davis as Abby Black, perhaps the first one visited, where Oskar bursts into her apartment with the subtlety of a blitzkrieg, forced to endure his non-stop, incessant chatter while already moved to tears by the impending separation with her husband who’s about to walk out the door, where she simply hasn’t the strength to send him on his way, so she endures both events happening simultaneously.  The other is an old and feeble man who can’t speak (Max von Sydow representing the unspoken voice of the dead), who may be his grandfather, though he claims to be a renter in his grandmother’s apartment, where he’s forced to write hand written notes for Oskar to understand.  Oskar asks him to tag along on his visits, which turn into carefully choreographed mime routines.    

 

Oskar runs everywhere he goes, never tiring, blurting out words like tiny explosions, where occasionally he tries to use his words to outrun his thoughts, where in his excitement the adrenaline takes over, creating a frenzied rush of near panic as he continually relives the events of that fateful day, telling perfect strangers what happened to him on 9/11.  Well how do you expect people to react?  As the film is a recording of his journey, we hear Oskar recall what happened to him over a dozen times, each one adding a significant detail left out of the last version, where the sum accumulation loses any hint of subtlety and starts pounding into your skull like a sledgehammer, where this literally becomes overkill.  Forcing the audience to re-live 9/11 over and over again in a movie theater through the repeated exploits of an overeager but delicate child is not exactly great theater, as we re-live the photos and the news reports and Oskar’s own personal recollections, all of which has some cathartic quality, one assumes, except that for many it doesn’t.  One’s reaction to a nationwide catastrophe is much too intimately personal, where none of us match the weird and eccentric personality traits of this overly precocious kid, nice as he may otherwise be, but he’s not us and he can’t be made to stand for us.  He’s who he is and he makes it understandable by making a child’s pop-up scrapbook of photos and memories, which he calls by the movie title, taking something that’s messy and condensing it all into something nice and neat and clean.  Unfortunately, there are many who survive the horrors of war, incest, rape, torture, the Holocaust, or Japanese-American internment camps, and can never utter a word about their experiences to their respective families.  For those many individuals who don’t believe America’s collective sentiment can be neatly compartmentalized or rolled into one and the same experience, this movie is something of a disgrace.  As a children’s story, this may have more value due to the originality of the child’s-eye view, but there are few kids who can identify with his bizarre personality, where as he ages, he’s only going to become more and more of a social outcast, and that has nothing to do with 9/11, but the reality of his psychological condition.  So while the film plays to a populist theme, it’s another example of oversimplification, ultimately little more than merchandising trauma. 

 

Time Out New York [Joshua Rothkopf]]

It is, simply, the “worst day”—that’s how 9/11 is referred to in Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2005 child’s-eye novel, ambitious if a touch forced. In being true to the intentionally naive material, filmmaker Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot, The Hours) has now created an earnest puddle of slop: Fragile nine-year-old Oskar (Horn), bereaved after his dad’s death at the World Trade Center, is too quiveringly stunned to be any kind of long-form surrogate for a viewer. You watch him roam through a shaken city nonetheless getting on with itself, and wish this brainy kid—or at least his director—could enjoy a nonglazed moment or two.

That’s not to say the best scenes don’t work, particularly those that transcend the specifics of that terrible Tuesday. Some geeky, relaxed work by Tom Hanks as the doting father helps you feel the toll taken on a sensitive relationship filled with microscopic inquiries, Barney Greengrass brunches and Central Park expeditions. Who will help this Aspergian child emerge? Alas, you also have to endure a guilt-ridden Max von Sydow (why cast one of the best voices in the biz to play a mute?) and the sad sight of Oskar’s handmade scrapbook, in which a jaunty red string restores a falling man to the 106th floor. We might have all felt like lost children for a while, but ten years later, the innocence is shameless.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo | The ... - Wall Street Journal  Joe Morgenstern

I've heard people say they weren't sure, even a decade after Sept. 11, if they could handle this film about a boy whose beloved father has recently died in one of the twin towers. I know what they mean. Almost half a century after Dallas, I still have trouble watching film of President Kennedy's assassination. Yet Stephen Daldry's screen version of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, adapted by Eric Roth, proves hard to handle for other reasons. The production's penchant for contrivance is insufferable—not a single spontaneous moment from start to finish—and the boy is so precocious you want to strangle him.

It's surely not the fault of Thomas Horn, the remarkable young man who plays him. In widely seen clips from his winning appearance on "Teen Jeopardy," Thomas was thoughtful, articulate and poised beyond his years. That must have made him seem like a natural for the role of Oskar Schell, who may or may not have Asperger's syndrome, and who outdoes any of J.D. Salinger's gifted kids in richness of vocabulary and complexity of ideas.

But Oskar in print is one thing. As you read the book (which I also disliked), you are tracking, at your own pace, the workings of the boy's mind—and the pain in his heart—as he searches New York City for a lock that matches a key his father has left behind. It's quite another thing to watch Oskar on the screen, with no respite from his shrill voice or his mannered behavior. A less remarkable actor—or Thomas himself, directed for simplicity—might have taken the curse off the movie's case of the terminal cutes. Mr. Daldry, however, chose to push his young star in the opposite direction, toward a totality of artifice that dilutes the impact of Sept. 11 and underscores the blissed-out illogic of Oskar's quest.

Sandra Bullock is Oskar's griefstruck mother, Linda, and Tom Hanks is his father, Thomas. In flashbacks, father and son express their special relationship with such relentlessly abstruse conversations that you long for one or the other to say something like "Let's have scrambled eggs." Max von Sydow gives a lively performance as The Renter, a mysterious mute. In another film his silence might be golden. In this one it goes platinum.

Scott Tobias  The Onion A.V. Club

In the aftermath of 9/11, the question arose of when it would be appropriate for popular art to address the events head-on. For a national tragedy of that magnitude, when would it not be “too soon”? Yet Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, an appalling adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, suggests that maybe that’s the wrong question. The 2006 docudrama United 93, once the trial balloon for “too soon,” dodged exploitation by focusing rigorously on the minutiae of a single flight. But it will always be “too soon” for Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, which processes the immense grief of a city and a family through a conceit so nauseatingly precious that it’s somehow both too literary and too sentimental, cloying yet aestheticized within an inch of its life. It’s 9/11 through the eyes of a caffeinated 9-year-old Harper’s contributor. 

Thomas Horn plays that 9-year-old as a boy who’s somewhere between precocious and autistic, given to channeling his energies through whimsical projects that give his intellect the exercise it needs. After his father (Tom Hanks) dies in the World Trade Center attacks, Horn discovers a key hidden in a vase in an envelope labeled “Black,” and embarks on a quest across the five boroughs to find out what the key opens and perhaps receive one last message from his dad. This involves looking up “Black” in the phone book, visiting every address—on foot, for he is too neurotic for public transit—and sharing his story. (Does a montage of all the diverse people he meets evoke the memorialized faces of the missing and the dead on 9/11? Sure does.) Sandra Bullock gets a few scenes as his exasperated mother, and Max von Sydow plays a mute old lodger who tags along. 

Through the boy’s journey, Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close tries to link the personal with the universal, connecting one story of grief within the larger context of a wounded-but-resilient city. (Spike Lee’s The 25th Hour accomplished this in one breathtaking montage, but still.) Yet the film is like a monument that calls attention to its own magnificent architecture—at one point, a “Black” actually cradles one of Horn’s letters to her breast like a newborn babe. Rather than dilute the sap, director Stephen Daldry slathers on Alexandre Desplat’s prodding score—he did the same with Philip Glass in The Hours—and makes a motif out of a body falling from one of the Twin Towers. It’s all very tasteful, he presumes.

Film Blather [Eugene Novikov]

"If I ask you a question, will you tell me the truth?

Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is relentless in the worst way. Every moment, every line of dialogue presses its themes and metaphors with a mulish determination. Each shot is an emotional appeal. Not for a second does the movie breathe; never does a character say or do something not perfectly on all fours with the film’s designs. When he feels too much slack on the rope, Daldry cranks up the musical score, or launches an overwhelmingly emotional montage, or just has his precocious protagonist start yelling. The movie is furiously obsessive, hell-bent. It will wear you down or die trying.

I can construct a theory of why it should be this way. Extremely Loud is, after all, a story of a young boy toward the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum (Thomas Horn), trying desperately to make sense of his father’s death in the September 11th attacks in the only way he knows how: by throwing his entire being into an elaborate, compulsively-formulated plan to search for something he believes his dad (Tom Hanks) meant for him to find. It makes a certain kind of sense that the film would be as meticulous and purposeful as its main character.

But even if this works as a conceit, what we have in execution is unspeakably pushy and obnoxious. It is not enough that young Oskar Schell must canvas a traumatized city with a business card reading “Amateur Entomologist and Pacifist” looking for the lock that fits a mysterious key found in his late father’s closet. He must also tow along with him an old geezer who is (a) mute; (b) wise; and (c) clearly a long-lost relative of some sort. And he must tell his long-suffering mother (Sandra Bullock) that he wishes it was her in that tower. And if all of that is not enough, there are at least three maudlin plot twists, each calibrated for maximum sob extraction. It’s frankly shameless.

The film deserves credit for featuring an autistic character as a bona fide protagonist, rather than a subject of curiosity and pity as in, e.g., The Black Balloon. But I note that Daldry and his screenwriter, Eric Roth, rather cynically turn this to their advantage. Oskar speaks (and narrates the film) in elaborate, verbose declamations, a fact that the screenplay implicitly ascribes to his Asperger’s, but that in practice allows Roth to repeatedly verbalize the film’s themes: how sometimes bad things happen and they don’t make sense no matter how hard you try to figure them out, or how Thomas’s quest is his attempt to cling to his father’s memory. A weird sort of exploitation.

To be clear, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is earnest, and mostly good-hearted, and I found it hard to hate. It moves pretty well, and is too slick to be boring. I certainly did not have the same virulent reaction as Scott Tobias, despite harboring many of the same complaints. But if you want a movie that genuinely grapples with the effect of 9/11 on New Yorkers who lived through it, look elsewhere (perhaps to Spike Lee’s 25th Hour). This is, if you can believe it, maybe the first mainstream example of 9/11 kitsch.

“Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “We ... - The New Yorker  David Denby

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Review | Cover Up Your - Pajiba  Brian Prisco

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Reelviews Movie Reviews  James Berardinelli

 

'Extremely Loud' Review - Entertainment - Time Magazine  Mary Pols

 

Slant Magazine [R. Kurt Osenlund]

 

Village Voice [Nick Pinkerton]

 

David Edelstein on 'War Horse,' - New York Magazine  David Edelstein

 

Next Projection [Christine J.]

 

Erik Lundegaard

 

PopcornReel.com [Omar P.L. Moore]

 

New York Observer [Rex Reed]

 

Review: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close mines 9/11 and - HitFix  Drew McWeeny

 

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Screen Daily  Brent Simon

 

Paste Magazine [Ani Vrabel]

 

Filmcritic.com  Bill Gibron

 

Film Review Online [James Dawson}

 

Review: 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close ... - Film School Rejects  Jack Giroux

 

Boxoffice Magazine [Pete Hammond]

 

ReelTalk [Diana Saenger]

 

Monsters and Critics [Anne Brodie]

 

exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

EFilmCritic [Brett Gallman]

 

DustinPutman.com [Dustin Putman]

 

TheYoungFolks.com [GabrielleAdelle]

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

EricDSnider.com [Eric D. Snider]

 

The Independent Critic [Richard Propes]

 

Criticize This! [Andrew Parker]

 

CompuServe [Harvey Karten]

 

Reel Film Reviews [David Nusair]

 

Georgia Straight [Janet Smith]

 

tonymacklin.net [Tony Macklin]

 

Motion Picture Academy Ho-Hum Over 'War Horse,' 'Extremely Loud' Screenings  Steve Pond from The Wrap

 

Stephen Daldry Talks Asperger's, Depicting 9/11 In 'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,' And The Oscars   Todd Gilchrist interviews the director from The indieWIRE Playlist, December 20, 2011

 

Stephen Daldry Discusses New Movie   Robert Sigel interviews the director from NPR, December 20, 2011

 

The Cast Of 'Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close' Talk Navigating ...  Gabe Toro speaks with several of the principals from The indieWIRE Playlist, December 23, 2011

 

Entertainment Weekly [Lisa Schwarzbaum]

 

The Hollywood Reporter [Todd McCarthy]

 

Variety [Peter DeBruge]

 

Extremely loud & incredibly sentimental - The Globe and Mail  Rick Groen

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Boston.com  Wesley Morris from The Boston Globe

 

'Hugo,' Plummer, Von Sydow and Close make this a ... - Boston Herald  James Verniere

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Reviews - Boston Phoenix  Bret Michel

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Washington Post  Ann Hornaday

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Matt Finley]

 

Kansas City Star [Jon Niccum]

 

Austin Chronicle [Kimberley Jones]

 

'Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close' review  Mick LaSalle from The SF Chronicle

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times

 

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - Movies - New York Times  December 22, 2011

 

Just Close Enough for an Oscar Nod? - NYTimes ... - New York Times  December 19, 2011

 

Daly, Rebecca

 

THE OTHER SIDE OF SLEEP

Ireland  Netherlands  Hungary  (88 mi)  2011

 

The Other Side of Sleep: Cannes Review  David Rooney at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 13, 2011

Murder-mystery from first-time director Rebecca Daly deliberately avoids suspense.

CANNES -- In her first feature, The Other Side of Sleep, Irish director Rebecca Daly channels much creative energy into atmosphere and mood, but shows less skill at developing characters or escalating tension. Like its chronic sleepwalker protagonist, who still bears the psychic scars of the disappearance and death of her mother 20 years earlier, this somber drama inhabits a gloomy dream state that’s intriguing but far too opaque.

The film opens mid-dream, as Arlene (Antonia Campbell-Hughes) wakes up in the woods of her small rural hometown in the Irish midlands next to the murdered body of a young woman. Reality and subconscious immediately begin to blur as news circulates that local girl Gina has been killed while returning home after a night out partying. Like a ghost observing her own life from the outside, Arlene registers the gossipy speculation of her fellow factory workers and the shell-shocked grief of Gina’s family at a community prayer service.

Obsessively collecting newspaper coverage of the murder while returning repeatedly to a photograph of the mother she was too young to remember, Arlene insinuates herself into the lives of the dead girl’s family. She befriends Gina’s sister (Vicky Joyce), and cautiously gets closer to the victim’s boyfriend (Sam Keeley), a suspect in the murder.

While the police investigation happens outside the confines of the narrative, Daly and co-screenwriter Glenn Montgomery cast suspicion over a number of shadowy figures, including Arlene’s factory boss and Gina’s troubled father. It’s suggested that Arlene might have committed the murder herself while sleepwalking, but more strongly, that she is courting her own death by wandering the town at night, willfully exposing herself to danger.

All this is moderately absorbing, but the filmmaker’s deliberate avoidance of suspense keeps the drama remote and unaffecting. Even in high-meltdown mode when Arlene is trashing her kitchen and smashing plates, we’re never encouraged to feel much for her, despite Campbell-Hughes’ intense vulnerability.

Characterized by extended silences, minimal dialogue, static shots and penetrating close-ups, the film’s melancholy stillness feels a little studied and its slow pacing makes it a slog. The contrasting notes of balefulness and raw sorrow are disquieting at times, but overall, its spell tends to dissipate without getting under the skin.

In texture, it’s not unlike AMC’s The Killing and the Danish TV series from which that highly addictive procedural drama was adapted. That show conjures death and grief into palpable, insidious forces that condition wave upon wave of unpredictable, often irrational behavior. Daly’s film, however, remains soft and impressionistic, too caught up in its own ambiguities.

The Other Side Of Sleep   Fionnuala Halligan at Cannes from Screendaily

With Irish accents so strong they require subtitles, Rebecca Daly’s Offaly villagers are palpably real; her dreamy story ebbs and flows around them as a psychologically frail young girl draws herself into the aftermath of a disturbing murder.

A Cannes Residence project, The Other Side Of Sleep is undeniably Irish but speaks the film language of the European art-house, where it should make an immediate impression, notching strong sales for Paris-based Memento Films (its closest relation is Urzula Antoniak’s Nothing Personal).

Daly’s haunting debut flirts with dreams and reality; it is under-stated yet powerfully etched. Although it can’t quite maintain the force of its opening sequences and an elliptical narrative sometimes takes a turn into muddy waters, The Other Side of Sleep is a notable debut with a lead performance that marks out young Antonia Campbell-Hughes as a talent to watch. Daly’s work with photographer Suzie Lavelle and her sound team of Michel Schopping and Marc Lister is notable throughout.

Arlene (Campbell-Hughes) is a sleepwalker since childhood, a lonely and vulnerable orphan living by herself in a downbeat Offaly village (this is not an Irish Tourist Board destination) with occasional visits from her grandmother.

None of this is apparent in the memorable opening sequence, however, when she rises from her bed and wakes up beside a dead body wrapped in a duvet in the woods. A factory worker, she leaves the scene, comes home and showers, and goes straight to work.

Arlene lives in a silent, internalised world; a friend jokes that people think she’s a little mad. The murder of her mother in England when she was an infant has left her cautious and alienated, yet somehow she has a need to reach out to the dead girl, whose smiling face reaches out of the newspapers to ensnare her. Villagers gossip about what might have happened, denigrating the victim and pointing the finger at her wild boyfriend (Keeley), who Arlene is also drawn to.

In the meantime, her sleepwalking - and terror of it - is intensifying, provoked by the trauma of waking up beside a corpse (although it does seem odd that in such a small town her neighbours would not be more aware of Arlene’s nocturnal ramblings). Arlene, at times, looks dangerously like she’s about to join a long line of cinema’s silent, blank-faced young girls, but Daly and her co-writer Montgomery have worked hard with young Campbell-Hughes to give her more than meets the eye.

Cannes critics praise director Rebecca Daly for The Other Side of Sleep  Vanessa Thorpe at Cannes from The Guardian, May 14, 2011

 

Damian, Anca

 

CROSSING DATES (Intalniri incrucisate)                    F                      9         

Romania  Finland (100 mi)  2008

 

This incoherent catastrophe is among the most stupefyingly awful films I have ever seen, which could possibly be due to the worst subtitling on record, but this first time feature film director was present during the screening claiming she wrote what we just saw, so I’m inclined to believe either her English is atrocious or she simply wrote the most insipid, god-awful dialogue I may have ever seen, as so much of it made absolutely no sense of any kind.  It was as if people were speaking pure gibberish for two of the three segments.  The film is in three parts, supposedly linked together by a common element, but don’t hold your breath for any real connection to speak of.  The director indicated this began as a film short that she expanded to feature length, so perhaps the final segment (at least in understandable language) was closer to the origin of her idea, while the other segments are pretty close to worthless.  They are laughably bad, but listening to the seriousness of the director afterwards, one realizes right away that she hasn’t even an ounce of a sense of humor, that she’s instead pretentiously full of self-justifying explanations.  I can only think she must know somebody important at a high level in Romania as this film is not suitable for screening.  I’m open to the possibility that in Romanian language this may be an altogether different film experience. 

 

As seen in a theater, an obnoxious radio personality is summoned for a prison interview to meet an inmate who is supposedly his exact double.  But when they meet, the interview goes nowhere.  It’s as uncomfortable an opening segment as one could possibly be subjected to, because if it’s 30 minutes in length, the first 25 have no interest whatsoever.  There is a scene of mild interest (a guy making a jerk of himself) in the parking lot afterwards.  In the second segment, the prison warden who is female meets up with a Finnish colleague at the airport for a business conference in Bucharest, where they apparently have a romantic history together, but you’d never know it by the inane dialogue that is entirely in English.  My only clue was the exposed cleavage in a red dress.  But they are interrupted in mid form by an unexpected visitor.  We’re not talking aliens here, which might have helped.  The two ignore the visitor still in their room and do the nasty on the floor.  A crisis sends the warden scurrying back to the prison.  In the final sequence, the visitor in the previous sequence actually has a life, happily meeting up with her brother after he’s released from prison, but he soon realizes she’s being handled by a goon who is offering her services for nude magazines, which sends the brother voluntarily scurrying back to the prison, like he’s somehow happier there.   

 

After watching this incomprehensible movie, the director takes the microphone and claims it’s all about the absence of love which is responsible for why people end up heading in the wrong directions.  Wow.  This is one stinker of a film to be avoided at all costs.      

 
Damiano, Gerard

 

DEEP THROAT

USA  (61 mi)  1972

 

Time Out

This notorious porn movie was originally released in 1972. Its sole intention is to arouse with close-ups of fellatio. One of three principal women, Lovelace, discovers that her clitoris is in the wrong place - in her throat. Cue close-ups of one dick-swallowing trick after another. Stilted performances, dud production values and a thrashy, hilariously cheesy '70s soundtrack.

Cinepassion.org [Fernando F. Croce]

A dirty-funky joke, the one about the small woman on Swallow Street, the salacious party trick that spread out of sticky Times Square screens and into 1970s American culture like a tremor. The tone is offhand carnal vaudeville, Linda Lovelace -- frizzy, freckled, slender, affectingly half-lost -- wanders into her bungalow and nonchalantly greets her cigarette-dangling roommate (Dolly Sharp), who’s spread on the kitchen counter with a lout’s head between her thighs. Orgasms have long eluded the heroine, sex makes her "sort of tingly all over, and then... nothing." An orgy leaves a roomful of exhausted studs strewn about the living room but none of those bursting dams and exploding bombs she yearns for. Finally, in a medical examination adorably patterned after A Day at the Races, the Ovidian revelation: Her clitoris is hidden deep in her larynx, the bell at the bottom of the well. The doctor (Harry Reems) volunteers to help her overcome her gag complex ("a matter of discipline"), the oral spectacle that follows startles, tickles, and earns its shuddering orgasmic montage of fireworks and rockets. Parodying a certain Mickey & Sylvia hit, the soundtrack tries to make sense of it all ("Looooove is strange, a lot of people like it in the mouth..."). As befits a tale of displaced anatomy and pleasure, Gerard Damiano’s crossover triple-X smash is a male fantasy of female desire, a Doris Day-Rock Hudson romp with the polished veneer scraped off and the coy innuendo replaced with slapdash, raunchy surrealism (Lovelace in nursing lingerie readying herself for an old kinkster’s soda pop and straw, a spent Reems clutching his bandaged schlong under the sheets, "wounded in the line of duty"). Nixon led the prudes after it only to have its title haunt his dethroning scandal, Cronenberg took the yonic drollery and ran with it. As for Lovelace, there she is gasping in her final close-up, flushed and smeary and smiling, ready to be launched as pop emblem and pop casualty. With Carol Connors, Bill Harrison, Bob Phillips, Jack Birch, and William Love.

The Deuce [Ed Demko]

There's no doubt that the Gerard Damiano's 1972 porn masterpiece "Deep Throat" is not only one of the most successful films of all time, but it's also one that holds a great deal of historical significance as well. It was the first and only porn film that managed to get a great deal of mainstream attention and recognition at the time and even helped coin the phrase "Porno chic". Because of "Deep Throat" it was thought that pornographic films would start to move outside of the underground and into the mainstream theaters all over the United States. Although that never happened it certainly is one of the reasons why people have more lax attitudes on the subject up until this day. Without the release of "Deep Throat" who knows if that would have ever been possible.

Another thing that "Deep Throat" should be credited for is introducing the world to the most famous porno actress of all time, Linda Lovelace. At the time the actress became a phenomenon outside of the pornographic film industry and somewhat of an icon of porn. After all she didn't play a character in the film as she played herself. Understandably she was deserving of the attention however because not only was she actually funny in the movie but she also had a charisma about her that better looking porn actresses of today could never achieve. Not only that but she was the first woman to perform a "deep throat" in a porn flick before and it pretty much had jaw's dropping in every theater that it was shown.

Linda Lovelace however wouldn't be the only porn actor in the film though to become a phenomenon. The most memorable role to me in the film however goes to veteran porn actor Harry Reems who played the hilariously over the top Doctor Young. Not only did Reems show his acting chops in the film as well as his talents in comedy, but managed to really work well with Lovelace in the film. It was later said that Lovelace was sweet on Reems and would work very well with him when they managed to get rid of her pimp/boyfriend Chuck Traynor (who is actually credited as a production manager on the film) for the shoot. Reems himself was brought up on charges in Memphis at one time for "conspiracy to transport interstate obscene material" for a movie that he simply acted in. He's even mentioned that he felt that he was a recognizable part of the film and was getting the punishment for it. Director Gerard Damiano and star Linda Lovelace were actually brought in to be witnesses against him. He also mentioned that the only reason the case was overturned is because the Republicans had lost control of the White House when Jimmy Carter was elected, as Nixon was dead set on going after the porn industry as the Watergate controversy spiraled out of control.

The thing about "Deep Throat" though that made it special was the fact that the movie had better production values than most other pornographic films from that time period. Although by today's standards it's not much to look at, it's still one of the first pornographic films to achieve such high technical standards at the time as were many of the Mafioso funded films of Gerard Damiano. At the end of the day it looks like your typical B-movie, but if you are at all familiar with pornography made before it as well as porno loops you'll see just how much better the production is here as a whole.

Another notable about the movie is that some Hollywood stardom has actually come out of it in the strangest of ways. See actress Carol Conners and actor Jack Birch worked on the film together and collectively they are the parents of actress Thora Birch who starred in the Academy Award winning film "American Beauty".

The main thing about "Deep Throat" was the fact that it's still to this day the biggest money maker as far as film at the box office goes. Sure Titanic made more at the box office but it certainly cost more to make. "Deep Throat" was shot on a modest $24,000 budget while bringing in an estimated 600 million dollars making it the most profitable film ever made. Considering that most of the money coming in was doing so in cash, it's believed that the movie actually made more over the billion dollar mark but there is no evidence to prove it. Most of the money was going into illegal activities and it's been noted that the mob couldn't figure out how to cover up all of the money that was coming in.

Overall, "Deep Throat" is a historically significant film that deserves the attention that it has received. It's one of the most important films ever made and I would dare to say that it's easily the most important adult film that has ever been produced.

VideoVista [Andrew Darlington]

 

eFilmCritic Reviews  The Ultimate Dancing Machine

 

Movie Vault [Avril Carruthers]

 

Adult DVD Talk - VCA [Flash]

 

Adult DVD Talk [Selena Silver]

 

Adult DVD Talk [classic connoisseur]

 

All Movie Guide [Matthew Doberman]

 

Channel 4 Film

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

Deep Throat (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Deep-throating - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat 1972  YouTube (59 seconds)

 

Daney, Serge – film critic

 

Chronicle Of A Passion  Steve Erickson has many Daney offerings, some translated by Erickson himself

Although widely considered the best living French film critic at the time of his death in 1992, Serge Daney remains pretty much unknown in the English-speaking world. An editor of CAHIERS DU CINEMA from 1974 to 1981, critic for the daily LIBERATION from 1981 until his death, and founder of TRAFIC, Daney published four books during his lifetime. An additional three (a collection of journal entries, L'EXERCISE A ETE PROFITABLE, MONSIEUR; a book-length interview, PERSEVERANCE; an anthology of sportswriting, L'AMATEUR DE TENNIS) have come out posthumously. Yet no publisher has found it worth their while to put out an English-language Daney collection .

Thanks to the graciousness of editor Paul Willemen, I've finally managed to get a copy of the manuscript for Daney's CINEMA IN TRANSIT, an unpublished English-language anthology acquired by the British Film Institute in 1994. I've written to them to inquire about the possibility of posting it on this site but have yet to receive a response and doubt I ever will. If anyone out there would like a copy, please contact me.

In other Daney news, the French publisher POL has just released a collection of his work from 1964 through 1981, the period when he wrote for CAHIERS DU CINEMA. The best source for ordering Daney's French books in North America appears to be  Gallimard, Montreal's French-language bookstore. They carry TRAFIC, as well.

For your one-stop Daney needs, you can take a look at the Serge Daney in English blog.

Jonathan Rosenbaum on Serge Daney introduced by Adrian Martin from Senses of Cinema

 

Montage Obligatory   The War, the Gulf and the Small Screen, by Serge Daney from Rouge

 

Serge Daney: L’Homme cinéma - Harvard Film Archive  a retrospective of films advocated by Daney

 

The Tracking Shot in Kapo   Serge Daney from Senses of Cinema, originally published in Trafic, Fall 1992

 

The Missing Image  The Missing Image – From Cinephilia to the World –  The Trajectory of Serge Daney, Jonathan Rosenbaum from New Left Review, 2005

 

Dzenis on Postcards from the cinema  Serge Daney, Postcards from the cinema, review by Anna Dzenis from Screening the Past, July 19, 2007

 

Obituary written by Adrian Martin
 
Dang Di, Phan
 
BI, DON’T BE AFRAID! (Bi, Dung So!)

Vietnam  France  Germany  (96 mi)  2010

Bi, Don't Be Afraid! (Bi, Dung So!)  Lisa Nesselson at Cannes from Screendaily

Grounded in the authentic bustle of Hanoi and the uncomfortable interplay of familial relationships Bi, don’t be afraid! is a thoughtful cinematic exploration of inchoate longing, the messy consequences of physical decline and encroaching death, and confirmation that sex and youthful exuberance spring eternal. Frankly and overtly sensual with scant dialogue, this contemporary portrait of relatives living in close quarters while harbouring secrets is conveyed with impressive visual assurance.

Writer-director Phan Dang Di’s leisurely debut feature, which was part of the Cinefondation’s Atelier line-up in 2008, is a heat-soaked panorama of human desires that is probably more festival fare than art house material in most territories, but bodes very well for the directing future of Phan Dang Di who wrote the screenplay for Bui Thac Chuyen’s 2009 Venice Horizons and Toronto competition title Adrift (Choi Voi).

Ice is a recurring motif. It’s so hot that six-year-old lad Bi’s favourite place to play is among the various work stations at a neighbourhood ice factory. Bi’s attractive but strait-laced Aunt is later seen masturbating with a hunk of ice.

Bi’s seriously ill paternal grandfather has recently returned from years abroad and uses ice to dull the painful cramps in his belly. 

Bi’s father’s coping mechanism consists of getting sloppy drunk with cronies every night in a large outdoor café.  Bi, his father and grandfather, while each distinct characters, seem to suggest three major phases in every man’s life. Bi forms a bond with his ailing granddad.

Bi’s mother is frustrated by her husband’s filial cowardice and unwillingness to have sex… at least with her. The family’s cook is a not-always-silent witness to the proceedings.

Bi’s spinster aunt looks after him more attentively than the rest of the household. When do-gooders fix her up with a man they think might be a suitable mate, she struggles to take his advances in stride. But it’s a much younger man she encounters by chance who will rock her to the core.

Various couplings boast convincing raw energy. While there’s not a lot of humour, a scene in which two characters inhale helium from balloons and carry on a high-pitched conversation is as funny as it is incongruous.

Daniel, Bill
 
WHO IS BOZO TEXINO?

USA  (56 mi)  2005

 

10/05 IN THE RAILROAD EARTH : Bill Daniel's 'Who Is Bozo Texino ...  Neil Young from Jigsaw Lounge

 

Who Is Bozo Texino? is a great American movie, and its greatness is tied up very closely with its American-ness. With this brilliant experimental documentary, self-styled hobo film-maker Daniel places himself firmly in the bootprints of Jack London, Jack Kerouac, Walt Whitman, Woody Guthrie - a fine, long tradition of American artists who look for their inspiration to the marginal, the underclass, the vagabond and the outcast. Nominally a chronicle/survey/history of boxcar graffiti (a tradition as old as the railroad itself) and the men who create it, Who Is Bozo Texino? soon transcends its narrow subject-matter to become a gloriously rough-edged elegy for an America which is being swept away before our eyes.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of documentaries - even entertaining recent examples like Murderball, Dogtown and Z-Boys and Stoked - Daniel's film manages a near-perfect union of radical form and radical content, And it does so in consistently accessible style: at first you're intrigued by the stunning monochrome images captured by his self-effacing, sensitively-handled camera(s); by the startling kineticism of his fluent editing style; by the sheer range of voices, music and sound-effects we hear as he tracks down a series of grizzled hobos and wisdom-dispensing graffiti-'markers.'
  
Then you realise that, just as these men have always instinctively rejected authority and convention, Daniel (who has made a fantastic old-school poster for the movie) has likewise embraced the unorthodox in his style of film-making - even down to his choice of title and running-time. Indeed, in less than an hour Daniel manages to say more about life, art, America and the simple joy of film-making than most directors manage in decades.

 

There's a secret stigma, reaping wheel
Diminish, a carnival of sorts
Chronic town, poster torn, reaping wheel
Stranger, stranger to these parts
Gentlemen don't get caught, cages under cage.
Gentlemen don't get caught,
Box cars (are pulling) out of town,

There's a secret stigma, reaping wheel
Stranger, stranger to these parts
Chronic town, poster torn, reaping wheel
Diminish, stranger

Box cars are pulling
a carnival of sorts
Out of town

 
Daniels, Lee
 
PRECIOUS                                                               B                     83

USA  (109 mi)  2009

 

While there is a compelling story here and moments of brilliance in certain scenes, the amateurish direction and lack of subtlety, despite the attention to detail, seriously overdramatizes at the wrong times, creating an uneven tone throughout, especially an over-reliance on Precious’s high gloss fantasy world, where the editing is at times atrocious, adding artificial sequences so jarringly obnoxious that their garish style undermines the otherwise established realist tone, which has the effect of muddling the story, as these fantasy sequences, many shown early on in short succession, detract more than they add, each time juxtaposed immediately following a humiliating violent confrontation, where the dramatic power of the moment gets lost in a glitter collage of teen wish fulfillment where Precious sees herself as a slender white girl.  This story is so compelling it needs no glorification, as the life of Claireece “Precious” Jones, played by newcomer Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, is about as abusive and horrifying as it gets, a morbidly obese teenage black girl in Harlem whose mother (Mo’Nique) berates her constantly, ordering her around like her personal slave while also physically abusing her, subjecting her to mental defeatism by continually telling her she is worthless.  Despite going to high school and enjoying the world away from her mother, she sits in the back and does not participate, never learning to read or write.  When she becomes pregnant at 16 with her second child, her first born with Downs syndrome at 12, repeatedly raped by her own father, her mother’s boyfriend, the school principal suggests an alternative school that would help her learn to read.  The mother has a conniption because she thinks it will affect her welfare check, and Mo’Nique has a welfare queen scam going on to collect as much welfare as possible by doing absolutely nothing, where her life consists of drinking and smoking cigarettes in front of the TV while making her daughter’s life as miserable as possible, actually blaming her for stealing her boyfriend.  Precious, however, is a gentle giant who silently endures it all, but it’s clear she’s never had a moment of happiness in her life.   

 

The opening sequences are so harrowingly miserable that they are only made worse by what feel like one-note, stereotypical depictions of meanness and abuse that thrive on crude language and over-melodramatizations.  But once Precious finds her new school, a new world opens up to her, coming under the tutelage of the near saintly Ms. Rain, an excellent Paula Patton, who is a stand-in for Sapphire, a former Harlem literacy instructer and the lesbian author of the book Push upon which the film is based, named one of the top ten books in 1996.  Ms. Rain feels right at home with the most difficult, hardest to reach students, all girls as it turns out, but she treats each with the kind of respect they never get at home, so her classroom becomes a safe haven and offers some of the best moments in the film.  The girls themselves are a treat, all stylish attitude with hair trigger tempers and foul mouths that fume in sexual innuendo.  The teaching method, unfortunately, feels very similar to Hillary Swank’s portrayal with at-risk high school kids in FREEDOM WRITERS (2007), where she similarly has her students spend time every day writing about their personal experiences in their diaries, which opens up their eyes by forcing them to verbalize their thoughts.  This teaching method requires Precious to learn how to read and write in miraculous fashion, all supposedly during her pregnancy, though her actual speech is literred with foul, sexually graphic terminology.  (See an excerpt from the book at the Random House publishing website)  One of the problems with black lesbian writers is not only their hostility towards black men in general, where Precious’s father is depicted as a savage ghost, mostly an offscreen presence, yet responsible for the ruination of a young girl’s life, a common thread seen throughout the works of Alice Walker, Ntozake Shange, Tina Mabry, or now Sapphire, but they also can’t resist depicting an idealized, rainbow-colored camaraderie between the women where sisterhood suddenly materializes at the hospital, all rallying their united support around Precious when she delivers her baby, an odd twist because these women were at each other’s throats with a healthy dose of scorn and skepticism in the previous scenes. 

 

Sidibe narrates her story throughout the film, much of it taken from her diary entries, spoken in a calm monotone of semi-literate, stream-of-conscious language as she describes the gritty, unforgiving world around her, oftentimes feeling so alienated and alone that she may as well be from another planet.  Like Celie, a similarly abused child in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, both survive by developing a trust in language, Precious in her diary entries, Celie in her series of letters, which connects them both to the outside world.  There’s a manipulative pan shot as figures in black history encircle Precious as she is suddenly capable of connecting a sense of self and identity to her own history.  Precious eventually reveals the truth about her father to the welfare office, where the sympathetic worker is played by a near unrecognizable Mariah Carey without makeup, where their bond along with her school and teacher allows Precious to confront her mother with a renewed belief in herself.  What happens gets ugly, and is a bit hard to believe, but baby in hand, Precious hits the streets in the snow with nowhere to go, which in her case is grounds for optimism.  There are several outstanding moments, Sidibe has hers after discovering her father passed the HIV virus to her, where she is literally laid bare in class, exposed perhaps for the first time in her life, while Mo’Nique has a similar confession, probably the scene of the film, when the social worker at the welfare office demands to know what she was doing while her boyfriend was having sex with her daughter.  It’s a gut-wrenching moment that is beyond words, but it releases a world of indescribable pain off the shoulders of a 16-year old girl whose life has finally been handed back to her.  It’s these haunting moments of raw emotion that save the film, as the performances are simply outstanding.  Overall the tone of the film is uneven and manipulative throughout, and doesn’t really match that dramatic firepower offered in a few brilliant scenes, but it’s nonetheless searingly intense, uniquely relevant, and hard to look away from this seamy underside of life.         

 

Time Out Online (Geoff Andrew) review [3/6]

Harlem, the late ’80s: Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones is 16, terribly overweight, illiterate, frequently bullied and already pregnant for a second time – by her own father. Only when she’s sent (against her mother’s wishes) to an alternative school and begins to express her anger and pain does life begin to seem a little less hellish. It’s hard to be unaffected by this familiar story of horrendous abuse, though a certain slickness and literalism in scripting, camerawork and cutting threaten to turn the film into a kind of Sundance variation on the ‘sickness movie of the week’ genre. But the performances somehow make it work: not just Sidibe as Precious, but Mo’Nique as her mother, who in one scene towards the end single handedly takes the movie into far more rewardingly complex territory.

Time Out New York (Keith Uhlich) review [2/6]

Given the months-long hype, what’s most bewildering about Sundance sensation Precious is its overall shrug-worthiness. You’d think the litany of horrors that befall Harlem teenager Clareece “Precious” Jones (Sidibe)—illiteracy, rape, domestic abuse, Mariah Carey—would register with some piercing and perceptive effect. Instead, they pass by with the glazed-over, lookie-lookie luridness of a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode.

And yet, at the film’s center is a fully lived-in performance by newcomer Gabourey “Gabby” Sidibe, who will hopefully go on to better things and not be cast aside, Slumdog-style, in the post-awards season. The actor holds her own with such scene-stealers as Mo’Nique—dangling her cigarettes with Oscar-baiting malevolence as Precious’s mom, Mary—and navigates the neorealism-lite trappings with brazen, always arresting confidence.

The film’s best scenes take place in a literacy class headed by a tough-love educator (Patton). It’s here that Precious finds the means to express herself in ways reminiscent of Celie, the uneducated heroine of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. Indeed, director Lee Daniels seems to be aping Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Purple (specifically the sequence where Celie discovers a long-hidden pile of letters from her sister) in the moment when the camera circles Precious while video images of Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, et al. are projected around her. The meaning is the same—history floods the consciousness of both Celie and Precious and powerfully widens their worldview—but Daniels’s methods are decidedly cruder. It’s hardly surprising that, in another instance, he emphasizes the revulsion of incest by cutting to a pan of sizzling eggs. Even the worst behaviors, he appears to be saying, have to go over easy.

Moving Pictures magazine [Eric Kohn]  at Cannes

Lee Daniels' Precious could go wrong in many ways, and yet nimbly avoids the obvious trappings of the material. Based on the novel Push (and screened at Sundance under that name) by noted poet Sapphire, the story focuses on an overweight, pregnant, Harlem teenager (Gabourey Sidibe, in her first movie role) at odds with her crazed single mother (Mo'Nique) and the larger possibilities of the world around her. With a lively soundtrack and heavily stylized manifestations of the girl's emotional distress, Precious frequently approaches the dangers of getting too ambitious - and somehow emerges unscathed.

This results from more than just Daniels' directorial guidance. Primarily recognized for producing Monster's Ball rather than for his sole previous directing credit, Shadowboxer, Daniels tends to pile on many ideas at once, which runs the risk of alienating his viewers. But the constant experimental formalism in Precious jibes with the nature of the characters, and thus succeeds because the performances never falter. Sidibe turns in a frighteningly low-key onscreen personality to reflect Precious' abused, withdrawn nature (her father raped her, adding two children to her life). This creates a powerful contrast with the vibrant world inside her head, where she dreams of a happier life. In her fantasies, Precious wears lavish clothing, dances with the man of her dreams, smiles for the cameras and pleases the crowds. The movie tracks her progress from wishing for this impossibly palatial world to understanding how to correct the problems of the one in which she resides.

By staying close to his main character's downtrodden perspective for most of the film, Daniels keeps things refreshingly simplistic despite the dark themes. Because of her poor schooling and virtually nonexistent parental guidance, Precious views the world with childlike simplicity - and yet she develops a sense of confidence that fosters her own personalized intellectual capabilities. A witty moment where Precious imagines herself in an old, histrionic Italian movie as it airs on television, echoing Oliver Stone's ironic use of canned laugh tracks in Natural Born Killers, shows us the remarkable complexity of the girl's escapist tendencies. But just as she grows more distant from her unhappy existence, it starts to improve.

Guided by the passionate welfare case worker Mrs. Weiss (Mariah Carey, surprisingly less showy than one might imagine) and the supportive efforts of a teacher (Paula Patton) in the alternative school where she goes after proving herself academically superior to low-rent public school education, Precious gradually steps out of her mental box. This transition would simply not seem credible without Sidibe's extraordinarily subtle performance. Watching her try to comprehend her constantly expanding universe is at once scary and sociologically fascinating. In early scenes, since she lacks the verbal skills and optimism to find success, her daydreams contain a cold, disconnected feeling that constantly reminds us of their unreality - strengthening the discomfort permeating the real world.

Mo'Nique's awards-ready performance completes the puzzle. A grotesque manifestation of American poverty, it gives us one of the more memorable and important movie monsters in years. She's composed of fragments, much like the structure of the film; an abusive husband, lack of work ethic and no evident talent give rise to her own rage, which she takes out on her despondent child. But as Precious grows out of the psychological cage where her mother desperately tries to trap her, Mo'Nique gets the opportunity to allow her character to blossom into a fully believable human being. Her final monologue, a self-defense of her bad mothering delivered to Mrs. Weiss, explains not only her own flaws but how they prevented Precious from reaching her potential. The scene is unabashedly manipulative but not vindictive, making it an apt summation of the movie itself.

New York Times review  Michiko Kakutani, June 14, 1996

What do you get if you borrow the notion of an idiosyncratic teen-age narrator from J. D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" and mix it up with the feminist sentimentality and anger of Alice Walker's "Color Purple"? The answer is "Push," a much-talked-about first novel by a poet named Sapphire, a novel that manages to be disturbing, affecting and manipulative all at the same time.

Like Celie in "The Color Purple," the heroine of "Push" is the survivor of a brutal childhood and youth; at the age of 16, Claireece or "Precious" as she calls herself, has already had two children by the man she knows as her father. Her mother has not only allowed these rapes to occur, but also beats Precious for stealing her man. She, too, sexually abuses Precious, and treats her as a maidservant around the house.

It's hard to imagine how things could get much worse, but in the course of "Push," Sapphire throws a lot more misfortune Precious's way. Little Mongo, Precious's first child, to whom she gave birth at the age of 12, turns out to have Down's syndrome and is quickly taken away from her. A week after her second child, Abdul, is born, Precious finds herself out on the streets of Harlem, without a place to live. Not much later, she learns that her father has infected her with H.I.V.

Given these circumstances, it's no surprise that Precious often feels as if her mind has become a television set, playing and replaying videos that offer her a brief respite from the bleak realities of her daily life. In these daydreams, she is thin, not fat; white, not black; loved, not mocked.

"Push," however, is not the story of a helpless or self-loathing victim. It's meant to be a story of female empowerment and triumph. Through the help of a gifted teacher named Rain, Precious learns to read and write. She learns how to write down her own experiences and turn them into poetry. She also gets hooked up with an incest survivors' support group, and a H.I.V.-positive support group. She gains friends, self-respect and the hope of one day going to college. "Push," the paramedic says to her when she's giving birth. "Push," says her teacher, when she despairs of making anything of her life.

What prevents all this from sounding as cloying as the characters' names is Precious's street-smart, angry voice, a voice that may shock readers with its liberal use of four-letter words and graphic descriptions of sex, but a voice that also conjures up Precious's gritty, unforgiving world. Sapphire somehow finds lyricism in Precious's life, and in endowing Precious with her own generous gifts for language, she allows us entree into her heroine's state of mind.

Precious talks of the neighborhood addicts with "kraters like what u see wen you look at spots on the moon" on their arms, and girls in her incest support group who sit in a circle with "faces like clocks, no bombs." She speaks of time seeming "like clothes in the washing machine at laundry mat -- round 'n round, up 'n down," and the television in her own head, "always static on, flipping picture."

"I'm walking across the lobby room real real slow," Precious recalls. "Full of chicken, bread; usually that make me not want to cry remember, but I feel like crying now. My head is like the swimming pool at the Y on one-three-five. Summer full of bodies splashing, most in shallow end; one, two in deep end. Thas how all the time years is swimming in my head. First grade boy say, Pick up your lips Claireece 'fore you trip over them."

Although the reader comes to feel enormous sympathy for Precious, one is constantly aware of the author standing behind the scenes, orchestrating her heroine's terrifying plummet into the abyss and her equally dramatic rescue. The first time we see Precious with a book at school, she is having difficulty sounding out the words in a picture book and learning the alphabet. Only pages later, her teacher is trying to get her to read "The Color Purple" in class.

For that matter, Alice Walker's ghost hovers more and more insistently over "Push" as the novel progresses, lending Precious's story a blunt ideological subtext. We learn that white social workers are foolish, patronizing liberals, and that men are pigs who only think about sex. Though it's easy to understand how Precious might hold all of these views, it soon becomes clear that Precious's creator, Sapphire, is also stacking the deck. In a lengthy postscript in which Precious's classmates tell the story of their lives, we are treated to a recitation of crimes committed against women by men. Rita's father kills her mother in front of her eyes, and Rita begins working as a hooker at the age of 12. Rhonda is raped by her brother, then thrown out of the house by her mother; when she gets a job taking care of an old white man, he asks her for sexual favors. Jermaine is molested by a boy at the age of 7, then raped by a friend's father a few years later; at 19, she is assaulted by six men.

No doubt this rapid-fire sequence of horrifying stories is supposed to mean that Precious has finally found a community of friends with shared experiences. Instead, they leave the reader with the feeling that one has abruptly exited the world of the novel and entered the world of a support group. In trying to open out her heroine's story and turn it into a more general comment on society, Sapphire has made the tale of Precious decidedly less moving than it might have been.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review 

There are worst-case scenarios, and then there is Precious, who’s in a hellish league of her own. The heroine and narrator of the novel Push by Sapphire (born Ramona Lofton), now a much-hyped film called Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, is the embodiment of everything—I mean, everything—American society values least and victimizes most. She’s a poor, illiterate, morbidly obese, dark-skinned African-American girl. She was raped by her father from the age of 3, pregnant with his child at 12 (the baby, which she names Mongo, has severe Down syndrome), and then pregnant by him again at 16, when the novel begins. She’s also sexually molested by her jealous, welfare-cheating, gross, and sedentary mother, although the genital fingering might seem preferable to the verbal and physical abuse. The book gives you quite a bludgeoning. I started to pull back from it in a flashback when the 12-year-old girl is in labor on the kitchen floor and her mother is kicking her in the face.

Sapphire goes on to chart Precious’s journey from darkness to light: her transfer to an alternative school and acceptance into a warm, matriarchal community, where she’s encouraged to give voice to her experiences in poetry and prose. A former teacher, Sapphire wants to show young women that if the damaged, emotionally locked-up Precious can develop a sense of self-worth and autonomy, anyone can. But Push, written in Precious’s distinctive patois (“I still don’t say nuffin’. This hoe is keeping me from maff class. I like maff class”), is so schematic, so single-minded in its depiction of predatory evil and empowering good that you may think its title is not an exhortation to drive through pain but a description of the author’s technique.

I dwell on the novel because the movie leads with it (that subtitle!) and because it faithfully, even reverently, sticks to Sapphire’s outline. But the director, Lee Daniels, working from a screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher, has a good sense of when to push and when to lie back. His rhythms are punchy—abrasive without being assaultive. And he has such a striking actress in Gabourey Sidibe, who plays Precious, that he doesn’t need to force her alienation—or ours. I’m not judging girls who look like Sidibe in life, but her image onscreen is jarring to the point of being transgressive, its only equivalent to be seen in John Waters’s pointedly outrageous carnivals. Her head is a balloon on the body of a zeppelin, her cheeks so inflated they squash her eyes into slits. Her expression is either surly or unreadable. Even with her voice-over narration, you’re meant to stare at her ebony face and see nothing. The movie is saying that she’s not an object, but the way that Sidibe is directed she becomes one. It’s only in a couple of heavy-handed fantasy sequences (she emerges from a theater in a bright-red gown to popping flashbulbs) that her eyes are windows to the soul.

Daniels does everything to hold the melodrama at bay, but there’s only so much he can do. The comedian Mo’Nique gives a vivid and surprisingly varied performance as Precious’s mother, Mary (ironic-name alert): I have no doubt she found psychological justifications for Mary’s sadism, for the displacement onto Precious of her fury at a man who she thinks preferred her daughter to her. But the woman who drops a TV onto Precious as she hurries down the stairs with her infant is a sociopath, too singularly garish to be universal. As Precious’s teacher, Ms. Rain, Paula Patton is at the other extreme. A light-skinned beauty with fine features, she has a network-TV wholesomeness: Even her lesbianism has the equivalent of a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval—a poster on her wall of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. The most offbeat touch is a social worker played by Mariah Carey. She’s a tad too goody-goody, but her toasty, caressing voice is a gift beside Sidibe’s mush-mouthed monosyllables.

Daniels does well with the girls in Precious’s class, who have a mordant, barbed rapport. They’re almost as defended as she is, so when they bond with her it’s not sticky: You can feel their relief in being able to get out of their own heads and be kind. That’s when the film is genuinely moving without being manipulative. But it somehow skips over the part where Precious actually learns. When she tells us, in voice-over, that she won a literacy prize, you may think you missed something. Precious jumps from signpost to signpost. Set in 1987, it features obligatory images on TV of Reagan and Ollie North—but also, for hope’s sake, photos of Oprah Winfrey (thinner than she was at the time), who signed onto the film as co-executive-producer after it was made. The elements of Precious are powerful and shocking, but the movie is programmed. It is its own study guide.

Edelstein's Response to Commenters  a response to his angered critics, specifically Latoya Peterson at Jezebel: 

Some readers (and a posse led by Latoya Peterson at Jezebel) are angered by my review of Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. They believe my language reflects deep and both conscious and unconscious prejudices toward African-Americans, obesity, and the so-called “underclass.” Defending myself against those charges (as well as outright abuse) is bound to be a losing battle, but I respect the feelings of Peterson and many of her commenters (the least abusive, anyway) and am sick at the thought that my attempts to evoke this movie have been viewed so harshly — and, I believe, unfairly.

When a filmmaker in or out of Hollywood makes a movie about a victimized African-American girl, you can expect him or her to cast an actress who is thin and light-skinned with big round eyes to make everyone — black and white — want to identify with her. Lee Daniels, in filming Precious, has gone to the opposite extreme. He presents a heroine, Precious (Gabourey Sidibe), who is, in the context of mainstream American culture, on the bottom rung status-wise. That is not my prejudice; it is reflected in every aspect of our society, from job opportunities to magazine covers. (Outside of Oprah, who has spent millions to lose and keep her weight off, it’s hard to think of another overweight African-American cover girl — until now, anyway.) It is unjust, it is mean, it is destructive, it is inhuman, but it is true. It’s also the whole point of the movie (even more so than the novel). Here is an obese, black-skinned (as opposed to latte-colored), pregnant, illiterate, poor girl: She has everything against her. And Daniels, like Sapphire, continues to pile on the abuses. She is sexually assaulted by both parents. She is beaten into unconsciousness with a cast-iron pan. She is kicked in the face giving birth. She is expelled from school for being pregnant — not even her fault but the result of her father’s rape. She has AIDS.

Contrary to commenters' assertions (“What does it transgress, exactly? Because she is, you know, human, and she looks like a human … The usage is just racist. And sizeist”), “transgressive” isn’t a misuse of my thesaurus and it doesn’t reflect my racism or prejudice against fat people. In the context of movies, her image is a shock; it throws you violently outside your normal frame of reference, forcing you to rethink your assumptions. My assumptions are not, as many have inferred, judgmental. I’ve had weight issues all my life. My mother, an M.D., once treated obesity (or tried like hell) and in filling in for her receptionist in my late teens I saw what women in the African-American community with a certain body type and metabolism were up against — especially since they were surrounded by crap food (which, as the great documentary Food, Inc. makes clear, is both addictive and cheaper — thanks to corn subsidies — than, say, a head of broccoli). As for her affect, Sidibe is reportedly a bubbly, outgoing girl in life, but she is directed to be inexpressive. Again, that’s the point. Horribly abused and slighted or ignored by those around her, Precious has learned to reveal nothing. The first time you can see into her eyes is in her glamorous fantasy sequences, when Precious can let go.

I could have used euphemisms in describing the way she is presented to us, but I don’t think that would have evoked the movie. Daniels is very calculating in how he uses Sidibie’s image. He also has a scene in which she stares into a mirror and sees a beautiful thin white woman staring back, as if to say, “This is how she sees herself on the inside.” If he can so starkly portray how she wants to be versus how she is, if he can say, “Look how many strikes are against this girl,” then at the end when she emerges with real self-esteem, he can claim to have made a truly affirmative film — and I don't mean Hollywood-style affirmation.

So I was taken aback by comments like this:

Can I nominate Edelstein for worstie? That's how a real human being actually looks like in real life. I realize that her appearance may be shocking to you but you seriously need to filter your mouth. I agree with your sentiment and I hope this does spur some type of discussion, but his "reaction" was incredibly rude and shouldn't have been published (at least that bluntly). It didn't even take into consideration that some people do look like that and probably have very fragile self-esteem. As for her "shortcomings," obviously Ms. Sidibe is overweight but, from what I gather, that doesn't really have much to do with the true message of this movie.

It doesn’t have to do with the “true message” of the movie, but her weight is front-and-center.

OK, Edelstein, granted, maybe if Hollywood had allowed for a broader (ahem!) portrayal of black womanhood through the decades, showed the points between and beyond Dorothy Dandridge/Thandie Newton/Halle Berry and Mammy/maids/Medea/Eddie Murphy in a dress instead of spending a century studying how to properly light toothpicks onscreen, you'd find Sidibe less "jarring."

Actually, many of my colleagues and I have complained about fewer opportunities for beautiful women who are darker and more, ahem, broad (read: rounder, less model-skinny), like Angela Bassett. It is in the context of the Halle Berrys that Sidibe is, like it or not, jarring.

Also, her eyes are naturally narrow, not "squashed." I have a longstanding hatred of Edelstein, but this takes the cake.

As Jason Alexander said in Shallow Hal (the ultimate absurdist riff on prejudice against weight), “It takes the whole bakery.” My use of the word “squashed” was meant to suggest that Precious’s most expressive features are, thanks to how she's directed and photographed and lighted, hidden by her flesh; it was not a comment on Sidibe’s eyes, which are lovely in out-of-character photos.

The New York Magazine article confirmed my opinion of magazine and well, uh, all print media. Namely, the shockingly broad de-humanization of black people that exist outside of what it is to be a "good black," namely light skin, "good hair," thin, well off, and devoid of any linguistic trace of "black accents." (See: uh, the vast majority of black female actresses and singers). It's fucked up. It's sad. But seriously. It's about time he just played it as it lays and said "these are monsters." Which is to say, he missed the entire point of the book, the movie, and fucking life, that is, humanity exists in us all. In fact, this review is fucking evidence of some of the fucked up pathology that drives the self-hatred of the main character in Precious.

No one at New York would describe the characters (or people they're based on) in Precious as monsters. That's an unfair prejudice against this magazine. But I think the film does cater to a Reaganite preconception about “welfare mothers” by making Mary — in between the beatings of Precious — obsessed with her “check” and baldly lying about looking for work.

One line of mine I admit was insensitive: “She’s also sexually molested by her jealous, welfare-cheating, gross, and sedentary mother, although the genital fingering might seem preferable to the verbal and physical abuse.” The last thing I would ever do is make light of sexual abuse. In a clumsy way I was trying to suggest that I have read accounts of incest in which victims have said that at least when being touched they weren’t being beaten bloody, that it was perceived by the victim at the time as the lesser of two evils. But that is too complicated and too debatable a point to pack into a single offhand phrase. I apologize.

I think he means it offends his delicate sensibilities to be shown a fat woman on the screen. There should have been a black rectangle over her body so people wouldn't be offended.

No, my “delicate sensibilities” weren’t offended. I was offended based on other criteria. I still believe — and we can debate this I hope without throwing around charges of racism — that the piling-on of abuse and the relentless demonization of the family is a kind of demagoguery. I’m not naïve enough to think that monsters like Precious’s mother don’t exist. But I think the job of an artist is to get inside and understand people like that and not exploit their inhumanity in melodramatic ways to make us furious. It’s the crudeness of Precious I resent, not its message of hope.

UPDATE: Latoya Peterson also points to my description of Precious's mother, Mary, as "too singular to be universal," asserting that I refuse to accept (perhaps because of my different background) "ferocious violence" in this community. I accept its existence, but reject the portrayal onscreen — not out of squeamishness but in the belief that an artist owes us something more than a relentless display of cruelty edited for shock value.

UPDATE 2: I hope this is my last word on the subject, but as we get closer to the opening of Precious, it's important to note how casually the movie's adherents (many of whom haven't seen it) throw around the charge of racism. I've read that by pointing out that Precious is dark-skinned in a world that prizes lighter skin, I've revealed my own bigoted preferences. What garbage. In Sapphire's Push, Precious says she wishes she were light skinned and looks with envy on women who are. Early in the movie, the woman she sees in the mirror who represents — she thinks — who she is on the inside is thin and white. Those weren't my racist projections!

Meanwhile, a woman who calls herself piranha in an entry called "how not to defend yourself," quotes me selectively:

so now he defends himself, because he, david edelstein, isn't racist or sizeist, noooo:

"I’ve had weight issues all my life. My mother, an M.D., once treated obesity (or tried like hell) and in filling in for her receptionist in my late teens I saw what women in the African-American community with a certain body type and metabolism were up against — especially since they were surrounded by crap food"

*sigh*. that really needs no further commentary, does it.

*Sigh*. Maybe it does. Notice how she omits the final, parenthetical clause: "... which, as the great documentary Food, Inc. makes clear, is both addictive and cheaper — thanks to corn subsidies — than, say, a head of broccoli." I guess she doesn't feel that some people are genetically predisposed to obesity — and therefore have a much tougher time losing weight. And if she'd seen Food, Inc., she'd know that among the consequences of America's corn subsidies is a hugely disproportionate rise of obesity in poor communities. The filmmaker shows why a family goes to a fast-food drive-in window instead of eating at home: a) the parents both work several jobs and don't have time to cook; and b) double cheeseburgers are cheaper than a head of broccoli. The book and movie Precious drive this home by showing Precious's breakfast: a tub of fried chicken.

The dishonesty is breathtaking.

Precious Reactions Interesting, Infuriating  Latoya Peterson at Jezebel

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire | Reverse Shot  Andrew Chan
 
Slate (Dana Stevens) review
 
The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review

 

Slant Magazine review [1.5/4]  Ed Gonzalez

 

The Village Voice [Scott Foundas]

Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) review [B+]

Mark Reviews Movies [Mark Dujsik]
 
PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

Film Freak Central Review [Alex Jackson]

The Onion A.V. Club review [B]  Noel Murray

 

Nick's Flick Picks (Nick Davis) review [B]
 
CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice review [5/5]  Scott Knopf

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire  Michael Sicinski from The Academic Hack

Cinematical (Eric D. Snider) review  also seen here:  The Land of Eric (Eric D. Snider) review [A-]

 

FilmJerk.com (Brian Orndorf) review [B+]

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [1/5]

Precious  Mike Goodridge from Screendaily

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin) review [3.5/5]

 

Eye for Film (Amber Wilkinson) review [3/5]

 

Moving Pictures magazine [Andre Chautard]  at Toronto

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

Bina007 Movie Reviews [Caterina Benincasa]

Cannes '09 Day 3: Up with people  Wesley Morris at Cannes from The Boston Globe blog, May 15, 2009        
 
A “Precious” moment; no really, no sarcasm  Charles Ealy at Cannes from 360 Austin Movie Blog, May 15, 2009
 
Kim Voynar  at Sundance under the film title Push, from Movie City News
 
Noel Murray   at Sundance under the film title Push, from The Onion A.V. Club, January 18, 2009
 
Nathan Rabin  at Sundance under the film title Push, from The Onion A.V. Club, January 18, 2009
 
Scott Foundas   Pushed to the Brink, at Sundance under the film title Push, from The LA Weekly, January 20, 2009
 
Paul Moore   at Sundance under the film title Push, from indieWIRE, January 26, 2009, also seen here:  PUSH: BASED ON THE NOVEL BY SAPPHIRE Review, Sundance 2009 | SpoutBlog
 
Patrick Z McGavin  at Sundance under the film title Push, from Stop Smiling magazine, January 24, 2009
 
Precious  David Hudson at Sundance under the film title Push, from The IFC Blog, January 18, 2009
 
Eric Kohn  at Sundance from indieWIRE, January 17, 2009
 
Lee Daniels Reveals His Gritty Vision   Stephen Farber interview from The Daily Beast, November 2, 2009, also there is more:  More Daily Beast coverage of Precious
 
IndieWIRE   Interview with director Lee Daniels, January 8, 2009
 
Gabby Sidibe’s Astonishing Debut  Living the Life, Tim Murphy from New York magazine, September 25, 2009
 
Entertainment Weekly review [A]  Owen Glieberman
 
Variety (John Anderson) review  at Sundance
 
Ty Burr  at Sundance from The Boston Globe, January 18, 2009

 

'Precious' divides among black viewers 

 

A precious American girl, a Japanese love doll, Iranian rockers, and a Korean vampire   Barbara Scharres at Cannes from The Chicago Sun Times, May 15, 2009

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 
The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review  November 6, 2009

 

The Audacity of ‘Precious’  Lynn Hirschberg from The New York Times, October 21, 2009

 

Black author Sapphire, her novel Push becomes Precious on big ...   Nordette Adams from The Indianapolis Examiner, May 20, 2009

 

Sapphire's Push: Merciless Honesty | BlogHer  Nordette Adams from Blogher, November 9, 2009

 

Precious (film) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Risky Material in the Classroom: Using Sapphire's Novel “Push”

 

What to Watch: Precious, Based on the Novel Push « Knopf Doubleday ...   Study guide from the Random House publishing website

 

excerpt  excerpt from the book at the Random House publishing website

 

here  Random House profile of author Sapphire

 

Owen Keehnen: Interviews  Owen Keehnen interviews Sapphire from Queer Cultural Center, August 1996

 

For Colored Girls: The Sapphire Interview  Ernest Hardy interviews Sapphire from LA Weekly, November 11, 2009

 

Zabeth's Corner: Book Review: "Push" by Sapphire

 

Alice Walker - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Alice Walker - The Official Website for Alice Walker

 

Anniina's Alice Walker Page

 

Ntozake Shange - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Women of Color Women of Word -- African American Female ...  biographical information

 

Ntozake Shange  biographical profile

 

glbtq >> literature >> African-American Literature: Lesbian

 

THE PAPERBOY                                                    B                     88

USA   (107 mi)  2012  ‘Scope

 

The recipient of some of the worst reviews in print, a train wreck alleged to be one of the worst and most forgettable films of the year, this is instead a highly entertaining and juicy film noir, a candidate for a spot on John Waters Top Ten films of the year, with enough repressed sexual dysfunction and lurid southern atmosphere to rival any Tennessee Williams play.  Reportedly offered to Pedro Almodóvar as his first English-speaking feature film, after toying with the screenplay he eventually declined, but certainly the raunchy tone of the material is there, based on a novel by Pete Dexter who along with the director helped adapt the screenplay, which is unashamedly trashy, B-movie material.  Some may find the boundaries of bad taste pushed to the fullest here, yet that is the point of the film, that people require their “news” to be sanitized and cleaned up beyond description so that it is no longer recognizable from its origins, where truth is a virtue that exists only in concept, as there are so many powers in play desperate to spin and alter the news to suit their readers.  While there is no attempt to add sanctimonious morality or a message to this film, but this is ascertained strictly from the title of the film, and as it concerns a family where the patriarchal father (Scott Glenn) runs a newspaper.  Set in a small town in Florida (though filmed in Louisiana) during the late 60’s when New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm can be seen delivering a speech on television, where by the early 70’s she was one of the founding members of the Black Congressional Caucus and even initiated a bid for the Presidency in 1972, surviving several assassination attempts, running as the ideological opposite of race segregationalist candidate from Alabama, Governor George Wallace, whose picture may be seen on the walls of law enforcement officials.  This sets the scene for the existing racism that routinely exists in the region, where Macy Gray steals the thunder from some of the bigger names, playing Anita, the family maid, who takes the place of the missing mother to Jack (Zac Efron), an impressionable teenage kid just out of high school who also happens to be a paperboy.  

 

Like a modern day MILDRED PIERCE (1945), Anita opens the film awkwardly recounting her personal recollections of a local murder to a journalist, where the film is a flashback of colorful events that she continues to narrate throughout, often with a bewildered amusement.  Jack’s older brother is Ward, Matthew McConaughey, working for a Miami newspaper, returning to his home town accompanied by a fellow black reporter, Yardley (David Oyelowo), supposedly from London, where both are following the information offered to them by Charlotte, Nicole Kidman, who believes the convicted murderer is innocent.  Kidman, channeling Karen Black from FIVE EASY PIECES (1970), who interestingly did all her own hair and make up due to budget restraints, is wonderful throughout as an oversexed Barbie doll who writes letters to convicted criminals, becoming especially infatuated with the letter of the cop murderer, Hillary Van Wetter (John Cusack), believing she has finally found true love.  When this motley crew visits the prisoner, the over the top sexual explicitness of the visit is unprecedented, where Charlotte literally gives herself to him, though there is no touching.  Her sexual bravado instantly endures her to Jack, who’s never seen anything like her, who thinks of her constantly as the woman of his dreams, where she literally becomes his wish fulfillment fantasy.  But instead she instantly befriends Jack, like a little brother, whose coming-of-age experience may actually be the film’s central narrative.  Early in the film big brother Ward drives the action, where his regional knowledge allows him to understand the backwards gutter mentality of many of the local good ‘ol boys, where sleaziness is something they all seem to have in common, though Yardley finds this particular local attribute somewhat pathetic, where his education has allowed him broader views, but so many residents in small towns only know their own regionalism, as for them, no outside world exists.  Jack interestingly makes the news in amusing fashion, where after a candidly sexual conversation with Charlotte at the beach, he takes a swim and gets repeatedly stung by jelly fish, where the instant cure is urination on the affected areas (similarly expressed in a Friends episode where Joey steps up to the plate and rescues Monica), which Charlotte publicly and heroically performs, making all the editions published by his own father.    

 

While some of the best scenes exude personal familiarity between Anita and Jack, it’s also clear the murky atmosphere under the surface is seething with a suffocating claustrophobia, often retreating into the swamps for more local color, as every character in the film has been seriously damaged in some deeply affecting way, where Jack follows his brother’s footsteps until Ward gets into a heap of trouble where he barely makes it out alive, the victim of some starkly graphic, criminally inspired, brutally sadistic gay bondage, literally forcing little brother to assert himself more due to his medical circumstances.  Jack is the victim of the prevailing racial attitudes where he stupidly embarrasses himself in front of Anita, but also carries the baggage of abandonment issues due to the loss of his mother, while Ward is on a self-destructive bent driven by his inability to accept the fact he’s gay.  Charlotte has such a low degree of self-esteem that she hangs on literally every word of some of the lowest and most depraved men on earth, driven to the point of delusion by her need to be desired by men.  When Jack offers his love, she sees it as little more than child’s play.  Yardley, like a modern day Mr. Tibbs, is forced to take advantage of job opportunities that have routinely been denied blacks, even if it means stepping on the backs of others to get there, losing his moral compass in the process.  Hillary Van Wetter, on the other hand, is a swamp creature that lives with the alligators, snakes, and incessant swarm of bugs, a primeval force of nature that we’ve come to accept in Robert Mitchum’s roles in The Night of the Hunter (1955) or CAPE FEAR (1962).  Brought together by uncommon circumstances, they all seem to bring out the worst in one another, where the insidious nature of man is portrayed as little more than that of lowly animals, where it’s questionable who we are and what we’ve evolved into.  The film is more interested in capturing the right tone and atmosphere, like CHINATOWN (1974) set in the swamps, filled with Mario Grigorov’s original score and a collection of standard R & B hits from the 60’s, where the interplay between characters is interesting and often hilarious, leading to an unvarnished and uncompromisingly thrilling finale, where the unexpected raises its ugly head and proclaims victory, where many of us may be wondering what happened, and how did all this rarely seen material suddenly appear before our eyes?  Daring and devious throughout, where Kidman especially is another force of nature onscreen, credit is due for having the fortitude to approach this material head on without studio imposed concessions. 

 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Patrick Friel

The plot of Lee Daniels' THE PAPERBOY—the director's brave follow-up to his critically and popularly acclaimed PRECIOUS—reads like Tennessee Williams melodrama hopped up on Erskine Caldwell pulp. It's a Southern Gothic, sure enough, but don't let the critics who dismiss (or praise) it as a simple, trashy romp fool you. This is a heady and intoxicating brew that, honestly, shouldn't work—but does. The narrative threads are many (excessive even)—but they're worthy vehicles for an ensemble of exaggerated characters, a messy set of themes, and a carefully pastiched visual style. Jack Jansen (Zac Efron—yes, really) is the hub of the film (a stand-in for the source novel's author, Pete Dexter), a young man whose 1960s small-town life starts to spin out of control. Jack's older brother (Matthew McConaughey) is a newspaper journalist who returns from the city, with his black colleague Yardly (David Oyelowo), to investigate the case of a convicted killer on death row. The convict (John Cusack) is a swamp-dwelling, alligator-hunting maybe-psycho mixed up in a torrid jailhouse romance with a trampy death-row groupie (Nicole Kidman). Rounding out the primary cast, singer Macy Gray plays the Jansen family's domestic Anita (and the movie's narrator). As in the great genre films of Hollywood's heyday, Daniels uses a sensationalistic story, a debased genre, to explore a host of potent themes. Through shifting interactions and allegiances among his characters, Daniels riffs on race and class, guilt and innocence, sexual repression, friendship, trust, and more. There are shades of IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, IN COLD BLOOD, DELIVERANCE, WIND ACROSS THE EVERGLADES, CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, and GOD'S LITTLE ACRE. Kidman evokes a sexed-up Elizabeth Taylor; McConaughey has the charming aloofness of Paul Newman's Cool Hand Luke; Cusack combines the frightening iciness of Robert Blake's Perry Smith and psychotic intensity of Richard Widmark in KISS OF DEATH. The list of cinematic reference points could go on, but it's not the specificity of these (or others) that matters. Daniel's achievement is recapturing the hot, sultry mood of these movies in his own haunting and beautiful way. It's trashy, exasperating, convoluted, over-the-top, violent, and deliberately provocative. But these charged-up qualities give the film its unique power, and Daniels piles them on as if daring his audience to come to grips with, and move beyond, the excess.

The Paperboy | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Nathan Rabin

It’s hard to describe Lee Daniels’ sweaty new melodrama The Paperboy without making it seem far more vivid and entertaining than it actually is. Everything about The Paperboy promises a deranged instant camp classic, from Nicole Kidman’s strangely stylized turn as a prisoner-obsessed nymphomaniac who looks and behaves like a malfunctioning Marilyn Monroe sex robot to the surreal miscasting of genial Midwesterner John Cusack as a borderline-feral Southern death-row inmate to a much-buzzed about scene involving Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron. So why is The Paperboy so bizarrely dull? It’s as if the filmmakers combined 18 different kinds of scalding-hot peppers, yet inexplicably emerged with oatmeal.

Efron stars as a directionless young man in a perspiration-soaked 1960s Florida, where he frequently spends time clad only in a pair of tighty-whities. His dashing reporter brother (Matthew McConaughey, whose impressive recent winning streak reaches an end here) comes to town with his enigmatic African-American partner (David Oyelowo) to investigate the case of a prisoner (Cusack) on death row for killing a corpulent, corrupt sheriff. Efron falls in love—or at least a profound state of lust—with Cusack’s fiancé, a hot-to-trot sexpot played by Kidman, whose sun-baked sensuality spills out in all directions and is the film’s main attraction and source of morbid fascination. 

An intense, almost disconcerting level of investment and commitment characterized Lee Daniels’ previous two directorial efforts, Precious and Shadowboxer, yet The Paperboy feels strangely remote throughout, in part because it centers on a murder case nobody in the film seems to care much about, not even the folks directly involved. The framing device finds maid Macy Gray recounting the sordid events in flashback, which further distances the film from the lust, rage, violence, and longing at its blurry core. In his previous films, Daniels established himself as a sensualist with a gift for feverishly over-the-top melodrama, but his primary directorial stamp here, beyond finding infinite reasons to separate Efron from his clothing, involves giving the film a retro-fever-dream look that suggests an Instagram filter called “Bayou Swamp.” The Paperboy offers a perversely bloodless take on rough sex, murder, intrigue, and race. If Daniels actually set out to transform the wildest possible source material into the most inert possible film, he’s succeeded spectacularly.

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

The Paperboy is an enjoyably lurid southern noir set in the mid-Sixties from Pete Dexter (who collaborated on the screenplay) with additional touches added by the director of Precious, who has a taste for the highly colored ant the shocking. If you want to see Nicole Kidman pee on a half-naked Zac Efron this is your movie. But Kidman is excellent as the tacky bleach-blonde Barbie Doll death row groupie and Efron (Jack Jansen) is vulnerable and sweet as the younger brother of Miami newsman Matthew McConaughey (Ward Jansen), who comes with Yardley, a black colleague apparently from London (David Oyelowo) to investigate a murder case. The sleazy, odious inmate is played by John Cusack (Hillary Van Wetter). Of course in this Florida town in this year a black colleague is provocative enough; and it's Daniels' touch, not in the Dexter novel, that he should be black. The peeing scene has a therapeutic purpose: it's to counteract toxins from a jellyfish Jack (Zac) has met up with while swimming. Daniels' finest touch is his use of the excellent Macy Gray as Anita Chester, the Jansen family maid, who also does the voice-over narration, and the best scenes are ones of familial intimacy between Anita and Jack. Everybody is good, McConaughey doing his Good Old Boy drawl, Oyelowo infuriatingly cocky as the British-accented colored man, Cusack a scary piece of swamp muck Hilary's family comes from the swamp and lives by gutting alligators to sell for shoes and handbags). Daniels at times tries to evoke Seventies B-pictures. I don't think you can take all this seriously, despite the strong hints at many turns of Sixties South racism, but there's something unique about it, and it entertains.

Charlotte gets the "paperboys" to come following a romantic correspondence with Hillary, and when they come into town comes wearing a tight dress and bearing big boxes of research into the case. But the newsmen seem distracted, and not very interested in finding out the truth. Jack, a former swimming star kicked out of college who's not doing much but delivering papers, is enlisted to be the reporters' driver, and he falls madly in love with Charlotte and moons for her or sexes for her till finally he gets her "Okay, but just once." Meanwhile there is Anita's humorous voiceover narration, and the present-time Anita's many cozy little scenes with Jack, while unexpected or not so unexpected truths emerge concerning Ward, Hillary, and Yardley.

The movie is great in individual scenes, but doesn't move so well from on to the net. For a noir, The Paperboy lacks urgency or narrative drive. This won't convince anybody it has contemporary relevance as did Lee Daniels' previous film, the 2009 Precious, but again there may be some Oscar mentions. Along with condemnations: the critics are not joining up to praise The Paperboy. Rex Reed has launced one of his diatribes against it: '"This raunchy dreck, cut from the same disposable toilet tissue as the recent trailer-trash creepfest "Killer Joe," is a leap downhill from "Precious,"' he intones. Indeed McConaughey is also featured with Zac Efron in Killer Joe, but that's Tracy Lett, and that's a different kettle of rancid catfish.

User reviews  from imdb Author: karenaziz229 from San Francisco

It's hard for me to understand the scorn that has been heaped upon this film. You'd think Lee Daniels had created a film praising Hitler, the Antichrist, and communism. Also, it's hard to understand why some critics have focused on certain aspects of the film. Zac Efron in his "tidy whities" or Nicole Kidman urinating on Mr. Efron. The level of titillation that is being shown would be credible in a 7-year old, but not for adult critics. To focus on these rather minor points shows a deep misunderstanding of what this film is about.

So, what is this film about? While I think it's hard to reduce a work of art to the level of a short essay, I am so fed up with what has been written about this film that I shall attempt to do so.

For starters, I believe this film reflects the world as it is, and not as we want it to be. I think this film is saying that our deepest need is for love, connection, and moral truth but these needs become warped when filtered through the lies,despair, and degradation that American society has offered up as the truth. Mainstream films never go here, and while some indie films touch on this theme, they don't usually go for as deep a dive. The only other director that I can think of even approaching this level of an unblinking stare into the abyss is Todd Soldendz.

The characters in the film consist of Ward Jansen (Matthew McConaughey), a journalist who has come back to his home town to investigate whether or not Hilary Van Wetter (John Cusack), a man on death row, received a fair trial. Ward's attention has been drawn to this case by Charlotte Bless (Nicole Kidman), a woman who has maintained a jail house correspondence with Mr. Van Wetter, and who believes she is in love with him. Ward brings with him a colleague, Yardley Acheman (David Oyewolo), a black journalist from London. They are assisted by Ward's younger brother, Jack Jansen (Zac Efron), who still lives at home. The Jansen family maid, Anita Chester (Macy Gray) is Jack's confidant and a stand in for the mother that left the family several years ago.

Each character's story is that of connection or love that has been twisted or thwarted for various reasons. Jack's playful relationship with the family maid can never be a relation between equals because of his racism. Jack can see that she is his natural ally and friend, but his racism denies them both a deeper connection. As brothers, Ward and Jack share a powerful bond of affection, but no amount of affection between the brothers can halt Ward's impulse to self-destruction brought on by his inability to accept being homosexual. Charlotte Bless is looking for love and thinks she can find it by writing to men in prison. She receives a response from Van Wetter, and because of its seeming indifference to what other men want from her, she decides this man loves her. The delusion is so powerful that even when real love is offered by Jack, she doesn't understand it. The film doesn't make it clear why she is so self-destructive. We can only assume it is the logical end to the toxic sexism that forces women to see themselves as worthy only if they are desired by a man; any man. Jack's impulse toward love and connection with this woman is driven by the damage done by the abandonment Jack experienced at the hands of his mother.Yardley is a black man trying to have a decent career as a journalist at a time (1969) when racism almost guaranteed that black men remain in lowly positions and did not allow them to rise to their full potential. It is this very racism that makes him betray his colleague and his principals and forces him to assume an identity other than his own. Van Wetter is, I think, a kind of stand in for a force of nature. It is when you face up to these kind of forces that your innermost strengths and weaknesses are revealed.

Through these characters, Lee Daniels is showing the damage done to human relations, forcing people to act in ways that are not pretty to watch, and so the world he shows us is not pretty. It's hard and brutal. But so are the forces that drive these characters. To the critics who hated this film, if you want pretty, watch Lucy and Desi. Mr. Daniels world is the real world; flawed, messy, and hard to look at, but with humanity and the impulse to transcendence at its core.

Slant Magazine [R. Kurt Osenlund]

 

Review: 'The Paperboy' Gets the Hard Things Right – | Film.com  Stephanie Zacharek

 

The Atlantic [Jason Bailey]

 

Paperboy, The - Reelviews Movie Reviews  James Berardinelli

 

The Paperboy - Entertainment - Time  Mary Corliss, also seen here:  Time [Mary Corliss]

 

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outlawvern.com [Vern]

 

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FILM REVIEW: The Paperboy - The Buzz - CBC  Eli Glasner

 

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The Paperboy Review: A Haggard Old Dog of a Movie, A - Pajiba  Caspar Salmon

 

Swampwater: The Paperboy Is a Long Way Off ... - New York Observer  Rex Reed

 

James Rocchi at Cannes from the indieWIRE Playlist, May 24, 2012

 

Film Comment [Violet Lucca]

 

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The A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin]

 

REVIEW: Lurid Sleaze Saga 'The Paperboy' Starring ... - Movieline  Alison Willmore

 

Eric Kohn at Cannes from indieWIRE, May 24, 2012                

 

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The Paperboy  Mike Goodridge at Cannes from Screendaily 

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Kyle Buchanan  When Nicole Kidman Gave Zac Efron a Golden Shower at Cannes, at The Vulture from New York magazine, May 24, 2012

 

DAILY | Cannes 2012 | Lee Daniels’s THE PAPERBOY »  David Hudson at Cannes from Fandor, May 24, 2012

 

Cannes 2012: Nicole Kidman reveals why she loved playing a 'hot, over-sexed Barbie' in The Paperboy Anita Singh interviews Kidman from The London Telegraph, May 24, 2012

 

'The Paperboy': Nicole Kidman is used to audience discomfort - Los ...  Mark Olsen interviews actress Nicole Kidman from The LA Times, December 20, 2012

 

The Hollywood Reporter [Todd McCarthy]  at Cannes, May 24, 2012, also seen here:  Todd McCarthy

 

TV Guide [Perry Seibert]

 

Variety [Justin Chang]

 

The Paperboy Review. Movie Reviews - Film - Time Out London  Dave Calhoun 

 

Cannes 2012: The Paperboy – review   Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 24, 2012

 

Xan Brooks at Cannes from The Guardian, May 24, 2012

 

Cannes 2012: The Paperboy, review  Robbie Collin at Cannes from The London Telegraph, May 24, 2012, also seen here:  Robbie Collin

 

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'The Paperboy' delivers a dark, angrily steaming tale: Review - Los ...  Betsy Sharkey from The LA Times

 

Nicole Kidman refused to say N-word for Lee Daniels in...  Steven Zeitchik from The LA Times

 

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The Paperboy - Movies - The New York Times  A.O. Scott

 

LEE DANIELS’ THE BUTLER                             B-                    80

USA  (132 mi)  2013                              Official site

 

Darkness cannot drive out darkness — only light can.                       —Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

This is a truly strange movie, at times deliciously entertaining, while at other times one is simply aghast at the ineptitude, where mixed signals are sent throughout, partly tragic, partly comic, where for several moments one had to wonder if this could possibly be a subversive attempt to actually send a message to America, but instead it comes across as a toned-down Disney movie of the week, where the narrative style unfortunately resembles Uncle Remus storytelling at the White House, told in the supposedly inoffensive manner of Disney’s SONG OF THE SOUTH (1946), which is really one long American narrative as Uncle Remus takes us through the Civil Rights era of history, as seen through the eyes of a long-serving White House butler, Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker).  Rather than deal with anything remotely resembling the present, it appears that today’s movies prefer to remain stuck in the past, continually conjuring up stories that deal with an era of loyal black servitude and obedience, like The Help (2011), Django Unchained (2012), 12 Years a Slave (2013), and now yet another, as if the drumbeat of showing past transgressions will somehow alter the course of today’s history.  If that is the desired effect, it’s not working.  One has to wonder who decides which black stories are told, or how they’re told?  And why do we continue to project the same negative stereotypes that only reinforce images of black subservience?  Black talents like Viola Davis and Forest Whitaker have received critical acclaim for playing maids and butlers, while British black actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is the odds on favorite for an Academy Award for playing a kidnapped free slave sold into the brutality of slavery.  Why is Hollywood retelling the same story of black oppression and subjugation?  Because the formula makes money, so it appears the only work blacks can obtain in Hollywood these days is enduring the unending racial abuse inflicted upon them and then somehow it’s considered a victory if they survive.  No one likes to be reminded of the times when they were terrorized and subjugated and forced to live in fear, but black Americans have to relive this experience seemingly forever and then watch people applaud this as art.     

 

Adapted from an article written by Wil Haygood that appeared in The Washington Post just a few weeks after President-elect Obama won the election on November 27, 2008, A Butler Well Served by This Election - Washington Post, providing a profile of White House butler Eugene Allen and his wife Helene.  While the article placed its focus upon the painfully slow addition of black officials working in various White House administrations, this story is ignored by the movie.  It should also be stated that Allen didn’t have a militant son, or a cotton plantation childhood, as these were Hollywood constructions needed to fabricate an epic storyline like this one, which is a doozy, as it weaves one man’s family through a greatest hits of Civil Rights history, including Brown vs. Board of Education, the freedom riders, the Birmingham boycotts, the Little Rock school crisis, federal intervention sent to integrate southern schools, the Civil Rights legislation, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X, the cities burning, the Black Panther party, before then reaching across the ocean to Apartheid in South Africa.  That’s quite a mouthful, enough to make one wince at the utter superficiality that each historical event receives.  Making matters worse, the name actors portraying the United States Presidents are caricatures that one presumes are unintentionally comic, where guffaws in the audience are simply based upon casting choices and the physical mannerisms used to play each President, as they resemble Saturday Night Live comic portrayals.  And the casting of Jane Fonda as Nancy  Reagan, how is that not subversive?  She’s exquisite, by the way, in her own hilarious way.

 

The casting of Whitaker as the butler is a good one, as after all, he already won an Oscar for portraying Idi Amin in THE LAST KING OF SCOTLAND (2006), and he was Jim Jarmusch’s Zen-like high priest in GHOST DOG (1999), so we know this guy’s capable of just about anything.  Oprah, on the other hand, as his wife Gloria, will always be seen as Oprah, no matter what anybody else says, as she’s too big a celebrity and personality, where all attempts to act are just that, pretending to be something she isn’t, where in the early part of the picture where she plays a drunk, she simply channels Mo’Nique from PRECIOUS (2009), and yes, it’s really that obvious.  They have two sons, where the oldest, Louis, is played by David Oyelowo, who becomes a fierce young militant who literally takes us through every stage of history from the freedom riders to the Black Panthers, all of which he experiences himself, including being in the same motel room as Martin Luther King just before he got shot.  Say what?  How is that possible if he was not part of the inner team, all names that are familiar to us by now?  Well, the truth is, it’s not, but this is a Hollywood recreation of history, and they can do whatever they want so long as they think it will sell tickets.  Which brings us to why is Lee Daniels name in the title?  Screenwriter Danny Strong was hired a year before Daniels signed on as the film’s director, a picture purchased by Harvey Weinstein, so one would suspect that Daniels, the last one hired, had the least amount of control over the picture, even when it comes to naming rights.  The official story is that The Weinstein Company could not get the MPAA’s Title Registration Bureau (TRB) to authorize the use of the title, even under appeal, because of an existing 1916 Warner Brother’s short film by that name, charging Weinstein with willful violation and ordering a $400,000 fine.  As a result, they put the director’s name in front of the title, causing a certain amount of consternation to Daniels, who felt people might think he was drawing too much attention to himself.         

 

What is particularly powerful about the picture is the portrayal of black father and son relationships, established in the opening shots of the film in 1926 Georgia at an existing cotton plantation where Cecil (as a child) and his own father worked, which was run exactly as it did during the slavery era, no difference whatsoever except they didn’t shackle slaves.  Blacks were still routinely killed by whites, calling them “niggers,” even by judges in court, and whites just as routinely got away with it, using the violent threat of lynchings and the KKK if anyone had any other ideas.  In another casting misadventure, Mariah Carey plays Cecil’s mother in the fields, where after her own sexual assault, they both witness the shooting of her husband, after which Cecil is led from the fields into the house under the tutelage of none other than Vanessa Redgrave to become the subservient “house nigger.”  He learns so well he eventually becomes the White House butler serving 8 different Presidents from Truman to Reagan, where the rules are identical, as he is never to display any emotion, react to anything seen, or engage anyone other than his boss.  The irony here is that his oldest son runs off to college and becomes a campus militant, the polar opposite of his father, where viewing American black history from the 20’s through the 80’s through the shared father and son experiences is simply too much, as it’s too great a cultural divide.  For instance, we learn about what happened to Emmett Till over the dinner table as a drunken Gloria is serving food to her family, where that’s the extent of the experience, mentioned in much the same way as idle gossip.  Both parents are convinced that having left the South, they have obtained security for their family.  But Louis will not rest until blacks have the same rights as other American citizens, joining the freedom riders where he is routinely assaulted, beaten, spit upon, and arrested.  Because of these offenses, Cecil disowns his son and refuses to speak to him, which is his way of deluding himself about his son and history.   

 

In much the same way, it’s interesting how the Presidents engage in private conversations with their black butlers about the ‘black” problems, where Eisenhower doesn’t get how his experience growing up on a farm isn’t the same as Cecil’s, or LBJ’s profusive use of the word “nigger” to his own cabinet and staff somehow evolves to the word “Negro” on national television, JFK coolly describes to Cecil (who had no idea) that his son has been arrested 15 times, before television photos of the firehoses turned on peacefully demonstrating blacks in Birmingham cause he and his brother to have a change of heart on the race issue, while Reagan (played by the Harry Potter wizard specializing in the Dark Arts) second guesses his own shortsightedness on the post Civil Rights race relations, something one sincerely doubts, since the Reagan Republicans have consistently attempted to all but legalize racial discrimination, playing the race card in political ads ever since that cynically appeal to white votes.  But in this film, the theme of the film comes from the prophetic words of Martin Luther King, Jr. spoken to Louis just moments before he would be shot, “Domestics play a very big role in our history.  In many ways they are subversive without ever knowing it,” suggesting they break down negative racial stereotypes by demonstrating steady employment, also by performing their jobs with grace and dignity, showing that they can be trusted, all of which defies the inherently distrustful views of racial bigotry. 

 

But the arc of the story leads to a reunification of father and son, to President Obama, and the mistaken belief that things are finally so much better for blacks in America, where the film’s tagline, “One quiet voice can ignite a revolution,” is simply ridiculous.  Who are they kidding?  Then why are so many black men (over a million) languishing in prisons at the moment?  And why is it legal to arrest a black and a white man for the exact same drug offense, yet the sentence for the black is so much more severe than the white, who with a lawyer may never serve any prison time at all?  Whites use drugs 5 times more than blacks, yet blacks are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.  Blacks constitute more than 80% of those incarcerated under federal crack cocaine laws and serve substantially more time in prison than do their white counterparts, despite that fact that more than 2/3 of crack cocaine users in the U.S. are white or Hispanic, so it’s now perfectly legal for the police to exclusively target black neighborhoods for drug raids and for the court system to exhibit racial discrimination in court sentencing, and no one says a word.  But while blacks no longer have to sit at the back of the bus, progress has been slow going, with all too many reminders of the vicious cycle of racial hatred that continues without end from generation to generation.        

 

While the picture has some well known blacks promoting and participating in the making of the movie, the question must be asked, is this a black movie?  Borrowing from the website Racism Is White Supremacy:  Is “Lee Daniels' The Butler” (Really) A “Black Movie?” | Racism Is ... 

 

1. Who wrote the screenplay for the movie, The Butler?

 

Danny Strong, Screenwriter for ‘The Butler,’ who was hired to write “The Butler” in 2009, a year before Daniels even signed on as director.

 

2. Who Owns the (Distribution) Rights to  the movie, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler”?

 

Harvey Weinstein (Co-Chairman – the Weinstein Company)

 

David Glasser, Weinstein Co. COO

 

3. Who are the Producers, Executive Producers and Co-Producers of “The Butler?”

 

Laura Ziskin – Executive Producer (deceased)

 

Hilary Shor – Executive Producer

 

Adam Merims – Executive Producer

 

Buddy Patrick – Producer

 

Shelia Johnson – Producer

 

Lee Daniels – Producer

 

Cassian Elwes – Producer

 

How, then, is this considered a “black” movie?  This is Hollywood’s portrayal of a black movie, which is an altogether different thing, as the creative minds and financial power behind the film are almost entirely white.  So one must keep in mind that this is still how white people view blacks even in contemporary society, where it’s a continuation of a white Hollywood racist fantasia that’s been the corporate business model for well over 100 years, where leading black roles of continued submission and obedient servitude to whites are the ones more likely to be accepted by white audiences and nominated for Academy Awards.    

 

Reel Film Reviews [David Nusair]

Lee Daniels' The Butler follows the title character, Forest Whitaker's Cecil Gaines, as he serves under eight American Presidents over a period of several decades, with the setup employed primarily as a springboard for an exploration of the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s and '70s. Filmmaker Lee Daniels has infused Lee Daniels' The Butler with an unabashedly old-fashioned sensibility that's reflected in most of its attributes, which does ensure that, for a little while, the inherently compelling subject matter is exploited to maximum effect - with Whitaker's solid turn matched by an eclectic group of periphery performers (including Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr, and Terrence Howard). (And this is to say nothing of the various folks playing the Commander in Chief, with Robin Williams' Dwight D. Eisenhower and Alan Rickman's Ronald Reagan standing out as highlights.) The film's compulsively watchable vibe proves to be short lived, however, as scripter Danny Strong begins to emphasize the comparatively less-than-engrossing exploits of Cecil's rebellious son, Louis (David Oyelowo). Whitaker's character is increasingly relegated to the sidelines, as Daniels and Strong devote much of the film's midsection to the battle for equality among African Americans - with the narrative's one-track-mindedness growing more and more tedious as time progresses. (It doesn't help, either, that Strong pads out the proceedings with a number of palpably useless subplots, including the possible infidelity of Cecil's wife and other similarly pointless asides.) The ensuing lack of momentum paves the way for a second half that wavers between mildly engaging to flat-out interminable, with the heartfelt final stretch, as a result, unable to pack the emotional punch that Daniels is obviously striving for - which ultimately cements Lee Daniels' The Butler's place as a terminally underwhelming curiosity.

Exclaim! [Robert Bell]

As presented, Lee Daniels' star-studded, multi-generational epic of truncated American Civil Rights history, The Butler, is an easily interpreted political argument. It's an emotionally driven documentation of the fight against subjugation, utilizing a framing device and broad character conflicts to make it a twee narrative rather than a ramshackle, overly sweeping documentary.

As written by Danny Strong (the scribe behind the similarly observed Recount), this effective, but woefully contrived drama takes the Forrest Gump approach to storytelling, utilizing the titular cipher — here, a slave turned butler named Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) — to observe a complex tapestry of historical events unfolding around him.

Although based loosely on the life of Eugene Allen, many liberties stretch this story from the cotton fields of Macon, Georgia in the '20s up to the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama. Cecil (a slave that witnesses the murder of his father and the raping of his mother by white men) eventually learns the ways of domestic service. Sent out on his own as a coming-of-age journey, the theft of pastries pushes him into the good graces of a prestigious local butler that teaches him the craft and who eventually recommends him for roles that subsequently land him in the White House during the Eisenhower (Robin Williams) years.

Amidst the endless array of montages quickly guiding us through his trainings and acclamation to fellow staffers (Cuba Gooding Jr. and Lenny Kravitz, primarily), we also get a sense of Cecil's physical, and non-physical, absence at home, with wife Gloria (Oprah Winfrey) and oldest son Louis (David Oyelowo).

Significant Civil Rights events fuel the exposition spewing out of the mouths of various presidents — Kennedy (James Marsden), Johnson (Liev Schreiber), Nixon (John Cusack) and Reagan (Alan Rickman) — reiterated on the news highlights that Gloria watches, reacting as emotionally and dramatically as possible in close-up (demonstrating Daniels' sycophantic tendencies).

As a work of pacing, utilizing formulas and the interspersing of informational, structurally necessary montages with quiet moments of intensity, focusing on acting and the pointed pronunciation of profound dialogue, The Butler is exceptional. As manipulative and ridiculous — every president shares a telling, character-defining moment with Cecil and Cecil alone — as it is, there is a whirlwind of inspiration and feeling projected from this story, doing as intended by reminding us just how profoundly disturbing our collective history of ignorance and discrimination really is.

As a work of art, The Butler is quite embarrassing, featuring characters that can be summarized in brief anecdotal form and conflicts that exist only to reiterate the thesis statement and some rather redundant political assertions. While the eventual deterioration of the relationship between Cecil and his son does hold some intensity on its own — the dinner scene where he brings home a classless, belching girlfriend (Yaya Alafia) is priceless — the overtly argued ideological difference is presented with ultimate condescension.

Louis (a young freedom fighter and eventual Black Panther, who engages in rallies to remove segregation in public locales and spends more time in jail than out) doesn't respect his father's decision to serve the white man. Contrarily, some African-American academics suggest that, while not exactly ideal, the role of the butler helped debunk most of the negative stereotypes whites asserted about blacks, being a reliable, hard-working, professional role, with a constant air of dignity.

It's an interesting argument that helps give this century-long bout of name-dropping ("Oh, look, it's Jane Fonda playing Nancy Reagan!") some sense of purpose beyond heavy-handed histrionics. But it's also painfully obvious and reiterated too overtly and pointedly to leave this desperate awards hopeful with a great deal of integrity by the time the make-up artists are struggling to make everyone look decades older than they are.

Of course, since we're looking at a story seeking to reach as wide an audience as possible, preaching the word of tolerance to the masses, this lack of subtlety and the absurdist convenience of it all are understandable. While most films of this nature are completely devoid of humour, Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character makes regular jokes about fornicating with a woman that defecates during orgasm. This was almost as surprising as having to admit that Oprah actually does a good job with her character.

Lee Daniels' The Butler reviewed by Armond White for CityArts ...  Armond White

How Daniels asserts/inserts himself into his films is crucial to the failings of…oh, let’s just call it The Butler. While Daniels purports to make a biography of Cecil Gaines, a Black Southerner who went from picking cotton in Georgia to serving as butler in the White House for seven Presidential administrations, the film primarily displays Daniels’ opportunism. Taking advantage of our strange, polarized political moment, The Butler only makes noise about race–simplifying the history that Gaines lived through from Jim Crow to 2008–implying that Gaines’s story prepared the way for the election of Barack Obama. So soon after Kushner-Spielberg’s Lincoln, another foreshortening of American history.

The Butler’s major malfunction is its inexact parallel to Obama’s own biography; Gaines’s suffering through the post-slavery experience is completely different from Obama’s story. Daniels feeds the marketable concept that Gaines’s very particular sojourn represents the entirety of Black America’s struggle for equality. He distorts Gaines’s private life into a national epic, making him an emblem rather than a character.

Everyone here, from limousine liberal parade of Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave to the various Presidential caricatures (Robin Williams, James Marsden, John Cusack, Liev Schreiber, Alan Rickman), look like waxworks. From the beginning, Forest Whittaker plays the title role as a gaunt, wizened symbol of oppression and endurance–a Morgan Freeman figure of quiet dignity and rectitude. His wife (Oprah Winfrey) and two sons (David Oyewelo and Isaac White) seem like appendages rather than family. Gaines’s estrangement from his world suggests a reverse Benjamin Button aging through decades, keeping quiet during eras of social turmoil. He—and this film–most resembles Forrest Gump, that symbolic idiot savant witness to social progress he played no part in.

The Butler is unconvincingly noble–without even that streak of psychotic behavior in the ridiculous shit pie scenes of The Help. Gaines is always crotchety and proper, leaving dirty-minded resilience to Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding, Jr in scene-stealing supporting roles–they’re surrogates for Daniels the salacious auteur who’s uninterested in what propriety and self-control mean.

Instead of a freaky-deaky view of the Civil Rights Movements’ behind-the-scenes hook-ups (even Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waves quotes Martin Luther King defending masturbation as a great release), we get an Obama-ized tale of Gaines as a dogged, enigmatic paragon. Rectitude as political caution was better dramatized in Brian Helgeland’s far superior Jackie Robinson story, 42. But this film is so solemn and disingenuous it neglects its opening thesis: Daniels and screenwriter Danny Strong never confess what it feels like to make a room “feel empty” (although Whitaker’s zombie performance inadvertently gives an inkling). They trade the existential torment of self-abnegation (refuted by decades of Hollywood’s servile-yet-impudent stereotypes) for the cliche of long-suffering martyrdom. (Daniels lacks the honesty and talent to show what being close to power feels like.)

A more credible film would consistently portray the advice of Gaines’s father “Don’t lose your temper with the Man. Dis his worl’; we jus’ livin’ in it.” The Butler will feel inauthentic to most Americans who painfully, cagily work menial jobs; it is designed to appease condescending elites—what politicians call “the Middle Class”–who like to sentimentalize about workers who are beneath their regard (symbolized by the ever-changing line of Presidents, lightly satirizing the indifference of patronizing whites). The Butler may feature a largely Black cast under a Black director’s baton, but it’s really a movie for whites who seek self-congratulatory lessons rather than entertainment.

Daniels’ key trope is the presumptuous montage: Lunch counter sit-ins at Woolworth’s contrasting formal White House dinner parties–pseudo-political juxtapositions that would make Eisenstein wince. Daniels uses montage for sensationalism–not feeling or politics. The entire film exploits subtle and overt American racial violence. The first striking image poses a lynching next to the American flag. Such cheap, Spike Lee rhetoric trivializes history. The 1929 flashback to Gaines’s mother being raped and father being killed isn’t just horrible, it’s an infuriating simplification: The son’s modern attitude shows ignorance of Southern custom; pressuring his father (“Pop, what you gonna do?”) is what gets his Dad killed. When titles say “Inspired by a true story” it merely means an anachronistic fantasy of Black American history adapted from Wil Haygood’s propagandistic Washington Post article (“A Butler Well Served By This Election”) celebrating Obama’s inauguration.

This fantasy includes casting Mariah Carey as the mother defiled and made crazy by the puzzlingly pretty white plantation-owner (Alex Pettyfer) and Oprah Winfrey as Gaines’s horny, boozing then devoted wife. Only Oprah–in a role better suited to Mo’Nique–could act self-righteous about committing adultery (dismissing her “yellow ass” lover). Oprah’s not a character but a Black Womanist Figurehead which places this film far outside the artful realm of Jonathan Demme’s magnificent Beloved. The subplot of Gaines’s conflict with his politically-wayward son merely extenuates the story without delving into the father’s painful, necessary political reticence. Worse, it misrepresents what Lorraine Hansberry explicated about the Black generation gap in A Raisin in the Sun.

Daniels panders to the hip-hop attitude that Black youth know more about survival than their hard-working ancestors. The scene of Gaines driving through urban chaos in response to MLK’s assassination is as phony as the riot scenes in Dreamgirls. Pandering to history and violence lacks the political detail of Melvin and Mario Van Peebles’ Panther; this more resembles Tarantino’s unrealistic s&m circus Django Unchained. These discomforting prevarications are angled toward Obama’s “Tonight is your answer” election speech—turning historical pain into shallow, maudlin victory. Daniels’ tendency to falsify Black American experience and then exploit it is as offensive as Spielberg-Kushner’s factitious Lincoln. A more personally honest, openly licentious fantasy would be more interesting. Now that he’s played his Obama card, I’m sure Lee Daniels’ Satyricon will come next.

Richard A. Epstein  Defining Ideas, a Hoover Institution Journal, August 20, 2013 

 

World Socialist Web Site [Joanne Laurier]

 

“Lee Daniels' The Butler”: An Oscar-worthy historical fable - Salon.com  Andrew O’Hehir

 

David Denby: “The Butler,” “Lovelace” Reviews : The New Yorker  David Denby 

 

PopcornReel.com [Omar P.L. Moore]

 

Subversive Subservience: Exploring the History of Black Servitude ...  Sophia Dorval from Highbrow magazine, October 31, 2013

 

A Butler Well Served by This Election - Washington Post  Wil Haygood, source article, November 27, 2008

 

Is “Lee Daniels' The Butler” (Really) A “Black Movie?” | Racism Is ...  Racism Is White Supremacy, August 17, 2013

 

Racism Still Exists, Representations of Black People in Film  Racism Still Exists

 

Today's Hollywood And The Reinforcement of Black Subservience  Anthony Samad from Between the Lines, October 3. 2013

 

PopMatters [Bill Gibron]

 

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

 

Lee Daniels' The Butler / The Dissolve  Nathan Rabin

 

Movie Review: The Butler -- Vulture  David Edelstein 

 

Cinemixtape [J. Olson] 

 

Critic After Dark [Noel Vera]

 

Sound On Sight [Josh Spiegel]

 

PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs

 

SBS Film [Michelle Orange]

 

The Butler, reviewed: Lee Daniels and Forest Whitaker lead a ... - Slate  Dana Stevens

 

The Butler Review: Lee Daniels' Big Ol' Feel-Good Mess - Pajiba  Amanda Mae Meyncke

 

1NFLUX Magazine [Steve Pulaski]

 

OSR [John A. Nesbit]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

Film.com [Laremy Legel]

 

James Kendrick - QNetwork Entertainment Portal

 

'The Butler' Doesn't Do It - The Wire  Richard Lawson

 

Slant Magazine [Chris Cabin]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Anne-Katrin Titze]

 

Review: 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Starring Forest Whitaker, Oprah ...  Kimber Myers from The Playlist

 

Erik Lundegaard

 

The Film Stage [Nick Newman]

 

Movie Mezzanine [Odie Henderson]

 

Film-Forward.com [Christopher Bourne]

 

CultureCatch.com [Brandon Judell]

 

Cinemablographer [Pat Mullen]

 

'The Butler' Review: Lee Daniels Goes Historical, the 'Forrest Gump ...  Kate Erbland from Film School Rejects

 

Butler, The (2013) - Reelviews Movie Reviews  James Berardinelli

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Ozus' World Movie Reviews [Dennis Schwartz]

 

Twitch [Eric D. Snider]

 

Talking Pictures [Howard Schumann]

 

ArtsScene [Yvonne]

 

Georgia Straight [Patty Jones]

 

Trespass Magazine [Sarah Ward]

 

Ruthless Reviews [Matt Cale]

 

Lee Daniels' The Butler Review - Hollywood Reporter  Todd McCarthy

 

Why 'Lee Daniels' The Butler' Has 41 Producers  Pamela McClintock, August 14, 2013

 

Lee Daniels on 'The Butler': 'I Don't Feel So Good About the Title ...  Hilary Lewis from The Hollywood Reporter, August 9, 2013

 

John Singleton: Can a White Director Make a Great Black Movie ...  John Singleton from The Hollywood Reporter, September 19, 2013

 

The Guardian [Orville Lloyd Douglas]

 

The Star Online [Sharmilla Ganesan]

 

examiner.com [Christopher Granger]

 

Examiner.com [Jana J. Monji]  also seen here:  Pasadena Art Beat [Jana J. Monji]

 

Charleston City Paper [T. Meek]

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Pam Zoslov]

 

Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]

 

Dallas Film Now [Peter Martin]

 

Lee Daniels' The Butler Movie review by Kenneth Turan -- latimes.com

 

Lee Daniels' The Butler Movie Review (2013) | Roger Ebert  Steven Boone

 

New York Times [A.O.Scott]

 

Dannelly, Brian
 
SAVED!                                                         B                     87
USA  (92 mi)  2004
 
“God only knows what I’d be without you...” rings out over the opening shot.  I found this satire on fundamentalist Christian adolescents attending an all-Christian high school hilariously subversive for the first half, but when the story starts to coincide with the previously released MEAN GIRLS, well it looses some steam and never really recovers, becoming all too predictable by the end while remaining thoroughly enjoyable.  Mandy Moore plays Hillary Faye, the all-too-perfect mean girl queen bee who thinks loving Jesus is like scoring points at a sporting event, is obsessed with all things Christian, and remains at the spiritual center of the picture as the most mean-spirited, yet most popular cheerleader for the Lord.  Jena Malone plays (the Virgin) Mary, the actual lead who otherwise has doubts about her faith, becoming pregnant with a gay hunk on her first experience, believing getting pregnant was the Lord’s will to try to save him from his sin of homosexuality.  For that sin, he is sent away to a Christian recovery home where we learn: no one actually recovers, but it makes the parents feel better. 
 
Macaulay Culkin sets just the right tone in the film as the non-believing, wheel-chair-bound brother to Mandy Moore, with his calm, acerbic wit.  When he witnesses Jena coming out of a Planned Parenthood building, he knows this could mean only one of two things, then immediately concludes:  “O my God, she’s planted a pipe bomb!”  Mary-Louise Parker is Mary’s flirtatious mother who has a fling with the Christian pastor, while Eva Amurri plays Cassandra, the school’s only Jew, who attends this school only because she’s been kicked out of all the other ones and this was better than being home schooled.  Initially, the music was part of the fun, such as the use of the “Tubular Bells” from THE EXORCIST, which precedes Hillary Faye’s actual attempt to kidnap Mary and perform her own self-imposed exorcism, as well as some African-sounding a cappella male choir that just hums, which, of course, was the only sign of any racial diversity in this crowd.  The first half of the film is playful, silly, and smart, but then the fun stops, and the melodrama of Mary’s pregnancy, her alienation, and her religious doubts of faith dominate, and instead of being fun, it becomes a typical television script where all the loose ends must come together in an easily understood happy ending.  
 
Dante, Joe

 

All-Movie Guide

Born and raised in New Jersey, Joe Dante was a garrulous, semi-obsessed "movie nut." As a teenager, Dante wrote articles and criticism for "#Castle of Frankenstein," a popular "fanzine" for horror-film aficionados. While attending the Philadelphia College of Art, Dante and his friend Jon Davidson put together The Movie Orgy (1968), a 7-hour compilation of kitschy film clips that was screened on the college-campus circuit under the sponsorship of Schlitz beer. Dante went on to write for The Film Bulletin, then joined Roger Corman's New World Pictures, starting out editing trailers. When Dante made noises about becoming a director, Corman challenged him to whip up a picture for $50,000; the result was Hollywood Boulevard, an elongated (and frequently sidesplitting) inside joke about low-budget moviemaking. With Piranha (1978) and The Howling (1980), Dante began attracting critical attention as a director to keep an eye on. For producer Steven Spielberg, Dante directed his most profitable film, Gremlins (1984), a funny and frightening compendium of filmic "quotes" from past movie classics, full of cameo appearances by such pop-culture icons as Chuck Jones, Dick Miller, and Robby the Robot. For television, Dante has directed episodes of Police Squad, Amazing Stories, Twilight Zone and Tales from the Crypt. While Dante is best known for his stylish "scare" pictures, one of the director's finest and most personal projects was Matinee (1993), a nostalgic (and very movie-savvy) glance back at what it was like to grow up as a film buff in the early 1960s.

The Unofficial Joe Dante Web Site

 

Filmbug Biography

 

TCMDB  biography  from Turner Classic Movies

 

Film Reference  profile by Ross Care

 

Film Fanzine Profile

 

Joe Dante - Issue 51, 2009 - Senses of Cinema  Martyn Bamber from Senses of Cinema, March, 2003

 

Joe Dante: serious mischief  Tom Charity from Sight and Sound, October 2010

 

Dante, Joe  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

SMALL SOLDIERS

USA  (110 mi)  1998

 

1998  from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s Best Films of 1998 article from the Reader

4. Small Soldiers.
Satire, according to George S. Kaufman, is what closes on Saturday night. But judging from the critical response to Joe Dante's high-spirited satire of watching wars and war movies, it's also what gets pilloried in the Friday papers. I've seen this pleasurable and highly visceral extravaganza twice in Chicago and once with thousands of other viewers at the outdoor piazza of the Locarno film festival, where it was showing on a double bill with There's Something About Mary. All three times I had the delightful experience of being surrounded by viewers of all ages who were laughing as much as I was, all of them clearly in tune with Dante's pointed but far from mean-spirited agenda. Friends who've shown Small Soldiers to ten-year-olds on video have described how much these kids love it and how none of them is so foolish as to confuse toys with human beings. Yet most adult reviewers wrote the picture off as a violent, cynical, and potentially trau-matic piece of exploitation with no higher agenda than matching the high-tech shenanigans of Toy Story. The satirical intent--not to mention Dante's love for the noble Gorgonite monster toys, programmed (like so many of their real-life counterparts) to lose--clearly sailed right past them.

This isn't the first time Dante has been misunderstood, nor, I suspect, will it be the last. (His previous picture, the 1993 Matinee, was about war fever, and critics who connected its treatment of the Cuban missile crisis with our periodic eviscerations of Baghdad were few and far between.) Though all his movies are about the ethics and ramifications of spectatorship, Dante prefers to keep a low profile within the studio system and works without a personal publicist, so you won't catch many critics treating him like an auteur. For me the satire of Small Soldiers was so powerful and persuasive that when I saw Saving Private Ryan a week later, the Spielberg film seemed like derivative, warmongering claptrap. Now that Private Ryan has been hailed as the movie to end all wars, I can only wonder whether we've chosen Spielberg as our filmmaker laureate because we implicitly understand that he's every bit as innocent about his motives as we are--meaning that we can all remain children as long as he's the grown-up in charge. "I think World War II was my favorite war," the late Phil Hartman says wistfully in Small Soldiers while showing his wife his fancy new home-viewing setup--or media arsenal. Judging from the success of Private Ryan, Spielberg has lots of company, but now that the critical obfuscation has abated, I hope that home viewers able to laugh at their own worst impulses will discover the year's best studio picture.

Chicago Reader Movie Review  Jonathan Rosenbaum, also seen here:  Small Soldiers and Saving Private Ryan

 

HOMECOMING

Masters of Horror TV show

USA  (58 mi)  2005

 

Masters of Horror: "Homecoming"  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

For a more in-depth consideration of Dante's shrewd, on-time political satire than I can really offer, I refer you to Mark Peranson's insightful analysis and Dante interview in the latest Cinema Scope. While I was impressed with "Homecoming," I suppose some of its broader strokes left me a little ambivalent. Dante and screenwriter Sam Hamm have produced a classic Juvenalian satire, with impossible-to-miss stand-ins for Ann Coulter, Jerry Falwell, Larry King, and other contemporary unsavories. Despite a few poetic touches (none quite so moving as when an earnest polling-place worker affixes an "I Voted" sticker to the body of a fallen soldier), there is a sense of inevitability to much of "Homecoming." As a viewer I found myself nodding in assent but also acutely aware of the fact that its trajectory and its political takedowns were intellectually preordained. It's as though this film was in the zeitgeist for the taking, and it is absolutely to Dante's credit that he brought it into being. (After Ralph Nader's comment that the presidency of George W. Bush was "beyond satire," it's nice to see someone prove that thesis wrong.) But Dante abandons even the thin metaphorical register recently employed by Romero, scoring direct hits but sacrificing the subtlety that usually characterizes great art. So although I began and ended my viewing of "Homecoming" secure in the knowledge that Dante's point of view is the correct one, the director has perhaps accomplished something else here, implicitly posing a secondary set of questions, reverberating in the shadow of the primary ones. What is art's function in a desperate political present? When are the stakes too high to risk speaking in the ambiguous languages of aesthetic response? What's gained, and lost, when the gloves come off? ["Homecoming" can currently be seen in the U.S. on Showtime On Demand.]

By Mark Peranson   Dante’s Inferno: The Necessary Satire of Homecoming, from Cinema Scope

 

Darabont, Frank
 
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

USA  (142 mi)  1994

 

Time Out review

 

In 1946 a young New England banker, Andy Dufresne (Robbins), is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and sentenced to life at the Shawshank State Prison - twice over. Quiet and introspective, he gradually strikes up a friendship with the prison 'fixer', Red (Freeman), and over the next two decades wins the trust of the governor and guards, but in his heart, he still yearns for freedom. Darabont's adaptation of a Stephen King novella is a throwback to the kind of serious, literate drama Hollywood used to make (Birdman of Alcatraz, say) though the big spiritual resolution takes some swallowing - ditto the colour-blind relationships within the prison and the violent disavowal of any homosexual implications. Against this weighs the pleasure of discovering a first-time director with evident respect for the intelligence of his audience, brave enough to let character details accumulate without recourse to the fast-forward button. Darabont plays the long game and wins: this is an engrossing, superbly acted yarn, while the Shawshank itself is a truly formidable mausoleum.

 

Eye for Film (David Haviland) review [5/5]

The story of The Shawshank Redemption is well known. Based on a Stephen King novella, the film was released in 1994 to a warm critical reception, but failed to turn a profit at the box office. Finding an audience through TV and video, it gradually grew to become a phenomenon, a canonised classic, and something close to a religious experience for many. The story may be well known, but the mystery remains: What is it about The Shawshank Redemption that has such a profound effect on people?

The film tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), an educated banker sentenced to life for the murder of his wife and her lover. In prison, Andy inspires his fellow inmates with his courage and humanity and has a profound effect on Red (Morgan Freeman), an older prisoner, who has given up hope.

Unlike many films of the Nineties, Shawshank has no "high concept" plot premise and is somewhat episodic compared with the tight, linear narratives of closer structured pictures. This sense of freedom in the storytelling allows the film to consistently throw up genuine surprises, as the viewer isn't constantly on guard for clues and plot points. In hindsight, we tend to forget how successfully writer/director Frank Darabont leads us to expect a very different resolution.

Now it is regarded as a feelgood classic, which only achieves such popularity by first visiting the darkest places imaginable. It's easy to forget how violent and depressing the story is and it's only by evoking a powerful sense of horror that Darabont's masterful screenplay earns its climactic feeling of release.

The film's inspirational power is heightened by the use of religious references and symbolism throughout. Some argue, compellingly, that it can be read as a religious parable, with Andy as a Christ figure, who sacrifices himself in order to inspire those around him, and is figuratively killed and reborn.

Part of the film's popularity is the way it warrants rewatching, as the quality of the writing means each new viewing throws up fresh details and delights. The tension, when the warden checks Andy's cell, for example, is only fully appreciated second time round. Similarly, the wonderful dialogue is best enjoyed with the leisure of already knowing the story; Andy's reply in court, for example, to the accusation that the disappearance of his gun is convenient: "Since I am innocent of this crime, sir, I find it decidedly inconvenient that the gun was never found."

The story obviously inspired the makers as much as it does the audience, as it marks a career high for most of the considerable talents involved. The cinematography by long-time Coen Brothers collaborator Roger Deakins is awe-inspiring. Freeman and Robbins were never more touching and restrained and Darabont's direction displays the mastery of a man making his twentieth film, rather than, as this was, his debut.

The Shawshank Redemption is perhaps the only undisputed classic of the Nineties, although it's more popular with the public than with critics, who tend to be slightly sniffy about it's feelgood magic. In this respect, it has much in common with the other classics, with which it is often compared, such as Casablanca and It's A Wonderful Life, which suggests that it will remain a favourite of the people for decades to come.

Washington Post (Rita Kempley) review

Though adapted from a Stephen King novella, "The Shawshank Redemption" has more to do with a man's internal demons than the kind that routinely rise up from overgrown graveyards. Like "Stand by Me," it's not a typical story from the horror King. Instead, it's a devoutly old-fashioned, spiritually uplifting prison drama about two lifers who must break their emotional shackles before they can finally become free men.

Set in a spooky old penitentiary with turrets and towers, the movie manages to be true to its Big House origins while incorporating such horrific mainstays as the clanking of chains and the creaking of the walls. There's even a raven that roosts in the prison library, where he is cared for by a darling old trusty (James Whitmore). For the most part, however, the movie expands upon cliches that date back to James Cagney's prison portraits—the twisted warden (Bob Gunton) and the sadistic guard (Clancy Brown).

Director Frank Darabont, who apprenticed on B-scripts ("The Fly II") and TV movies ("Buried Alive"), manages to fashion an improbable new pattern from the same old material in his remarkable debut. While he deals with the grimmest aspects of prison life (sadistic guards, gang rapes and befouled food), Darabont is chiefly interested in the 20-year friendship that sustains Andy (Tim Robbins) and Red (Morgan Freeman) .

The movie opens in 1947 as Andy, a prominent New England banker, is on trial for murdering his wife and her lover. Not only did he have a motive, but he had the opportunity—his footprints were found at the scene of the crime—and he had a weapon of the caliber used in the shootings. He insists that he is innocent, but the jury finds him guilty. Sentenced to life twice over, Andy is shipped to the maximum-security state prison at Shawshank, Maine. An introverted loner with an interest in reading, chess and rock carving, Andy doesn't make himself many friends until Red, a 30-year-veteran of the system, decides to take him under his wing.

Things begin to change for the better when Andy finds a way to use his skills and education to benefit his fellow felons. When he overhears the guard captain complaining about losing most of an inheritance to taxes, he offers to trade his advice for three beers for each of the men who are working with him that day tarring the roof.

His reputation as a financial adviser spreads, and soon he is doing the taxes for all the guards and running the warden's outside scams. This leads to a position in the tiny prison library, which Andy gradually expands into the best educational facility of its kind in the area. It takes him six years to do it, but Andy never gives up hope.

It is hope that allows the self-proclaimed innocent man to survive what may or may not be an unjust imprisonment. And hope is his gift to his friend Red, who no longer even tries to impress the parole board at his hearings. He's become "institutionalized," he explains to Andy, and would be a "nobody" on the outside.

Red's gift to Andy is absolution when he finally confesses his true sins. Whether or not he pulled the trigger, Andy blames himself for causing his wife's death; his redemption comes as he learns to give of himself over the course of this marvelously acted and directed film.

Robbins gives a performance that evolves with beautiful clarity from starchy banker to warm and loving friend. Freeman is sure to gain his third Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Red. He also reads the film's lovely narration, much of it drawn verbatim from King's 1982 novella.

A detailed portrait of the routine of cellblock life, "The Shawshank Redemption" might change a few minds about the usefulness of incarceration in terms of rehabilitation. Mostly, though, it reminds us of that we all hold the keys to our own prisons.

The Greatest Films (Tim Dirks) recommendation [spoilers]

 

Slant Magazine review  Ed Gonzalez

 

eFilmCritic.com (Andrew Howe) review [5/5]

 

Dragan Antulov review [6/10]

 

Movie Reviews UK review [4/5]  Damian Cannon

 

eFilmCritic.com (Rob Gonsalves) review [4/5]

 

Film Freak Central Review [Walter Chaw]

 

Prison Flicks Review

 

John's Movie Blog  moviejohn

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

Movie-Vault.com (Arturo García Lasca) review

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review

 

DVD Verdict (Mike Jackson) dvd review

 

Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice dvd review [3/5]  Michael Dequina

 

Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Jay S. Steinberg, 2-disc Special Edition

 

DVD Times  James Gray, 2-disc Special Edition

 

The Lumière Reader (DVD)  John Spry, 2-disc Special Edition 

 

DVD Talk (Holly E. Ordway) dvd review [5/5] [Special Edition]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review  2-disc Special Edition

 

A Guide to Current DVD (Aaron Beierle) dvd review [Special Edition]

 

DVDActive (Paul Cooke) dvd review [9/10] [10th Anniversary Special Edition]

 

DVD MovieGuide dvd review [10th Anniversary Special Edition]  Colin Jacobson

 

CHUD.com (Matt Hindmarch) dvd review [Special Edition]

 

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Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice dvd review [4.5/5] [10th Anniversary Edition]  Brad Cook

 

MovieFreak.com (Dennis Landmann) dvd review [10/10] [Special Edition]

 

Exclaim! dvd review  Monica S. Kuebler, 2-disc Special Edition

 

DVD Talk (Ryan Keefer) dvd review [3/5] [Blu-Ray Version]  also here:  DVD Verdict (Ryan Keefer) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

DVD Town (John J. Puccio) dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]

 

Fulvue Drive-in dvd review  Nate Goss, Blu-Ray Version

 

Crimespree Cinema: Blu-ray release [Jeremy Lynch]

 

Serdar Yegulalp retrospective

 

filmcritic.com (James Brundage) review [4/5]

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4/5]

 

Sridhar Prasad retrospective

 

Oscar Movie's Review #19 [Warren Lukinuk]

 

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Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]  September 23, 1994

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) recommendation [Great Movies]  October 17, 1999

 

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DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze

 

DVDBeaver dvd review [Blu-Ray Version]  Gary W. Tooze

 

THE MIST                                                                 B                     87

USA  (127 mi)  2007

 

A good old-fashioned and highly entertaining horror movie, where one can read volumes into our society’s preparedness for such a large scale accident or disaster, namely, that despite the formation of a new Homeland Security cabinet position after 9/11, and billions of money spent in each state to update various security systems, the plain truth is that people aren’t even close to ready in the event of a real disaster.  Katrina remains the best metaphor for our state of preparedness, which is a pretty pathetic picture.  What this film does is break it down to a typical small town anywhere in the USA, in this case it’s Maine, writer Stephen King’s home state, where out of nowhere an event that no one can explain turns into a disaster of epic proportions.  But it evolves out of an ordinary day, the night after a storm where the wind blew all the phone reception and power lines down so people flocked to the local supermarket to stock up on supplies, including a father and son, Thomas Jane (a LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE Greg Kinnear type) and Nathan Gamble, along with their next door neighbor, Andre Braugher, whose car was smashed by a falling tree.  After a few courtesy hello’s, a man comes running into the store bleeding on his face screaming “There’s something out there in the mist.”  Sure enough, the entire town has been engulfed by a strange and unexplained mist.  People have a hard time believing the severity of their situation, even after one of the stock clerks has been ripped away from them by a giant creature, largely because most didn’t see it with their own eyes, so they’re inclined to be skeptical.  When a group, led by Braugher, decides to brave the mist alone, they are set upon by giant creatures instantly, where one man’s half-eaten body is left lying in front of the store.  So much for skepticism. 

 

After a few instant fortifications of the front windows, in no time people are divided into factions, one by the level-headed dad, the only one brave enough to try to save the store clerk, and another led by the fire and brimstone spouting Marcia Gay Harden who is terrific in her role as the semi-crazed town fool who rises to the occasion fortified by her belief that the Apocalypse of Revelations is upon them, whose dire predictions of evil rooted in sin begins to resonate with a few, largely due to the rising degree of their fear.  When prehistoric winged flying creatures break through the window and start flying through the store, well, to put it mildly, all hell breaks loose, and rather than stick together as a unit, one group risks their lives fending them off, while the other group cowers in fear, but claim Harden as a prophet afterwards, bolstering her position as the voice of hysteria.  Although much of the action takes place stuck inside a supermarket, their dire circumstances are well demonstrated, because it’s as if someone opened Pandora’s Box and the world has been set upon by giant demons.  How would anyone react under those circumstances?  When it becomes clear that the fear factor is spreading as fast as the Mist itself, dad’s small group tries to come up with an escape plan, but their initial venture outside only exposes them to still greater danger than they ever imagined, and only a few get back alive, whereupon they are turned upon by the fear mongers, who have no answer except to resort to Old Testament ideas of offering human sacrifices to an angry God, as Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, as if that would quell the storm.  But all it seems to do is turn this angry mob into what resembles a hateful feeding frenzy.  Despite the ugliness of the winged creatures, and a few giant spiders thrown in as well, they are no less repulsive than humans turning against one another with such a bloodthirsty lynch mob mentality.

 

It’s interesting that one of the charms of small town life is how everyone knows everyone else, how there are few secrets, how you can keep your door unlocked at night, or even leave the keys in your car while it’s running, how there’s a palpable sense of unbroken community trust.  This view that in hard times, the community will pull together and help each other out is simply shattered to bits in this film which shows instead a clawing and scratch-your-eyes- out mentality where self-preservation comes first.  The idea that when faced with such hard times, extremist views prevail should open up a few eyes as to the desperate straits that exist in the rest of the world where religious extremism has already grown out of control, yet few who see this film will sympathize with others, instead they’ll take the individualist approach, like the days of the wild west when no moral order prevailed, where it was every man and woman for themselves.  It appears we have come full circle by returning to that western mentality of 150 years ago – some progress we’ve made.  Oh yes, but we have Ipods and cellphones to be thankful for.      

Paste Magazine [Tim Basham]

With about a hundred film credits to his name, the works of Stephen King continue to fill movie theaters. But only a handful of the projects can really be considered “great,” and two of those were co-written and directed by the same person: Frank Darabont. His work on The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile garnered each film an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. The Mist may not rise to such lofty heights, but Darabont proves once again that he’s got King’s number.

The film features a group of shoppers trapped inside a small town grocery store, with something from a strange mist killing anyone who ventures outside. Thomas Jane plays the typical King hero as movie poster artist David Drayton. Marcia Gay Harden plays the villain in the guise of the town’s local religious-extremist-wacko Mrs. Carmody, who uses the fear of the unknown to build what David calls her “congregation.”

Darabont employs a bevy of terrific effects to bring flying pterodactyl-like creatures, giant, lethal insects and very creepy acid-web shooting spiders to life. But he also relies on man’s humanity, or lack thereof, which always makes King’s stories shine above the typical horror fare. When it comes time for David and some others to make a run for it, they do so more out of fear of their fellow man rather than the creatures outside.

Harden does a fine job of keeping her potentially hysterical character reined in. The journey of her “becoming” as the store’s savior is a wonder to watch. And Toby Jones (Truman in the “other” Capote movie Infamous) is excellent as the surprisingly courageous grocery clerk. But it’s the story of the store’s inhabitants as a whole versus the mist’s unearthly realm that creates a tense and visually exciting standoff, eventually leading to an ending that King never wrote. Darabont’s skills go beyond interpretation, as he creates a work not just fit for a King, but fit for the screen.

The Flick Filosopher (MaryAnn Johanson)

Frank Darabont’s adaptations of Stephen King’s writings are not just some of the best mountings of the writer’s work but some of the best films, period, of recent years: The Shawshank Redemption, anyone? The Green Mile? So I don’t think it’s too outrageous -- or too surprising -- to say that The Mist, which Darabont wrote and directed from a King novella, is not only one of the best movies of 2007, it’s one of the best horror movies ever made. Period.

Look: B movies went A a long time ago, even before the real world turned into its own kind of science fiction nightmare of drowned cities and kamikaze terrorists, and so isn’t civil disaster the perfect springboard for exploring the most sinister aspects of humanity? Because, oh yes, there are creatures here with teeth of both the metaphoric and literal kind, but they’re just animals doing what animals do. The monsters of The Mist are the people, and how we give in to fear and give up on hope at the very moments when we don’t need the one and desperately need the other. This is horror of a philosophical, humanistic bent, examining the nightmares of politics and religion on the small scale upon which they act upon individuals, as well as our propensity to dispense with reason at the drop of a hat... or a tentacle. For all its fantastical elements, this is as grounded and as immediate and as real as movies get. This is “horror” the way that Rod Serling told it -- think the creepy societal breakdown of “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” and you’ve got it.

The civil disaster is an ordinary one: a gusty storm knocks down trees and brings down power lines in one of those outwardly charming, secretly insidious Stephen King small towns. But did it also knock out the power at the local army base, wherein, it is rumored, is housed the remains of a crashed flying saucer and dead alien bodies? This is the stuff of the polite, time-passing chatter strained neighbors David Drayton (Thomas Jane: The Punisher, Stander) and Brent Norton (Andre Braugher: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Poseidon) engage in as they drive, with David’s young son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), into town to pick up supplies to board up windows, and groceries before the shelves are picked clean. They’re all in the supermarket when a thick mist descends, obscuring the view out the plate-glass windows beyond a few feet. And then a bloodied man runs into the store, screaming about monsters in the strange fog...

It’s quiet inside the store for a while, the couple of dozen people trapped by their uncertainty over what’s happening but not yet giving in to panic. That begins to happen soon enough, however, when no rescue comes and, well, other, more deadly things begin to occur. It’s all smartly, brilliantly, paced, not just the more traditional aspects of what you’d expect from a horror movie -- those things with the tentacles in the mist are vicious buggers -- but the collapse of the civilization as represented by the little supermarket society. Tribes start to form along sharply drawn lines, drifting toward either David and his calm logic or Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden: Into the Wild, The Dead Girl), a vocal proponent of hellfire-and-brimstone Biblical literalism, and her preaching about how this is the promised Armageddon, and boy, is God pissed with us or what? (She’s the most terrifying thing about the movie, no question.)

There’s an almost orgasmic rise and fall to The Mist in how it scares the hell out of you via the monsters of both the human and the creature varieties, lets you relax with a tension-relieving laugh or two -- though the film never indulges in a snarky joke that would break the satisfyingly grim mood -- and then starts on you all over again. And if the movie worked purely as that kind of intellectual roller coaster ride and nothing else, that would have been more than enough. But it also offers finely drawn portraits of the kind of positive strength movies of this ilk -- or any ilk -- rarely see, of a real-masculinity not about bombast or machismo but built up of courage in the face of one’s own fear and a refusal to descend into easy animality... and not just in the obvious hero character of David but also in, say, the apparently meek supermarket manager played by the ever-essential Toby Jones (The Painted Veil, Infamous). Hell, even the woman customer played by Laurie Holden (Fantastic Four, The Majestic), who teams up with David, is strong and capable and genuine -- so let’s call it not just real-masculinity but real-humanity.

It’s impossible to guess quite what’s going on or quite how Darabont -- who took some liberties with King’s material -- can possibly resolve his story in a way that will completely gratify. But he does. How it ends... well, I couldn’t move from my seat, I was that blown away by the power of it. It’s absolutely right, exactly the kind of uncompromising kicker it needs to be to ensure that The Mist haunts you for a good long while with its shocking reminder of how we can be our own worst enemies in all ways imaginable.

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin)

"There's...something...in...the...fog....er, mist!"

Book or story to screen adaptations of Stephen King’s work cluster around the mediocre ("1408", "Pet Cemetery," "Firestarter") or the truly wretched ("Night Flyer," "Night Shift", "Maximum Overdrive"). Of the few adaptations that stand on their own, most were made from King’s early novels ("Carrie," "Salem’s Lot," "The Shining") or novellas ("The Shawshank Redemption," "Stand by Me") with the occasional exception ("Dolores Clairborne," "Misery") drawn from his realistic novels. Writer/director Frank Darabont has adapted two of King’s work, "The Shawshank Redemption" and "The Green Mile," and after a long hiatus, is back with a third, an adaptation of King’s 1980 apocalyptic survival/horror novella, "The Mist."

Darabont sticks closely to King’s novella, centering The Mist on David Drayton (Thomas Jane), an artist who lives and works from a lakeside home in Maine. After a freak electrical storm knocks out all the power in the area, Drayton decides to go into town to stock up on supplies with his son, Billy (Nathan Gamble), and his neighbor, Brent Norton (Andre Braugher), in tow. Drayton leaves his wife, Stephanie (Kelly Collins Lintz), behind to face a seemingly innocuous mist rolling in over the lake. Drayton discovers the supermarket jam-packed. Everyone, it seems, decided to come to the supermarket to stock up.

But then the mist rolls in. One man, Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn), appears out of the mist, bloodied, and bruised and with a story to tell: something non-human came out of the mist and took his friend. The other townspeople disbelieve him at first, but decide to stay put. The screams of a man dying in the mist suggest that Wayne’s story might be, in fact, true, but it’s not until several men decide to open the loading dock door to clear a vent for the generator that they realize something large and hungry is out there waiting for them. But some of the townspeople cling tenaciously to their rationality like a life raft, including Norton, who suspects Drayton and the other locals are pulling an elaborate gag on him. Rationality means nothing, however, to Mrs. Carmody (Marcia Gay Harden), a deeply disturbed religious zealot who suggests that the monsters in the mist are harbingers of the end times and of God's wrath. Only Wayne Jessup (Sam Witwer), a soldier from a local army base, seems to know what's going on.

The struggle between rationality and fear and between religious zealotry and fire forms the backbone both of King’s novella and Darabont’s adaptation. Human conflict, the breakdown of the social order, personalities crushed under extreme duress are also elements found in most stories involving apocalyptic horror, of which there’s no better example than George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Despite a larger cast of characters in The Mist, the conflicts are practically the same, the dilemmas almost identical: what to do when information is severely limited and the risks are high, usually filtered down to a simple, if extremely hazardous choice between staying or going.

In all that, The Mist is a fine example of the sub-genre. The increasing desperation of the characters, the turn to religious comfort, and eventually, the turn to violence as the answer are emphasized in a way few directors working in the horror genre would, since they’d risk heavy criticism for such a choice. Backed by Dimension Films (a.k.a. the Weinstein Brothers), Darabont was given wide latitude in adapting King’s novella. To his credit, Darabont includes all the major characters and, just as importantly, all of the major plot points, including the attacks by the monsters, each one more intense than the last. Up until the last ten or fifteen minutes, The Mist is truer to King’s work than any other adaptation of his work.

Darabont, however, strays from The Mist original ending or, to be accurate, continues the story past where King left his readers. King opted for an ambiguous ending, one that gave the survivors, at best, a temporary victory. Frustrating or refusing narrative closure, The Mist allowed readers to make up their own ending, hopeful or bleak. Darabont’s ending provides far more closure and offers, at least on one level, a more optimistic ending, but another, more personal (meaning the characters we’ve followed for two hours), it’s anything but. It’s bleakly ironic and probably the most daring ending to a mainstream film this year.

If "The Mist" doesn’t falter by tacking on a “false” or illogical ending (it doesn’t), it’s far from perfect. At almost two hours, "The Mist" is too long and repetitive, especially where the bible thumping, Revelation-quoting Mrs. Carmody is concerned. The visual effects are also a bit dodgy, due no doubt to budget constraints. To be fair, most of the visual effects, especially those obscured by the mist are more than serviceable. It’s in the cold light of day or in a well-lit interior that the visual effects look unfinished or unpolished. Luckily, that only happens twice, once during the loading dock scene and later on during an attack on the supermarket. Still, those are minor, easily forgivable problems in comparison to Darabont’s achievement: an adaptation of a Stephen King work that’s faithful to the source material while managing to stand on its own.

Fangoria.com  Don Kaye

 

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Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune   Colin Covert

 

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here   David Harley from Bloody Disgusting

 

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Dardenne, Jean-Pierre and Luc

 

from DVDBeaver Director’s Chair:  http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/reviews.htm
 
For over 20 years in Seraing, Belgium, brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne produced/wrote and directed politically leftist documentary films. Their recent career of feature films hit international prominence in 1996 with La Promesse. Their next feature, Rosetta, another fictional story written and produced by them, won the top honors at Cannes in 1999. Constant reexamination in editing transmogrify their films to contain powerful realism expressions with social inequities often a central theme. This is a daring, gritty style often with the use of handi-cam modulations. Their key attributes appear in two distinct forms - extensive time spent on casting, and flexibility in production - often fearlessly migrating from details of their own initial story. In 2005 their latest full-length feature, L'Enfant, was chosen as best film again (Palme D'or) at the 58th Cannes International Film Festival. Juror Emir Kusturica stated: "The jury was working on the basis of discovery, helping and trying to find the movie that synthesizes most of the aspects of cinema, combining the public side of it, but looking for something that doesn't lose the artistic aspects...

 

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia  Kathleen Kuiper

In 2005, with their film L’Enfant, the Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne for the second time in six years won the Cannes Festival’s Palme d’Or for best film. Only filmmakers Emir Kusturica and Imamura Shohei had previously won twice. Two other pairs of brothers—Vittorio and Paolo Taviani, in 1977, and Ethan and Joel Coen, in 1991—had earned a Palme d’Or.

Like Rosetta (1999), the Dardennes’ first Palme d’Or winner, L’Enfant explored life in an impoverished, gritty, industrial region in French-speaking southern Belgium, particularly around the city of Seraing, where the brothers grew up; the region was known for its steel mills, coal mines, and endemic unemployment. Both award-winning films also examined the circumstances of people on the margins of Belgian society. Whereas Rosetta limned the life of a young woman determined to find work in order to escape the grinding poverty of her life, L’Enfant was essentially a young man’s story. Its protagonist, Bruno, is a 20-year-old petty criminal whose life is changed when his 18-year-old girlfriend, Sonia, bears their child. The story was inspired, according to the brothers, by an image that haunted them during the shooting of another of their films—that of a young woman alone seen daily aimlessly pushing a baby carriage.

Jean-Pierre Dardenne was born on April 21, 1951, in Engis and Luc on March 10, 1954, in Awirs. The elder brother studied acting in Brussels, while the younger took a degree in philosophy. The video work of one of Jean-Pierre’s teachers, French director Armand Gatti, provided their inspiration to use videotape to document the lives and struggles of working-class Belgians. It also determined their signature camera style: use of the handheld camera and a preference for improvised dialogue. Beginning in the 1970s they made a number of documentaries, establishing their own production company, Dérives, in 1975. To date the company had produced more than 60 documentaries, including Le Chant du rossignol (1978), about the Belgian Resistance movement in World War II, and Leçons d’une université volante (1982), concerning Polish immigration. The brothers expanded the production company in 1981, creating Film Dérives Fiction. With the latter company they made their first fiction feature, Falsch (1986), adapted from the play by Belgian playwright René Kalisky, and Je pense à vous (1992). In 1994 they further expanded their company to create Les Films du Fleuve. Among their other noteworthy nondocumentaries were the art-house favourites La Promesse (1996) and Le Fils (2002).

from Emilie Bickerton in Cineaste, Spring 2006 (link lost):

Three years separate the brothers. Jean-Pierre born in 1951 and Luc in 1954, they grew up in the industrial town of Seraing, part of the French-speaking province of Liège, Belgium.  The Meuse River runs through it, and this area – where they first “kissed girls and became adult” – has provided the backdrop for all their films since 1996.  Jean-Pierre studied drama at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion in Brussels, and Luc, philosophy.  In the early Seventies Jean-Pierre met Armand Gatti, the poet and director of L’ENCLOS (1961) and it was Gatti who first encouraged the brothers to work together. – “He brought us out of our daydreaming, threw us into the poem...taught us to start from our truth” – involving them in two of his theatrical shows, La Colonne Durutti and L’Arche d”Adelin.

 

In 1975 the Dardennes set up Dérives, a production company that became the outlet for the sixty or so documentaries they have made together.  These works cover diverse historical events including anti-Nazi resistance groups, Polish immigration, underground newspapers, and the 1960 general labor strike in Belgium.  All grounded in community-based [politics, they were often screened at union meetings.  In 1994 the brothers founded a second company, Les Films du Flueve, which has since produced their fiction features, as well as those by other directors.  They explain their move from documentary to fiction as coming from a desire “to push the limits of possibility and raise questions” that the former doesn’t allow.  Increasingly they saw their challenge differently to the one posed by documentary, they wanted to do something that could bring more out of reality, because ‘the problem is not painting life but creating a living painting.”  Feature films allows them greater freedom to invent characters and work with actors – they can reconstruct reality rather than just recount it.

 

In each of their pictures they start from the same, simple question:  what does it really mean to be human today?  They succeed in answering this through precision, discipline, and the very way they use the camera and carefully construct their scenes.  They take single characters or a family relationship and concentrate entirely on these.  Their films have little dialog, no music (“It blinds you to the image”), and the most spare of narratives (they refuse to draw any “dramatic line that would stifle [the] life” of their protagonists).  Simplicity is an essential component.  The Dardennes concentrate our emotions, which in turn allows us time to reflect on a single predicament or event.  Also, we are given the space to sense the very rhythm of the film, we feel and follow the movements of the bodies, are conscious of surrounding traffic noises, and notice the little habits and accessories that define the characters.

 

The Dardennes tend to reuse their actors (Gourmet, Renier) and nearly always cast nonprofessionals.  In these four films they gave Gourmet and Renier their first major parts, and Dequenne, Marinne, and Déborah François (Sonia in L’ENFANT) their first acting roles.  Their technical team, as well as their settings, has remained mostly the same for each picture, too – Marie-Hélène Dozo (editor), Denis Freyd (producer and screenwriter), and Alan Marcoen (director of photography).  The small group and budget, along with the single location and selection of actors, is a very conscious choice, a filmmaking ethic, almost, as it is the product of the brothers’ relationship with cinema and what they aspire to achieve.

 

In light of their subject matter and this approach, it isn’t surprising that the brothers are often described as political and socially conscious filmmakers.  They focus on the marginalized or déclassé in society – black market employers, immigrants, the unemployed, young offenders, and teenage parents, all shot in the postindustrial landscape of eastern Belgium.  There are recurring concerns, in particular, the transmission of skills and lessons, especially focusing on the journey to adulthood, the role of parents for future generations, and the continued importance of employment for status and a sense of self in contemporary society.  ROSETTA had such an impact that it even spurred a new law, passed in Belgium in 1999 by Minister of Labor and Socialist Party member Laurette Onkelinx.  “Plan Rosetta” targeted youth unemployment by intending to offer all young people a job no less than six months after leaving school.

 

However, it is not so much their subject matter that makes the Dardenne brothers’ work political, but more the way their films explore certain emotions or situations and the humanist vision that subsequently emerges.  What the Dardennes represent is the way cinema can be political today, their real originality coming from their refusal to be cynical and struggle against what they call the loss of confidence in man.  This can’t be achieved by making characters mouthpieces for particular ideas or representative of predicaments and struggles.  This appeal to class consciousness is an old strategy and it is the lack of such an appeal in the Dardenne’s work that makes them so interesting today.

 

If the brothers have concentrated on a similar selection of characters so far it’s because theirs are the experiences they know about.  The same setting of Seraing in Belgium is also chosen because of its familiarity and, as Gatti taught them, it is best to start with this when dealing with fiction, if you’re to go on and say anything true.  Of course, some aspects of the film industry and the media, as we have seen, do rile the brothers.  That the déclassé are such a blind spot, cinematically and socially, is particularly disturbing for them.  Either they are ignored or given charity, yet both, they argue, annihilates them as active subjects capable of shaping their own futures.  Echoing the criticisms of the late French critic Serge Daney, the Dardennes are scathing about what they see as the estheticization of poverty of famine on screen – the manipulative pictures of starving children put to pop songs for example, does little more than nourish a vision of a powerless victim.  “Filming the body of someone starving is, for the media, the same as filming a mute body,” so “filming a human being...who refuses to be reduced to the symbol of suffering, who refuses that pity be felt towards him, filming this human being has become an act of cinematographic resistance against the contempt of a man who holds onto the morbid pity contained in these images, derived from a victim-centred aesthetic.”  What is so remarkable and quite unprecedented about the brothers’ work so far is they have achieved this cinematographic resistance, depicting characters without transforming them from subjects into victims.  Dignified is perhaps the most fitting word to describe their cinema, as we are able to grasp the reasons for the character’s actions. 

 

dardenne-brothers.com - An unofficial website about Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

 

All-Movie Guide: Jean-Pierre  bio from Lucio Bozzola

 

All-Movie Guide: Luc  bio from Lucio Bozzola

 

Belgium Federal Portal Biography

 

TCMDB: Jean-Pierre  biography from Turner Classic Movies

 

TCMDB: Luc  biography from Turner Classic Movies

 

Soldiers' Stories - Movies - Village Voice - Village Voice  Leslie Camhi from The Village Voice, November 2, 1999

 

Filmjourney.org: Dardenne documentaries  Doug Cummings reviews a Dardenne Brothers documentary retrospective, April 2, 2006

 

Girish  also reviews Dardenne documentaries, April 3, 2006

 

Filmjourney.org: Dardenne documentaries and early features  April 7, 2006

 

Dans l’Obscurite   Doug Cummings from Filmjourney, July 22, 2007

 
The Village Voice [Scott Foundas]  Films of the Dardennes Brothers, August 5, 2008

 

Real and Reel Life: The Aesthetics of the Dardennes  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, May 21, 2009

 

Dardenne, Jean-Pierre & Luc   They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

kamera Interview  by Tom Dawson

 

indieWIRE Interview  by Anthony Kaufman    

 

Filmjourney.org: Interview with the Dardennes  by Doug Cummings March 23, 2006

 

Dardenne brothers - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

THE PROMISE (La Promesse)    B+                   90
Belgium  France  Luxembourg  (93 mi)  1996
 
Interesting racial mix, culturally diverse, gritty, authentic drama told mostly in real time, exposing an illegal immigrant cheap labor and apartment scam, where the artifice is stripped completely bare in this heavy dose of realism.

 

from Emilie Bickerton in Cineaste, Spring 2006 (link lost):
LA PROMESSE tells the story of the relationship between a teenage boy (Igor, played by 14-year old Jérémie Renier) with his father, Roger (Olivier Gourmet), who houses illegal immigrants and employs them in building work.  Roger covers up an accident on site that leaves one worker dead.  In the process Igor makes a secret promise to the dying man to take care of his widow, Assita, and their newborn child.  Fulfilling this promise forces Igor into adulthood, as he must choose to act against his father.

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

An impressively tough, raw realist drama, set in and around the drabber areas of Liège, in which a 15-year-old comes into conflict with his single parent father after a tragedy forces the boy to confront the moral implications of the pair's exploitative business in smuggling and housing illegal immigrants. Having made a promise to a dying African that he'll look after his wife and kid, young Igor is torn between filial duty and growing affection for his impoverished 'charges', between fear of his dad's bouts of drunken violence and his desire to keep his word. The performances are superb, the interplay between father and son extraordinarily well observed, and the whole thing at once wholly unsentimental and deeply moving.

 
CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review 

The subject is the birth of a conscience, the film was written and directed by two brothers from Belgium, Jean-Pierre Dardenne and Luc Dardenne. 15-year-old Igor (Jeremie Renier) is in some ways a normal kid - he loves riding his moped and working on a go-cart with his friends. But he also works for his father, helping to smuggle illegal aliens into Belgium. Roger, the dad (Olivier Gourmet) puts the aliens in substandard housing, forges their passports, makes them work for him on his construction unit, and generally squeezes all the money he can out of them. Igor helps in most of the dirty work - and he's exposed to an atmosphere of lying and corruption that is beginning to harden him. But one day an African, one of the immigrants, falls off a scaffold. Dying in Igor's arms, he asks him to take care of his wife and infant son. Igor promises, and it is the need for this young man to be faithful to his promise that sets the stage for conflict with his father.

Instead of reporting the death, Roger enlists his son's help in burying him on the site - covering him with cement. He then lies to the wife, Assita (Assita Ouedraogo), saying that her husband fled because of gambling debts, and then uses an elaborate ruse to get her to go with him to Germany, where he plans to sell her as a prostitute. Igor, faithful to his promise, decides to help her, at great personal cost to himself.

La Promesse is quite vigorous and immediate in its editing and direction. The Dardennes have achieved a small miracle with their mostly non-professional cast. The young Renier has a special honesty and naturalness. We can see the painful growth of a moral sense in the boy. The drama of the immigrants, the social observation, the sense of corruption as an everyday reality, is seen from the inside, not preached at from the outside. The modesty and directness of the technique make the story all the more compelling. Although the film is sad, there is hopefulness - there is even a kind of faith in this film, the faith that promises do mean something and that the simple actions of this young man can make a difference.

La Promesse  Mike D’Angelo (excerpt)

In short, I can't think of a recent English-language film as immediately and powerfully concerned with filial confusion and anguish as is La Promesse, by Belgian brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne. There's no mystery in their heartbreaking tale, no "did he or didn't he?" -- young Igor (Jérémie Renier) watches, dumbfounded, from inches away, as his father (Olivier Gourmet) removes the impromptu tourniquet that Igor had fashioned from his belt. Later that night, at dad's insistence, he helps to bury the poor fellow. Has it ever before occurred to him to question his father's decisions, behavior, or authority? The film's early scenes, which deftly and succinctly establish the pair's ruthless, amoral trade, suggest that it hasn't; but judging by the expression on his towheaded face as he watches pop shovel cement upon the corpse of the man he'd hoped to save, those aren't exactly visions of sugar plums dancing in his head. What prevents him from acting immediately is not uncertainty or self-delusion, but love and inertia. (Irrelevant aside: if I ever form a speed-metal band, which is about as likely as Thomas Pynchon writing CD liner notes [what's that you say?], it will be called Inertia.)

But act he does. Like last year's otherwise utterly dissimilar Jerry Maguire, La Promesse depicts the aftermath of a noble, selfless gesture made by someone unaccustomed to bestowing such largesse; in this case, however, the stakes are a great deal higher, and there's nothing remotely funny or charming or romantic about the subsequent ordeal. In a development so downbeat and feel-bad that the mere suggestion of it would have development flacks cowering in abject terror beneath their mahogany desks, the beneficiary of Igor's compassion, Burkina Faso expat Assita (Assita Ouédraogo), is so bewildered and terrified by her circumstances that she turns on her protector, accusing him of trying to kill her baby. The stark narrative culminates in one of the most harrowing familial confrontations imaginable -- all the more remarkable because for once there isn't a handgun in sight. The Dardennes create tension the old-fashioned way: not with rote equations like train + helicopter + plastic explosives = BOOM!, but with volatile human emotions and contrary wills.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first film made by the brothers Dardenne to be shown in the U.S. -- not just commercially, but on the festival circuit as well. (I saw it at last year's New York Film Festival, where it outshone new work by such eminent auteurs as Chen Kaige, Hou Hsiao-hsien, André Téchiné, and Mike Leigh.) I'd assumed that it was, in fact, their debut feature, but I could hardly have been more mistaken: before they turned to narrative fiction films (La Promesse is their third), they spent almost 20 years making documentaries, mostly for television. Or so the critics who received press kits inform me, anyway, and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt them...not because press kits are invariably accurate (ha!), but because La Promesse seems so effortlessly, unselfconsciously natural that it's difficult to believe -- and easy to forget, while it's unspooling in front of you -- that it was deliberately crafted. Every scene, every performance, every emotion feels spontaneous and true, and the film as a whole is so vividly imagined that I think I'd be momentarily nonplussed if I came across any on-set photos or video footage. Of course, I'd probably fall over dead if I ran across a story about the film in the national news media, but that's a different matter entirely.

Since I began writing this review, I've seen La Promesse a second time. As a general rule, I try to see my favorite movies at least twice, but I usually wait until they hit the bargain houses (or until I can sidle in from an adjacent auditorium) before returning. In this case, however, I shelled out the full $8 -- in part because I was eager to relive the experience, but also because it had been more than seven months since I'd seen it the first time, and I thought that I might well have forgotten significant details that I could incorporate into, say, this very paragraph. (My memory for plot minutiae is notoriously bad, and I've even been known to blank on entire films. For example, I had completely forgotten, until I stumbled onto the title about an hour and a half ago in my master film list, that I'd seen Nicholas Ray's Flying Leathernecks, and had to look it up in Maltin before I could even vaguely recall what the hell it was about (flying leathernecks, as it happens). Understandable, though, since I saw it a small lifetime ago: 8 August 1996. Hell, Bob Dole was still a presidential candidate back then [arguably].)

As it turned out, however, the refresher course was unnecessary: on the second go-round, I experienced La Promesse less as "that movie I saw last autumn" than as "that thing that happened to some folks I knew last year." This sensation was so disorienting, on the few occasions that I became conscious of it, that I fought against it, by attempting to envision the world beyond the frame as a set -- imagining, for instance, the boom operator standing a few feet to Igor or Roger's left, holding the microphone just above their heads, wondering how much longer it would be before somebody called lunch, trying hard not to cough. It didn't work. The illusion was too strong, the verisimilitude too great. I'm not entirely sure what that betokens, as I don't necessarily believe that filmmakers should strive for realism -- many, if not most, of my favorite films feature ostentatious artifice -- but there's no question that it grabbed me as I've seldom been grabbed by a movie this plain. If nothing else, it's the cheapest special effect I've ever encountered, and somebody ought to run and tell James Cameron, pronto.

Simple Life  Darrell Hartman from Artforum, August 4, 2008

“ONE THING IS CERTAIN: small budget and simplicity everywhere.” When Luc Dardenne articulated these twin principles—curiously, as though they were one—in his diary in 1992, did he have any idea they would guide him and his brother, Jean-Pierre, so surely into the upper realms of cinematic achievement? Several Cannes victories later, the Belgian duo—the subject of a mini-retrospective that begins at New York’s Anthology Film Archives on Thursday—are responsible for some of the screen’s most disarmingly resonant portraits of modern Europe. And they haven’t availed themselves of much more than a handheld camera, a pocketful of virtually unknown actors, and a single Belgian town.

The skies over Seraing, the postindustrial heap the filmmakers hail from and film in, are gray. That gray seems to seep down through the city’s dull buildings and into the frigid, inert river Meuse. Against this drab backdrop and a concomitant atmosphere of moral indifference, the Dardennes etch minimalist narratives of the urban underclass that are infused with tension and urgency. The characters, acted naturalistically, sink in. The scenarios, free of the overblown drama so often found in the similarly stripped-down Scandinavian Dogme 95 films, never feel exploitative or unreal. And yet they become captivating.

In La Promesse (1996), a teenager struggles to help an African immigrant whose husband has died in an accident; in Rosetta (1999), a girl tries to hold a steady job and keep her mother from sinking into complete dissolution. A carpenter mentors the boy who killed his son in The Son (2002), and The Child (2005) tracks the wanderings of a young hoodlum who sells his baby.

The critic J. Hoberman has described the cinema of the Dardennes as “spiritually infused social realism.” The brothers, who started out making documentaries, have a detective’s eye for authenticity. Look closely, and you’ll notice that Olivier Gourmet’s woodshop instructor in The Son has a blood blister on his left thumb. Their movies look raw and modern, but there’s a classical rigor at work in them: The Dardennes film scenes at different paces before deciding which feels right, and if they don’t detect the “life force” in a scene, Jean-Pierre has said, they reshoot it—often in another location.

The ghost of Rossellini lives in their frames—also, Bresson. The actors in these films don’t seem like they’re acting, and the dialogue is minimal. The Dardennes are known for honing body language more than delivery. And while they like to foreground the human face—especially in tight, over-the-shoulder close-ups—they have pretty much staked their career on the assumption that the camera can’t get into someone’s head. In Luc’s words: “We film what we can see. This starts you thinking.”

Thinking about economic injustice, among other things. The Dardennes deliver memorable images of life on the brink—as when Rosetta, wrestling with her alcoholic mother near their trailer, falls into a muddy sinkhole. She flounders, cries out, then drags herself out of the slime alone, gasping desperately. You can almost hear the filmmakers crying out: How can a civilized country tolerate anything so abject? Seraing is not so much postindustrial as postapocalyptic: Bruno, the protagonist of L’Enfant, spends money as if it will be useless the next day; Igor, in La Promesse, and Rosetta bury their meager possessions in the ground. Most of the characters occupy not livable neighborhoods but dead zones of cement, mud, and barbed wire.

Tragic conditions like these, the films posit, breed almost unfathomable apathy. When his girlfriend confronts him about selling their child, Bruno says: “We’ll make another one.” But even if he isn’t aware of it, his panting and scheming are leading him toward a redemption of sorts. On the one hand, the abrupt, ambiguous conclusions of the Dardennes’ films are a snub to the Frank Capra ending. Marginal types in particular, these endings say, move their lives ahead on their own—certainly the watchful eye of a couple of high-minded filmmakers doesn’t budge them. Maybe some divine force does? Beautifully, the lingering threat of violence that pervades The Son is most vividly expressed on a plank of plywood, by a red stain that almost seems to have appeared there by accident.

Ultimately, the Dardenne brothers’ films are not about their austerity—a default aesthetic, after all, for many a penniless filmmaker—but their richness. Simplicity can be a complicated proposition. Even, potentially, a heroic one.

Chicago Reader (Jonathan Rosenbaum) review

 

Nitrate Online (Eddie Cockrell) review

 

The Village Voice [Scott Foundas]

 

Long Pauses  Darren Hughes

 

ReelViews (James Berardinelli) review [3.5/4]

 

Louis Proyect retrospective

 

Edwin Jahiel review

 

Lucid Screening  Andrew

 

DVD Talk (Matt Langdon) dvd review [3/5]

 

Strictly Film School review  Acquarello

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4/5]  Ken Fox

 

The Globe and Mail review [3/4]  Liam Lacey

 

Austin Chronicle (Marjorie Baumgarten) review [3.5/5]

 

The Boston Phoenix review  Peter Keough

 

San Francisco Examiner (Walter Addiego) review

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze

 
ROSETTA                                                    A                     97
Belgium  France  (94 mi)  1999

 

from Emilie Bickerton in Cineaste, Spring 2006 (link lost):

ROSETTA (played by Émilie Dequenne), even more simply, is a young woman’s fight to “stay standing.”  She is determined to find employment and not “fall in the hole,” not disappear from society and be engulfed by her own humiliated situation:  living in a caravan park with her alcoholic mother.  “Rosetta moves, moves, moves,” she is “in a state of war,” and the camera follows her every step...The moment she starts to move we follow and try to make sense of her actions but at the end we’re thrown back in our seats, forced to deal with the journey we have just witnessed.

 
Jonathan Rosenbaum from 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE:

 

From the opening seconds, this feature from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1999 Cannes Film Festival, was surely the most visceral filmgoing experience of that year, including all of Hollywood’s explosions and special-effects extravaganzas.  It concerns the desperate efforts of the 18-year-old heroine of the title to find a steady job.  Played by Émilie Dequenne, (a remarkable non-professional), Rosetta lives in a trailer park with her alcoholic mother and suffers from stomach cramps.  She particularly hopes to work at a waffle stand whose current employee has romantic designs on her.  This may sound like the grimmest sort of neo-realism, but the Dardennes keep the story so ruthlessly unsentimental and physical that it would be a disservice to describe it as neo anything.

 

You feel ROSETTA in your nervous system before you get a chance to reflect on its meaning, almost as if the Dardenne brothers were intent on converting an immediate experience of the contemporary world into a breathless theme-park ride.  It makes just about every other form of movie “realism” look like trivial escapism.  The film is certainly not devoid of psychological nuance either, and it had such an impact in Belgium that a wage law for teenagers, passed in November 1999, is known as “the Rosetta plan.”

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

A deserving Palme d'Or winner at Cannes '99, Rosetta is in the same, grim realist mould as the Dardennes' earlier La Promesse; it, too, offers a glimmer of hope through the prospect of friendship. Teenage Rosetta (Dequenne) has it tough: living in a trailer park with her promiscuous, alcoholic mother, she tries to hang on to whatever mundane jobs she can get, but for all her determination and hard work, bad luck and her surly, volatile disposition repeatedly tell against her. Is life really worth living? Using very little dialogue and long, hand-held tracking shots (the relentlessly restless visuals perfectly reflect Rosetta's unsettled life, the secret to which is provided only halfway through the movie - and even then, subtly), the Dardennes never sentimentalise their heroine but respect the mysteries of her soul; the result is a film almost Bressonian in its rigour and power to touch the heart.

 

Tucson Weekly (Mari Wadsworth) review

 

Brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne co-write and co-direct this bleak and unredeeming tale of an embittered trailer-park teen and her cutthroat climb to the top of the Belgian waffle-cart ladder. It's every bit as fascinating as it sounds -- and in French, oui! -- which means some people will insist it's a cosmopolitan and artistic exploration of wage-earning, homelessness, alcoholism and desperation. A dearth of dialogue means non-French speaking audiences won't be encumbered by lengthy subtitles, affording plenty of time to focus on the off-road antics of the Dardennes' hand-held camera, and increasingly pointless point-of-view horseplay as Rosetta attacks absolutely every human being who crosses her path. If it wasn't so literally hard to watch, it might be funnyÉfrom a sort of insensitive, bourgeois perspective. Rosetta will not deepen your compassion for humanity, but it reveals the violent and melancholy underworld of the sidewalk-waffle industry in a way that only a French film can.

 

Slate [David Edelstein]  

The camera is at eye level for Rosetta. In the tumultuous opening, it hurtles down a staircase behind the teen-age title character (Emilie Dequenne) as she tries to elude the factory boss who has just fired her. It swerves left then right as she pulls on locked doors in a vain attempt to evade the plant's security. It's sickeningly in the thick of things as she claws at her pursuers and shrieks that it's unfair, she's a good worker, she doesn't deserve to be let go. Throughout this terse, entertaining parable (it won the grand prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival), the Belgian-born writer-directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (La Promesse, 1996) immerse you in the sensations of Rosetta's life: her daily, roundabout slog through the woods to reach the trailer park where she lives with her alcoholic mother (she's too ashamed to go through the front entrance); her frustrating treks to find employment, however menial; and, most of all, her countless rages at a society that refuses to grant her a "normal" (her word) existence.

By confining the movie's perspective to Rosetta and her rituals, the Dardennes suggest the ways in which people lose the big picture and so have no insight into their own corruption. All they know is what they need--and what will happen if someone else beats them out. In Dequenne, the filmmakers have found a somewhat lumpen girl with just a trace of prettiness, especially when she opens her eyes and lets the world see in. She mostly doesn't, though, which is the point. She tromps around dull-eyed in a gray skirt and thick, mustard-colored stockings--a sullen bottom-feeder. When a generous friend, Riquet (Fabrizio Rongione)--the only one she has ever had, the film implies--falls into quicksand and screams for help, you can see Rosetta's thought processes: If he dies, his job will open up, she'll get it, and she'll be "normal."

As in the La Promesse, the point is to show how capitalism is fundamentally at odds with human decency. People are good, but they're driven to victimize others by the fear that what they have will be taken away. At best, they turn into machines; at worst (most of the bosses), they become casual exploiters. You can't land a job without being raked by the angry gaze of the person you've unfairly replaced, and once you have it there are no guarantees that tomorrow you won't be raking someone else with your own angry gaze. Change the way things work and you will change mankind, is the implicit message--although it's crucial to add that there are no explicit messages, no Brechtian/Marxist exhortations. Both Rosetta and La Promesse end at the point when their protagonist's consciousness begins. The next step is anyone's guess.

I fear I've made Rosetta sound programmatic. Well, it is, but the thing you come away with isn't the program but the rhythm and texture of a young, working-class woman's life. The Dardennes are peerless at staging and shooting rituals, such as Rosetta's day selling waffles and beer from a truck: taking an order, plucking a waffle from the iron, grabbing a beer from the shelf, counting money, making change, saying thank you, taking another order … It's easy to dismiss films that make grandiose statements about how people ought to live but never convincingly portray how they do. The utterly believable capitalist ecosystems of the Dardennes are harder to shake off.

JonathanRosenbaum.com » Blog Archive » True Grit [ROSETTA]  January 14, 2000, also seen here:  Rosetta | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader (capsule)

 

Senses of Cinema (Rhys Graham) review  Why Bodies Collide, March 2001

 

Sight and Sound review  Lizzie Francke

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

The Nation (Stuart Klawans) review

 

Oggs' Movie Thoughts

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Gary Mairs

 

Epinions.com [Steven Flores]

 

Bright Lights Film Journal review  Five Rampaging Women, October 2001

 

Reverse Shot review  Knock On Any d'Or: Looking Back at Ten Years of Cannes Winners, by Adam Nayman at indieWIRE

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

Reel.com [Ray Greene]

 

Strictly Film School review  Acquarello

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

Film Journal International (Peter Henn) review

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [3/5]

 

The Globe and Mail review [3.5/4]  Liam Lacey

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  Paula Nechak

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze

 

THE SON (Le Fils)                          A-                    93
Belgium  France  (103 mi)  2002

 

Time Out review   Geoff Andrew

 

Olivier (Gourmet) is a good teacher of carpentry, but a touch gruff; even so, when he refuses to accept young Francis into his workshop, that doesn't explain why he takes to following the boy, as if he were spying on him. Might it have something to do with his own dead son, as his estranged wife insists? One strength of the Dardennes' follow-up to Rosetta, winner of the Cannes Palme d'Or, is that, once again, they ask us to discover certain crucial facts for ourselves: by the time we're faced with questions of ethical and spiritual import, we've done enough groundwork to assess the evidence properly. Wisely, the camera stays close to Gourmet, with the result that, notwithstanding his subtle understatement and a relatively taciturn script, we're privy to his every fleeting thought and nagging emotion. Never manipulative or sensationalist, the film is none the less deeply moving.

 

The Son  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

It is interesting how many critics have praised this film by saying, in essence, that there is nothing to say, that it is almost too perfect for words.  The dumbstruck wonder so many seem to be experiencing before The Son could be likened to the non-linguistic reactions that viewers often have to experimental films.  Like a structural film, The Son deploys a closed-off style which determines what can and cannot happen within the film’s universe.  At a certain point, its narrative trajectory becomes clear, and the tension becomes not how the narrative will be resolved, but how its necessary resolution will be depicted.  Although The Son is significantly different than Time Out and Spider, these films share a sense of absolute completion and self-sufficiency, which for me provoked more intellectual admiration than emotional engagement.  Still, the film is a major work of art.  Olivier Gourmet and Morgan Mariane deliver exquisite, naturalistic performances.  And, as was the case with Pasolini, the Dardenne brothers’ Marxism allows them to create a clear-eyed Christian film, one with both feet planted in the everyday world.  [A second viewing cleared up many of my reservations.  The moral confusion, the near instinctual propulsive drive of Olivier was more palpable, as were the jarring flare-ups of anger.  Olivier does not forgive and then act upon this forgiveness.  Rather, his impulse to teach and reshape the boy is a physical one, like righting a badly mitered joint.  Depth comes later, and surprises Olivier, Francis, and us.]

Slant Magazine  Ed Gonzalez

The latest film by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne is not without allegorical implications. Cannes Best Actor winner and Dardenne mascot Olivier Gourmet stars as a bereft carpenter who develops a sudden fascination for his young apprentice. As mirror reflection of Gourmet's inner turmoil, the Dardennes' camerawork isn't as assaultive as it was in Rosetta, but it's equally demanding. Their camera contributes to the film's near cosmic state of grace. The nature of the film's relationships are revealed without fanfare, and as such part of the film's mystique is learning that Magali (Isabella Soupart) is not some pregnant stranger but Olivier's estranged wife. Forty minutes in, the Dardennes offer a context for Olivier's strange attraction to the young Francis (Morgan Marinne): Some five years earlier, the teenager strangled Olivier's son while attempting to steal a radio from the carpenter's car. The Son or, more accurately, How Joseph Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Judas Iscariot, has been seemingly pieced together from similar confessions. As allegory, The Son is a testament to Christian forgiveness. While far from heavy-handed, the film's metaphors are still unavoidable: Magdali-as-Magdalene, her Wednesday declaration (Lent anyone?), and the many panels of wood Oliver is forced to carry (like Jesus, on his way to Calvary). Most astounding, Olivier's remarkable ability to judge the metric distance between any two points fascinatingly alludes to the character's moral precision. Our willingness to submit to the film's grueling element of fear is then perhaps a measure of our spiritual skepticism. Despite the film's overwhelming bleakness, its Bressonian human spirit is unmistakable.

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

More than any other contemporary filmmakers, Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne understand the ways in which work gives tenor and meaning to people's lives, and how the mundane routines of everyday life set the limits of their world. In their last film, 2000's Palme D'Or-winning Rosetta, these routines form the distinct shape of a cage, with the title heroine clawing ferociously to survive in a city with dire unemployment rates. Former documentarians, the Dardennes followed her around with a handheld camera pinned to her back, getting about as close to her visceral experiences as possible without burrowing into her skull. If anything, this intense first-person technique is employed even more rigorously for The Son, a searing Christian allegory about sin, redemption, forgiveness, and, not least of all, carpentry. After the silent, white-on-black credits, the Dardennes rudely plop the audience into the organized chaos of Olivier Gourmet's workshop, as his juvenile apprentices work up a racket with hammers, buzzsaws, and welding torches. A lesson in how to bury exposition, the film proceeds for a full 30 minutes before the dramatic core of the story spills out in casual conversation; until then, it simply lays out Gourmet's daily life and offers something close to a crash course in his trade. Gourmet's insistence on precision and order gives him a quiet command over his young charges, who come to him as part of a reform program designed to usher them from delinquency to responsible adulthood. But his stable life is upended when a sullen new applicant (Morgan Marinne) turns out to be the boy who murdered his only son five years earlier, a tragedy that ended Gourmet's marriage. Though the Dardennes' style sometimes limits his expression to his ears, neck, and shoulder blades, Gourmet's tormented, internalized performance sets the film on edge: Not only does the audience not know what he's going to do, but he doesn't seem to know, either. From the moment he recognizes Marinne, Gourmet's interaction with the boy takes on an agonizing intensity, yet he's bound up by conflicting impulses, with anger and bloodlust mingling alongside curiosity, compassion, and an unexpectedly tender fatherly connection. The Dardennes sustain that tension through a masterful closing drive that resembles the final third of In The Bedroom, only without the same dreadful inevitability. In the process, they also offer a few helpful lessons on back support, proper beam storage, and distinguishing one type of wood grain from another.

Los Angeles Times review    Manohla Dargis

There are few filmmakers today for whom moviemaking is as deeply moral an enterprise as it is for Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. In the brothers' powerful new film, "The Son," a man trembles at the threshold of vengeance, confronted by a boy who has done him immeasurable wrong. Forgiveness is the sort of thing that can sound the death knell for a movie, but in "The Son" absolution isn't grist for a sermon or anything so blandly reassuring -- it is instead the stuff of ordinary life.

The story opens in the barren Belgian city of Liège, not far from the German and Dutch borders, where a carpenter named Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) rushes through a few anxious days. Dressed in blue overalls, his stocky frame girded by a work belt and his eyes obscured by thick lenses, Olivier enters in a whirlwind of frantic motion, the hand-held camera dogging his every move. He has just this minute -- almost in the very instant the story begins -- realized that one of the students at the school where he teaches is the same boy who once murdered someone he loved. In stunned agitation, the carpenter races through the school, peering around corners to catch sight of the teenager, Francis (Morgan Marinne). From the way he looks at the kid, there's murder in his eyes.

Francis doesn't know what Olivier knows, and the great, almost unbearable tension in the film comes from the gap in their respective awareness of each other. Recently released from a juvenile prison, Francis lives alone in an apartment outfitted with not much more than a radio, a bed and his prescription medicine. (He has chronic insomnia.) Sullen and watchful, with blunt features arranged like a wall against the world, the teenager has learned little from jail save for defensiveness. As far as Francis is concerned, as he explains to Olivier in one of the film's more wrenching exchanges, he's paid his debt to society and has a right to a normal life. He wants to learn carpentry from his standoffish teacher, but, as it becomes painfully clear, Francis is also searching for love.

It doesn't take Olivier long to realize what Francis wants from him; it takes almost the entirety of the story for us to understand what the man will give. At the center where he teaches, the carpenter pushes the boy away even as Francis tries to sneak under his wing. Olivier forces the boy to carry beams that are too heavy for him, yet he also patiently shows Francis how to build a toolbox. He's at once gruffly paternal with the teenager and scarily hostile, caught between curiosity and contempt. (Gourmet won best actor at Cannes last year, beating out Adrien Brody's performance in "The Pianist.") Often silent, Olivier keeps his feelings hidden, but he can't keep his unhappiness quiet. He radiates such extreme unease that even the camera that hovers next to him darts about as restlessly as a hummingbird.

Best known for their modest art-house successes "La Promesse" and "Rosetta," the Dardennes began making nonfiction films in the 1970s as a form of political action. From documentaries about strikes and factories, they moved into fiction and, after making two features that slipped into the ether, found international acclaim with stories about people desperately clinging to a place in the world. (The fiction films retain a gritty documentary texture.) Like the immigrant African workers of "La Promesse" trying to find a foothold in Europe, and like the eponymous Rosetta, whose attempts to find and keep a menial job nearly destroy her, Francis is single-minded in his pursuit of normalcy. Just as poverty did for Rosetta, prison has turned him into one of society's resident exiles, an outcast among the comfortably living.

The Dardennes have said that "The Son" could have been called "The Father," an observation that reinforces the film's religious undertones. It's possible to see the film as a Christian allegory, but there's something too limiting about that take and not only because the filmmakers are Jewish. The themes of vengeance and forgiveness aren't the provenance of any one faith, after all, and there's as much leftist politics in their worldview as there is the documentarian's pursuit of realism and a first-rate Hollywood director's sense of narrative urgency. There are all sorts of ways to look at "The Son" -- as a philosophical thriller, as a statement of faith, as a call to political arms or just as a terrific entertainment. Perhaps the best way to look at it, though, is as a gentle warning that in a world guided by an eye for an eye, everyone ends up blind.

Slate (David Edelstein) review

 

Raging Bull Movie Reviews (Mike Lorefice) review [4/4]

 

Sight and Sound review  Richard Kelly

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

PopMatters (Elbert Ventura) review

 

indieWIRE review  David Sterritt and Mikita Brottman

 

Jigsaw Lounge (Neil Young) review [8/10]

 

not coming to a theater near you (Matt Bailey) review

 

Salon (Stephanie Zacharek) review

 

filmcritic.com (Nicholas Schager) review [3/5]

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [2/5]

 

CultureCartel.com (John Nesbit) review [4/5]

 

Reverse Shot review  #4 Film of the Year, by Erik Syngle and Jeff Reichert

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Arthur Lazere

 

Kamera.co.uk review  Antonio Pasolini

 

DVD Talk (Matt Langdon) dvd review [4/5]

 

PopMatters (Mark Labowskie) review

 

Christian Science Monitor (David Sterritt) review [4/4]

 

Arts & Faith Top100 Spiritually Significant Films

 

Decent Films - faith on film [Steven D. Greydanus]

 

Looking Closer (Jeffrey Overstreet) review [A+]  from a religious perspective

 

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [1/4]  from an infuriorated cinephile

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review  increasingly esoteric, if not pretentious

 

The UK Critic (Ian Waldron-Mantgani) review [3/4]

 

DVD Verdict (Joel Pearce) dvd review

 

Harvey S. Karten review [3/4]

 

Film Freak Central review  Walter Chaw

 

Plume Noire review  Moland Fengkovm

 

Twitch  Jason Morehead

 

Film Journal International (Erica Abeel) review

 

CineScene.com (Josh Timmermann) review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Strictly Film School review  Acquarello

 

Guardian/Observer review
 
TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4/4]   Ken Fox
 
Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  Sean Axmaker

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Wilmington) review

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review

 
DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze
 
THE CHILD (L’enfant)                               B                     87
Belgium  France  (100 mi)  2005

 

Only fuckers work

 

Using the Bressonian model, the film is a series of precisely measured, almost mathematically determined small pieces of a puzzle, fragmentary moments in the lives of two young people (Jérémie Renier and Déborah François) that in the end add up to a whole, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  The problem here is that we’ve seen it all before from the Dardennes, the exact same formula, and in much more interesting human life dramas.  In this story, a despicable guy sells his girl friend’s newborn baby for quick cash, then when he sees her devastated reaction, realizes he better get the baby back, which leads to even more profoundly distasteful results. The use of cell phones in this film are so prevalent and repulsive, symptomatic of the exacting world of criminal activity, that the pronounced effect of continual mechanical ringing actually has a greater impact on the viewer than anything the people say or do.  Interesting that he is forced to give up his cell phone midway through the film, focusing the center of the repugnant activity squarely on the shoulders of young Renier, a model of unrepentant behavior up until his baptism in the putrid river water, where his attempts to conceal himself from a crime nearly gets his young accomplice friend killed.

 

The lead character of street punk Renier is so disaffected, and his connection to the world and the people around him so nonchalantly predictable and routine that by the end, there is little sympathy.  Part of the problem is the Dardennes style of making films.  By now we know what to expect.  In the past they have been fueled by brilliant performances, unlike the non-actor Bressonian model, but with a similar perfectly etched drawing of a world-within-a-world that meticulously defines the parameters of one human life.  By showing what they do, describing their everyday routine with such amazing detail, we come to understand who they are, usually by that single moment when they break free of their self-imposed blinders and have a transcendent moment.  Again, because we’ve seen it all before, and in situations where our emotional connection is much more involving, this film disappoints because it never really connects with the audience, almost intentionally so.  Despite the fact it is broken down to the barest minimum, it defies you to care, going through a step by step process of defining a world with people where it is impossible to care about anything at all.  All that’s left is making it through each and every day, which is exactly the same as the last one, and in time, growing more endlessly dreary than the next.  To suggest that there is a breakthrough moment here is to see a different film.  There is no transcendent moment, all that’s left is the dreary ennui.  Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.

 

Luc Dardenne:

We understand why critics have seen similarities (with Bresson’s PICKPOCKET), especially because of the endings, since in both films the boy is in jail and the girlfriend comes to visit him.  The famous sentence that the boy says at the end of PICKPOCKET is, “Jeanne, what a strange path I had to take to meet you.”  It’s true that Bruno has also gone on a long and strange path to be able to encounter, to be able to meet and accept, the woman and accept his son, accept fatherhood.  So there is a similarity, but I think that the terms are very different.  The narrative construction is very different.  We’re talking about very different things, and our manner of editing isn’t at all Bressonian.

 

At the same time, there’s a similarity with Bresson in the link to Dostoevsky, to Crime and Punishment.  I think that perhaps out choice of the name Sonia for the girl is unconscious, because it’s Sonia who at the end of Crime and Punishment goes to Raskolnikov in jail, who allows him to cry and to remember and understand what he’s done.

 
from Emilie Bickerton in Cineaste, Spring 2006 (link lost):
Finally, last year’s release, L’ENFANT, focuses on Bruno’s (Jérémie Renier) process of renouncing his life of petty crime and fulfilling instead, consciously, his role as a father.  This is done through the exploration of decision, and subsequent repentance, to sell his newborn son.

 

In L’ENFANT, for example, rather than dwell on his mistake, the Dardennes are interested in how Bruno comes to understand his act as such.  They explore the sources of his final repentance.  Where does this sense of morality come from?  Given his environment it would have been comprehensible that he never felt any remorse but continued his amoral life of petty crime.  Yet Bruno turns himself in to the police, seeks forgiveness from Sonia, and finally takes an interest in his son.  He does this because of those moments of friendship and love he has experienced, and so feels their absence acutely.  His sense of morality, then, derives from his interaction with the young Steve (especially after hiding in the freezing water together, saving him from drowning, and trying to warm his legs afterwards) where he realizes his ability to look after another person, and the disgust Sonia shows towards him.  The conclusion to L’ENFANT, as with their other films, roots morality in society through engagement with others, rather than any innate human (and thus Christian-based) goodness.  It is this understanding of human beings that must be derived from the Dardenne’s body of work.

 

For some the simplicity that characterizes the Dardenne’s films might seem too easy.  Rather than agonize over what Sonia should say to Bruno, she faints.  There is a similar act in a difficult scene from LE FILS.  And even when Sonia’s confrontation with Bruno does come, her words are few – “Get out!...outside!”  But there is nothing easy about this.  The ability to keep silent, to hold your tongue, is a restraint that differentiates the Dardennes from other directors who appear to fear silence, anxiously filling their frames with unnecessary sound and color.  When Sonia and Bruno meet again, the scene is nearly without dialog and there is no music, only their movements.  But everything is so heavily charged that you watch with increasing concern (you have time to feel this), wondering what will she do.  She makes soup in the tiny kitchen, there is barely space for Bruno and even less for the camera.  We feel the claustrophobia and every detail and action has a magnified impact – the pans slammed down on the cooker, the gas flame hissing – we really are in that room.  And finally Sonia snaps, screams those two words, and her expression is savage, total disgust and anger.  It lasts a second but imprints itself on our memory.  The humanism is here, in the refusal to bow to our own expectation for melodrama.  Will Sonia take him back, you ask yourself, willing her not to.  And then you watch this scene and realize of course not, of course she won’t because we are dealing with human beings and the gravity of Bruno’s action is fully realized. 

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

With their breakout hit La Promesse, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne cultivated a singularly exquisite ethical and emphatic view of the world adopted and extended by each and every one of their successive masterpieces: Rossetta, The Son, and now L'Enfant. The verite aesthetic of these films is instantly recognizable and rooted in the brothers' shared background in documentary filmmaking; the wobbly camera, back-of-the-head shots, oblique framing, and lack of mood music is its own artifice, but the cumulative emotional and spiritual affect of these films never feels premeditated. So innate is this style that the films appear to materialize out of thin air, and with each new project, the filmmakers appear to be daring us to find a single false note in their startling simulations of real life.

In typical Dardenne fashion, L'Enfant wastes scant time chokeholding its audience. In a grim eastern Belgian steel town, Bruno (Jérémie Renier) panhandles and cons locals with the help of 14-year-old Steve (Jérémie Segard). Bruno's girlfriend, Sonia (Déborah François), waits to collect an unemployment check, oblivious that Bruno is about to sell their newborn child, who's tossed around like an article of trade throughout the film's running time. This moment is horrifying, not least of which because Bruno betrays the moral and emotional responsibility implicit in that mythic image the Dardennes allow us to glimpse early in the film of father, mother, and son huddled in ostensible rapture near the cold, dirty embankment they sometimes call home.

L'Enfant's swirling sense of moral chaos, sustained horror, and courage has not been seen since The Son, which was also open to the possibility of good coming out of a world that can be relentless in its callousness. Like the Dardennes' camera, Bruno seems propelled by an innate mechanism beyond his control; he is keen only on self-preservation, oblivious to his role as a father. The Dardennes help us to understand Bruno's helplessness, but they never abuse or toy with our sympathies. They may see Bruno's actions as the residual damage of a heartless social existence (a dog-eat-dog global market), but this bitter truth isn't revealed to the audience with a guttersnipe's sense of class, but with uncanny ease, and with the compassionate belief that the world, in spite of its merciless cruelty, is still possible of affecting good.

The Dardennes are religious men, but their detached style is so munificent their films defy easy categorization; these works can just as easily be read as Christian allegories or visions of socialist-humanist daring. Indeed, every remarkable composition and movement in L'Enfant exudes compassion and remorse, evoking a profound sense of transcendental, existential, spiritual, or emotional unease (take your pick, or take them all, because the brothers' vision is nothing if not absolute), and its incredible, gut-punching finale—which follows what may be the most exciting and revelatory chase sequence the movies have ever seen—can be looked at as a male pieta or, more simply (but just as powerfully), an eruptive demonstration of a child finally becoming an adult. Either way, the film is nothing short of a miracle.

The Child (L'Enfant)  Jonathan Romney at Cannes from Screendaily

 
A few square miles of unprepossessing urban landscape continue to yield a rich fictional universe in the Dardenne brothers’ latest chronicle of life among modern European have-nots.
 
Filmed as usual in the Belgian industrial town of Seraing, The Child continues the run of steely, confident realist dramas that began in 1996 with The Promise (the brothers’ third feature) and that won them a Palme d’Or with 1999’s Rosetta (The Child also played in competition).
 
Closer in tone to that film than to the challengingly austere The Son (2002), The Child is a complex, at times emotionally painful story of an artless young couple struggling to survive at the bottom of the ladder. The film features an undemonstrative but utterly compelling performance by Jeremie Renier, who made his name with The Promise, and although very much of a piece with the Dardennes’ other films, it consolidates their reputation as sparing, insightful storytellers.
 
Strong narrative and a powerful emotional charge, added to the brothers’ growing auteur reputation, should make The Child a considerable hit with art-house audiences.
 
The child of the title is Jimmy, just born to 18-year-old Sonia (Francois), seen at the start of the film searching for the kid’s father Bruno (Renier). Bruno, a young petty thief sleeping rough – having sublet Sonia’s flat – is pleased to see her, but markedly less interested in the baby. Initially the young couple are in buoyant, if blinkered, good spirits.
 
But before long, Bruno decides that he and Sonia need cash more than another mouth to feed, and unilaterally decides to sell the child for adoption. At one nerve-racking moment, he visits an abandoned flat to hand Jimmy over; in an even more tense follow-up scene, he waits in a garage in the hope of getting the child back.
 
Grim as this scenario may seem, The Child is anything but sensationalistic; the Dardennes are not interested in manipulating our emotions. Rather, they want to show us, without rhetorical commentary, how life is for people like Bruno and Sonia, and to depict the daily pressures that could lead a young man – cocksure but inarticulate and unable to think beyond the moment – to such a reckless act.
 
By all reasonable criteria, Bruno should seem a monstrous figure, foolish, selfish and callous. Yet the Dardennes bring us close enough to let us understand his behaviour, and to watch him as he begins – however dimly – to question it himself.
 
The film’s subtlety partly stems from Renier’s performance. Although he often doesn’t give much away, he conveys a nuanced sense of gradual change in Bruno: in the scene of the empty flat, little registers on his face, but small hesitant tremors tell us that he’s beginning to feel unpleasant emotions that he’s unused to. Deborah Francois has her own key moments at the start of the film, as a waifish and not too smart girl still in thrall to her boyfriend’s shallow confidence.
 
As for the ill-used Jimmy, it is a mark of the film’s intelligence that we never get a sense of him as more than a faceless bundle in a romper suit (he is played, in fact, by some 20 different babies): this at once precludes any spurious sentimentality or personalised horror at the child’s treatment, and also allows us to understand that the child of the title is perhaps less Jimmy than his young father.
 
Much more narratively driven than The Father – whose lead Olivier Gourmet makes a brief appearance here as a policeman – The Child comes to a head as Bruno descends into an abyss of his own making. The film climaxes with Bruno and a teenage accomplice (Segard) fleeing after a theft, in a chain of events that finally allows Bruno to accept responsibility for his actions.
 
The coda, cathartic without offering any easy payoff, bears out the frequent comparisons made between the Dardennes and Robert Bresson: like the hero of his Pickpocket, Bruno might have some redemption in store, or at the very least, begin to grow up.
 
The film’s energy is driven by the now familiar camera style of the Dardennes and cinematographer Alain Marcoen – held-held and often very close to the actors, sometimes in confined spaces, and always in harshly drab settings.
 
The result is a quasi-documentary viewpoint that, while detached, never seems impersonal but rather allows us an unimpeded view of the characters’ actions, while their emotions and thoughts remain harder to gauge. In a remarkable film, the Dardennes once again prove that there’s still life to be found in hard unvarnished realism, especially when executed with such adult seriousness and compassion.

 

World Socialist Web Site review  David Walsh

 

Bright Lights Film Journal [Ian Johnston]

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

Reverse Shot [Michael Koresky]

 

At the Movies  Michael Wood from The London Review of Books, April 6, 2006

 

The Guardian (Peter Bradshaw) review

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

 

Weight Of Water   Jonathan Romney from Sight and Sound

 

Interview   Jonathan Romney interviews the Dardennes from Sight and Sound

 

Jigsaw Lounge [Neil Young]

 

d+kaz. Intelligent Movie Reviews (Daniel Kasman) review [C+]

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

 

Reverse Shot [James Crawford]  with responses by Nick Pinkerton and Jeannette Catsoulis from indieWIRE

 

Luc and Jeane-Piere Dardennes  interview and essay by Gerald Peary

 

here   Walter Chaw, while a shorter condensed version may be seen here:  Film Freak Central dvd review

 

DVD Outsider  Slarek

 

Kamera.co.uk review  Antonio Pasolini

 

Film Monthly (Andrew Dowd) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Peter Sobczynski) review [3/5]

 

DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov) dvd review [5/5]

 

Cinephile Magazine [Richard X]

 

Epinions.com [Steven Flores]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

 

PopMatters (Cynthia Fuchs) review

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin) review [4.5/5]

 

New York Observer (Andrew Sarris) review

 

stylusmagazine.com (Sandro Matosevic) review

 

DVD Verdict (Joe Armenio) dvd review

 

The New York Sun (Ben Kenigsberg) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Doug Bentin) review [4/5]

 

CultureCartel.com (John Nesbit) review [2.5/5]

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

 

Lucid Screening  Ben

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  George Wu

 

www.european-films.net (Boyd van Hoeij) review

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3.5/5]

 

Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) review [B+]
 
not coming to a theater near you (Beth Gilligan) review
 
Talking Pictures (UK) review  Alan Pavelin and Howard Schumann

 

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review

 

eFilmCritic.com (Paul Bryant) review [3/5]

 

Film Journal International (Wendy R .Weinstein) review

 

The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review

 

Cinepinion [Henry Stewart]

 

The Lumière Reader  Tim Wong

 

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

 

DVD Town (James Plath) dvd review

 

CineScene.com (Chris Knipp) review

 

The Cinematheque (Kevyn Knox) review

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Strictly Film School review  Acquarello

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

Premiere Magazine [Glenn Kenny]

 

Time Out London (Geoff Andrew) review

 

Guardian/Observer

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [4/4]  Ken Fox

 

Variety.com [Scott Foundas]

 

Austin Chronicle (Marrit Ingman) review [3.5/5]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  Sean Axmaker

 

Boston Globe review [3.5/4]  Wesley Morris

 

Los Angeles Times (Kenneth Turan) review

 

Chicago Tribune (Michael Phillips) review

 

Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [4/4]

 

The New York Times (Manohla Dargis) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze

 

LORNA’S SILENCE (Le Silence de Lorna)                  B                     88

Belgium  Italy  France  Germany  (105 mi)  2008

 

The Dardenne’s take a dip into familiar territory in another minimalist, unadorned and unsentimentalized examination of life in a loveless and paid-for marriage, where immediately we’re aware of being caged-in, where the wife Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) has few options, as she was given a raw deal when her worthless husband Claudy (Jérémie Renier) turns out to be more of a slimeball than she realized, a pitiful junkie who’s always whining and pleading with her while promising to straighten himself out.  Claudy is easily one of the least appealing and more pathetic characters seen onscreen in awhile, as it’s hard to know why she doesn’t simply kick him out, as he’s otherwise a useless bastard that is an all-consuming force in her life.  We soon realize what kind of black market hoodlums she’s dealing with, as they’re arranging to have “the junkie” killed in order to arrange another marriage for her, this time with “the Russians,” who apparently pay top dollar.  In typical Dardenne fashion, all of this evolves through an endless series of walks, drives in cars, conversations on cell phones, more walks, which feels like a pathetic way to waste one’s time, always arranging times and places for an unending series of meetings where Lorna is treated like a piece of merchandise that can be inspected and evaluated prior to purchase.  Since the method has been utilized so often before, none of this draws the audience into this circular web of money and deceit, as cinematically it resembles ROSETTA (1999), one of the first to employ such restless visuals through what seems like an endless stream of hand-held tracking shots, more or less projecting the image of a caged-in animal, which becomes especially relevant here as the film veers more towards a slave market ring, as she’s a bought and paid for illegal Albanian immigrant, so if she disobeys their rules, they’ll take her passport and send her back to Albania.  Her idea of getting a quick divorce instead of following the murder plan threatens the Russian’s timetable, so it’s out of the question, yet she pursues it anyway.  This idea of free will soon has its consequences, as she’s just as much a slave as the women living behind locked doors depicted in international sex rings, such as Lucas Moodysson’s  LILYA 4-EVER (2003), yet she still persists, perhaps out of innocence, naiveté, perhaps a misreading of the situation and the kind of thugs she’s dealing with, or more likely because she aspires to freedom of choice.  

     

The most powerful moments in this film are wordless, requiring believable performances, especially by Dobroshi, who grows more inwardly intense as the film progresses and had to learn an Albanian French accent, while Renier is so skin and bones he’s a ghost of his former self.  The inflexible underworld figures are not men anyone would want to meet and would feel right at home in Cronenberg’s EASTERN PROMISES (2007).  Unfortunately, the darker edges of the world today are infiltrated by men just such as this, men who exploit the weaknesses of others (usually young women) for profit, where killing is seen as a business decision.  It’s from these dark, restless waters that Lorna must learn to survive.  She goes through a charade of fake battery attempts in order to quicken the divorce proceedings, all of which leaves Claudy in disgust, as he’s checked himself into a rehab hospital in an attempt to get clean and refuses to have anything to do with hitting her.  So instead she has to settle for a series of self-inflicted wounds and a convincing police report, all in a last ditched effort (which he knows nothing about) to spare his life.  The best piece of filmmaking is saved for last, as there’s a bit of a plot twist where things really spin out of control, but rather than find herself above the fray, as she hoped, she finds herself more immersed in the muck than ever before, leaving a bitter taste in her mouth, as the men in her life become ever more despicable, which of course, is how the rest of the world views her.  As a foreigner living in Belgium, she is seen as a shadowy outsider who’s so completely under the radar she’s barely even acknowledged as human.  She’s used to being shunned by nearly everyone, so what’s interesting in this movie is a storyline that’s never told, that’s only hinted at, where in this rancid depiction of black market corruption there’s only a brief glimpse of hope, but nonetheless, this screenplay won the Cannes festival award for best screenwriting.  From my perspective, the first half is overly mechanical, but by the end it discovers its own inspiration.  Perhaps trying too hard to be overtly Bressonian, it reminded me of AU HASARD BALTHAZAR (1966), where everything that could go wrong with the girl (taking the ownership and property place of the donkey) goes wrong, as she’s led around on a leash by despicable characters, yet in the end lands on a perfect grace note, where a Schubert piano sonata is replaced by Alfred Brendel playing Beethoven’s sublime 32nd piano sonata. 

 

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

In “Lorna’s Silence,” a somber beauty of a French-language drama by the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, the heroine is looking for purity of purpose too, though she doesn’t know it, or can’t articulate it to herself. Lorna, an Albanian émigré in the process of gaining Belgian citizenship (she’s played exquisitely by Arta Dobroshi), dreams of opening a snack bar with her boyfriend. But doing so depends on her keeping silent about a criminal scheme that may cost the life of another man, Claudy, whom she has come, inconveniently, to love. (He’s played by a Dardenne veteran, the always impressive Jérémie Renier.)

Every time predictability threatens, the plot takes an unexpected turn that traps Lorna more tightly between her love and the thugs who run her life. Like earlier Dardenne films, “Lorna’s Silence” is naturalistic, yet this one, beautifully shot in 35 mm film by Alain Marcoen, achieves a poetry of bereftness. “They want to kill us,” Lorna says near the end. “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.” Simpler words were never spoken in more startling circumstances.

Time Out New York (Keith Uhlich) review [5/6]

A soul-crushing weight rests upon Lorna (Dobroshi), the Albanian-immigrant heroine of the Dardenne brothers’ stunning proletarian character study. You can see it in her tightly wound expression—lips subtly pursed, eyelids heavy—and in how she walks from place to place with a sleepwalker’s gait. To describe the plot she’s entangled in would ruin much of the film’s surprise, and also be a capitulation to those who have accused the Dardennes of moving away from the less storied structures of masterpieces like La promesse and The Son.

Suffice to say that Lorna’s under the thumb of a mobster (Rongione) and is falsely married to her drug-addict lodger (Renier). From there, the tale twists and turns until it spirals out of control, though the Dardennes maintain their usual rigorous aesthetic and thematic grip. They make it look easy, to the point that the effortlessness and elegance of certain revelations barely register until after the credits roll.

In the moment, it’s easy to wonder if Lorna’s Silence will be much of anything beyond a subdued, seemingly realism-bound pulp fiction. The Dardennes’ most praised films tend to hinge on a climactic epiphany that is noticeably absent here. Additionally, Lorna is left behind at her most vulnerable moment, a point that a good number of stories would either begin at or at least continue on from. Yet what becomes clear in these final moments is that the whole film has been an epiphany; each story beat has brought us closer to Lorna while slowly severing the narrative umbilical cord. It’s an entirely new world that we’re left in—a place where the rules of the movie we’ve just experienced no longer apply.

The Lumière Reader  Barry Levinson (spoiler)

FOR ALL their nominal prestige, there’s a welcome lack of pomp surrounding the event of a new Dardennes’ film. Maybe it’s because, unlike the Coens – whose in-house pecking order sees to the divvying up of writing, but not directing duties – the Belgian duo enact their craft under the same industrious anonymity that informs their characters. Whatever the case, Lorna’s Silence, their latest collaboration, opens on familiar terms – with a nod to Bresson: Mimicking L’Argent, we witness a cluster of Euros changing hands, unspooling a bleak scenario that finds the title character hitched to a junkie named Claudy (Jeremie Renier) in order to gain citizenship. Strictly a formal arrangement, the pair cohabit a flat in Liège, where – hair cropped boyishly close – Lorna (Arta Dobroshi) flaunts an obvious lack of empathy over her spouse’s struggle to give up heroin. (More salient, as it turns out, than her steppingstone existence as an alien-bride, is the one she pictures alongside her thuggish boyfriend Sokol (Alban Ukaj), with whom she dreams of opening a snack bar.) But Lorna, like Claudy, is just another pawn in a plot overseen by Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione) – a shadowy cab driver who, after removing Claudy via a forced overdose, seeks to marry her off to a mafioso known as “the Russian.”

Like their 2005 film The Child, Lorna’s Silence uses the sale of bodies as shorthand for a desperate sub-order – one whose collapsed territories fall under the lonely grip of the Euro. As viewers, our sole entry point into that world remains Lorna: Shunning omniscience, the brothers purposely muddy character relations, in a bid to lock us into the mindset of their flailing heroine. But where as, in the past, that tactic has been used to devastating ends, the web of crime surrounding Lorna – and her standing within it – prove to be intuitively simple: that is, she treats Claudy with contempt for no other reason than his co-dependence – suddenly awoken to his humanity by his impending death.

As such, a chism is aroused, draining the impact from a crucial turning point in in which Lorna strips down and fucks Claudy during the throes of withdrawal. Before any tendrils of affection can emerge, however, Claudy is killed, and what ensues is the typical spur towards redemption, only with an added twist: When the resultant guilt proves to be too much, Lorna is sent reeling into a kind of punch-drunk martyrdom in which she becomes convinced – against all medical reasoning – that she’s carrying his unborn child. As played by newcomer Dobroshi, Lorna is a pleasure to behold – magnetically shuffling between open vulnerability and devout resilience. But the Dardennes’ ascent into a delusional spiritualism feels off: Their films are at their best when they reframe Christian tropes of sin and forgiveness as a fraught exchange between two individuals; here, absolved of the source of her anxiety, Lorna simply feels like a tool in some God’s-eye prank.

gradnick  wrote in Lumiere Reader comments:

The Dardene’s have referenced Bresson in one way or another in virtually all of their work, and while a nod to his final masterwork L’ARGENT (1983) in LORNA’S SILENCE is quite likely, the film might also reflect an understated awareness of Bresson’s UNE FEMME DOUCE (1969) and MOUCHETTE (1964). The latter was referenced more stridently in the Dardenne’s second feature, ROSETTA (1999), whereas here in their new film the similarities are more implicit. Another striking touchstone for this excellent film might be Jean-Luc Godard’s 1962 masterpiece, VIVRE SA VIE, through which LORNA’S SILENCE resonates all the way back to Dreyer’s LA PASSION DE JEANNE D’ARC (1928).

Dardenne heroines have all experienced their own unique Passion. La Passion de Lorna follows a similar trajectory to that of Godard’s Nina: the circumstances are different, but the options for Lorna are disturbingly similar to Nina’s some 45 years earlier. However, the Dardenne’s take a different route. Just when you think Lorna and Nina are about to merge in a repetition of VIVRE SA VIE, Mouchette returns to pull us towards Bresson again. Where David Levinson saw Lorna as the victim of a cruel prankster-God in what he took to be an unsatisfying foray into delusional spirituality, I saw a very grounded late Bressonian moral struggle. There is nothing in LORNA’S SILENCE to signal a theological, spiritual, or specifically Christian reading of the film. Lorna’s crisis and birth pangs that manifest inside her are moral and philosophic rather than theological or spiritual. In this respect the Dardenne’s have an affinity with Bruno Dumont, another Bresson-influenced French filmmaker who locates his philosophical studies solidly in the earth (as signaled at the end of LA VIE DE JESUS, the beginning of HUMANITE, and repeatedly throughout TWENTYNINE PALMS and FLANDRES).

Starting with MOUCHETTE, Bresson’s films dealt with moral and philosophical despair – the impact of the absence of God in the affairs of humankind. For Lorna (like all of Bresson’s sensitive protagonists) pain and guilt are nevertheless very real, and she cannot ignore them. Godard’s Nina was an innocent, used by the world and spat out. Like Jeanne d’Arc before her, she was martyred at the hands of men. Mouchette was another innocent, used by the world then left to rot. She took action and martyred herself. Elle in UNE FEMME DOUCE was another innocent broken by the indifference and self-interest of the world. She took action and martyred herself. Lorna is not an innocent, but she longs for the innocence of being at peace with her conscience and to be free of the corruption of the world. She also takes action. If God is anywhere in the equation, it might be (as Dumont suggests) in the silence of conscience – maybe.

Posted: 05.08.08 @ 22:53:44

SpoutBlog [Karina Longworth]

Whether or not you “like” their work, if you’ve spent any significant time this decade at film festivals (or reading the blogs that cover them), you’d be hard pressed to deny the impact that Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have had on recent art cinema. With traces spottable in films as diverse as Berlinale winner About Elly, Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler and Jacques Audiard’s over-praised A Prophet, the Dardenne style (handheld camera kept close, hyper-naturalistic performances, real locations, a general hard-on for brutality wrapped in the mundane) has become the dominant style of serious movies about ordinary people. This is what happens when you win two Palme D’ors in less than ten years, I guess — other filmmakers presume that you’ve cracked the code. The dirty secret, of course, is that the audience for an actual Dardenne brothers film consists almost entirely of other filmmakers and critics, and neither group has done a sufficient job of persuading that this shouldn’t be the case. This decade’s key art film phenomenon is — ironically, considering the Dardennes’ preferred subject matter — virtually completely inaccessible to any sort of audience outside of the elite circle that made it a phenomenon in the first place. If you are reading this, you are probably part of that elite. If you are not reading this, you probably hear the phrase “Belgian film about poor people” and run as fast as you can in the other direction, and frankly, I don’t blame you.

That said, the Dardennes’ follow up to the Cannes-winning L’enfant is of interest for two reasons: with a pulp kick giving way to psychological intrigue before the globo-political thesis kicks in, it’s more entertaining on a base level than “a Belgian film about poor people” has any right to be, and it reveals why the Brothers are not only worthy of emulation, but also why they do what they do so much better than their pretenders.

Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), an Albanian immigrant who dreams of opening a cafe with her largely absent boyfriend, has married Belgian junkie Claudy (Jérémie Renier, nearly unrecognizable at about 30 pounds lighter than in his last stateside release, Summer Hours) to secure citizenship, which will allow her to get a bank loan. As part of a deal set up with taxi driver/low-level crook Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), Lorna has agreed to make her newly-acquired Belgian citizenship useful by passing it on to a Russian stranger via another marriage. Claudy thinks he’s going to be paid 5,000 Euros to divorce Lorna so the second half of the deal can go through, but Lorna knows that Fabio really plans to kill Claudy and make it look like an overdose. When Claudy asks for her help in getting off heroin, Lorna tries to convince Fabio to spare Claudy’s life, faking domestic violence so that they can get a quickie divorce. At the point where Lorna is self-inflicting head injuries, it looks like Lorna’s Silence is on the road to a happy ending. It’s not.

Formally, Lorna’s Silence is above repproach. There’s a pure beauty to the imagery here that seems antithetical to the concerns of most films made by Dardenne pretenders, an ease with color and a subtlety of light that seems distinctly related to classic Belgian painting. The Brothers also understand that sometimes a fixed camera doesn’t impede immediacy, but actually enhances it. Their visual minimalism is all about quiet control.

Lorna’s emotional complexity is such that when I saw it first 14 months ago at Cannes, I interpreted Lorna and Claudy’s relationship — the heart of the film, the area where her silence most crucially comes into play — as a different beast than it seemed to be when I screened the film again last week. It’s clear that lonely, self-loathing Claudy would love for Lorna to be a real romantic and domestic partner, but Lorna’s motivations are much more ambiguous. Why does she suddenly become emotionally invested enough in Claudy to try to save his life, to the point where she literally throws herself mind and body to the cause, when everyone she trusts insists that a junkie’s life is expendable? Fabio suggests at one point that her show of basic human empathy is out of character with “the Lorna I know.” Something has happened over the course of the marriage to change her; on first viewing, I assumed that she had fallen in love, but the second time around I was sure it wasn’t as one-note as that. Indeed, the Dardennes’ project here seems to be emotional whiplash: when you suspect you have a character pegged you’re proven wrong, the moments of lowest spirit bump up against the highest, and there’s a dark humor to its deepest horrors.

Also seemingly more complex on second viewing, and ultimately more difficult for me to reconcile, is Lorna’s ending. It’s because of the Dardennes’ commitment to speaks-for-itself naturalism that they’re able to make the point, without ever stating it in anything like literal terms, that the 21st century globalist dream of a middle class life in a Western country inevitably resolves in either death or madness. And then in the final scene, any pretense towards realism is thrown out the window, as a desperate Lorna finds and, thanks to a conveniently placed crow bar, gains access to a safe haven, all in about 30 seconds. At this point, Lorna has without question been driven by guilt and grief to some kind of madness, so it’s possible a psychotic break has occurred — in a film that often makes use of narrative ellipese to throw the viewer off the track of the narrative, it’s possible that we’ve switched from an objective view of her circumstances, to her fantasy. I’d like to believe that’s the case; I’d like to believe the Dardennes are too good to suddenly change the rules of their game at the last minute.

Little White Lies magazine  Matt Bochenski

Le bleak c’est chic, but can the Dardennes brothers live up to past successes?

In the end, it always comes back to the beginning. In Rosetta, it’s the moment-by moment struggle for survival. In The Son, it’s a ghost returned from the past. In The Child, it’s the bond between mother and son. In The Silence of Lorna, it’s a fistful of money. It belongs to an Albanian immigrant, Lorna (Arta Dobroshi), and this opening frame signals that here is a film in which economic reality will have the final, sorry say; where Lorna won’t fall out of love, she’ll go out of business.

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are back on the glum, grey streets of Liège, shooting what Truffaut once called the cinema of the first-person singular, where ethics and aesthetics combine to portray a bleak vision of modern life.

The Silence of Lorna is a pitch-black fable about the dehumanising effects of life in this new Europe; an economic experiment in which the poor are lab rats fighting for survival. It returns to the motifs that the brothers have been exploring since their 1992 drama I Think of You: the selfishness and desperation of poverty, the impossibility of love, the inevitability of betrayal.

Despite a recent surge of pretenders to the throne – Ulrich Seidl (Import Export), Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4-ever), Theodoros Angelopoulos (The Weeping Meadow) and the lion’s share of New Balkan Cinema – this is the chic, bleak nihilism that the Dardennes still do better than anybody. And if it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs, nor is it worthy liberal cinema. The Dardennes don’t make films that feel smugly satisfied with their powers of empathy. They whip the narrative like a racehorse, shooting with a precision and urgency that make their work as much an instinctual as an intellectual experience.

And though there is much in The Silence of Lorna to tie it to their previous films, there is also a more profound sense of moral ambivalence that sets it apart. The Dardennes make trajectory films in which the struggle for survival affords small moments of spiritual grace. Often the experience is painful – in Rosetta, it’s only in the film’s final moment that Émilie Dequenne is literally and metaphorically picked off her knees; in The Child, Bruno, the petty thief and misguided father, takes ungainly steps from adolescence to adulthood, but won’t reflect on the journey until it’s already too late.

The Silence of Lorna reverses this trajectory. When we first meet her, Lorna looks an unlikely subject for the life lessons headed her way. She has savings, a boyfriend, the dreams and delusions of a normal life. She is well equipped to succeed in a harsh and unyielding world, because she is harsh and unyielding herself.

Lorna has been brought to Belgium by Fabio (Fabrizio Rongione), a small-time hustler who marries Belgian women to Russian businessmen in order to acquire legal papers. To get her own papers first, she’s been hooked up with a Belgian junkie, Claudy (Jérémie Renier), whose death is the only thing standing in the way of the scam.

As Claudy, Jérémie Renier has taken Bruno and imagined a life in which all his lessons remained unlearned. It’s a life in which the mistakes got incrementally worse until he found himself alone and addicted, edgy good looks strung out to nothing. But like Bruno, Claudy is an innocent of sorts, driven by instincts he can’t control. Lorna rejects him, waiting and hoping for Claudy to OD so her life can get underway, but as he struggles against addiction, Lorna’s conscience is pricked, and it’s here that her story is turned on its head.

Compassion will be her undoing. In a touching scene in the hospital where Claudy is recovering from his withdrawal, Lorna stares at him, silently sleeping, perhaps seeing her own vulnerability reflected in his. Sleep is a recurring theme for rescue and redemption: “Let me sleep, Claudy!” Lorna begs him in an early scene that tragically foreshadows the film’s conclusion. But in the savage universe conjured by the Dardennes, goodness is weakness. In reaching out to Claudy to save him, Lorna will also betray him – her first, literal silence is the failure to warn Claudy that Fabio will kill him whether he survives his addiction or not.

Her complicity is signalled by a brutal transition. As Lorna sorts through Claudy’s few, pathetic possessions, it looks like a loving domestic act. But then the truth is revealed – Claudy has been killed; casually, off camera, tossed away like a piece of rubbish. It’s an astonishingly cruel summation of the value of his life, and points in a way to one of the problems with the film.

The Dardennes may be humanists, but there’s a vein of ugliness in The Silence of Lorna that makes you wonder if they care for the character as much as you will. Call it ‘real life’ if you like, but at times their choices border not just on the forensic, but the sadistic. There are two big narrative shifts which are unveiled with such perverse timing that it’s less an emotional juxtaposition as victimisation. Perhaps it’s a mark of the film’s success that you feel for Lorna as she’s buffeted by these cosmic gales, but as she’s slowly stripped of illusions, then possessions, then dignity, then sanity, it becomes an uncomfortably voyeuristic experience.

That the film doesn’t tip over completely into melodrama is due largely to the Dardennes’ signature style. The handheld cameras, the natural lighting and ambient sound all keep the narrative anchored in reality, however hostile and unremittingly callous it may seem. It’s an affectless, almost artless style that’s nevertheless predicated on pinpoint accuracy and exhaustive discipline. It betrays their documentary roots, but it’s also a very rigid style that sacrifices the richness of visual metaphor for a more literal approach to narrative.

If it’s visual depth you’re looking for, then stare into the eyes of Arta Dobroshi. The Dardennes relish bringing new faces to the screen, but the sense of expectation can’t detract from the fact that Dobroshi is sensational as Lorna, drawing on a reservoir of primal energy to sustain a performance of raw intensity. Lorna goes through a spectrum of experiences, but the consistent thread is a kind of existential vulnerability that Dobroshi’s frail, boyish frame perfectly captures. Despite her magnetic attraction, she conveys the anguish of a woman who has lost her place in the world. “Do you remember me?” she asks a nurse in the hospital. “And my husband?” With her sense of self stripped away, Lorna exists only as others see her – in their eyes, but not her own.

From here, her life spirals rapidly out of control, stripped of everything except guilt, her own silence amplified by the emptiness inside her. Staggering through a forest, she cuts a grim figure, like some ruined Red Riding Hood alone in the huntsman’s cottage. It’s here where Claudy will finally let her sleep – and no nightmare could be worse than those that life has already thrown at her.

And it’s here, too, that the silence the Dardennes are pointing towards really hits home. For people like Lorna, the economic migrants drifting through this new, borderless Europe, there is no home, there are no roots, there is no history and so, ultimately, there is no voice. Just silent, lonely suffering.

Lorna’s Silence  Thom Andersen from Film Comment, July/August 2009

 
The House Next Door [Andrew Schenker]
 
Village Voice (Scott Foundas) review
 
Village Voice (Nick Pinkerton) review
 
IFC.com  Matt Zoller Seitz
 
DVD Outsider  L.K. Weston
 
Christian Science Monitor (Peter Rainer) review
 
filmcritic.com (Chris Cabin) review [3.5/5]
 
Slant Magazine review  Fernando F. Croce
 
Moving Pictures Magazine [Ron Holloway] 
 
Cannes 2008: Days 4, 5, and 6  Matt Noller from The House Next Door
 
Cannes, Competition: "Le Silence de Lorna," "Serbis"  Glenn Kenny at Cannes from Some Came Running, May 19, 2008
 
Tuesday Morning Foreign Region DVD Report: "Le Silence de Lorna" (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, 2008)  Glenn Kenny from The Auteur’s Notebook, May 19, 2009 
 
Lorna's Silence (Le Silence De Lorna)  Mike Goodridge at Cannes from Screendaily
 
Andrew O'Hehir  at Cannes from Salon
 
Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [3/4]
 
Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]
 

Cannes Dispatch: Part Three:   Patrick McGavin at Cannes from Stop Smiling magazine

 
Film Freak Central Review [Bill Chambers]
 
CANNES '08 NOTEBOOK | Auteur Fatigue, "Gomorra" Pops and Wayward Youths  Anthony Kaufman at Cannes from indieWIRE
 
Eye for Film (Jennie Kermode) review [3/5]
 
Avuncular American [Gerald Loftus]
 
Daily Plastic - Festival Report [J. Robert Parks]
 
The Hollywood Reporter review  Peter Brunette at Cannes
 
Film4 [Steve Watson]
 
Variety (Justin Chang) review
 
Independent.co.uk [Jonathan Romney]
 
The Independent (Robert Hanks) review [3/5]
 
Time Out London (Dave Calhoun) review [5/6]
 
Time Out Chicago (Hank Sartin) review [3/6]
 
The Japan Times  Kaori Shoji, also including and interview January 23, 2009 with actress:  Arta Dobroshi: A role model
 
The Boston Phoenix (Brett Michel) review
 
Boston Globe review [3.5/4]  Ty Burr
 
San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [3/4]
 
Chicago Sun-Times (Roger Ebert) review [3.5/4]
 
The New York Times (A.O. Scott) review
 
DVDBeaver dvd review  Gary W. Tooze
 

THE KID WITH A BIKE (Le gamin au vélo)      B-                    81

France  Belgium  Italy  (87 mi)  2011

 

Easily the most contrived and manipulative of the Dardennes Brothers’ films, one which borders on melodrama and is likely to divide audiences, as they will either despise or feel sorry for the protagonist, in this case an 11-year-old boy Cyril (Thomas Doret), who from the outset is seen as a determined but problematic kid, one who is not likely to listen to or believe anyone else, but instead do whatever he wants with no apparent punitive repercussions.  Known for writing their own screenplays, a documentary style, the use of hand-held cameras, and complete lack of artifice in a social realist setting, this film is an extension of their previous works, where this young boy is in nearly every frame of the film, initially seen as a detestable brat who insists the world is lying to him about the whereabouts of his absent father, involuntarily placed in a boys home where his only desire is escape.  Obsessively driven by inevitable circumstances, the reunification with his father, the bare-bones plot seems paper thin, as more and more it becomes clear his father has abandoned him.  Nonetheless, Cyril continues to seek him out with relentless desperation, including multiple escape attempts.  Simply by accident, in the building where his father previously lived, he grabs and clings to a woman, Samantha (Cécile de France), to avoid being captured by the authorities, where she offers further assistance by finding the bike he reported missing, which is his only link to his father.  His bike is also his means of flight and freedom, as it can seemingly take him wherever he needs to go.  

 

When Samantha agrees to house Cyril over the weekends, offering no reason whatsoever for this extension of kindness, her character is immediately seen in glowing and rather angelic terms, as a guardian angel watching over an angry and dissolute child.  It’s never made clear why Samantha takes such an interest in this utter stranger whose life is a perpetual series of misfortunes, but the first thing he does is disobey her with the same consistency as he does other adults.  While she actually reaches out to him and helps find the father (Jérémie Renier), the object of his continuous obsession, who is working in a neighborhood nearby, the father simply shows no interest in seeing him again.  While it’s clear there are damaging psychological issues, no one seems to offer any assistance on that front, as it is never mentioned.  Cyril instead is left to resolve his personal issues on his own, where he gets involved with a gang of street kids who easily steal his bike (the kid never learns to use a lock), headed by an older kid Wes (Egon DiMateo), something of a dark angel who takes a particular interest in him, taking him under his wing, using Cyril’s blind persistence to hold onto his bike as a useful tool in accomplishing a secret task that he has in store for him, using Cyril to take care of some unfinished business, which, of course, he readily agrees to, as he thinks this guy is his new friend.  To a kid who has no one, a new friend has a strange and intoxicating allure, so much so that he continually lies and deceives Samantha, who mystifyingly continues looking out for his best interests, even at the expense of her own relationships, where boyfriends find Cyril nothing but endless trouble, an ungrateful and impudent malcontent who refuses to listen or learn. 

 

Clearly, Cyril tests the audience’s patience as well, as the typically non-sentimental Dardenne approach leaves one thinking this is an unusually obnoxious and abrasive kid, one who is continually asking for trouble.  This escalating wrongward path can only have a few possible outcomes, where the narrow focus of a child’s fate becomes overly predictable, especially considering all the contrivances thrust upon the audience along the way, where this becomes a black and white existential struggle for good and evil, meaning and salvation, where Cyril is caught between the vested interests of a dark force and a guardian angel, where both are trying to tap into and redirect this kid’s inner rage and seething discontent.  The overlying reliance on maternal affection and sense of societal justice appear quite French, where both somehow miss the point, but are overly accentuated with an exaggerated power of influence.  Cyril is a psychologically damaged and extremely self destructive kid, one who would not likely succeed without intensive personal therapy, but this film bypasses the necessary hard work involved and instead would have you believe that a healthy dose of motherly affection is all he needs to steer him on the right path, which for a realist film is a bit preposterous.  Adding to the solemnity and sense of interior transcendence is a brief recurring passage from Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, Glenn Gould - Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto 3/4 YouTube (9:53), the symphonic section just preceding the introduction of the solo piano.  These brief passages hold clues and are musical road markers interspersed throughout the film, where the piano is heard only over the end credits, where the narrative finally offers a glimpse of renewal and a sparing sense of release. 

 

The House Next Door [Fernando F. Croce]

Modern cinema's poets laureate of working-class marginalization and spiritual crises, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne are also bona fide motion-picture makers whose works brim with the kind of propulsive thrust that would have left pure action pioneers like Raoul Walsh or Allan Dwan green with envy. Think of the Belgian brothers' new film, and the first thing that springs to mind is a red shirt zipping kinetically up and down and across the screen, rushing in and out of corridors when not climbing fences and trees. Of course, ardent humanists that they are, the Dardennes are interested first and foremost in the character wearing the shirt, a runty, half-feral 11-year-old boy (Thomas Dorset) whose single-minded pursuit of a feckless father who doesn't want to see him (Jérémie Renier) adds to the filmmakers' indelible intergenerational galleries of children plunging into adult worlds and adults learning to move beyond childish confines. As talismanic as De Sica's, the bike of the title becomes the main element through which the film scrutinizes the boy's anger and confusion, his relationship with a sympathetic hairdresser (Cécile de France) and a neighborhood hood (Egon Di Mateo), and the abrupt and furtive acts of revenge and compassion that lift rough-hewn realism into the realm of cinematic grace. Astoundingly unsentimental yet consistently heart-squeezing.

New York Magazine [David Edelstein]

The Dardenne brothers of Belgium, Jean-Pierre and Luc, have moved away from the somewhat formless quality of their early work into the realm of melodrama, which would be worrisome if their new films weren’t as good or better—heightened and purified by stronger narratives. The Kid With a Bike centers on 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret), whose father has deposited him in a state-run school and decamped, leaving no address. In the face of all evidence, Cyril won’t accept this rejection. He runs away to their now-empty flat and pounds on the door. When school counselors come, he clings to the legs of a random young woman and screams for his papa and his bike.

The woman is a hairdresser named Samantha (Cécile de France) who tracks down the bike (it was sold), locates the father (“Seeing him stresses me out. I’m starting over”), and arranges to take the boy in. Why? Hollywood would demand a backstory, but to the Dardennes, what does it matter? She defines herself by her moral choices. The boy, though, is wild, un-broken-in, apt to lash out, like a damaged pup from a shelter that you fear might have to go back. His frightening openness is evident when he falls in with a local delinquent, who teaches him to clobber people and take their cash. There are hints of Pinocchio and the tragic A.I. Can Cyril become a real boy?

The Dardennes have an exquisite sense of when to let their shots run on: A scene in which Cyril pedals furiously away from a crime evokes his state of mind and gives you time to brood on where he has been and might be going. Despite the simplicity of the brothers’ technique, The Kid With a Bike has deep religious underpinnings, a relentless drive toward the mythos of death and resurrection. The film is not just in the tradition of Pinocchio and A.I.: It is a worthy successor.

Film Blather [Eugene Novikov]

The Dardenne Brothers’ The Kid with a Bike is a character study of boundless empathy. It is impossibly wise about childhood, human frailty, and moral responsibility. I will return to it again and again for comfort and perspective. It is chicken soup for my black, cynical husk of a soul.

Kids are inclined to think in absolutes. And so Cyril (Thomas Doret), the Dardennes’ 11-year old protagonist, absolutely refuses to believe that his father has moved away, sold his precious bike, and left him in a state orphanage indefinitely. After all, he said it would only be for a month. Ergo all of the other adults insisting that he is gone are wrong or lying. Biting and darting like a feral cat, Cyril runs to his dad’s old apartment, and inspects every empty room. Even then he doesn’t believe it. He must have been forced to go away, and take the bike with him.

A kind hairdresser (Cecile de France) recognizes Cyril’s bike and buys it back from its new owner. It’s a kind gesture, and the usually mistrustful boy asks if she would foster him on weekends. She agrees. But Cyril hasn’t given up on his father. Samantha, the hairdresser, tracks him down and they go to see him. There’s no dramatic confrontation.  “When are you coming for me?” Cyril asks. The dad, played by the great Jeremie Renier, takes down Cyril’s mobile number and promises to call, but it’s clear he wants nothing to do with the kid. “I’m starting over,” he tells Samantha out of earshot. “I can’t if he’s around.”

As Cyril, Thomas Doret is an amazing discovery — he has a compact intensity of a born star, commanding attention without ever asking for sympathy — but the real triumph is the way his character is written. The Dardennes’ screenplay is extraordinary in its ability  to pack drama and heartbreak into simple, naturalistic, entirely unsentimental scenes. Cyril’s dialogue is artfully terse and often beautiful (or at least the translation is), but at the same time perfectly plausible for a bright 11-year old boy: “I’ve come to see you. Do I jump or will you open the door?” he yells to his dad over a fence. He can be nasty and an awful brat (he certainly isn’t cute) but the movie makes sense of it: his family has left him with wounds that won’t heal just because a nice lady lets him stay with her on weekends.

Cyril’s pride and desperate need for a father figure he can respect gets him into some third-act trouble I’m loath to describe. The last 30 minutes of The Kid with a Bike are the year’s most riveting stretch of film, and the ending is just perfect. After what must have been years spent flailing in anger, Cyril faces his toughest test, and does the right thing.

The Kid With a Bike  Geoff Andrew at Cannes from Time Out London, May 15, 2011    (link lost)         

 

There are some very consistently distinctive things about the Dardenne brothers’ films. They are about recognisably ‘ordinary’ working-class people; they are usually about inter-generational relationships; they deal with ethical (and psychological) issues in such a way that people often describe them, rightly or wrongly, as somehow concerned with ‘redemption’; they fall, for all their apparent documentary-like naturalism, into three fairly clear ‘acts’; and – perhaps most distinctive of all – they often feel, for one reason or another, a little… well,  unremarkable for the first 20 minutes or so. Then something happens which makes you realise you’re watching something very special indeed.

All of which is true of their fifth film in the main Cannes competition (which follows two Palme d’or-winners and two other recipients of major awards). It’s not as if the situation here is exactly original: a troubled 12-year-old, reluctantly living in a home since his father abandoned him without leaving any forwarding details (let alone the titular promised bicycle), meets and is shown sympathy and understanding by a hairdresser, who finds herself having to deal not only with the kid’s own capacity for violence but with the temptations put in his way by a local gangleader. To anyone familiar with the Dardennes’ relatively small but very substantial body of work, this might sound as if it’s going over old ground – and maybe it is, but it’s still producing fresh and extremely fruitful results.

Partly, that’s down to performance. Besides such Dardenne regulars as Jérémie Renier and (admittedly in a small role) Olivier Gourmet, the film boasts wonderful work by Cécile de France (recently seen in Eastwood’s ‘Hereafter’) as the protagonist’s unexpected but altogether plausible protectress, and by Thomas Doret as young Cyril. Still, it would be wrong to attribute the excellence of the Belgian brothers’ film simply to a form of well-acted Loachian ‘realism’.

The marvellously nimble, fleet pace perfectly suits the adolescent, often desperate energy of Cyril’s search for stability, while once more the narrative embraces both naturalism and something more mythic, even Biblical; this, after all, is a tale of crime and punishment, longing and disappointment, love, hatred and forgiveness. But in the end it’s probably best to forget such contextual stuff, as the film is primarily about people. See the sheer fear on Renier’s face as his character confesses that he just can’t cope any longer with looking after his own son. At this point, about half an
hour into the story, the power, subtlety, enduring relevance and absolute truthfulness of the Dardennes’ latest immediately become brilliantly clear.

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Anne-Katrin Titze]

The Kid With A Bike has the classic Dardenne Brothers plot. Like those other famous brothers, the Grimms, the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne put their hearts and souls into the telling of tales about children in bad situations. The horrors of childhood are taken very seriously and there is nothing cliché or sentimental in their special neorealist approach to illuminate the human condition.

Their latest, and fifth film at the New York Film Festival and winner of the Grand Prix at Cannes this year, is about 11-year-old Cyril (played with fantastic agility, vulnerability and strength by 13-year-old Thomas Doret), whose father abandons him. The mother is never mentioned, she only exists as absence, like in many a fairy tale, where one bad parent is more than enough to deal with.

Cyril wants to get in touch with his father, desperately dialing his old phone number over and over again, as if pure willpower and stamina could change the NOT IN SERVICE message to his father's voice. Cyril also wants his bike back - he cannot believe that his father could have sold it. The various people at the orphanage where he is staying, have a hard time keeping up with this whirlwind of a boy, who runs, breathes, bangs on doors, checks his old apartment building, runs some more, always dressed in red, because he will not give up the fantasy that his father still loves him, has not abandoned him, and that everything is a big misunderstanding, just like Hansel uses pebbles to get back to his father's house, only to be forced out again.

In this tale, Cyril does not encounter a witch, but a hairdresser he holds on to, played with wonderful grace and toughness by Cécile de France. Samantha is like "the good fairy," Jean-Pierre Dardenne told me in response to my comment that their stories set in a tough Belgian working class milieu capture the core of what makes fairy tales relevant. "This film is the closest to a fairy tale," he agrees, "because it is the simplest. It is about a child who is losing a very big, terrible illusion."

Characters in a Dardenne film don't analyse situations or talk about why things occur. They act and in their movements, hits, smiles, they reveal the whole world. The little boy defends his father who never wants to see him again and he tries to latch on to a dangerous drug-dealing wolf in the woods who calls Cyril "pit bull". The boy doesn't know how to accept the affection from Samantha, a woman who is not family and still deeply cares for him.

Watch for a Dardenne brothers' favorite, Olivier Gourmet, who makes an appearance playing the cafe owner who serves the beers. Another Dardenne regular, Jérémie Renier, plays Cyril's father, in many respects an aged shadow of his role in The Child (a film that blew me away at the NYFF in 2005) which starts with him selling his baby, just like Rapunzel.

At the press conference Luc, the younger Dardenne, mentioned the locations in the film are in the form of a triangle: town, forest, gas station, everything happens between these three points.

Cécile de France's Samantha "brings a light to the story," when she reclaims the child's soul as they drive and bicycle to and fro.

In a world where everyone seems so lost, The Kid With A Bike will help you find your humanity again.

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

 

Slant Magazine [Fernando F. Croce]

 

The Kid With A Bike | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club  Scott Tobias, also seen here:  The Kid With A Bike 

 

Cinephile [Matthew Thrift]

 

Cannes: A heart-rending take on a movie classic  Andrew O’Hehir at Cannes from Salon, May 15, 2011

 

A Lost Boy and a Sliver of Hope in the Dardenne ... - Village Voice  Karina Longworth

 

Cannes Film Festival 2011: Day Four – The Kid with a Bike, Pina, and Good Bye  Glenn Heath Jr. at Cannes from the House Next Door, May 14, 2011, also seen here:  The House Next Door [Glenn Heath Jr.]

 

Capital New York [Sheila O'Malley]

 

The House Next Door [Jonathan Pacheco]

 

JamesBowman.net | The Kid With a Bike

 

Chicago Reader [Ben Sachs]

 

The Kid With A Bike  Jonathan Romney at Cannes from Screendaily  

 

cinemonkey [D. K. Holm]

 

Filmcritic.com  Chris Cabin

 

Little White Lies Magazine [Jason Wood]

 

Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]

 

SBS Film [Craig Mathieson]

 

Movies [Tom von Logue Newth]

 

Keyframe: the Fandor Blog [Jaime N. Christley]

 

Monsters and Critics [Ron Wilkinson]

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Cannes Review: “The Kid With a Bike” at Once New and Too Familiar  Boyd van Hoeij at Cannes from indieWIRE, May 14, 2011

 

Kevin Jagernauth  at Cannes from the indieWIRE Playlist, May 14, 2011

 

CANNES REVIEW: The Dardenne Brothers Break From Formula with Le Gamin au Vélo  Stephanie Zacharek at Cannes from Movieline, May 15, 2011

 

theartsdesk.com [Demetrios Matheou]

 

The Film Pilgrim [Frances Taylor]

 

Battleship Pretension [David Bax]

 

Hollywood Jesus [Darrel Manson]

 

Cinema Autopsy [Thomas Caldwell]

 

Cannes '11, day four: The Dardennes shoot for the Palme D'Or trifecta, and Freaks & Geeks' Linda Cardellini gets a rare showcase  Mike D’Angelo at Cannes from The Onion A.V. Club, May 15, 2011

 

Pirates of the Riviera  Barbara Scharres at Cannes from the Ebert blog, May 14, 2011             

 

Cannes 2011. Rushes: "Ninja Kids", "Goodbye", "Le gamin au vélo"  Daniel Kasman at Cannes from Mubi, May 17, 2011

 

Drew McWeeney  at Cannes from Hit Fix, May 15, 2011

 

Kid With a Bike, The  Emanuel Levy at Cannes, May 14, 2011

 

Plume-Noire.com [Moland Fengkov]

 

Film Review: The Kid With A Bike (2011)  Steven S. from Film Scope

 

Ferdy on Films [Marilyn Ferdinand]

 

The Lumière Reader [Steve Garden]

 

remembering-leon-cakoff-the-kid-with-a-bike-a-trip ... - Slant Magazine  Aaron Cutler

 

Sound On Sight [Simon Howell]  ar Telluride

 

Daily Film Dose [Blair Stewart]

 

CompuServe [Harvey Karten]

 

The Film Stage [Raffi Asdourian]

 

CineVue [Patrick Gamble]

 

Black Sheep Reviews [Joseph Belanger]

 

Anthony Lane - The New Yorker  (capsule review), also seen here:  Not Child’s Play

 

The Kid with a Bike  Richard Brody from The New Yorker (capsule review)

 

Urban Cinefile (Australia) [Andrew L. Urban]

 

Reel Film Reviews [David Nusair]

 

ScreenComment [Ali Naderzad]

 

Bonjour Tristesse (English)

 

Cannes 2011. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "The Kid with the Bike"  David Hudson at Cannes from Mubi, May 15, 2011

 

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne | Film | Interview | The A.V. Club  Chris Kompanek interview, March 15, 2012

 

Dardenne brothers: 'We don't argue in front of the actors'   Anne Billson interview from The Guardian, March 15, 2012

 

Movie Review: The Kid With A Bike - Entertainment Weekly  Lisa Schwarzbaum

 

The Kid With a Bike: Cannes Review  David Rooney at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter, May 14, 2011

 

Peter Debruge  at Cannes from Variety

 

The Kid With a Bike  Dave Calhoun from Time Out London

 

The Kid with a Bike – review | Film | The Guardian  Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian, March 22, 2012

 

Cannes 2011 review: Le Gamin au Vélo/Polisse | Film | The Guardian  Peter Bradshaw at Cannes from The Guardian, May 15, 2011

 

The Kid With a Bike – review  Philip French from The Observer, March 25, 2012

 

Cannes '11 Day 4: Unfair  Wesley Morris at Cannes from The Boston Globe, May 14, 2011

 

Philadelphia Inquirer [Steven Rea]

 

'The Kid With a Bike' review: Dardennes' quiet truth  Mick LaSalle from The SF Chronicle

 

'Kid With a Bike': Tale of troubled child told with deft directorial touch ✭✭✭ 1/2  Michael Phillips from The Chicago Tribune, also seen here:  'Kid With a Bike': Tale of troubled child told with deft directorial touch ...

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

At Cannes, Synergy but Not Consensus - New York Times  Manohla Dargis at Cannes, May 16, 2011

 

The Kid With a Bike - Movies - New York Times  Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, March 16, 2012  

 

TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT  (Deux jours, une nuit)        B                    88

Belgium France  Italy  (95 mi)  2014     

 

An excoriating critique of capitalism, brilliantly revealing how it isolates and divides workers, pitting one against the other, where over the course of the film the Dardennes turn this into a modern era horror story.  What’s most striking, however, is how it’s framed in such ordinary circumstances, where the fear of losing one’s job is the overriding concern, capable of driving one to do the unthinkable.  While the opportunity to work with an actress of the stature of Marion Cotillard may have proven too alluring to resist, the film would probably have played much better with a lesser known, unknown actress, much like their earlier efforts, especially ROSETTA (1999), where the actress’s daily struggle might mirror the role of the character in the film.  Part of Cotillard’s role as Sandra, a young Belgian mother working at a small solar panel factory, is her invisibility, where she is forced to come out of the anonymity of her character to make herself seen as she confronts each and every one of her fellow workers.  When trying to return from a medical leave, she discovers the company has instead decided to lay her off in order to pay the annual 1000 euro bonus to the rest of the workers.  When cornered in a parking lot, the owner agrees to hold a vote by secret ballot to alleviate allegations of pressure and intimidation by the foreman, and if a majority of workers agree to vote for her return instead of their bonuses, then he will honor their decision.  He is of the opinion, however, based on an initial vote tallied by the foreman, that most everyone prefers the bonus.  This leaves her little time, as indicated by the title, to change people’s minds.  While a worker on leave could be confronted by any number of illnesses, such as losing a child, recovery from an injury or an accident, to having a more serious medical diagnosis such a cancer, but in Sandra’s case she suffers from depression (another invisible disease), seen taking large doses of Xanax, well beyond the recommended limit, in an attempt to maintain her sanity throughout this ordeal.  The idea for the film is based upon real incidents occurring in French factories, but also Belgium, Italy, and the United States, where a worker was laid off so the rest of the workers could get their bonuses, all of which raise questions of solidarity in the workforce.   

 

Shot in Seraing, an industrial town in Liège, in Wallonia, the French-speaking section of Belgium where the Dardennes were born and raised, and where all their previous films were shot as well, Cotillard had to change her French accent to Belgian for the film—no minor undertaking, as she’s the first non-Belgian actor to ever work with the directors.  By all accounts, many believe she was robbed at Cannes by not winning Best Actress, but this is an understated, minimalist, low-key film without any major dramatic moments.  Experts in social realist films, this is most reminiscent of a Bresson film (Introduction to Bresson), a meticulous film constructionist who downplayed the performances of his actors, where this film is based upon a repeating, cyclical theme where Sandra literally goes door to door tracking down her coworkers, asking them to vote to save her position by sacrificing their bonuses.  While this is incredibly humiliating, to say the least, it leaves her emotionally exhausted and demoralized afterwards when she realizes what an uphill struggle this is turning out to be.  Shot in chronological order, most of the scenes are long takes culminating with stressful discussions at someone’s front door, usually interrupting them from their weekend activities with their children, where the situation couldn’t be more awkward, as in an economic downturn, everyone needs the money, with some in desperate straits.  While it’s hard to believe someone is placed in this position, literally begging for their job back, the Dardennes don’t over-dramatize or turn this into a melodrama, but confine their focus to exposing what each of these people must be going through, literally providing a window into their souls, as for each, this is a gut-wrenching decision.  People are surprisingly honest with one another, as is Sandra, who is never pushy or argumentative, but simply presents the reality of the situation, then must gracefully accept the fact that not everyone is going to support her, even some who sympathize with her.  In some cases, the husbands aggressively bark out their opinions while their wives (who work with her) meekly stand in silence, unable to alter the balance of power in their homes.   

 

Beautifully portraying the accumulative stress and mental anguish, Cotillard anchors the film with her warmth and sense of decency, where the urgency of her situation mirrors how other people live and the pressures they face, where in troubled times it’s extremely hard to support her efforts.  Nonetheless it’s a heroic act to summon the courage to embark on such a personally revealing journey, where you literally strip yourself naked standing completely vulnerable before your coworkers, always struggling to overcome feelings of hopelessness and despair.  Perhaps the weakest character in the film is Sandra’s own husband Manu, Fabrizio Rangione in his fifth film with this directing team, whose pathetic struggle to continually push his wife feels overly abusive, though perhaps necessary when she’s incessantly on the verge of giving up.  We don’t see an emotional connection between the two, or any hint of happiness, but their interaction together represents a tired couple that is used to struggling to get through every day.  Perhaps the most beautiful scenes involve music, including Petula Clark singing the French version of the 1963 Jackie DeShannon song “Needles and Pins” Petula Clark - La Nuit N'en Finit Plus - YouTube, while the scene of the film is the euphoric emotional release expressed to the song of Van Morrison and Them singing a teen anthem from the 60’s, “Gloria” THEM (Featuring VAN MORRISON) - LIVE 1965 - "Gloria" YouTube (2:47).  While Sandra is literally terrified at what will happen behind the knock at each door, it’s a petrifying journey set by her boss against her colleagues, where no one protests against the inherent cruelty of the employer’s actions, instead it’s a barbaric act commonly accepted in the modern workplace.  Sandra has a husband and child, perceived as a woman’s dutiful role in the 50’s, but in today’s world she needs a place in society where she can be of use.  Work has come to represent a sense of purpose in people’s lives, even in the routine work of factory jobs, without which many people feel lost and useless, expressed in the film as confronting one’s worst fear, “living on the dole.”  Despite the anger and outright hostility that arises, where the foreman (Dardennes regular Olivier Gourmet) blames her for “stirring up this shit,” this is an unconventional exposé of the meaning of work in people’s lives, where to some their fellow coworkers are an indispensable part of their lives, like one of the family, where they spend eight to ten hours a day alongside each other, while others routinely ignore the social dimension of working with others for a period of years.  In this film, the Dardennes allow the characters to determine the outcome by challenging their humanity, which has greater significance than some predetermined moral lesson that would quickly be forgotten.   

 

Which movies to see—and which to skip—at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival  JR Jones from The Reader

An assembly-line worker at a solar panel factory (Marion Cotillard), recently returned to work after an emotional breakdown, discovers that her coworkers, coerced by management, have voted to terminate her employment rather than forfeit their annual bonus; over a long and desperate weekend, she visits them at their homes and begs them to change their votes. The premise for this Belgian drama couldn't be simpler or more compelling, yet writer-directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne (The Kid With a Bike) tease out any number of moral complexities as the heroine learns of her coworkers' various circumstances (many of them have children, and almost all of them are living hand to mouth). In film after film the Dardennes have proven themselves the cinema's most acute humanist critics of predatory capitalism; this masterful drama finds them at the top of their game, laying bare the endless uphill battle of getting workers to look out for each other. In French with subtitles.

CINE-FILE: Cine-List - Cine-File.info  Elspeth J. Carroll

The most masterful film of 2014 was also the quietest. The Dardenne Brother's latest is a characteristically nuanced portrait of a young mother recovering from a bout of severe depression. Steadily regaining her strength and ready to return to work, Sandra (Marion Cotillard) is told that to keep her job she must convince her coworkers to vote to save her and lose their bonus. It seems an act of supreme cruelty that a woman who can barely bring herself to get out of bed should be forced to persuade others to sacrifice so that she can return to life, and her greatest battle is not to convince her coworkers but to summon the strength to try. Her campaign provides a window into the lives of the men and women she works with. We see their homes, their families, their weekend lives. They're a diverse group, but they occupy the same economic position—not dire, but precarious. Their reactions are telling—guilt, anger, reluctant yeses and apologetic nos. There may be a right choice—solidarity over self interest, but the Dardennes resist easy moralizing, and their main indictment seems to be of the system which forces such a choice. It's hard to imagine any other director with a soft enough touch to keep the material from edging into melodrama, but its that restraint and precision which makes the film so effective. Their control is matched by that of Cotillard whose performance as Sandra is powerful without overpowering. "But they're right. I don't exist. I'm nothing. Nothing at all" Sandra says to her husband before collapsing on the floor. It's hard to read without cringing, but in Cotillard's hands it feels honest, real (unnervingly so.) So much rests upon Cotillard's performance. She is so fragile, so often on the verge of tears, that her moments of triumph, however small or short lived, are truly moving. TWO DAYS, ONE NIGHT is a film that does so many things so well and so quietly. It's at once a study of depression, of family dynamics, of community and of an inhumane and exploitative economic system. But perhaps most excitingly, it's a convincing work of realism that's much more hopeful than it is grim.

Cannes Film Festival 2014: Part Two - Reverse Shot  Jordan Cronk

A similar sentiment is expressed in far more visceral terms in Two Days, One Night, a typically efficient work from Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. In fact, efficiency itself is a central subject of their new film. In two stealth, single-shot opening scenes, the Dardennes lay out their basic narrative conceit: Sandra (Marion Cotillard), informed by her boss of her impending termination, must convince her coworkers to side with her in a vote to retain her job at the expense of their yearly bonuses. She’ll have the weekend to complete the task and she’ll have to rely on nothing more than goodwill and persuasiveness to accomplish it. The Dardennes’ brand of socially minded, realist filmmaking has for well over a decade been one of the most recognizable in contemporary cinema. Each film’s distinguishing nuances lie in its uniquely implemented narrative devices—not as variations but as a subtle protraction of a specific working-class plight.

Two Days, One Night utilizes its temporal strictures to build tension via elemental means: handheld camerawork, infrequent but purposeful editing, and situational drama, all delivered through dialogue or dramaturgy. Sandra spends the majority of the film essentially restaging the same scene for an audience of one: a colleague with the ability to leave this woman and her husband (who can’t support the couple on his own) without immediate financial recourse. What’s fascinating about the film is how perspectives continuously shift; as a viewer we’re ostensibly asked to sympathize with Sandra—who we learn has recently suffered some sort of breakdown and is now taking prescription Xanax, which she pops incessantly throughout—and yet each successive encounter presents to the viewer an entirely new dilemma, with implications that could affect more than just this one couple. Many of these men and women are worse off and in greater need of a bonus than Sandra—who, if nothing else, is young and experienced—no matter the immediate repercussions on her life. The way the Dardennes foster this empathy, without allowing Sandra to wallow in self-pity—if anything, she refuses to beg, never resorting to negotiation—granting her the strength to exhibit grace during a final moral crisis of her own, further confirms their unyielding faith in human resilience and righteousness.

The Playlist [Jessica Kiang]

An unfeasibly gripping social realist parable that provides a gravitational showcase for one of Marion Cotillard's finest performances (and yes, we know that's saying something), the Dardenne brothers' "Two Days, One Night" sees the two-time Palme d'Or winners put in a serious bid for a third (though probably, Cannes rules being what they are, a Best Actress trophy for Cotillard is more likely). It’s a deeply lovable film, satisfying, nourishing and accessible, and bar the odd stumble toward melodrama (more on that later) we were completely immersed in its plain-spoken yet impossibly resonant rhythms practically from the first frame. 

A great deal of that is Cotillard—her character is in nearly every single shot, and hers is inarguably the point of view of the film throughout, making it a riveting performance in a film that is riveted to her. But perhaps the greatest achievement is in how brilliantly the film balances the trademark Dardennes social conscience with a conceit that plays out almost like a ticking-clock thriller, as well as being a deeply felt character study, at the same time as it operates on at least two metaphorical levels in parallel at any one point. Casting the biggest name star they’ve ever worked with, who herself happens to be one of the finest actresses of her generation enjoying an extraordinarily impressive run of performances, and writing perhaps the most focused and sculpted screenplay of their illustrious careers, Jean-Pierre and Luc turn in a film that may well be their richest. At 63 and 60, respectively, it feels like they crested the peak of their powers a while ago, only to discover a higher summit to conquer, on top of which “Two Days, One Night” has now planted their flag. 

As the film begins, Sandra (Cotillard), a wife and mother of two living in straitened circumstances in an economically depressed town, has slipped back into the depression from which she had ostensibly recovered, following the news that she has lost her job. Unemployment and potentially a return to social housing beckons for her family. In fact, the day before, she had been voted out of the company by her co-workers who were offered the choice of retaining her, or retaining their €1000 bonuses. An ally convinces her that the foreman had pressured some of her colleagues into voting her out, and when they confront the boss he agrees that they can hold a new secret ballot on Monday morning. Sandra therefore has the weekend to convince a majority to sacrifice their bonuses in order to save her job. 

What then unfolds is an almost epic journey from house to house to meet each of them face to face, providing snapshots of the lives and attitudes of her co-workers, many of whom are in just as perilous a situation as she. It’s a portrait of a moral dilemma considered from every conceivable angle and not just on the part of those she’s visiting—Sandra, still fragile herself, can only negotiate with difficulty the oceanic swallowing of pride necessary to, essentially, beg for her livelihood. With difficulty, and Xanax.

The responses to her entreaties vary wildly from positive and sympathetic to outright violent, but a few insightful similarities remain. Almost everyone’s first question is “how is everyone else voting?” just as almost everyone’s response to Sandra's pointing out how it's not her fault that the boss put her job up against their bonuses is “Mine neither.” And there’s a hopelessness to the way they all simply accept the fact the injustice, really the barbarity of pitting workers’ self interest against their fellow-feeling in an effort to rationalize the company's bottom line. No one once suggests protesting the unfairness of it; it seems like they might as well shout at the moon to change its phase. And so, seamlessly and always within the context of this tense, ever evolving story, the film examines truly meaty moral themes of herd mentality, manipulation, pity, guilt, remorse, empathy, peer pressure and so on, at the same time as becoming an allegory for socialism, worker’s rights and corporate corruption and a heartfelt plea to recognize the humanity of others. 

It’s true that the whole having-to-go-and-present-a-moral-dilemma-to-a-disparate-group-of-people premise does feel less organic than a typical Dardennes set up and more manufactured for those allegorical purposes, but that's not so much a criticism as an observation. In fact it’s a film with which we could find exactly two, and only two, things wrong. Without wishing to spoil, there is a section later on in the story when the story’s resolute believability falters and the actions and reactions of Sandra and one other character feel overtly manipulated for [over] dramatic effect. It is a shame, because the film is easily compelling enough without these extra turns of the screw. 

Those hiccups in the flow of this deceptively taut, honed narrative would have ruined our enjoyment more, however, if they hadn’t been superseded by an ending that is simply perfection. Accomplishing a similar feat to last years Cotillard-starring Cannes contender “The Immigrant” the Dardennes here pull off an astonishingly satisfying somersault as their dismount, a simple moment in which we suddenly realize that the film we’ve been enjoying as a multi-layered ethical parable to that point was in fact also something much simpler and more human all along: the story of a broken woman’s journey back to herself. It’s nothing as simplistic as a happy ending, but it couldn’t be more uplifting and affecting, and we left the theater with our hearts nearly bursting. [A]

Sight & Sound [Tony Rayns]  August 22, 2014

 

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Dargis, Manohla – film critic

 

Filmmaker Magazine: Blog  (excerpt)

 

I don't know about you, but I'm enjoying tremendously Manohla Dargis's film writing in the New York Times, particularly the more freewheeling attitude that runs through her pieces. Her Godard interview of a few weeks back was brilliantly edited. Leaving in his intellectual japes and her bemused ripostes -- bits that might have been edited out in the hands of another Times critic -- both made the piece entertaining and indicative of Godard's entire enterprise. In today's Times, Dargis steps in front of her byline to frankly answer questions from readers. (Registration required.) In response the various queries she raves about Li Yang's underseen Blind Shaft, canonizes Bad Santa as a new holiday classic, and responds to a reader who asks, "Hasn't the bar been set too high for a medium that is meant to entertain? Must a film always improve upon the art?"

Her response winds through a great story about a bored Paul Schrader falling asleep during Warren Beatty's Reds, to a discussion of James Agee, before winding up with the following:

 

I thoroughly understand the desire for entertainment (really!), but movies were never "meant" to be any one thing. The medium was seized on by opportunistic business types early on, but it was always also a medium for artists, intellectuals and those for whom a life in the movies means something more than just a succession of pneumatic blonds and a swank Beverly Hills address.

 

Manohla Dargis interview   Steve Erickson from Senses of Cinema

 

Critic Biography: Manohla Dargis  from The New York Times

The Awful Truth  From Vertigo to Austin Powers, Scenes We Love, by Manohla Dargis from The Nation, March 16, 2000

The New York Times > Movies > The Way We Live Now: The 21st ...  The 21st-Century Cinephile, by Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, November 14, 2004

Being the owner of DVDBeaver forces me to respond to Manohla ...  (pdf)

 

The New York Times > Movies > Godard's Metaphysics of the Movies  Manohla Dargis interviews Godard from The New York Times, November 21, 2004

 

The New York Times > Readers' Opinions > Questions for ...  Questions for…Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, December 7, 2004

 

The New York Times > Readers' Opinions > Questions for ...  Questions for… Manohla Dargis, February 1, 2005

 

Manohla Dargis - New York Times  Questions for… Manohla Dargis, February 6, 2006

 

scanners  The critic: Manohla Dargis on film criticism, by Jim Emerson June 13, 2006

 

Manohla Dargis: Film Critic Starting to Think Every Slightly ...  the only photo I’ve found of the elusive Dargis, from Gawker, June 16, 2006

 

"Movie Review: Garfield: A Tale of Two Kitties (2006)  As Told to MANOHLA DARGIS by LORD DARGIS, from The New York Times, June 16, 2006

 

Best of 2006 - Movies - Manohla Dargis - New York Times  December 24, 2006

 

a long Manohla Dargis essay  Unblinking Eye, Visual Diary: Warhol’s Films, New York Times, October 21, 2007

 

Women in Hollywood 2009 - At the Box Office but Not Directing ...  Women In the Seats, But Not Behind the Camera, Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, December 10, 2009 

 

Amazon.com: L.A. Confidential (BFI Modern Classics): Manohla ...  Amazon’s listing of BFI Modern Classics: L.A. Confidential, by Manohla Dargis

kamera.co.uk - book review - BFI Modern Classics: L.A. ...  BFI Modern Classics: L.A. Confidential, by Manohla Dargis, book review from Ben Walters (2003)

"Fuck Them": Times Critic On Hollywood, Women, & Why Romantic Comedies Suck  Irin interviews Dargis from Jezebel, December 14, 2009

 

Articles by Manohla Dargis - Los Angeles Times

 

Reviews by Manohla Dargis  from The New York Times

 

Manohla Dargis - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

YouTube - What is Manohla Dargis of the New York Times ...  (3:36) on YouTube

 
Darling, Todd

 

A SNOWMOBILE FOR GEORGE            C+                   77

USA  (94 mi)  2008        Official site  

 

What begins as a lighthearted query about snowmobiles and the two-stroke engine that was banned initially by the Clinton administration but quickly reinstated by the Bush administration, which led our documentarian to wonder why?   He quickly learns that his snowmobile tends to smoke heavily, where the exhaust fumes are twenty seven times more toxic than an automobile.  So how’d they get reinstated?  People who make snowmobiles had no answers, as they had already redesigned the engine when they were informed there was no need.  So he visited the Klamath Falls area in Oregon where there had been a hundred year dispute regarding water restrictions caused by water withheld by a dam to irrigate local farms, which impacted upon the salmon runs up the Klamath river, one of the strongest in the nation, causing ever smaller numbers of fish.  George W. Bush’s chief political strategist Karl Rove decided this was an opportunity to rally their Republican base and intervened in the dispute, immediately taking sides with the farmers, giving them all the water they needed despite dire warnings about what this would do to the fish.  During the next salmon run, all the fish died, the worst in the nation’s history, and could be seen washed up to shore belly up, as there was insufficient water to make it to their breeding grounds.  Despite this disaster, the Bush administration refused to acknowledge their decision had anything to do with it, instead blaming recent drought conditions. 

 

He visited Yellowstone National Park where snowmobiles were frightening away the natural wildlife, causing another battle between preservationists and snowmobilers, with the Bush administration siding with the snowmobilers, again, pandering to their political base, where these noisy, heavy pollutants continue to be allowed into the park in the winter, but where toll guards at the gates can wear protective gas masks.  He visited a man in Wyoming who discovered that Wyoming grandfathered into their state constitution that land purchased a hundred years ago by a family was still obligated by state law which indicated they bought only what was above land, as the federal government owned what mineral rights were below the land.  So oil and natural gas companies can enter people’s properties at will, with no notice or approval, and dig for oil and gas by any means necessary, even install permanent machinery to continue the operations indefinitely.  The farmer visited indicated the noise of the machines was driving all the wildlife away, and the huge quantities of water brought out from beneath the earth to release the methane gas was killing the natural prairie grass that his cows had been eating for decades.  Even worse, despite drilling at distances of nearly 5 miles away, private water wells were drying up, leaving many residents with no water supply at all.  However, the government again took no responsibility, and blamed the families for improper maintenance of their land.  The overriding theme here is that companies were given a blank check to do whatever they wanted, while families were simply marginalized in the process, and were of no concern whatsoever to the companies or the government. 

 

When he visited survivors of 9/11 in New York City, the film obviously shifted from Red States to a Blue state, where the idea of individual liberty has an altogether different context than the rugged individualism of the Wild West, a shift which isn’t even noted in the film.  Instead they document how the EPA was forced to change the language of their fact finding mission to drop precautionary language about the hazardous air quality and instead alleviate all fears by claiming the air quality is safe.  They did this by using low quality microscopes which could not detect small asbestos particles instead of more heavy duty microscopes that could.  This blatant lie meant that all the service personnel that were sent back into the work areas are now becoming high risk for various forms of cancer, as the initial area where the buildings collapsed was contaminated by asbestos particles for a several block area which was initially engulfed under a powder cloud.  So now police, fire fighters, and construction workers are coming down with cancer, yet their claims are being denied by the government that indicates there is no link.  Finally, the film identifies the specific people within the Bush administration who had jobs with oil and natural gas companies before they were chosen to work within the Bush administration where they could drop all regulations as a government policy, simply refusing to consider science, and approving whatever the companies wanted.  Ironically, the list of snowmobilers and local farmers who were rewarded by the Bush administration became big donors in his political campaign.  The entire operation was based on political and corporate expediency, blurring the line until they were one and the same.                    

BURNING FUSE FILM FESTIVAL  Facets Multi Media

A Snowmobile for George is a rambunctious road trip that collects the stories of fishermen, cowboys and firemen who have had to face the consequences of environmental deregulation by the Bush Administration. Started by a question about the filmmaker's own used two-stroke snowmobile engine, this trip steadily reveals the political strategy and rationale behind a massive sell-off of public resources. A Snowmobile for George begins modestly as a one-man, one-machine road film that simply asks why rules to clean up a smoky off-road machine got shelved. With no presumption of guilt or blame, filmmaker Todd Darling tows his family snowmobile across the United States and persists in asking that question. The film's humble point of departure gives little hint as to its ultimate destination. What starts off as a personal quest gradually morphs as this journey takes the viewer to the sites of more serious environmental change. The common thread among these stories is deregulation - the notion that common citizens benefit when "the government gets off their back." But the film uncovers how the Bush Administration worked efficiently to match up the goals of select industries with the political demands of the White House at the expense of the average American citizen.

The Burning Fuse Film Festival

 
Darnell, Eric and Tom McGrath
 
MADAGASCAR                                           B                     86
USA  (80 mi)  2005

 

Just smile and wave.  That’s what we do boys, just smile and wave.
 
Chris Rock and Ben Stiller lend their voices to this colorful animated story of New York City Zoo animals, a zebra and an audience-pleasing lion respectively, also a hypochondriac giraffe and a no nonsense hippo, played by David Schwimmer and Jada Pinkett Smith.  Aided by a few irrepressible penguins who are nothing less than ingenious, among the most hilarious animated creatures ever, a group that seem to be missing from a Nick Park film, featuring co-director Tom McGrath’s voice as the Skipper, the lead penguin who is always barking out orders, who accidentally dig their escape tunnel into the zebra’s grounds, giving him for the first time an idea of being free, living in the wild.  Be careful what you wish for as it may soon come true, as they quickly find out when they are sent away from the zoo as disgruntled, irate animals, tranquilized, crated and sent to the island of Madagascar.  They keep wondering where “the people” went, but soon discover an entirely new universe at their fingertips, one that is gloriously beautiful and pristine, but also one that is vicious and deadly, featuring cabaret-like musical production numbers by the island’s lemur population, led by the King of the Lemurs (Sascha Baron Cohen) and his sidekick Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer) who leads his followers into strutting their stuff to the music of “I Like to Move It, Move It,” always on the lookout for hyenas, known in this film as the foosa, eaters of lemurs, so the lion, who scares the foosa away, takes on an instant interest.  However, in the wild, the lion returns to his natural elements that even he doesn’t fully comprehend, as he starts seeing images of meat with every animal he sees, including his best friend, the zebra, and surprisingly has a few moments where he can be seen taking a bite out of his ass.  But friendship prevails, even in the wild.  While the story is simple, the look of the film is always gorgeous, the musical choices interesting, the relationship and the non-stop banter between the lion and the zebra is well developed and oftentimes hilarious, the wit continues throughout the entire course of the film, but the penguins especially were superb. 

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]

 

Eric Darnell ("Antz") and Tom McGrath plug old-fashioned Looney Tunes style into the computer-animated film and come up with the zippiest CGI comedy DreamWorks has produced to date.

Showbiz lion Alex (voice of Ben Stiller), the merchandised-to-the-mane king of the Central Park Zoo, loves living in the Big Apple: the feel of cement, the sounds of cars and sirens, the black night sky where helicopter spotlights are the closest you get to starlight. His best friend, Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), longs for the legendary open plains.

When Marty escapes to sample the wild (of Connecticut, via Grand Central Station, of course), the ensuing city adventure of Alex and his buddies, Melman the hypochondriac giraffe (David Schwimmer) and Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith), is misinterpreted as a cry for escape, the furthest thing from their minds. Shipped off to an animal preserve in Kenya, they wind up (due to the "Great Escape" shenanigans of a hilarious platoon of penguins) washing ashore in Madagascar.

Alex is no predator, he's a ham who lives for the spotlight, but he succumbs to his primal instincts in the wild (the marvelously animated sequences suggest a giant housecat in the feral fever of play) and his best friends start to look an awful lot like dinner on the hoof. It's the film's basic conflict -- instinct versus individual choice -- and it comes through with what I like to call the "Iron Giant" moral: "You are who you choose to be."

Slim on plot but fat with furiously paced gags, "Madagascar" is a routine story enlivened by location, color, exotic landscapes and a cascade of comic flourishes. The directors give a modern twist on the Bugs and Daffy cartoons of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, from the sleekly stylized faces and extreme caricatured bodies to the whiplash movements and zippy comic pacing.

For the adults, there is a non-stop bar rage of cultural references, from "American Beauty" and "Silence of the Lambs" to "The Twilight Zone" and "National Geographic" TV specials.

For the kids, there are a smattering of poo jokes (some inspired -- it's the lingua franca of the monkey kingdom, after all) and slapstick gags, all directed with zany energy. It could be more involving, but it's funny enough that you won't care.

Austin Chronicle (Kimberley Jones)

If anybody bothered to ask movie critics, we’d tell you that the fastest way to solve the population problem is to expose those of childbearing years to a cartoon sneak preview, with its packed house of squirming, screaming little, er, angels. I mention this only to set my mood (cantankerous): That is to say, I was in no way prepared to like this film. The perfunctory opening scenes didn’t help: There’s Marty the Zebra (voiced by Rock), who is weary of pampering at the Central Park Zoo and lusting for a life in the wild. There’s his grab-bag of wisecracking best friends: the self-centered showman, Alex the Lion (Stiller); sassy hippo Gloria (Pinkett Smith); and glum hypochondriac Melman the Giraffe (Schwimmer). Gently amusing stuff, sure, but nothing terribly inspiring – that is, until a bookish primate makes a crack about throwing monkey poo at Tom Wolfe, and Madagascar dangles the possibility of being something slightly nutter. Consider that possibility mostly realized: After its leaden beginning, Madagascar launches into a lunatic pace of left-field pop-culture references and physics-defying physical comedy worthy of the Looney Tunes of yore. When Marty the Zebra hooks up with a quartet of penguins (the birdmen of this particular Alcatraz, they are plotting an escape to Antarctica), he too breaks out of the zoo and hoofs it to Grand Central Station, in order to catch a train for the wilds of … Connecticut. Like its jailbreak protagonists, the film grows more ambitious outside the confines of the zoo and truly takes off when the four best friends accidentally wash up on the shores of Madagascar and are stranded in a lemur country ruled by an idiot king (voiced by no less than Ali G, aka Sacha Baron Cohen). It’s a kick watching Lion, Zebra, Giraffe, and Hippo – city folk who fish bagels out of the trash and thrash in their sleep unless they are lulled by New York’s peculiar symphony of sirens and shoot-’em-ups – try to adapt to life in the wild. Smaller children, however, might be lightly terrorized when Alex the Lion’s carnivore instincts kick in with a junkie’s jittery fervor. In truth, Madagascar boasts a black comic bent that might not be entirely kid-friendly, as in a scene that works as a food-chain primer: See pretty chickadee; see pretty chickadee get crocodile-chomped; smirk to one’s self as Louis Armstrong warbles "What a Wonderful World" in the background. But it’s all so terrifically silly – in just the right ways – that the darker stuff probably won’t make a dent, anyway (nor will the cheeky asides to Chariots of Fire, Cast Away, and American Beauty). The somewhat-rote life lessons that cartoons – sorry, animated features – require are all in attendance (the importance of friendship, check; risk-taking, check) and somewhat gum up the fun, as does an overriding philosophy that doesn’t quite shake down, but maybe that’s just the crank in me coming out again. Forget life lessons: I much prefer a lemur king doing the robot.

The Onion A.V. Club [Tasha Robinson]

Reel.com DVD review [Pam Grady]

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Crazy for Cinema

DVD Times  Eamonn McCusker

 

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The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review  Richard Scheib

 

PopMatters  Cynthia Fuchs

 

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Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  A.O. Scott

 

YouTube - The Madagascar Penguins scenes  (10 minutes)

 

The Madagascar Penguins in a Chrismas Caper - Free Video ... samo ...  (10 minutes)

 
Dash, Julie

 

DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST

USA  Great Britain  (112 mi)  1991 

 

Time Out

 

Set in 1902, on a barrier island off Georgia, this first feature is an impressionistic portrait of the ritual last supper of the Peazant family before migrating to the mainland. The younger generations are leaving the matriarch Nana (Day) and the insulated traditional life she symbolises. Tensions are raised by the return of family members Viola, a Baptist missionary, and Yellow Mary (Barbara-O), a proud whore, and by Eli's apprehension that his wife Eula (Rogers) is carrying the child of a rapist. Nana fears these rifts will destroy her family when they leave the home of their African ancestors and calls on the spirit of Eula's unborn child to heal them. Steeped in symbolism, superstition and myth, this disconcertingly original film is structured in tableaux which jump through time. The characters speak in the islanders' Gullah dialect and little is explained; however, Dash's universal message about holding on to tradition in face of change rings clear.

 

Daughters of the Dust: The Film File: The New Yorker  Michael Sragow

 
There’s teaching potential in Julie Dash’s acclaimed celebration of the Georgia and Carolina Sea Islands culture, especially for classes in African-American studies. But it’s hard to imagine how Dash expects general-interest audiences, black or white, to find their way into her dreamy evocation of Gullah traditions in transition. In theory Dash aims to present a folkloric story from inside a folk culture, but her script, set on the eve of a family’s departure to the mainland, makes the material seem distant and aesthetic. Fortunately, Dash and her cinematographer, Arthur Jafa, endow their outdoor imagery with a supernal prettiness, hitting otherworldly shades of purplish blue and yellow-orange, as if they’d managed to drape an Oriental scarf over the sun. If this movie has gained a following beyond those fascinated by the Sea Islands, it’s possibly because it peddles the same exotic mixture as “The Piano” does—men and women with contemporary emotional drives and nineteenth-century costumes, parading on a primitive shore.

 

CINE-FILE: Cine-List  Kathleen Sachs

The narrator of Julie Dash's DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST is more than just a character in the film, but a symbolic representation of the film's message. The unborn child who tells the story of the Peazant family in their last days before migrating north is as much a reflection of the past as she is of the future; all that has come before her is as inherent to the family as the very blood within their veins, and it's that history which will propel them along the trying and changing times. The Peazant family are inhabitants of the southern Sea Islands and members of its Gullah culture, having preserved the identity of their African heritage in the face of slavery and post-war oppression. Before the move, the matriarch of the Peazant family contemplates her native beliefs while the family's younger members overcome their personal struggles. Rape and prostitution have afflicted several female members of the family, and the scorn from both society and their own clan present the unique obstacle of African American women within an already disparaged race. Dash uses magical realism not only in the story, but also as a filmmaking device that is reflective of the characters' culture. It was the first feature-length film by an African-American woman to receive theatrical release, and its historical context and female-oriented storyline set it apart from both other films of the time and other films put out by fellow members of the L.A. Rebellion.

The Onion A.V. Club [Keith Phipps]

 
Set at the turn of the 20th century on the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, writer-director Julie Dash's 1991 film Daughters Of The Dust explores a culture at a crossroads. The Gullah people, the islands' inhabitants, have carved out a uniquely African-American culture that's in touch with both sides of the hyphenate. Former slaves and their descendants, the Gullah have preserved many African traditions while incorporating those of the New World and its European heritage. Religion, more a syncretic collection of traditions than a single faith, could involve charms against evil spirits as easily as Baptist hymns, and the Gullah culture as a whole reflects this. It's a way of looking at the world that both hearkens back to an ancient malleability and anticipates post-modernism. The greatest strength of the film—which covers one significant day in island history, and in the history of one large family as it makes plans to join life on the mainland—is its ability to portray this culture in almost documentary-like fashion. A rich, fully realized vision, beautifully shot by Arthur Jafa (Crooklyn), Dash's film is one-of-a-kind, and at times that works against it as much as for it. Her exhaustive research has allowed her to re-create Gullah life in remarkable detail, but many of the details, however intriguing, are left unexplained, a fact that makes this new DVD version, and Dash's audio commentary, all the more useful. What may be more difficult for many viewers is the film's non-linear narrative and obtuse characterizations: Dash argues that she tried to structure her film in a way more in touch with African narratives than Western storytelling, but she still could have allowed her characters greater depth and permitted them to serve as something more than icons. Still, it's hard to argue that Daughters Of The Dust's faults outweigh its virtues, and the supplemental features of this packed DVD (deleted scenes, a documentary, interviews) only enhance the experience of a project that works better as an experience than a film.

 

Washington Post [Rita Kempley]

 
“Daughters of the Dust” is an African American family heirloom, a gorgeously impressionistic history of the Gullah people set on the South Carolina Sea Islands at the turn of the century. In the hands of director Julie Dash and photographer Arthur Jafa, this nonlinear film becomes visual poetry, a wedding of imagery and rhythm that connects oral tradition with the music video. It is an astonishing, vivid portrait not only of a time and place, but of an era's spirit.
 
The story focuses primarily on the women of the extended Peazant family of luxuriant Ibo Landing, a black community descended from the slaves who worked the indigo, rice and cotton plantations before emancipation. Isolated from the mainland, the Peazants have preserved many of the traditions, beliefs and language of their West African ancestors. All that stands to be lost, however, as the Gullah clan prepares to migrate from this paradise to the industrialized North. Only the matriarch Nana (Cora Lee Day), an 88-year-old mystic, insists on remaining behind with the old souls and her "scraps of memories."
 
On a summer day in 1902, a farewell picnic is underway on the beach, where the Peazants in their Sunday best are gathered for a feast of shrimp gumbo, fresh clams, yellow corn and johnnycake. The young women, romantic in long white dresses, move as languidly as clouds while a photographer (Tommy Hicks) records them for posterity. Nana's daughter, Yellow Mary (Barbara-O), looks like a bride in her lacy veil, but she is in her family's eyes a "ruint" woman. A wet nurse and a prostitute, she has just returned from Cuba with her beautiful lover. She naturally finds herself in conflict with her cousin Viola (Cherly Lynn Bruce), a fundamentalist Christian who rejects Yellow Mary's morals along with Nana's spiritualism.
 
There is also conflict between Nana and her dour sister-in-law (Kaycee Moore), an outsider who considers the "Geechee" ways backward and dreams of assimilation. Meanwhile, Nana seeks solace from the ancestral spirits who have gathered for the birth of her great-granddaughter (Kai-Lynn Warren), whose mother, Eula (Alva Rogers), was raped by a landowner. It is the precocious unborn girl's job to convince her father (Adisa Anderson) that he, not the rapist, is truly her father. The spirit girl, who sometimes mysteriously shows up in the photographer's compositions, is also the movie's narrator, a guide who unites the Gullah past with the future that might be.
 
A multidimensional family drama spoken in the patois known as Gullah, "Daughters of the Dust" is not always easy to follow, nor does it reward viewers with neat resolutions. As Dash intended, her film enfolds us in its dark arms and ancient sensibilities.
 
"Daughters of the Dust," in the Gullah dialect with some subtitles, is not rated but is suitable for general audiences.

 

User comments  from imdb Author: Michael P. Lewis (mplewis) from Edina, MN

Daughters of The Dust was produced by Geechee Girls and American Playhouse Company. The movie main focus is on the Peazant women. Nana Peazant is played by Cora Lee Day, and Eula, her granddaughter, is played by Alva Rogers who is pregnant and has been raped by a landowner. Nana's granddaughter, Yellow Mary, is played by Barbara-O who is returning, with her friend Trula, from the mainland and her life as a prostitute and wet nurse. Haggar, who has married into the family, is played by Kaycee Moore and wants nothing to do with the old traditions. Similarly, the Christian Viola, played by Cheryl Lynn Bruce, is returning from her life on the mainland.

Daughters of the Dust is a film written and directed by Julie Dash. It tells the story of a family of African-Americans who have lived for many years on a Southern offshore island, and of how they come together one day in 1902 to celebrate their ancestors before some of them leave for the North. The film is narrated by an unborn child, and ancestors already dead also seem to be as present as the living.

Julie Dash underwent many hardships in bringing the story to the silver screen. She had severe budget constraints, filmed in mosquito and insect infested areas, was delayed by Hurricane Hugo, sidetracked by sudden and violent sandstorms, and was forced to decide to either have a child or make the movie. In the end, she choose to give birth and nurture the story Daugthers of the Dust and the result is an unconventional masterpiece.

Initially, the response by white male critics was not favorable and they accused Dash of not adequately explaining the Gullah people, their culture, and their religious traditions. While attacking Dash, these critics failed to acknowledge many positive aspects of the film. The reasons behind this, according to Bell Hooks, is that "we've never been taught, most of us, in any history class that black people had different languages, had different religious practices, etc. So, to some extent, the film represents that challenge to a critic of any race" to review something they are not familiar with.

Because of these reviews and the fact that movie tells the story of African American women in an unconventional manner, it would seem to have slim commercial prospects. However, through word of mouth and some positive reviews it was able to generate a cult following. To date, the film has grossed 1.6 million from a budget of only 800,000.

The Newark Black Film Festival has chosen Daughters as the Film of The Century while the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound Magazine chose the soundtrack as one of the best in the past 25 years. It also received the Best Cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991.

I believe the film hits the viewer on various levels. By placing the story in the early 1900's, Dash is able to show us a turbulent time for African-Americans and address many issues such as migration, lynching, and the changing African-American culture. Dash also shows and teaches us about Ibo culture and its importance in the lives of those inhabiting the Sea Coast Islands, not just the African-Americans sharing the Gullah culture, but also the Native Americans, Muslims, and Christians.

DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (1991, 113 min   notes, essay and Julie Dash bio info by Michael Dembrow

 

Untitled Document  A History of Exile, an essay on the film by Deanna McGowen Prufert

 

CultureCartel.com (Rachel Gordon)

 

Linda Lopez McAlister (c/o inforM Women's Studies)

 

Read the complete review for Daughters Of The Dust  TV Guide magazine

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell)

 

Daughters of the Dust  Eat-Online

 

Sarah M. Elkins

 

Writing > Essays > Women Studies > "Daughters of the Dust," my ...   my impression of the movie by Yanet Manzano

 

Diary of an Anxious Black Woman: Revolutionary Cinema: Julie ...

 

Manish Malhotra   says it’s poorly made

 

Daniel Barrett   calls it a dud

 

Daughters of the Dust (1991  comprehensive film website with analysis, essays and links

 

Religious Traditions of the African Diaspora  The Gullah People and Their Link to West Africa

 

ISSUE ESSAY  Maintaining Cultural Identity in the Face of Adversity

 

The Gullah: Rice, Slavery, and the Sierra Leone-American Connection  Joseph A. Opala

 

Bench of Memory at Slavery’s Gateway  Bench of Memory at Slavery’s Gateway, by Felicia R. Lee from The New York Times, July 28, 2008, at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island, S.C, Toni Morrison led the procession dedicating her “bench by the road,” honoring the memory of slaves who arrived there

 

Daughters of the Dust  capsule book review by Casey King from The New York Times, December 14, 1997

 

Daughters of the Dust  book review of Daughters of the Dust, a novel by Julie Dash which expands the story, from Akilah Monifa

 

Read the transcript of an on-line featuring Julie Dash discussing "Daughters of the Dust"  Interview with Julie Dash, December 19, 1997

 

MoMA.org | The Collection | Julie Dash. Daughters of the Dust. 1991  a photograph from the film

 

WELCOME TO DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST: Secrets and Whispers  film website

 

Julie Dash Homepage on the AALBC.com's web site   Julie Dash website

 

MAGAZINE | FEATURES | JULIE DASH-ROSA PARKS | VOLUME 26-6: MARCH 2002  Julie Dash and the Rosa Parks Story, by Robert A. Jones from DGA, March 2002

 

Austin Chronicle [Marjorie Baumgarten]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden)

 

Daughters of The Dust DVD - Kino on Video

 

Gullah - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Daughters of the Dust - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

 

YouTube - Daughters of the Dust Scene  an opening scene (1:41)

 

Invisible Woman.....Black Cinema At LARGE: Daughters Of The Dust   a YouTube condensation of the film (9:05)

 

YouTube - Robert Farris Thompson Speaks: Daughters of the Dust  an Interview with a Yale Art professor about the film, also seen here:  Robert Farris Thompson on Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust ...  (14:55)

 

Dassin, Jules

 

Film Reference  Rob Edelman

 
Between the mid-1940s and the late 1950s, Jules Dassin directed some of the better realistic, hard-bitten, fast-paced crime dramas produced in America, before his blacklisting and subsequent move to Europe. However, while he has made some very impressive films, his career as a whole is lacking in artistic cohesion.
 
Dassin's films are occasionally innovative: The Naked City is one of the first police dramas shot on location, on the streets of New York; Rififi is a forerunner of detailed jewelry heist dramas, highlighted by a thirty-five-minute sequence chronicling the break-in, shot without a word of dialogue or note of music; Never on Sunday, starring his wife Melina Mercouri as a happy hooker, made the actress an international star, won her an Academy Award nomination, and popularized in America the Greek bouzouki music. The Naked City and Rififi are particularly exciting, as well as trend-setting, while Brute Force remains a striking, naturalistic prison drama, with Burt Lancaster in one of his most memorable early performances and Hume Cronyn wonderfully despicable as a Hitlerish guard captain. Thieves' Highway, also shot on location, is a vivid drama of truck driver Richard Conte taking on racketeer Lee J. Cobb.
 
Topkapi is a Rififi remake, with a delightful touch of comedy. Many of Dassin's later films, such as Brute Force and Thieves' Highway, attempt to observe human nature: they focus on the individual fighting his own demons while trying to survive within a chaotic society. For example, in A Dream of Passion, an updating of Sophocles' Medea, an American woman is jailed in Greece for the murder of her three children; Up Tight, the filmmaker's first American-made release after the McCarthy hysteria, is a remake of The Informer set in a black ghetto. Unfortunately, they are all generally flawed: with the exception of Never on Sunday and Topkapi, his collaborations with Melina Mercouri (from He Who Must Die to A Dream of Passion) are disappointing, while Up Tight pales beside the original. Circle of Two, with teenager Tatum O'Neal baring her breasts for aging Richard Burton, had a limited release. Dassin's early triumphs have been obscured by his more recent fiascos, and as a result his critical reputation is now irrevocably tarnished.
 
The villain in his career is the blacklist, which tragically clipped his wings just as he was starting to fly. Indeed, he could not find work in Europe for five years, as producers felt American distributors would automatically ban any film with his signature. When Rififi opened, critics wrote about Dassin as if he were European. The New York Herald Tribune reported in 1961, "At one ceremony, when the award to Rififi was announced, (Dassin) was called to the dais, and a French flag was raised above him. 'It should have been a moment of triumph but I feel awful. They were honoring my work and I'm an American. It should have been the American flag raised in honor."' The blacklist thus denied Jules Dassin his roots. In 1958, it was announced that he was planning to adapt James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan, a project that was eventually shelved. It is one more tragedy of the blacklist that Dassin was not allowed to follow up Brute Force, The Naked City, and Thieves' Highway with Studs Lonigan.

 

All-Movie Guide  bio from Hal Erickson

 

Internet Broadway Database

 

TCMDB  biography from Turner Classic Movies

 

Dassin, Jules  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

 

Harvard Film Archive  film retrospective summary

 

Salon Article (2000)  Jules Dassin:  the Early Years, by Michael Sragow from Salon, August 24, 2000

 

Jules Dassin, Filmmaker on Blacklist, Dies at 96   Richard Severo from The New York Times, April 1, 2008

 

Wise Guys  roundtable discussion with André de Toth, Budd Boetticher and Jules Dassin by Patrick Francis from LA Weekly

 

BRUTE FORCE

USA  (98 mi)  1947

 

Time Out review  Tom Milne

 

Despite a loss of temperature through the flashbacks which let in some female interest, this is one of Dassin's best films. Less coherent than Siegel's Riot in Cell Block 11 in its challenge to prison conditions, it draws on WWII experience to draw a powerful analogy between the prison (where Cronyn's sadistic chief guard beats up prisoners to the strains of Wagner) and a fascist state. With brutality breeding brutality in this world which the dialogue (script by Richard Brooks) defines as an existentialist hell from which there is no escape, Brute Force was a notably violent film in its day. The scene in which an informer is herded by blow-torches to execution in a steam press still chills.

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

Prison-break movies are off-limits in real houses of correction, but the decommissioned Eastern State is fair game for Secret Cinema's screening of Jules Dassin's high-drama yarn. Drawn from Richard Brooks' script, Brute Force stars Burt Lancaster as a rock-jawed inmate with a yen for the outside air and an effetely effective Hume Cronyn as a sadistic head guard. Dassin liked to marry pulp forms to socially conscious themes, which sometimes produces a kind of leftist camp. (I suspect the reference in Barton Fink to a wrestling movie in which the main character "wrestles with his soul" is a dig at Dassin's Night and the City.)

Fond of Wellesian high angles and showy deep focus, Dassin is a relentlessly self-conscious stylist, amping up the climactic prison riot to gladiatorial proportions, an instinct that jars with Brooks' desire to make each of his inmates an average Joe, complete with heart-tugging flashbacks in which their crimes are laid down to economic need. Dassin would do better with the just-the-facts approach of Rififi, but William Daniels' cinematography is often stunning, and Cronyn's slyly menacing performance will come as a shock to those who only remember his kindly roles.

Turner Classic Movies review  Mark Frankel

 

"Those gates only open three times. When you come in, when you've served your time, or when you're dead!"
- from
Brute Force

Producer Mark Hellinger had wanted to make a prison movie for almost a decade, and when he read an article by a former convict, the basic story of
Brute Force (1947) began to take shape. Hellinger hired San Francisco Examiner reporter Robert Patterson to come up with the scenario and then brought in Richard Brooks to write the screenplay. A young screenwriter, Brooks had already worked on two of Hellinger's productions: The Killers (1946, uncredited) and Swell Guy (1946). Hellinger also reunited Burt Lancaster with two of his costars from The Killers: Sam Levene and Charles McGraw. Brooks and Lancaster clearly got along. At one point, Brooks told Lancaster to get himself a copy of the Sinclair Lewis novel Elmer Gantry, as Brooks was determined to turn it into a film. Though it took thirteen years, he and Lancaster did make that picture, and both received Academy Awards for their work.

Part film noir and part Hollywood "message movie,"
Brute Force is filled with images of extreme, almost psychopathic violence. In the prison workshop, Lancaster's buddies take revenge on a stool pigeon, cornering him with lit blowtorches and pushing him into the giant press. An informer is strapped to the front of a railroad car as it hurtles towards manned machine guns. The prison captain tortures an inmate with a rubber hose while blaring Wagner from the record player.

Hume Cronyn's portrayal of the sadistic Captain Munsey is one of the highlights of his film career. Of course, the idea of a final physical confrontation between the athletic Lancaster and the wispy Cronyn was a bit hard to imagine as a real contest. As Cronyn recounts in his autobiography: "Burt, who had at one time been a circus acrobat, was in magnificent physical condition and weighed about two hundred pounds. He could in reality have picked me up with one hand and wrung me out like a washrag. As a concession to the casting and the totally unbelievable match, it was agreed that before the struggle began, Burt's character should be shot and wounded. Even so, Julie [Dassin] staged one of the most murderously filthy fights ever photographed, so filled with kicks to the groin, eye gouging and karate chops that when the scene was cut together, it was considered altogether too violent for the public and portions of it were eliminated."

Though ostensibly an indictment of a corrupt prison system, what emerges most clearly from the film is the sense of utter hopelessness. According to one of Lancaster's biographers, "as a postwar parable, the movie is deeply sad. The Nazi-type Captain Munsey is vanquished only to have the heroes who killed him either dead or still in prison." As the prison doctor (and the film's moral compass) repeatedly intones, "Nobody escapes, nobody ever escapes."

The only respite from the film's unrelenting brutality comes in the four romanticized flashbacks. At night, after the inmates use their blowtorches to push James O'Rear into the machine press, the four cellmates reminisce about the women who, unwittingly or not, put them in prison. Whit Bissell recalls his wife, Ella Raines (Hail the Conquering Hero, 1944), for whom he juggled the company's books in an effort to get her a mink coat. John Hoyt bitterly remembers con woman Anita Colby and the way she played him for a fool. (Colby, a former fashion model and advertising executive, was the inspiration for Grace Kelly's character in Rear Window, 1954.) Howard Duff thinks back to his Italian beauty, Yvonne De Carlo. She had killed her own father in an attempt to protect Duff, but when the authorities arrived, it was Duff who nobly took the fall. Finally, Lancaster thinks of his kind, wheelchair-bound girlfriend, Ann Blyth (Veda in Mildred Pierce, 1945). To get his hands on the money Blyth needs for an operation, Lancaster and his gang pull one more job, and Lancaster ends up in jail.

Though today she is chiefly remembered for her roles in The Ten Commandments (1956) and the TV series The Munsters, at the time De Carlo was one of Universal's most captivating starlets. And according to her autobiography, her charms were not lost on the film's star. "I had no doubts that Burt knew exactly what he wanted, and at the moment it was me." Though Lancaster had recently been married, he and De Carlo went together to a cocktail party and then out to dinner. Lancaster took the twenty-four-year-old back to her home, and there, outside, beneath an oleander bush and on top of De Carlo's mink coat, they made love. According to De Carlo, "It was so spontaneous and explosive, I thought I was playing a scene from a blazing romantic novel. Talk about being swept away!" Their "mutual fling" was short-lived, though as one can see in De Carlo's recollection, quite memorable.

According to Dassin, the flashback sequences were not his idea and though he vigorously objected to their inclusion in the film, he lost that battle (presumably to Hellinger). Lancaster too felt that the romantic subplot detracted from the intended effect. But as he said in a 1973 interview, "this was all part of Hollywood then. The emphasis was always on the love story. . . . They believed that what was known to have worked well at the box office should not be tampered with."

Dassin and Lancaster's concerns aside, the film does work, and part of the film's power comes from the exceptional music and photography. Miklos Rozsa's dramatic score gives the whole film an almost operatic quality, while the photography of William Daniels, which once made Garbo look otherworldly, here paints a crisp and all-too-real prison world, from which not even a soft light can escape.

Though the Production Code Office demanded several cuts to soften what it called the film's "excessive" brutality, the film's depiction of violence remained potent, and many critics felt that Hellinger had stepped over the line. Responding to these critics, Lancaster commented: "If Daumier knocks off a sketch of a rat eating out a woman's eye, by God, you say it's art, but if Joe Blow writes it for Hellinger, you say it's obscene. I don't get it."

 

DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) dvd review [4/5] [Criterion Collection]  condensed version here:  Criterion Confessions

 

PopMatters (Tim O'Neil) review

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review  also seen here:  Turner Classic Movies dvd review

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review

 

Film Noir of the Week  Steve-O

 

Reel.com DVD review [Tim Knight]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [4/5]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin]

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

MSN Entertainment [Sean Axmaker]

 

Epinions [Stephen O. Murray]

 

Nitrate Online (capsule)  Eddie Cockrell, also reviewing BLUE GARDENIA and THE NAKED CITY

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 

THE NAKED CITY

USA  (96 mi)  1948

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

Despite its reputation, a rather overrated police-procedure thriller which has gained its seminal status simply by its accent on ordinariness and by its adherence to the ideal of shooting on location. In organising the hunt for a brutal murderer, Fitzgerald's detective is too winsome and hammy, Taylor's assistant merely wooden; thanks be then to Ted de Corsia as the killer, adding a touch of real nastiness and urgency to the admittedly well-constructed final chase.

 

Movie-Vault.com review   Ramsey

In retrospect, The Naked City is an odd piece of film noir. It contains few recognizable stars, was shot completely on location, and includes real people in supporting roles. As the film attempts to capture a certain street-level grittiness, there isn't much swank -- no burning Los Angeles elegance as in The Big Sleep or shadowy, old world decay as in The Third Man.

The film begins with some unvarnished and rather startling violence, when a women is coldheartedly murdered in the middle of the night on the Upper East Side. The case falls into the lap of Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald), a diminutive Irish homicide lieutenant with a sort of muddled amiability and clever wit that predates Columbo by nearly thirty years. Muldoon and his team of flatfoots doggedly pursue their investigation, following lead upon lead, reaching dead-ends, and getting lucky a time or two. It's all solid police procedural, and the nature of the plot will feel familiar if you've ever seen an episode of Law and Order. And like that program, the movie's not afraid to get up close and offer quiet, desperate moments as when a mother is faced with the prospect of identifying her daughter's corpse at the city morgue.

The standout is, of course, the cinematography, for which the film won an Academy Award. There's plane shots over the city that are simply breathtaking, especially a view of the Empire State Building clearly towering over mid-town. And there's sequences involving crowded Lower East Side streets, packed subways and 5th Avenue shops, not to mention a climax on the Brooklyn Bridge, all of it real, each moment filled with true New Yorkers fifty years gone. It's all the more impressive when you consider the lack of backscreen projection, dolly and steadicam work. This was an on-location movie made in an era in which production wizards routinely turned California backlots into the teeming streets of Morocco one week and the surface of Mars the next.

To its credit, The Naked City gave rise to a television show of the same name, and it's had an obvious influence on a score of police dramas, from Starsky and Hutch to Hill Street Blues and the aforementioned Law and Order (which owes some, if not all, of its existence to this film).

Granted, there's an intrusive, annoying voice-over narration done by none other than the film's producer, in an attempt to glue together some sloppy storytelling and editing during the opening. But The Naked City's daring approach to its photography, characters, casting, and ugly, thrilling climax, more than make up for it.

The real star of the picture is New York itself. The closing line, "There's eight million stories in the naked city, and this has been one of them," simultaneously demonstrates the conflicting, dual nature of the city. New Yorkers enjoy unique lives while living in a city so caught up with itself that it can, at times, give them a certain brutal anonymity. In the end, The Naked City captures the grandeur of the place while depicting its harsher realities in the same moments.

Turner Classic Movies review  Paul Tatara

"There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."

With that memorably stark declaration, producer Mark Hellinger closes one of the greatest film noirs of all time, Jules Dassin's The Naked City (1948). The picture itself is just as hard-edged as its narration, a groundbreaking detective story shot in raw documentary style amid the bridges and concrete canyons of New York City. Nowadays, this sort of location filming is commonplace, even on network TV. But Hellinger and Dassin were the first filmmakers to venture into the streets of the Big Apple to shoot a movie.

The Naked City opens in tawdry noir style, with the murder of a young model in her Manhattan apartment. We then follow the six-day investigation of her death, which is lead by straight-shooting Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) and Detective James Halloran (Don Taylor.) Their often mundane police work is interspersed with quick sequences about the private lives of the detectives and the day-to-day rumblings of New York City itself. The investigation will lead to a trio of men who may have wanted the woman dead, including Frank Niles (Howard Duff), a shady type who seems to be hiding something even when he spills his guts to the cops. The final foot chase across the upper reaches of the Williamsburg Bridge is a classic sequence that is helped immeasurably by cinematographer William Daniels' Oscar®-winning camera work.

No doubt about it - this is one great-looking movie. Dassin and Daniels delivered perhaps the most starkly realized movie of the 1940s. Hellinger intended the images to resemble tabloid newspaper photographs. But it was Dassin and Daniels who had the brilliant idea to shoot scenes with a camera that was hidden inside a van, behind a tinted window. That way, the cast could cover the sidewalks without passersby even knowing they were taking part in a movie! The results are a virtual time capsule of life in post-war New York City.

Dassin directed other memorable films in the same mold as The Naked City, including Brute Force (1947), Night and the City (1950), and Thieves' Highway (1949). But his career in Hollywood, like so many others, would be tragically cut short when he was blacklisted during the ruthless McCarthy-era witch hunts. Dassin took the fall rather than name names before the committee...unlike several of his closest friends, including actor Lee J. Cobb, director Elia Kazan, and playwright Clifford Odets. After moving to Europe to find film work, Dassin settled in Greece, a weary but idealistic man who later admitted to having been a member of the Communist Party, although he never aimed to espouse his beliefs in any of his pictures.

Nevertheless, even with Dassin at the helm, Hellinger is the most fascinating person connected to The Naked City. A quick scan of his biography reads like an elaborate, Damon Runyon-inspired put-on: His first job was as a reporter for a theatrical publication called, mysteriously enough, Zit's Weekly. During prohibition, he drank copious amount of brandy and wrote the first-ever Broadway column, a wildly popular slice-of-life called "About Town." He soon began dressing in his lifelong uniform of dark blue shirts and white ties. He was so generous with his money, people would line up on pay day and wait for him to slide bills into their hands. In 1926, he married a beautiful showgirl whose actual name was Gladys Glad. In 1931, he wrote sketches for the Ziegfeld show, Hot Cha. He successfully toured the vaudeville circuit as an actor for a year. He broadcast football games for Columbia University without knowing a single thing about football...It goes on like that for pages.

Eventually, Hellinger wrote a couple of books that got sold to the studios out in Hollywood. He then declared that he, too, would go to Hollywood, but not as a mere screenwriter- he wanted to produce movies, too. After a string of forgettable B-pictures, he insisted, in 1941, that Humphrey Bogart play the lead in his production of High Sierra. The film was an indisputable classic that made Bogart a major star. Later, Hellinger would produce The Killers (1946), which introduced the world to Burt Lancaster. It was around this time that Hellinger became good friends with Ernest Hemingway, the author of the short story on which The Killers was based.

Hellinger dropped dead from a heart attack in 1947, having lived just long enough to enjoy a successful preview of The Naked City. At long last, he finally got some sleep.

moviediva

 

not coming to a theater near you (Tom Huddleston) review

 

DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) dvd review [4/5] [Criterion Collection]  condensed version here:  Criterion Confessions

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review

 

filmcritic.com (Jake Euker) review [4/5]

 

Goatdog's Movies (Michael W. Phillips, Jr.) review [3.5/5]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3.5/5]

 

Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Jay Carr

 

DVD Verdict (James A. Stewart) dvd review [Criterion Collection]

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review

 

Ferdy on Films [Marilyn Ferdinand]

 

DVD In My Pants - Criterion Collection DVD Review  Jerry Donaghe

 

Reel.com DVD review [Jim Hemphill]

 

DVD Town (Christopher Long) dvd review

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 
THIEVES HIGHWAY
Great Britain  (94 mi)  1949

 

Time Out review

 

Jules Dassin's trendy reputation (and an awful lot of money) was made with Rififi, Never on Sunday and Topkapi - triumphant European success for a blacklisted Hollywood talent. But cultists groaned, for the 'real' Dassin was surely to be found in the baroque and electrifying Brute Force, the grotesquely Dickensian Night and the City, and - a personal favourite - Thieves' Highway. AI Bezzerides' script (from his own novel Thieves' Market) and the performances of Conte, Cobb, and Cortese (in her American debut) help restrain Dassin's feverish artistic ambitions in this tale of racketeering in the California fruit markets. The result slots sleazy eroticism and rigorous action seamlessly together into a high-grade trucking melo. Nothing more, but nothing less, which in the '40s was the most triumphant kind of American success.

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

While Thieves' Highway's superficially upbeat ending (reshot, against the filmmakers' wishes, by Fox chief Darryl Zanuck) might prevent it from being categorized as a genuine noir, Jules Dassin's 1949 melodrama about long-haul truckers—the director's final (and finest) film made in America before the House Un-American Committee exiled him to Europe—is nonetheless a bleak portrait of post-WWII despair, corrupt capitalism, and idealistic disillusionment. Nick (a sturdy Richard Conte) returns home from a stint overseas as a military mechanic with exotic Asian gifts for his mother, father, and fiancé, yet from the get-go, Dassin (working from They Drive By Night and Kiss Me Deadly scribe A.I. Bezzerides' script, based on his novel Thieves Market) layers this happy reunion with portentous signs of the nasty reality lurking beneath this cheery suburban facade.

In his family's sunny kitchen, Nick finds his bride-to-be Polly (Barbara Lawrence) disappointed with his china doll gift (until she spies the even-more expensive ring hanging from its arm) and his father legless due to an accident caused by underhanded San Francisco produce market kingpin Mike Figlia (a devious Lee J. Cobb, exuding small-time shadiness). Bent on exacting revenge, Nick teams up with Ed (Millard Mitchell), a trucker currently tending to his dad's rig, and the duo hatch a two-killings-for-the-price-of-one plan to travel to Frisco, where they can simultaneously deliver a truckload of sweet, highly coveted apples and dish out some bitter payback to the rotten Figlia.

With the exception of the opening scene and Ed's fatal hairpin turn on a winding highway, Dassin swathes Thieves' Highway's long-haul boys in claustrophobic compositions and menacing darkness, amplifying the sense of danger that hangs over Nick's head (whether it be the truck that collapses on his neck during an impromptu roadside pit stop or the axe hanging from the belt of Figlia's goon) and the air of doom that follows these desperate nomads as they hurtle through the night in their rickety rigs. Breakneck close-ups of speedometers and spinning tires create a propulsive sense of inevitability, while Italian prostitute (and Figlia crony) Rica's (Valentina Cortese) comment that Nick's bloody neck wound looks "beautiful" speaks to hers (and, later, Nick's) reconciliation with life's pain and disappointment. When Nick tells Rica—whose conniving smile initially says she wants to screw Nick in more than one way, but ultimately radiates authentic affection—that she looks like "chipped glass," she responds without a hint of surprise, "Do I? It took me a long time to get that way."

For Nick, however, it only takes the film's brutal 94 minutes to devolve from an enthusiastically optimistic ex-soldier—the misery of war already a fading memory—to a battle-scarred itinerant hardened by life's callous depravity. Although Dassin's film is less an anti-capitalist screed than a cynical portrait of revenge, betrayal, and dubious dealings, money is nonetheless an insidious force throughout Nick's ordeal, from Figlia's backhanded market manipulations to Polly's money-grubbing. Like pride and honor, love is also a commodity with a steep price in Thieves' Highway, and when Nick drives off into the sunset with Rica, his supposed triumph is colored by the fact that he's been forever corrupted by his vengeance, his newfound lust for wheeling and dealing, and the realization that the world—rather than full of pretty gifts and prettier girls—is a cheerless, degrading labyrinth of treacherous highways.

 

Reel.com DVD review [Pam Grady]

 

Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Jerry Stafford

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Nate Meyers) dvd review

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Barsanti) review [4/5]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [3/5]

 

DVD Talk (Bill Gibron) dvd review [4/5] [Criterion Collection]

 

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [4/4]

 

Being There Magazine [Nathan Williams]

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

 
NIGHT AND THE CITY                              A                     97

Great Britain  (101 mi)  1950

 

Time Out review  Tom Milne

 

Bizarre film noir with Widmark as a small time nightclub tout trying to hustle his way into the wrestling rackets, but finding himself the object of a murderous manhunt when his cons catch up with him. Set in a London through which Widmark spends much of his time dodging in dark alleyways, it attempts to present the city in neo-expressionist terms as a grotesque, terrifyingly anonymous trap. Fascinating, even though the stylised characterisations (like Francis L Sullivan's obesely outsized nightclub king) remain theoretically interesting rather than convincing. Inclined to go over the top, it all too clearly contains the seeds of Dassin's later - and disastrous - pretensions

 

Night And The City Movie Review (1950) from Channel 4 Film

 

Quality London noir starring Richard Widmark and directed by Jules Dassin. Highly atmospheric throughout, it follows an American scamster as he tries to get to the top of the wrestling underworld, with disastrous consequences for himself.

In 1950 American director Jules Dassin fled to Britain, afraid of being named on McCarthy's blacklist. There he made this undervalued thriller, which mixed moody noir with the more urgent style of documentary. There's much to appreciate in the ominous tone and strangely over-the-top performances of Night And The City.

 

Opening with a shot of American crook Harry Fabian (Widmark) sprinting down the street, the story follows his doomed attempt to gain control of London's lucrative wrestling scene. His key into this world is Greek fighter-promoter Kristo (Lom) but Harry's inability to play it straight means he ends up marked and alone.

Widmark actually spends a great deal of the film running away from things, both literally and metaphorically, and his nervous energy infects every scene. Dassin uses low camera angles to sweep through the gloomy streets and the wrestling sequence (featuring Lom and Mazurki) has a brutal power and beauty. A taut plot moves towards a conclusion that's both tense and tragic and though Dassin would go on to produce rather more ponderous fare, here he's bang on the mark throughout.

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

From its definitive title, which succinctly encapsulates the genre's fundamental gloominess and urbanity, to the inevitably cataclysmic end for its enterprising protagonist, Night and the City is no less than the archetypal film noir. Jules Dassin's 1950 masterpiece was his first movie after being exiled from America for alleged communist politics, and the unpleasant ordeal seems to have infused his work with a newfound resentment and pessimism, as the film—about foolhardy scam-artist Harry Fabian (Richard Widmark) and his ill-advised attempts to become a big shot—brims with anger, anxiousness, and a shocking dose of unadulterated hatred. Few films are as wholeheartedly bleak as Night and the City (sharply adapted from Gerald Kersh's novel by Jo Eisinger), which ignores typical noir elements (an intricate heist, a femme fatale of some dangerously sexy note) in favor of watching the wicked, weasel-like Fabian scamper about like a decapitated chicken that doesn't realize it's already dead. That such nihilistic nastiness is remotely entertaining is a tribute to Dassin's frantic, expressionistic portrait of London's sickly underworld and Richard Widmark's hysteria-laced performance. And even then, the fact that it's this breathlessly exhilarating is something of a small cinematic miracle.

Richard Widmark's sweaty, chaotic face—his eyes on the brink of popping out of their sockets, and his mouth a tight, humorless line that emits a cackle like the Riddler on speed—is a reservoir of self-loathing and agitated ambition, and the director shoots his star's maniacal mug in slashing shadows that suggest Fabian's delusional lack of self-awareness. A two-bit crook who dreams of a life of "ease and plenty," Fabian finds what he believes to be his ticket to the top when he persuades legendary Greco-Roman grappler Gregorius the Great (Stanislaus Zbyszko) to form a wrestling business aimed at toppling the phony pro-wrestling operation of crime boss (and Gregorius's son) Kristo (Herbert Lom). However, as the film's opening and closing scenes (set to Franz Waxman's throbbing, hot-blooded score) convey, Fabian is on the run not just from those he's screwed (a considerable segment of London's population), but also from the cold, hard truth that he's a minor-leaguer unfit for the lawbreaking big time. Fabian's loyal, upstanding girlfriend Mary (Gene Tierney) is told by her friend Adam (Hugh Marlowe), a wealthy artist and cook whose domesticity is a counterpoint to Fabian's juvenile, amateurish career of vice, that her boyfriend is "an artist without an art." Desperate to prove Adam wrong and validate his calling as a wheeler and dealer, yet completely incapable of honest self-analysis, Fabian commits noir's cardinal sin by striving to better his lot in life. The results, predictably, aren't pretty.

Only a year removed from the more traditional Thieves' Highway, Dassin's first production abroad is dripping with symbolism, from the constrictive staircases Widmark rapidly descends (indicative of the direction Fabian's schemes are headed) to the lethal wrestling match between Gregorius and The Strangler (a metaphor for the uselessness of Fabian's attempts at social climbing). Just like his anti-hero, the director is obsessed with "angles," as his frame doggedly circumscribes Fabian with astringent architecture and harrowing darkness while amplifying the mood of impending existential tragedy by refusing to present the character's face in full light. Meanwhile, Dassin's London is a malevolent urban nightmare, a tangled web of disorienting murkiness and dastardly double-crosses, and the metropolis's menacing enormity—just like ruthless Silver Fox club proprietor Phil's (Francis L. Sullivan) massive girth—forms a discordant visual and thematic contrast with Fabian's wiry, hyper-kinetic frame. "Harry, you coulda been anything," a despondent Mary sighs after her lover's foolproof plans have been torn asunder, but in truth, Fabian—a man who robs and abuses Mary and callously screws over Phil's untrustworthy entrepreneurial wife Helen (Googie Withers)—is fulfilling the only destiny he's got. A more apt summation of this vitriolic hustler comes courtesy of the acidic Kristo, who perceptively recognizes that Fabian was "born a hustler, and you'll die a hustler." Fabian is confined by—and doomed to perish in—the endless night and the wicked city, and thus when Mary, working in a swanky nightclub, sings, "Here's to tomorrow morning," the unromantic irony is enough to make one choke.

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Schager]

 

Film Noir of the Week  Geoff Mayer and Brian McDonnell, from Encyclopedia of Film Noir

 

Criterion Confessions [Jamie S. Rich]

 

filmcritic.com (Chris Barsanti) review [5/5]

 

Turner Classic Movies dvd review  Nathaniel Thompson

 

Reel.com DVD review [Pam Grady]

 

Electric Sheep Magazine  Pat Long

 

DVD Verdict (Rob Lineberger) dvd review [Criterion Collection]

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [4/5]

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jon Danziger) dvd review

 

Epinions - Macresarf1 Review

 

Rob Crawford retrospective

 

The Spinning Image (Mark Dellar) review

 

Epinions DVD review [Stephen O. Murray]

 

Eye for Film (Angus Wolfe Murray) review [4/5]

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

DVD Talk (David Walker) dvd review [4/5]

 

Turner Classic Movies review

 

New York Sun [Gary Giddins]  also reviewing 3 other Criterion crime films

 

The Village Voice [Jim Ridley]   A Tribute for Richard Widmark, August 19, 2008

 

Austin Chronicle [Jerry Renshaw]

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

 

DVDBeaver.com [Gary W. Tooze]

 
RIFIFI (Du rififi chez les homes)                          A                     98
France  (116 mi)  1955

 

Time Out review  Geoff Andrew

 

Archetypal heist thriller, with a group of thieves banding together for a daring jewel robbery and falling out afterwards. Highly acclaimed for the 35-minute robbery sequence, conducted without a word being spoken, and for the generally downbeat atmosphere, it's actually rather overrated, lacking the tension, profundity, and vivid characterisation of similar films by, say, Becker and Melville. Like even the best of Dassin's work, in fact, it never penetrates beneath its fashionable, self-conscious surface.

 

Guardian/Observer review  Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian

 

Jules Dassin's classic jewel-thief caper of 1955 looks as smart as paint, with its unendurably tense, entirely wordless robbery section, and its beautifully constructed payoff in the final act, built on failures to communicate superseded by the cellphone age. In fact, the whole robbery is from a low-tech, even pre-tech era, larceny on a human scale, hinging simply on spraying fire-extinguisher fluid into an alarm-grille, which somehow makes it more real and more exciting.

 

As ex-con Tony, Jean Servais has a tremendously cold and haggard look (Ray Milland is the nearest Hollywood equivalent I can think of). And he has a very gamey sadism scene when Tony orders his duplicitous mistress to strip naked, starting with her mink and jewellery, and then lashes her with his belt, a punishment to which she loyally, even lovingly submits. (Can you see George Clooney trying it with Julia Roberts in Ocean's Eleven 2?) The desperadoes with their guns and girls careering from dusk to dawn about the monochrome Parisian streetscapes prefigure A Bout de Souffle and Les Quatre Cents Coups, movies in whose company Rififi doesn't disgrace itself. A diamond.

 

Brilliant Observations on 1173 Films [Clayton Trapp]

 

Jules Dassin's brilliant depiction of betrayal, revenge, redemption without joy, and irony. Jules, having been run out of the land of the free on political grounds, knew something of each. Auguste Le Breton pitched in on the script based upon his novel, but it's probably fair to say that the latter work was coloured as a Dassin statement. And it is. It's difficult to imagine a more comprehensive two-hour indictment of capitalism; it even corrupts the criminals! As a secondary concern it then turns out that the film is an utter technical masterpiece. The realism that already characterized Dassin's better work is brought to critical mass in the famous 28 minute robbery, a scene delivered without any dialogue or music. The next thing is that when the music returns, when cinematic devices return, Dassin/Breton sustain the horriffic level of suspense through to the darkest comedy of a conclusion; so dark that it's not even funny. It is not, of course, supposed to be. There may be something humorous about a talented artist giving American fascists the finger, and then being welcomed with an enormous budget and all of the cinematic talent in France (and England, and Italy, and Switzerland, and Greece)...but, it's really not funny. Jules got the performances that he both deserved and demanded from Jean Servais, Carl Mohner, Robert Manuel, Janine Darcey, Pierre Grasset, and Marie Sabouret. Dassin himself (billed as Perlo Vita) portrays a safecracker who folds under pressure and names names, and is then sadly, but summarily, executed by Servais. The reality behind the film is the legacy of Dassin executing that of Edward Dmytryk. Dassin lays the foundation for Dylan's law of gangsterism ("to live outside the law/you must be honest"), by demonstrating that to live outside the law you must live outside the law, and all that entails. It's a world that Dassin knows something about. It's a dark world inhabited by innumerable spirits of attractively evil undercurrents. And he says that money is the only one.

 

Big House Film (Roger Westcombe) review

As a French production made by an American movie veteran, Rififi forges a world where the Hays Code of censorship never existed and Hollywood’s robust showmanship wasn’t forced to reconcile itself to America’s Puritanism.

Classic Hollywood filmmaking language, especially its tabloid-pulp side street of film noir, is both unmistakable yet impossible to imitate. That is, unless you don’t need to imitate, being a veteran of the system. Jules Dassin had been making tough, politically-conscious dramas of men under pressure since 1942, before HUAC red-baiting forced him into blacklist exile during the fifties. After years in European limbo, his Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes created a fusion of Hollywood filmmaking language with enlightened European sensibility that, for such a potent combination, has never been surpassed.

What director Jean-Pierre Melville synthesised from the French side (witness his bar in Le Doulos based on American models never seen in a French setting), Dassin conjures up from the perspective of the left-hand side of the Atlantic with his Hollywood nightclub architecture, echoing to the strains of doleful Parisian blues in Rififi. Here a chanteuse sings the film’s eponymous song, and gives us some clues as to its elusive meaning: "slugging it out" is one which, in context, may mean rough love play, but ultimately its point is its very unknowability to all but the initiates – the ‘gang’.

We know we’re moving into a different cinematic world in the key confrontation scene that comes early between wronged gangster ‘the Stephanois’ (Belgian actor Jean Servais) and his ex-squeeze, Mado (Marie Sabouret), who betrayed him to police. He demands compensation through taking her jewellery and, as she sheds the baubles, his next demand - for her coat - turns power to eroticism, brought home as she continues to shed… Nothing is seen, all is suggested, but it’s a vengeful, domineering (and hence political) assault that wouldn’t even have reached American censors, let alone been passed by them. Coming after the familiarity and comfort of the Hollywood cinematic style Rififi uses, in which Hays Code morality has always been embedded, it’s a shock. That the flesh isn’t always seen sadistically is immediately realised in the following playful bath scene featuring a buxom soapfight – something equally as foreign to Classical Hollywood style. "Go warm up the bed", is this scene’s closing dialogue.

Sex rears its head again as the gang members bid farewell to their loved ones before the heist through erogenous touching in scenes that have a truth in them that can’t be denied, yet would never have been contemplated in 1950s Hollywood. Then immediately after this, strident heraldic music - very Hollywood – presages the ‘job’. In this way Rififi essays a constant dialectic between two worlds of representation: European sensibility and American showbiz. By conducting this conversation single-handedly, in this one film can be experienced the ‘cross-examination’ between Europe and America that was French noir.

Music plays a big part, especially for a film famed for its ‘silence’, in Americanising Rififi. We are unknowingly prepared for the unvoiced drama to come when seeing the heist’s foundations being carefully laid - in a montage of mime! This extraordinary sequence of preparation is driven by breathless music – even the safecracker (played by Dassin himself) is seen as a cash-paying jewellery customer – completely sans dialogue. How very French this must have seemed from an American point of view. It’s a short but lovely sequence – no wonder we are barracking for the crooks!

The ‘silence’ of the fabled heist sequence glides in imperceptibly; it’s almost an elision. This setpiece is choreographed to perfection – it’s a ballet of teamwork, camaraderie and cunning, building inexorably without a wasted moment. And because it’s character-driven, it grows organically out of the narrative of gangland connectivity, rather than being dropped in with bookends as in later copies of this sequence like The Hot Rock (1972) and Dassin’s own, regrettable reprise, Topkapi (1964). Rififi ‘s famed sequence remains legendary not because it was first but because of its humanity, all eye contact, frailties and egos in full flight.

As the gang members’ nerves stretch tauter, the shadows steadily deepen, the camera angles skewing more rakishly off level. But it’s the ever-present sound that drives our tension – grinding saws, stepping feet, breathing bodies – we’re there! (Talk about mime!)

Stunning cinematography by Philipe Agostini (who also shot 1939’s Le Jour Se Lève) has echoes of The Third Man in its rococo noir: European wedding-cake architecture dramatised in destabilising fields of light and acute, ink-black voids. Attention to detail comes in their leader smoking at the crime scene but holding on to the match – forensics won’t get any breaks from these guys!

The ultimate putdown of police is their near-total absence (as it’s gangsters who initiate and make the running on ‘investigations’) which, like Fritz Lang’s M (1931), implies a lawlessness closer to jungle rule than constitutional – an unsurprising view for someone like Dassin hounded from their country by the kangaroo court of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).

Who can blame Dassin for running a dialectic between Hollywood and Europe? It’s the arc of his life and career after HUAC forced him into exile. In the film the escalating capacity of the state-of-the-art alarm systems they must outwit comes to stand for ‘progress’ as the real world sees it, the ‘overground’ that is the flipside of the underworld we’ve come to love through these sympathetic characters. Rififi makes its subversive point with subtlety.

The final death ride, in a ‘49 Oldsmobile ragtop (almost certainly the director’s personal ride), with the rescued boy in his cowboy suit enjoying his toy pistol waving shenanigans, oblivious to the dying gangster at the wheel, mocks the American tough guy aesthetic. Its stunning visual design has a subtlety and economy that leaves the Hays Code ‘crime must not be seen to pay’ admonitions standing exposed for their artlessness. But at the climax there is also a moment of paternal tenderness, recalling the fadeout of the American noir classic Double Indemnity (1944) in which Edward G.Robinson cradles the dying Fred MacMurray. It ties together two works of a mutually reinforcing canon, of which Rififi may be one of its ultimate distillations.

CINEASTE  Paul Arthur

 

Alternative Film Guide [Doug Johnson]

 

Bands of Outsiders - Movies - Village Voicepage 1 - Village Voice  J. Hoberman

 

Images (David Ng) review

 

culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti review  Tom Block

 

The Digital Bits dvd review [Criterion Collection]  Todd Doogan

 

moviediva

 

Q Network Film Desk (James Kendrick) dvd review [4/5]

 

VideoVista review  Debbie Moon

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

 

Criterion Confessions [Jamie S. Rich]

 

Vern's review

 

Epinions [metalluk]

 

DVD Savant (Glenn Erickson) dvd review

 

digitallyOBSESSED.com (Jeff Ulmer) dvd review

 

Combustible Celluloid (Jeffrey M. Anderson) review

 

DVD Verdict (Barrie Maxwell) dvd review [Criterion Collection]

 

eFilmCritic.com (David Cornelius) review [5/5]

 

James Bowman review

 

Goatdog's Movies (Michael W. Phillips, Jr.) review [4.5/5]

 

Reel.com DVD review [Juliet Clark]

 

DVD Town (Yunda Eddie Feng) dvd review

 

hybridmagazine.com review  Jonpaul Guinn

 

CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) review

 

TV Guide Entertainment Network, Movie Guide review [5/5]

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer review  William Arnold

 

Philadelphia City Paper (Sam Adams) review

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Bosley Crowther) review

 

DVDBeaver dvd review   Gary W. Tooze

 

NEVER ON SUNDAY (Pote tin Kyriaki)

Greece  (91 mi)  1960

 

Never on Sunday Movie Review (1960) from Channel 4 Film
 
Utterly delightful comedy that is like a winning blend of Pygmalion and Pretty Woman. Dassin is the American scholar who comes to Greece, meets Mercouri's uncouth prostitute and offers to spend the next fortnight educating her in the finer aspects of her country's culture - but will she rise to the challenge? Just as memorable for its Oscar-winning soundtrack as it is for Mercouri's hooker with a heart - a truly unique creation.

 

Time Out review

 

Ilya is the happy hooker of Piraeus. Her clients are all shy and handsome, her circle of friends and lovers innocent of jealousy or ill will. Along comes earnest American Homer who tries to reform Ilya's morals and introduce her to Culture. By the end, of course, he's swigging ouzo and smashing crockery with the rest of them. You can see how this might have felt joyful and liberating to audiences coming out of the uptight '50s. Decades on, the relentless Grecian gusto is wearing, and rangy, gravel-voiced Mercouri is a very specialised sort of sex goddess. But in its favour is Hadjidakis' foot-tapping music and Dassin's ploy of shooting this rosiest of fantasies like a gritty documentary.

 

Turner Classic Movies review  Frank Miller

 

The Greek film industry took center stage in 1960 with the release of the off-beat romantic comedy, Never on Sunday. The film led to increases in tourism and location shooting there. But not only was it the product of an American writer-director's imagination, but it was even resented by many in its country of origin.

Never on Sunday was the brainchild of American expatriate Jules Dassin. After a promising start in Hollywood as director of such acclaimed film noirs as Brute Force (1947) and The Naked City (1948), Dassin had been subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities because of his liberal politics. Because he was busy directing a play, he received a postponement, only to discover that he had been blacklisted without ever having testified. Unable to work in the U.S., he fled to Europe, where he scored an international hit in 1955 with the caper film Rififi.

Eventually, he settled in Greece, where he fell in love with actress Melina Mercouri after casting her in his religious allegory He Who Must Die (1957). Wanting to boost both his own career and hers, he set out to create a vehicle for her that would capture the international market. The result was Never on Sunday, the comic romance of an American tourist (Dassin) who sets out to reform a small-town prostitute (Mercouri) only to make her miserable. In an effort to assure the film's U.S. success, he even wrote most of the scenes in English, using the tourist's ignorance of the Greek language as an excuse.

With no major producers interested in the project initially, Dassin kept his budget low, a mere $125,000, which adjusted for inflation still comes out to less than a million in current dollars. One clever move on his part was assigning the music score to Manos Hadjidakis, a Greek composer noted for his work in developing new forms for the traditional instrument, the bazouki.

The result was a huge hit. With Hadjidakis' score and hit title song selling records, the film went on to gross almost $4 million in the U.S. alone, despite -- or maybe because of -- the fact that it was condemned by the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency. When Atlanta's local censor tried to ban the film, the distributor, United Artists, had the decision reversed in the courts, marking one of the first successful challenges of the city's censorship law.

Moreover, the film scored well with critics. Mercouri won Best Actress honors at the Cannes Film Festival, and the picture picked up five Oscar® nominations: Best Actress, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Costumes and Best Song. That was when the real controversy started. Many Hollywood old-timers were appalled that any foreign film, much less one showing a positive view of prostitution, should knock more wholesome American fare out of the running. In a year marked by some embarrassingly blatant campaigns for the Oscar®, Mercouri made headlines when she refused to heed United Artists executives who urged her to fight for the award. She complained to newspaper columnist Art Buchwald, "I'm not a Kennedy. I'm an actress, not a politician. What do they want me to do -- ring doorbells in Beverly Hills??" With Elizabeth Taylor a shoo-in for Butterfield 8 (1960) after her near death from pneumonia, Mercouri and Dassin decided to wait out the awards in Paris.

There also were complaints about Hadjidakis's nomination for the title song. Some pointed out that the song had achieved its greatest popularity with an English lyric by Billy Towne, who was not eligible for the award since his version was not the one heard in the film. Others complained that Hadjidakis had stolen his melody from a Greek folk song. Nonetheless, on Oscar® night, he came out the film's only winner. Even then there were problems. Through a communications snafu, Hadjidakis was not there, nor had French producer Raoul J. Levy been notified that he had been asked to accept any of the film's Academy Awards®. When Steve