Directors: 

Philippe Garrel, Ernie Gehr, Ritwik Ghatak, Terry Gilliam, Amos Gitai, Jean-Luc Godard, Miguel Gomes, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Keith Gordon, James Gray, David Gordon Green, Peter Greenaway, D.W. Griffith

 

 

Gabbert, Laura

 

SUNSET STORY                                        B+                   92

USA  (73 mi)  2003

 

Ever want to learn about aging?  This is a startlingly realistic film about life in a retirement home, but not just any home.  This Los Angeles retirement home caters to political radicals, artists, and old-school leftists, where “free-thinking” discussions groups are held on a regular basis, where you get to know your neighbors by knowing what views they hold.  This film provides two perfect good-will ambassadors on the subject of aging, Lucille is 95, a former social worker with degrees from the University of Chicago who walks with a cane and is sharp as a tack, with a wonderful dry wit that’s likely to slip right by if you’re not paying attention, while Irja is 81, a former special ed teacher in a wheelchair, but with enthusiasm to burn, who maintains her social activism by attending demonstrations.  The two befriended one another immediately, and are seen together everywhere, with Lucille and her cane slowly pushing Irja down the halls in her wheelchair.  At the home they sing union songs, do various aerobic exercises to gentle harp music, and hold activity meetings to make sure everyone stays involved, including rambling or incoherent Alzheimer patients.  Of interest to me were the visits from the family, who seemed so out of place in this world, who had no idea just how lucid these women actually were, as they repeated tired old family stories that have probably been told dozens of times or more, where the thought of spontaneity never occurred to them.  But this film gives us, the viewer, plenty of insights into aging gracefully by allowing us into this close-knit friendship, by seeing them in their own environment, which is certainly not perfect, but one makes adjustments while complaining about the food, sometimes directly to the cook.  “Why doesn’t somebody put up a help wanted sign for a new cook?” “Is it too much to ask to throw a baked potato in the oven?  They don’t even have to cook it, just stick it in the oven for us.” “We haven’t had fresh peaches all summer.”  “And they never even heard of a tangerine.”  There was a beautiful sequence where one of the residents started playing the piano, and chose a funeral dirge, which was at first hilarious, but as it played on in perfect form, we began to see how significant a role death plays in these people’s lives.  It’s always difficult facing death, but these women have outlived most of the friends in their lives, which is why they cling so closely to one another.  It’s a marvel to see them joke about their respective religions, or lack thereof.  It’s a treat to see, with plenty of laughs and tears, in an uncommonly good portrait of living life in its final stages.   

 

Gaghan, Stephen

 

SYRIANA                                                      B                     86

USA  (126 mi)  2005

 

Loosely based on a fictionalized account of former CIA operative Robert Baer’s personal memoirs published in 2002 called “See No Evil,” which suggested the CIA was pulling agents from the field who might otherwise have prevented the September 11th attacks, also a later book by Baer called “Sleeping with the Devil,” which suggests the oil companies are subverting the national interests, which is more in line with the subject of this film.  This is a fairly standard, liberal-minded film that attempts to provoke, using topical political intrigue du jour, surrounded in murky business dealings of Saudi emirs and American big oil conglomerates, all somehow tied into the CIA just for good measure, which is seemingly working both sides of the fence, which includes, among other things, political assassination, emir rivalry to the throne, coup attempts exacerbated by American expertise, terrorist religious training, acts of terrorism, bungled CIA operations, huge doses of oil company bribery in order to win drilling rights as well as selling out some of their own personnel to the Justice department in order to continue their oil operations unhindered, or even the CIA selling out some of their own personnel, abandoning them in the field, in order to continue their operations unhindered.  This trite and utterly predictable subject matter, revealing what any of us who reads the newspapers already knows, never rising beyond the typical touch base of the liberal wing, putting a famous Hollywood face on every non-Arab speaking role, and pretty much showing us the world as they see it, which is a far cry from the way it is.  Can you imagine the guys in the boardroom speaking this way?  The writer has no idea what they may say behind closed doors, but he presents his story in small episodes, each connected to other episodes all happening around the globe, a veritable travelogue of mergers, cover ups and power grabs filmed in Morocco, Dubai, Geneva, Switzerland, as well as Washington, DC, wonderful exotic locations all. 

 
While the film stars a pudgy George Clooney as the betrayed and all but ignored CIA agent, Matt Damon as the whiz kid American financial wizard who becomes a consultant to one of the emirs, pitted against his elder brother who is heir to the throne, Amanda Peet as his unhappy wife who voices her displeasure with his brazen opportunism, Chris Cooper as a conniving oil executive, Christopher Plummer, smooth as a snake, as a big wig oil tycoon, an attorney who operates both inside and outside the law, protected by an international who’s who of politically connected people, all designed to grease the wheels of big oil expansion, who hires Jeffrey Wright as a corporate intergovernmental legal analyst who is able to expose and uncover dubious financial transactions happening around the globe and identify the perpetrators who may be in violation of some obscure American law that will apply only to those individuals whose companies are willing to give them up in behind the scenes bargaining with the government, all so the industry can be left alone and protected by the very laws that are used to prosecute others.  While it sounds dark and murky, it’s only a superficial glance at real life, much too predictable to be real, but Gaghan is the Oscar winning screenplay writer of TRAFFIC, a much better film in a much better film director’s hands.  It’s appalling that anyone would consider this the best film of the year. 

 

Syriana (Stephen Gaghan, 2005)  Eric Henderson from When Canses Were Classeled

 

Stephen Gaghan was probably the best choice to direct a screenplay by Stephen Gaghan, given just how in love with his own words he is. Like Traffic, the muckraking Big Oil patchwork Syriana is impressive in the scope of its detail, but numbing in its sustained insistence on dangling your complete grasp on the overall thrust of events just out of reach. You know which characters fall on which side of the valiant/nefarious continuum (or, in the Gulf scenes, the victimized/blackmailed continuum), but you never fully know to what extent they intend to demonstrate their moral alignment. And, to be sure, most of the characters only exist to demonstrate moral alignments. Gaghan is devoted to screenplays that function as schematic maps and dialogue that infotains with the lingo of confidential memos and corporatespeak. Occasionally he panders to the base, sensationalistic element probably required to keep anyone in the audience who doesn’t subscribe to the National Review at attention. I’m not just talking about the much publicized scene where George Clooney’s C.I.A. operative is strapped to a desk while a double-crossing Middle Eastern contact rips his fingernails out one by one, but also the D.C. Cliffs Notes bridging sequence where Tim Blake Nelson shouts from the enlightened heavens to Jeffrey Wright’s sneaky, whistle-blowing lawyer a very Paddy Chayefsky tirade about how “this whole town, the entire government was built off of corruption!” But mostly each half-scene begins when a messenger enters a room to notify their boss of some important international development, or that they’ve been summoned to a luxurious, intercontinental diplomats’ pool party, or, again back in the Gulf scenes revolving around a disillusioned youth’s drift towards Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, how you can’t get a job at the oil barracks unless you learn to speak Arabic. Gaghan’s subject matter is undeniably heady, and his commitment to remain completely syrianous is to be commended. But, from a pedagogical standpoint, it’s a tad difficult to take much away from it other than that you, yes you, are insignificant in the grand scheme of the world’s system of corporate alliances, and can’t possible comprehend its structure. What Gaghan has yet to demonstrate is an understanding that movies aren’t steno pads.

 

Syriana   Ryan Gilbey from Sight and Sound

 

My interview with cinematographer Robert Elswit  Bryant Frazer from Film & Video

 

Reel Bad Arabs:  How Hollywood Vilifies a People, by Jack G. Shaheen, book review by Christian Blauvelt from Jump Cut, Spring 2008

 

Gallo, Vincent

 

BUFFALO ’66                                              C+                   79

USA  (110 mi)  1998

 

Another men behaving badly movie – my thought was that men have to stop acting this way, which means accepting this as valid art instead of a male masturbation film all dressed up in some interesting cinematic gimmickry.  This confirms every stereotype of a pretentious, self-indulgent male ego and is another “let me tell you my troubles for two hours” movie, the high point being the adolescent male fantasy of capturing a scantily clad, pretty young girl who, despite all this guy’s mad ravings and despite the fact the guy is such a loser, decides she loves him.  What are the odds, and what do we learn from all this?  And why are we watching this? 

 

The supposed story:  Billy, Vincent Gallo, born in Buffalo in 1966, is released from prison after serving 5 years for a crime he didn’t commit, for losing a $10,000 bet on his mom’s (Angelica Huston) favorite team, the Buffalo Bills, who lost in the last seconds when they missed a 51-yard field goal.  Without money upfront, Billy makes a deal with his bookie (Mickey Rourke) to serve someone else’s prison time, but also vows to kill that field goal kicker who now runs a strip club in Buffalo.  Along the way, he has invented an elaborate scheme to deceive his parents, claiming he is always out of town on a government job and happily married.  This forces him to kidnap the scantily clad Christina Ricci from her tap-dancing class, threatening to kill her if she doesn’t act nice in front of his parents acting to be his wife, all the while just biding his time until he can carry out his assassination of the field goal kicker, that is, until he realizes the source of all his aggravation, reality.  In the end, he decides not to kill the kicker, avoiding reality, giving in to his fantasy and calling it true love ways.  

 

This is a male fantasy in the form of self-indulgence and self-wallowing.  Actually she doesn’t decide anything in this film, though in the end we are led to believe she does.  She is simply his fantasy, a figment of his imagination, where she will do anything he wants her to do.  Billy is a prisoner at the start of the film and remains a prisoner at the end, the victim of his own self-loathing that never ceases.  Nothing gets resolved at the end as he is dealing only with himself.  This is not love, this is not transformation – the fantasy continues.  Rather than put that place kicker to rest, Billy needs to put that fantasy to rest, as without this girl, he has no life at all.  A few scenes of interest:  the family only had one photograph of their son Billy, Ben Gazzara (his father) lip-synching the song Fools Rush In to an adoring Christina Ricci, discovering over the end credits that it’s really Vincent Gallo’s father singing, Christina Ricci doing a tap-dance fantasia in a bowling alley, complete with a spotlight, the quick photo booth scene, only because she is so interesting, as he just ignores her, where she is such a contrast to the time the film spends on him, where they take a bath together but he leaves his clothes on, afraid she might touch him, and finally the ceiling shot of the couple in bed together, where he lies like a corpse frozen on one side of the bed, with brief snapshots of where he at least is looking at her, then barely touching, before he buries his head in her chest.  From this, they supposedly fall in love.  There may be a good ten minute short film in this material, but the rest is immersed in words which were endlessly self-indulgent and pathetic to watch.  An antidote to having to watch this film would be watching the John Cassavetes film MINNIE AND MOSKOWITZ (1971), which is a million times cleverer and always interesting. 

 

THE BROWN BUNNY                               B-                    80

USA  (90 mi)  2003

 

A near wordless road film about a wayward loner who drives across the country, absorbed in his mournful thoughts.  Along the way, he seeks female companionship from equally sad and lonely women, potentially setting up a torrid scene of emotional vulnerability where all hell breaks loose or something meaningful is discovered – a potential that is never realized.  But the problem is the writer, director, and actor himself, as he is such a loathsome figure.  The interest here is in the road scenes, some accompanied by the lonely sounds of troubadours, a lone man or woman and an acoustic guitar singing self-absorbed folk songs, which, believe it or not, reminded me of STAR TREK, where they used music like that to establish moods.  Here, it is the same, though the camera’s probing eye is much more interesting, particularly the soft jazz of “Tears for Dolphy” by Ted Curson accompanying the wipers in the night fading to black, or his motorbike in the white Utah Salt Flats off in the distance fading to white, creating some abstract and surreal moments.  I liked the Vegas sequences, as he is literally going around in circles.  But when he arrives in Los Angeles and confronts the source of his morbidity, despite the best efforts of Chloë Sevigny, who never looked more radiant in those illuminated close ups, and who I think wonderfully underplays her scenes, Vince just can’t carry the goods.  He resorts to self-pity and a morose helplessness that just feels pathetic.  Despite an openly graphic sex scene with Sevigny which displays plenty of moodiness and isolation, when he finally talks, attempting to establish a sense of desperation, he retreats into this little baby voice that sounds like the cartoonish Little Bill, revealing a man who is just a boy, who is looking for a mommy to baby him, who is so self-absorbed in his own weird adolescence that he’s really of little interest to the rest of us.  This film needed a different leading actor.
 
"He's a destroyed soul, he will continue to act out until he peters out and dies. There's no epiphany, no catharsis, no awakening."
Vincent Gallo on The Brown Bunny
 

The Brown Bunny  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

It's hard to understand how anyone could declare this the worst film of any festival, in any form.  Gallo's study of wounded masculinity may be narcissistic, but it is analytically so. (Many reviews have chuckled at the fact that the women are all named for flowers, but no one that I'm aware of has noted that he's called "Bud." "To Daisy from Bud" would be a spot-on alternate title.) I could go on and on about the beauty, formal control, sound design, and deliberately anti-naturalistic performances, and I will at a later date. But the truly amazing achievement here is that Gallo has yoked two incompatible modes of meaning-making. Stylistically, the film adheres to festival-approved, Bazinian-inflected neo-modernism. But within this structure, there is an engagement with schmaltz, sentiment, and lowbrow pathos, one which never for a moment condescends. Gallo is talking about how most of us process our pain. I hate to say it, but maybe only a conservative Republican was capable of making such an honest paean to mourning in America.

Journeys   David Denby from the New Yorker

 

Vincent Gallo, a downtown New York artist active since the early eighties as a musician, photographer, painter, model, actor, and filmmaker, has a face like a rusty hatchet (needle nose, scraggly beard), damp inky hair, and an unnerving stare. In “Buffalo ’66” (1998), the first feature-length movie Gallo directed, he plays a recently released con looking for a place to pee. After finding it, he picks up a willing teen-ager (Christina Ricci), but, instead of having sex with her, takes her to visit his nasty parents—a new low in the history of perversity. The movie’s prickly, vagrant humor was odd and unsatisfying. “Buffalo ’66” withheld much more than it communicated, and, fairly or not, I came out of it believing that Gallo, who also co-wrote the movie, was very similar in temperament to the scary, enraged character onscreen, who radiated sexual energy but couldn’t bear to be touched. Bud Clay, the character Gallo plays in his new movie, “The Brown Bunny,” can’t stand being touched, either. After losing a motorcycle race in New Hampshire, Bud wheels his Honda RS 250 into a black van and begins a cross-country trek home to Los Angeles, where he plans to hook up with an old girlfriend, Daisy (Chloë Sevigny). Much of the movie plays in silence, or near silence, as Bud—a romantic loner unconsciously passing across heroic American landscapes—journeys through plains, mountains, and sunset-red skies. Now and then, Bud reaches out to women: a teen-ager working at a gas station; a wordless, disconsolate beauty (Cheryl Tiegs) sitting at a roadside rest stop; a friendly young prostitute in Las Vegas. All these women find him irresistible, but he walks away from them. This loner is enshrouded in the mystery of his suffering and self-denial.

Gallo has a talent for bristling self-promotion; last year, after Roger Ebert made a negative judgment on an early version of “The Brown Bunny,” Gallo issued a fatwa against Ebert’s prostate. Lunatic hauteur like this demands self-sufficiency, and Gallo disdains the notion of influences on his work, although in “The Brown Bunny” anyone can see motifs and moods derived from the American road movies of the late sixties and early seventies, as well as from Antonioni’s distanced emotional funks. There’s also a hint of Andy Warhol’s experiments in minimalism, although Gallo’s movies are not careless and disposable in the film-a-day style of the Warhol Factory. Gallo has also made it clear that he loathes the collaborative apparatus of film work—union crews, stars, producers, and the like—but he appears to enjoy the basic process of filmmaking, and he labors hard to get a certain look. For “The Brown Bunny,” he loaded three crew members and his equipment into Bud’s black van—which was not only a rolling prop in the movie but also the production’s sole means of transportation—and shot most of the movie himself. Much of the time he is positioned to the far left or the far right of the frame, or he is seen from the rear—a striking image of dissociation produced, in part, by his desire to watch himself acting on a pair of monitors that are placed outside camera range. The movie was shot on sixteen-millimetre film, which, when blown up to thirty-five millimetres, yields a slightly soft-focus look, a punk-lyrical aesthetic of beauty struggling to emerge from the chrysalis of ugliness. The camera is perched over Bud’s shoulder as he drives, and we see the road markers endlessly approaching and disappearing, and the landscapes falling away—the bluesy visions, half monotonous, half mesmerizing, of an insomniac driving beyond need, or reason, into the sunset. The movie, in its surly way, casts a spell.

Bud eventually arrives in Los Angeles, where, in a now notorious scene, he is fellated by Daisy in a motel room. As the scene was being shot, Gallo, consistent in his methods, watched himself and Chloë Sevigny perform on monitors; the moment, I suppose, reaches a new extreme in directorial narcissism (Fellini may have dreamed of such a thing, but he didn’t actually shoot it). For the record, the blow job is too distanced and oddly framed to be pornographic, and, placed at the end of the movie as it is, it actually makes dramatic sense. “The Brown Bunny” is one of those movies that work retrospectively: the final scene pulls the film together, explaining and justifying Bud’s misery and his earlier inability to respond to women. In brief, “The Brown Bunny,” however antagonistic and borderline tedious, is an art work of sorts, and Gallo himself, though an egomaniac of staggering solemnity—a priest of art longing for a cult—is not a fake. An obsessed filmmaker like this is faintly reminiscent, at least in temperament, of such figures as Rimbaud and van Gogh and the hero-martyrs of sixties underground filmmaking. Will he last? Can he “grow”? The signs are not good. By resisting collaboration in a collaborative medium, Gallo has limited himself to the most proudly solipsistic subjects. The lonely-guy-on-the-road movie may be one of the few kinds of movies anyone could make essentially on his own, and no one, I would guess, is longing for sequels set in motels and rowboats.

The Brown Bunny (2003)  Bryant Frazer from Deep Focus

“If people are sitting there watching The Brown Bunny and waiting for the motel scene, then I just can’t relate to them,” says Vincent Gallo, who directed himself in a “motel scene” where he receives head from Chloë Sevigny. “Maybe I was being idealistic or possibly insane, but I didn’t think people would concentrate so much on the sex scene,” says Sevigny of her own performance. Those quotes are from the press kit, in which both Gallo and Sevigny profess surprise that the inclusion of a hardcore sex scene in an otherwise understated indie film would draw a certain prurient interest from the press corps. It would be impossible to credit these two pros with this level of naivete — if you don’t want to draw attention to a scene, it’s probably a good idea not to have your lead actress fellating you in close-up in that scene — if the film itself weren’t such a heartbreaker. The Brown Bunny is intimate enough, and Gallo’s own performance is so naked and fearless, that it’s just barely possible to believe that he’s nutty enough to have expected viewers to engage with it fully and react to it with measured thoughtfulness.

These days, there’s a real sexual conservatism in American film, with stuff like The Cooler fetching an NC-17 from the ratings board and relatively high-minded fare like The Dreamers in real danger of going unreleased at all in the U.S. due to copious amounts of nudity. A few weeks ago, we even had news stories about the bedlam that apparently erupted when Colin Farrell's penis appeared at test screenings of A Home at the End of the World. (What is wrong with these people?) The directors pushing the boundaries of real representations of sex in mainstream film — including Catherine Breillat, Patrice Chéreau and Michael Winterbottom — haven’t been from the U.S. So Gallo, a self-proclaimed political conservative, is a trailblazer for the stateside market. If that seems like a contradiction, it’s just one of many. He’s a vituperative opponent in a debate who famously (and publicly) wished cancer on Roger Ebert, but in interviews he often comes across as a fragile, mild-tempered artist groping for acceptance and understanding from an audience. He cultivates a scraggly, creepy-eyed image as the screen-filling star of his own pictures, but then he spends several minutes of screen time in his latest film crying like a little baby, evincing a complete lack of self-consciousness. On the evidence here, I can’t call his sincerity into doubt.

To make The Brown Bunny, Gallo loaded his vintage production package into a black van and started driving cross-country from New Hampshire to Los Angeles, picking up scripted scenes along the way with a couple of 16mm cameras. He claims never to have had more than three people traveling with him, presumably including the two camera operators and gaffer cited in the credits, and shot some scenes (including the notorious motel-room tete a tete) with no crew at all. This is notable because the DIY aesthetic lands the film squarely in the tradition of personal cinema and lends it an evocative, moments-out-of-time feeling. Seemingly endless scenes are shot through a stained windshield as the American continent passes by outside, Gallo’s scruffy mug is consistently framed off-center, and the performances and dialogue have an immediacy born from looseness and simplicity. It’s a sadly beautiful home movie.

Even before Cheryl Tiegs shows up in a rest-stop cameo, the apparent points of reference are America in the 1970s. A strong early scene has motorcycle racer Bud Clay (Gallo) visiting the parents of Daisy (Sevigny), his girlfriend back home in Los Angeles, who don’t remember him. (Also, they’re keeping a small pet bunny that they claim belonged to her; Bud is skeptical, bunny lifespans being what they are.) The sequence is awkward and, in a way — her apparently age-addled father occupies a corner of the frame like a home furnishing — almost funny. But what hits spot on are the details in the background, like the stainless-steel coffee pot tucked among the other elements of a kitchen that time forgot. Here and in Buffalo ’66, Gallo plumbs a style of Americana that’s less often represented on film these days — the ordinary landscapes of ordinary cities, the banal ribbons of highway that connect one American town to the next and one coast to the other, the wide-open white spaces of Utah’s salt flats. Because Gallo’s approach is unhurried — even cut to 92 minutes from the two-hour workprint that was shown at Cannes last year, the film feels languid in its pacing — these images come at a gentle, patient cadence that encourages contemplation, and despite being digitally blown up from 16 to 35mm prints, the celluloid has retained a beautiful old-school grain.

The narrative eventually suggests the open road as a metaphor for the highways of Bud Clay’s mind. There’s a reason why Bud is drawn, repeatedly, to vulnerable women, each named after a flower, with the urge not to fuck them so much as to protect them, and it has to do with the spectre of his relationship with Daisy. When Daisy actually arrives on the scene, she’s not a girlfriend but an idealized creature, a phantasm projected into a tawdry L.A. space by a tormented mind.

It’s here that Gallo is most open to charges of narcissism — after watching something like 75 minutes of close-ups of his own face, how else are you supposed to take it when you notice that the director is quite literally having his actress suck his cock? — but then the bottom falls out, and The Brown Bunny is suddenly dealing not just with the loneliness of the road but also deep and painful pangs of loss, regret, mourning, self-loathing. The Brown Bunny is testimony to the ways in which explicit sex can be used to illuminate real questions of character and motivation. What’s most interesting about the sex scene is, in fact, that Gallo takes it so far over the top — not only does Sevigny blow him, but she also tries to answer his questions while she’s doing it, resulting in a series of muffled vocalizations that suggest her status as a passive, unempowered receptacle that Bud’s plugged himself into. If it’s an act of exhibitionism by the director, it’s also clearly an assertion of unearned sexual authority by the character he’s playing, and thus entirely germane to the point of the film. Only afterward, as Gallo curls up on the bed and sobs, does it become apparent that the scene expresses something about mental representations of people — the passivity that we sometimes expect them to assume, and the halo of perfection that we sometimes wish upon them — and Bud’s own emptiness.

If The Brown Bunny feels weirdly indulgent, it’s nothing if not a fiercely personal film — a work of art conjured in the spirit of poetry — and it’s impossible to dismiss as an ego trip any undertaking that runs such a risk of making its auteur look foolish. I have to admire the gumption exhibited by anyone who would make a film in this way — hitting the road with a couple of cameras and a weird idea, clearing oddball songs by artists like Gordon Lightfoot and Jackson Frank, calling up an old girlfriend and asking for a big favor. And when deciphering the films made by a public personality like Gallo, the lines between character and filmmaker start to dissolve. (Gallo himself has repeatedly expressed irritation at this tendency by reviewers to equate filmmaker with character, and while I understand his frustration I think the equation is inevitable — it’s like trying to separate the icon that was Katharine Hepburn from the ways that her essential Hepburn-ness was channeled through all of the characters she portrayed.) But whatever else The Brown Bunny is, it’s a painstaking visualization of a bitter sexual fantasy. Hypnotized by the sound of the asphalt softly whirring by under his tires, addled by the memory of a great lost love, and racked with guilt, Bud Clay is on a road trip to rendezvous with ghosts.

The Brown Bunny  Chris Fujiwara from the Boston Phoenix

Ganatra, Nisha

 

CHUTNEY POPCORN                                          D                     55

USA  (92 mi)  1999

 

The Village Voice [Jessica Winter]

 
Nisha Ganatra writes, directs, and stars in Chutney Popcorn, and while her feature debut is low-key and affectionate, it's also hobbled by wish fulfillment and identity posturing. Ganatra plays Reena, an Indian American henna artist who bears a child for her infertile sister, Sarita, and brother-in-law against the immediate wishes of her white girlfriend, traditional Indian mom, and—as it turns out—Sarita herself. The director has a fitfully deployed gift for droll humor, but Chutney Popcorn mostly provides evidence that the ins and outs of the improvised multiparent family can be as prosaic as the nuclear Eisenhower model.
 
The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]
 
If good intentions were an aesthetic virtue on par with compelling drama, performances, storytelling, and craft, Nisha Ganatra's Chutney Popcorn would thrive solely on its warm, multicultural vision of alternative families. But in lieu of any other artistic merit, there's nothing on screen to surprise or move or challenge the audience, only enough to placate its progressive values. Though far more winning than the interchangeable likes of Catfish In Black Bean Sauce or What's Cooking?, Chutney Popcorn contends with the same thorny issues of assimilation by smoothing them into a thin, digestible paste. In addition to co-writing (with Susan Carnival) and directing, Ganatra gives a modest, pleasingly understated performance as a free-spirited Indian-American lesbian with a talent for body art and photography. When her newlywed sister (Sakina Jaffrey) discovers she cannot have children, Ganatra impulsively volunteers to be a surrogate, much to the consternation of their traditional mother (Madhur Jaffrey) and Ganatra's commitment-phobic live-in girlfriend (Jill Hennessy). Matters are further complicated when her sister changes her mind about raising the child, leaving Ganatra with a decision that could potentially ruin her relationship with her family, her girlfriend, and the lesbian community. Big-hearted and optimistic to a fault, Chutney Popcorn doesn't allow the messiness of real life to intrude on its utopian fantasy about the coming together of Indian cultural traditions and alternative notions of family. Alternating snarky, Go Fish-style lesbian comedy with anemic melodrama, Ganatra's story tangles and untangles with the flavorless efficiency of a Syd Field sample script, rigged from the start to arrive at the cheeriest possible resolution. But if bringing the baby to term puts a strain on everyone's relationships, it's hard to believe that the newfangled family unit—essentially, Heather Has Four Mommies And A Daddy—could just live happily ever after. Ganatra's idealism is admirable, but spelled out in dramatic terms, it seems rosy and false.

 

PopMatters  Natalie Porter

 

filmcritic.com eats Popcorn  Christopher Null

 

PopcornQ Review  Loren King

 

AfterEllen.com - Lesbian and Bi Women in Entertainment   Helen Madison

 

indieWIRE   Eddie Cockrell

 

Chutney Popcorn  Gerald Peary

 

Film Monthly (Sudha Narasimhan)

 

Bright Lights Film Journal   Gary Morris (capsule)

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 

Garbus, Liz

 

BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD                  B-                    81

USA  Great Britain  Iceland  (93 mi)  2010                     Official site

 

Coming up, the latest news on the Watergate investigation. But first, Bobby Fischer.

—CBS TV News intro, 1972

 

The director appears to have been inspired in making the film with the death of Bobby Fischer in 2008, who re-appeared tragically after the events of  9/11 spewing venom against the United States, still smarting from the bitterness against the nation that exiled him only a decade earlier for playing an international chess match in a nation (Yugoslavia) that in 1992 was undergoing a Civil War, violating a United Nations embargo at the time, where the United States Treasury Department under the elder President Bush announced it would arrest him if he returned to America, subject to ten years in prison and a $200,000 fine, making him a fugitive from justice for playing chess.  What’s agonizingly clear is that Bobby Fischer was not a well man near the end of his life, where the obsessive drive that compelled him to become to world’s greatest chess player also caused him to behave erratically afterwards, developing paranoid symptoms about various world conspiracies, including a rabid anti-Semitic steak that was troubling, basically driving away anyone who came near, perceiving himself as a castaway adrift in the universe with no place to call home.  Without chess as the driving force in his life, he became less focused on the real world, allowing himself to become a strict loner and an outcast fading into obscurity.  The film never delves into the acute cause of Fischer’s affliction, with an IQ of 180, most likely symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, not at all uncommon for mathematically minded people and particularly evident with those that suffer from severe emotional neglect early in their lives, where autism, for instance, is six times more likely in children from orphanages.  Many of the earlier segments of his life appear hastily filled in afterwards and incomplete, but Fischer was left alone a great deal in his youth as his mother was working several jobs. 

 

Perhaps one stroke of genius in this film is an opening segment that shows Fischer’s rapid rise to prominence in the chess world becoming the youngest American chess champion at the age of 15, scored to the funky electric guitar swagger from SHAFT (1971) that gives this a feeling of a triumphant victory march as Fischer knocks off all the Russian contenders on his way to qualifying for the finals of the World Chess Championship in 1972, a sport dominated by Russians since the end of World War II, who consider this their national sport subsidized by the State, receiving plenty of money and support along the way where the leading chess players are treated to the comforts of the highest standard of living available in the nation, where players have staffs of coaches to assist them in their preparations.  In America, especially for a young Jewish kid raised by a single mom in the Bronx, he was basically all on his own, largely self-taught, but the picture of cool as he steamrolls his way through all the American competition as well as the best the Russians could throw at him until he reaches the finals with the Russian Champion, Boris Spassky, who he had never played before.  The two nations treated this like an Olympic event, as if it reflects upon their national pride, where the interest raised by the stunning, heretofore unheard of brilliance of the young contender Bobby Fischer was unheard of, as he awakened the world’s interest to a game few actually understood, where the use of military tactics in a board game during the height of the Cold War sparked an immediate nationalistic identification with the outcome, especially where the use of mental alertness to stave off any and all possible strategies is the key to success. 

 

To this day, Fischer is a legendary figure whose reputation has attained mythical status around the world, much like a living super hero, as he single handedly defied all odds to accomplish what no one else in the world had ever achieved all on their own.  According to Russian champion Garry Kasparov in The Bobby Fischer Defense, “Fischer played every game to the death, as if it were his last.  It was this fighting spirit that his contemporaries recall most about him as a chess player.”  Even when rising to the occasion, Fischer was continually fighting his own personal demons as well, where he’d always find little distractions that might cause him to overreact to such an extent that he’d simply leave the match altogether, something he had done plenty of times before, but never at this level.  Yet it was nearly impossible to get these two chess combatants to actually sit down and play, where Fischer actually forfeited the second game by not showing up at all.  This kind of hyper-sensitivity to the smallest distractions of any kind is the sort of thing that kept escalating in his life long after the important matches were over.  This film is reminiscent of the Bobby Fischer of the classical piano, seen in Peter Raymont and Michèle Hozer’s GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD (2010), where pianist Gould suffered from many of the same paranoid maladies, becoming overly controlling, retreating from the world and practicing his artistry in complete isolation, but where he similarly took the world by storm in a two week concert tour of Russia in the mid 50’s which was still recovering from the repressive effects of Stalin.  In each instance, they both became beloved figures instantly, largely because they expressed so much passion in the way they played, where their brash individuality and brilliant technique were unparalleled, exactly what led the world to Fischer’s own uncompromising genius in the 1970’s.  The Gould film was actually a more lovingly crafted portrait, as he was a man who found love and joy in his life alongside his art, leading a more balanced life, while Fischer was plagued by inner demons his entire life, who through sheer will power during his twenties overcame their effects with simply astonishing results, but without the game to take his mind off his eccentricities, where paranoia about potential moves on the board is actually an acquired chess skill, the illness simply devoured his rational thought, leaving him beleaguered, continually annoyed with others, unhappy and alone. 

 

Chicago Reader    JR Jones

Produced by HBO, this documentary follows Bobby Fischer's brilliant ascent to the World Chess Championship in 1972 and his sad descent into lunacy thereafter, which ended only with his death in 2008. Director Liz Garbus exposes Fischer's troubled childhood, which fueled his single-minded study of the game and his meteoric rise to the U.S. championship at age 14. But the core of the movie is Fischer's historic match against Soviet champion Boris Spassky, a contest that became an international sensation because of its Cold War overtones and a genuine nail-biter because of Fischer's erratic behavior before and during the event. As author David Shenk notes in one of the talking-head interviews, "A good chess player is paranoid on the board, but then if you take that paranoia to real life, it doesn't play so well." In Fischer's case that's an understatement: his life after the championship became a mental maze of global conspiracy involving the Soviets, the Mossad, the Illuminati, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and God knows what else.

TimeOut NY  Joshua Rothkopf

Chess is only half the story—and half the movie. It’s impossible to watch footage of Bobby Fischer as a Brooklyn teen, concentrating over the board and already a local celebrity, and not think of the tortured man to come. Documentary director Liz Garbus brings an apt sense of dread to these early showdowns: Teachers and peers, reflecting back, express concern over the wunderkind’s arrogance, later to transition from divalike intensity to self-destructive paranoia. Set in the bold type of a Cold War clash of titans, Fischer’s 1972 high point—the globally broadcast victory over Russia’s Boris Spassky—is lent spy-thriller verve (and political authority, via interviewee Henry Kissinger).

Which leaves 36 more years of agonized withdrawal—frankly, this is the part that makes Bobby Fischer Against the World fascinating. Smartly, Garbus avoids heavy psychological conjecture; instead, a meltdown is clear from shots of the reclusive Fischer storming past a Pasadena McDonald’s like an urban yeti, or spewing anti-Semitic bile on tape. The pressure on him was too great, too soon. If this profile is marred slightly by thematic tidiness and a willingness to overglorify the champion’s rise (Fischer didn’t even write his best-seller, Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess), it still supplies a cracked, conflicted genius trapped in his ceaseless endgame.

exclaim! [Will Sloan]

The most forceful scenes in Bobby Fischer Against the World come towards the end, long after the peak of Fischer's fame as the world chess champion. Everyone knows of his just about unparalleled genius at the game, and of his famous 1972 World Championship match with Russian grandmaster Boris Spassky (a match frequently delayed and disrupted by Fischer's fear of the audience, the cameras and virtually everything else, up to and including ambient noise). But after his victory and the yearlong storm of publicity it inspired, Fischer receded into an isolation from which he rarely emerged.

The final section of Bobby Fischer Against the World, chronicling his years as an émigré and fugitive from justice after playing a 1992 rematch with Spassky in trade-embargoed Yugoslavia, climaxes with him becoming an honorary Icelandic citizen after nearly being extradited from Japan to the United States. We have already heard of Fischer's allegedly fierce anti-Semitism, and heard him on Filipino radio saying, "I applaud the act" of the 9/11 attacks, and when we finally see him in the flesh once again, at a press conference, if nothing else, he lives up to the hype, and more.

Bobby Fischer Against the World does a commendable job making a nearly 40-year-old chess match suspenseful, and it has a subject so fascinatingly enigmatic that it never comes close to explaining his eccentricities. Why did he isolate himself so completely during his youth to focus on chess strategy? What caused a man with Jewish roots to become so deeply, violently anti-Semitic?

Fischer's derailment is partly attributed to the pressures of celebrity, but maybe it's unrealistic to ask for rational answers to any of these questions. Bobby Fischer Against the World doesn't plumb Fischer's psyche so much as stand back and watch him with amazement and sadness. And for some subjects, that's all you really can do.

Onion AV Club  Phil Nugent

Bobby Fischer Against the World, which kicks off HBO's "Documentary Film Summer Series," was directed and produced by Liz Garbus, who's worked in one capacity or another on a string of excellent feature documentaries, many of them journalistic examinations of contemporary social and political issues. Compared to some of those, making Bobby Fischer must have been something of a breeze. The trickiest part was probably locating still-living witnesses to Fischer's life who'd be willing to sit down for talking-head interviews. Once that was done, their footage could be combined with all the existing news and TV footage documenting the life of a man who, for a notorious recluse, really hit the ground running as a public figure. One clip shows the 15-year-old Bobby, a gangly kid from Brooklyn with a quick and edgy smile and eyes that would come in handy for anyone looking to head up an apocalyptic cult. He appeared on the quiz show I've Got a Secret, where a newspaper with the headline "Teen-Ager's Strategy Defeats All Comers!" was not enough of a clue to tip off such panelists as Dick Clark that they were in the presence of the greatest chess player of all time.

Fischer, in his prime, is also seen in clips from the Carson and Cavett shows and from 60 Minutes, where Mike Wallace really breaks a sweat trying to keep the football fans at home from changing the channel by convincing them that world-class chess really is an honest-to-God "sport," talking a blue streak about the strenuous exercise regimen that Fischer had to go through to prepare himself for the exertions of sitting at a table staring at the pieces on a game board. The filmmakers are also lucky in having a subject whose life breaks down easily in a conventional three-act structure. The first third of the film covers the early years of lonely practice and boyhood fame, complete with the background on Fischer's mother Regina, a social activist with a 900-page FBI file. Describing the young Bobby, Larry Evans, a chess master who is seen here providing commentary on the Fischer-Spassky match for ABC's Wide World of Sports, says that he was "strange" but that "he hadn't gone off the deep end yet." The middle section covers the Fischer-Spassky match in detail, using clips from the TV coverage and excerpts from the evening news shows that place it in the context of its cultural moment. In the third act, Bobby, as predicted, goes off the deep end.

It's all very neat; Grabus and her team barely needed to add water. (Given that this is a documentary about something that happened in the '70s, they apparently couldn't get around the need to include the requisite music cues—"Theme from 'Shaft'", "Bang a Gong", "Rock and Roll, Parts One and Two"—which set the obligatory nostalgic-kitschy tone, even if Bobby Fischer is the last person you ever expected to see walking around to the accompaniment of Booker T. & the M.G.s. There's also a snippet of a Soviet ditty celebrating the heroic chess master: "Sturdy are my muscles/ Oh, my fingers, they're so long/ Hold 'em, wooden, fine-carved/ Hand enameled castles!") It may be a little too neat. The film shows funny-looking silent movie footage of cackling, eye-rolling lunatics at chess boards while exploring the possibility that there may be something about the intellectual focus required of true students of the game that makes them paranoid and ultimately drives them batshit. 

Some of the things about Fischer that the film seems to regard as mysterious aren't that mysterious at all if you think about it. He came to excel at chess because, starting when he was 6 years old, he devoted a phenomenal amount of time to getting really good at it. He grew into a socially awkward young man with increasingly strange views partly because he had devoted so much of his time to chess that there was a lot about the rest of the world that he didn't learn. And his arrogance, which as a player came connected to a passion not just for winning but demolishing his opponents, must have been at least partly a defense mechanism to conceal just how much he knew he didn't know. That arrogance is a handy quality from the filmmakers' point of view, because it helps make Fischer fascinating, at every stage of his life. Seen as a boy, he's charismatic and touching; seen towards the end of his life, he's magnetically pathetic.

Far more mysterious, from a contemporary point of view, is the film's distillation of the match between Fischer and the Russian world champion Boris Spassky that captivated the world for a few months in 1972. The match was perceived as a Cold War showdown, and Fischer's resentment of his mother and her politics may have fueled his lust to humiliate the Soviets. (He warmed up for his meeting with Spassky by going on a 20-game winning streak, during which he chewed up and spit out a succession of Russian masters.) Henry Kissinger tells the camera about how he encouraged Fischer to play Spassky because he thought that having an American world master would be "good for democracy," and we see an old news clip of some guy in the park saying that he expects Fischer will win because, unlike his Commie opponent, he'll have the incentive of getting to keep his prize money. 

But neither politics nor Fishcer's star power can make it fully understandable now that millions of people watched this, on live TV, under the umbrella of a sports show, not when you're seeing what viewers got to watch during the first match: One man, Spassky, sitting forlornly at the table, then making a move and finally getting up to pace around the room, waiting for his opponent to show up. Fischer's late arrival, claiming to have been stuck in traffic (they have traffic in Iceland?), and his later shenanigans, complaining about the playing conditions and the noise he claimed the TV cameras gave off, were widely taken for mind games intended to weird out and wear down his opponent, but they didn't seem to help his own play any more than they hurt Spassky's. He lost the first game after what Shelby Lyman (whose PBS commentary on the match made him a minor celebrity) calls "a colossal beginner's blunder," and it was only because Spassky had too much pride to accept a victory by forfeit that the games went on. 

For a while, without the cameras rolling, TV viewers were tuning into Wide World of Sports to watch a man in an ABC logo jacket holding a telephone to his ear, listening to a man on the other line describe what he'd seen. Still, nothing could quite prepare people who missed the '70s for the special emissary from the land of WTF!? that was LeRoy Neiman. Neiman, who looked as if Salvador Dali had mated with a Naugahyde doll, used to class up Wide World of Sports by dropping by to display his painterly impressions of the great sports figures of the day, which at their most eye-pleasing resembled something that R. B. Kitaj just threw up. Neiman concedes that he thought watching a "chess match would be like watching grass grow," but that it turned out to be "Ali-Forman all over again", and produces a picture purportedly showing "Bobby Fischer leaving the hotel for the fight, like a matador leaving the Palace Hotel in Madrid." Soon, Fischer was a point away from winning the title outright, when Spassky, 40 moves into the 21st game, announced his retirement. Fischer returned home to a chess-besotted America the world champion, talking about how he was looking forward to playing many more games. Instead, he hung up his board, seemingly for good, and in 1975, refused to defend his title against a new Russian challenger, Anatoly Karpov. Finally, world officials declared Karpov the champion by default and stripped Fischer of his title, which must have seemed like a small price to pay for slipping off LeRoy Neiman's radar.

Fischer's "comeback" arrived in 1992, when he played a self-proclaimed "world championship" grudge match with Spassky in Yugoslavia, an event distinguished only by the fact that it put him at odds with the United Nations embargo that was in effect at the time. News clips of him answering the letter he'd received from the U.S. State Department advising him not to participate by spitting on it clear up any questions anyone might have had at the time about how much good his 20 years' vacation from the limelight had done for his personality. But the U.S. government didn't really regard him as a marked man until he called up a radio station in the Philippines on September 12, 2001, to exult in the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. the day before. 

By the time he was arrested in Japan, his reputation as history's foremost chess master had been all but eclipsed by his reputation as the world's mouthiest Jewish anti-Semite, though he was able to swing deportation to Iceland, where memories of 1972 were still strong enough that he was apparently beloved, right up to the triumphant airport interview where he informed sports reporter Jeremy Schaap that Schaap's father, Dick, had turned on him like "a typical Jewish snake." He died in 2008 of a prostate condition that you have to have a fully committed phobia about medical treatment in order to die from. The last word goes to Kari Stefansson, a dignified, grey-haired neurologist who used to humor Fischer in his last years, until he "got enough of him." Some people, he says, become creatively fertile by learning to think outside the box; it's just that "occasionally, it is difficult to get back into the box." A few years ago, there was an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, featuring a psycho killer (played by Robert Carradine) clearly modeled on Fischer. As he was hauled away at the end, Vincent D'Onofrio said sagely, "That's what happens when you don't let people do what they're good at." In fact, that decision was made by Fischer himself, possibly because he couldn't bear the thought of losing and having to come down from the mountain. The most important lesson he never learned about life may have been that, eventually, if you don't come down on your own, the mountain will shake you down anyway.

Bobby Fischer: from prodigy to pariah  Andrew Anthony from The Observer, May 14, 2011, also seen here:  Guardian UK: on Fischer

 

The Atlantic | December 2002 | Bobby Fischer's Pathetic Endgame ...  Paranoia, hubris, and hatred—the unraveling of the greatest chess player ever, by Rene Chun from The Atlantic, December 2002

 

The Bobby Fischer Defense by Garry Kasparov | The New York ...   Garry Kasparov from The New York Review of Books, March 10, 2011

 

How the king of chess lost his crown  Garry Kasparov from The Daily Telegraph, July 14, 2011

 

Bobby Fischer: Black and white magic  Stephen Moss from The Guardian, July 3, 2011

 

Guardian UK  Peter Bradshaw review, July 14, 2011, also seen here:  Bobby Fischer Against the World – review

 

Village Voice  J. Hoberman, also seen here:  Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

Edward Copeland on Film

 

Critic's Notebook [Sarah Manvel]

 

Slant Magazine [Arthur Ryel-Lindsey]  also seen here:  The House Next Door [Arthur Ryel-Lindsey]

 

Filmcritic.com  Chris Cabin

 

Permanent Plastic Helmet [Ashley Clark]

 

Spout [Christopher Campbell]

 

spiked [Nathalie Rothschild]

 

Meet In the Lobby [Norm Schrager]  also seen here:  Bobby Fischer Against the World: movie review

 

Electric Sheep Magazine [Mark Stafford]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Robert Munro]

 

Bobby Fischer Against the World Review - Pajiba  Seth Freilich

 

The Film Pilgrim [Nicola Lampard]

 

Phil on Film [Philip Concannon]

 

Box Office Magazine [Ray Greene]

 

Georgia Straight [Ken Eisner]

 

The Drive-By at the Drive-In [James Dempsey]

 

Uncultured Critic [Nicola Balkind]

 

Quickflix [Simon Miraudo]

 

iambents [Bentley Smith]

 

Little White Lies Magazine [Zara Miller]

 

Bobby Fischer Against The World - Film School Rejects  Cole Abaius

 

EdinburghGuide.com [Euan Andrews]

 

Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]

 

FlickFilosopher.com [MaryAnn Johanson]

 

Screenjabber.com  Tom Mimnagh

 

Bobby Fischer Against the World: movie ... - Christian Science Monitor  Peter Rainer

 

Cine-Vue [Jack Porter]

 

BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD  Facets Multi Media

 

grouchyeditor.com [The Grouch]

 

Empire [Nev Pierce]

 

Me & Bobby Fischer | A documentary about getting Bobby Fischer out of jail in Japan and his last years in Iceland  Fridrik Gudmundsson

 

A ninety-minute HBO documentary about Bobby's Fischer's life entitled "Bobby Fischer Against the World" that aired in June, 2011  HBO website

 

"Portrait of a Genius As a Young Chess Master"  Ralph Ginzburg's interview from Harper's Magazine, January 1962

 

"The bin Laden defense—By Pablo Mercado (Harper's Magazine)"   conversation between Bobby Fischer and radio host Pablo Mercado on the Philippine radio station Bombo Radyo, September 11, 2001, printed in Harper’s magazine, March 2002

 

NPR: director interview  audio interview with the director from NPR, June 1, 2011 (37:05) 

 

The Hollywood Reporter [James Greenberg]

 

Variety

 

Bobby Fischer Against the World Review. Movie Reviews ... - Time Ou  Tom Huddleston from Time Out London

 

Bobby Fischer Against the World – review  Philip French from The Observer, July 16, 2011

 

Bobby Fischer Against The World, review - Telegraph  Sukhdev Sandhu

 

Bobby Fischer Against The World 12A - The Independent  Anthony Quinn

 

DVD: Bobby Fischer Against the World (E) - The Independent  Ben Walsh

 

A chronicle of Bobby Fischer's battles – beyond the ... - Globe and Mail  Rick Groen

 

The Miami Herald [Rene Rodriguez]

 

Los Angeles Times   Gary Goldstein

 

Searching for Bobby Fischer review  Roger Ebert’s review of the Steven Zailland film, 1993

 

New York Times  A.O. Scott, September 8, 2011

 

Bobby Fischer, Chess Master, Dies at 64 - New York Times  Bruce Webber from The New York Times, January 18, 2008

 

Gambit: Bobby Fischer Is Dead at 64  Dylan Loeb McClain from The New York Times, January 18, 2008

 

The Lede: Reacting to Bobby Fischer’s Death  The New York Times, January 18, 2008

 

Obituary, Bobby Fischer  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, January 18, 2008

 

Death of a madman driven sane by chess  Stephen Moss from The Guardian, January 18, 2008

 

"Chess champion Bobby Fischer dies"  David Batty from The Guardian, January 18, 2008

 

Bobby Fischer: young pretender who dethroned Soviet kings   Daniel Johnson from The Guardian, January 18, 2008

 

Chess exile Bobby Fischer dies  Sarah Phillips from The Guardian, January 18, 2008

 

"– Chess News – Bobby Fischer dies in Iceland"  Chess News, January 18, 2008

 

"Robert James Fischer 1943–2008"  Mark Crowther tribute, January 18, 2008

 

BBC: The genius who re-invented chess  David Edmonds from The BBC News, January 18, 2008

 

Chess legend Fischer dies at 64  BBC News, January 18, 2008

 

Bobby Fischer: Demise of a chess legend  BBC News, January 18, 2008

 

Chess genius Bobby Fischer, from American hero to paranoid fugitive  Google News, January 18, 2008

 

An Appraisal: Fischer vs. the World: A Chess Giant’s Endgame  Edward Rothstein from The New York Times, January 19, 2008

 

Searching for Fischer's Legacy  Mike Klein from the United States Chess Federation, January 19, 2008

 

Prodigy and tragedy: how America lost a true genius  Ronan Bennett from The Observer, January 19, 2008

 

Bold approach of Fischer's mother  Graham Taylor from The Guardian, January 20, 2008

 

The Chessman  Garry Kasparov from Time magazine, January 26, 2008

 

"Was It Only a Game?", Dick Cavett  Dick Cavett from The New York Times, February 8, 2008

 

The end game of Bobby Fischer   The Observer, February 9, 2008

 

"The Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Sports | Fischer is greatest ever, says Anand"  The Calcutta Telegraph, January 16, 2009

 

"Chasing the king of chess"  Peter Nicholas from The Los Angeles Times, September 21, 2009

 

Bobby Fischer: Chess's beguiling, eccentric genius  David Edmonds from The BBC News, July 4, 2011

 

Blogrunner: Reactions From Around the Web

 

Video: Fischer and Spassky  MSNBC.com

 

Byrne-Fischer, 1956, after 17 ... Be6

 

Fischer-Spassky, 1972, Game 6, after 37 ... Nf6

 

Bobby Fischer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Bobby Fischer  player profile from Chessgames

 

Find A Grave – Robert James Fischer

 

"Bobby Fischer Trivia"  Bill Wall from Chessville

 

List of people who have beaten Bobby Fischer in chess

 

Bobby Fischer  website

 

The chess games of Robert James Fischer

 

Robert (Bobby) Fischer  Chess Corner

 

"1992 Fischer – Spassky Rematch Highlights"  Mark Weeks 

 

Lost genius of chess returns - or is it just a case of fool's mate?  Steven Morris from The Guardian, September 9, 2001

 

Chess  Ashley Davies from The Guardian, September 10, 2001

 

The chess match of the century  Dave Edmonds from The BBC News, August 9, 2002

 

Son of Deep Blue challenges chess champion  Mark Tran from The Guardian, October 4, 2002

 

Chess champion humbles computer  Nick Paton Walsh from The Guardian, January 27, 2003

 

To kill a king  Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine, movie review by Geoffrey Macnab from The Guardian, January 15, 2004

 

Endgame for king of chess, after 12 years on the run  Stephen Moss and Justin McCurry from The Guardian, July 17, 2004

 

Fischer's appeal checked   The Guardian, July 28, 2004

 

Have mercy on Fischer, says rival  Justin McCurry from The Guardian, August 12, 2004

 

Bobby Fischer may face deportation to US  The Guardian, August 24, 2004

 

Chess ace may soon be free  Justin McCurry from The Guardian, March 8, 2005

 

"Asia-Pacific | Fischer 'must be deported to US'"  BBC News, March 15, 2005

 

Chess grandmaster Fischer may move to Iceland  Justin McCurry from The Guardian, March 23, 2005

 

Japan to snub US and send Fischer to Iceland  Justin McCurry from The Guardian, March 24, 2005

 

Fischer moves   The Guardian, March 24, 2005

 

'I was kidnapped,' says chess genius as he rails against Japan and US  Stephen Moss and Justin McCurry from The Guardian, March 25, 2005

 

Bobby and me  Stephen Moss from The Guardian, March 27, 2005

 

Barden on chess  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, April 1, 2005

 

Speelman on chess  Jon Speelman from The Observer, April 10, 2005

 

"The Greatest Chess Player of All Time – Part I"  Jeff Sonas from Chess Base, April 24, 2005

 

Part II of the series  Jeff Sonas from Chess Base, April 28, 2005

 

Part III of the series  Jeff Sonas from Chess Base, May 6, 2005

 

"The Greatest Chess Player of All Time – Part IV"  Jeff Sonas from Chess Base, May 25, 2005, see also:  All Time Rankings

 

"Breaking news: Fischer comeback? (27.05.2005)", chessbase.com 

 

The king and I  Nigel Short from The Guardian, December 15, 2005

 

Chess  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, January 18, 2008

 

Chess  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, January 20, 2008

 

Speelman on chess  Jon Speelman from The Observer, January 26, 2008

 

Bobby Fischer gets a Brit-flick biopic  Francesca Martin from The Guardian, February 6, 2008

 

Chess  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, June 20, 2008

 

Magnus Carlsen should follow the example of Bobby Fischer in a crisis  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, October 15, 2010

 

Magnus Carlsen's form crisis bears comparisons to that of Bobby Fischer  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, January 21, 2011

 

Hikaru Nakamura stirs memories of Bobby Fischer at Wijk aan Zee  Leonard Barden from The Guardian, February 4, 2011

 

Bobby Fischer's widow 'is legal heir'  The Daily Telegraph, March 3, 2011

 

Fascination with Bobby Fischer shows no sign of reaching its endgame   Leonard Barden from The Guardian, March 4, 2011

 

Chess: Who wants to argue with Bobby Fischer?  Ronan Bennett and Daniel King from The Guardian, March 28, 2011

 

From the archive, 12 July 1972: Fischer's late opening gambit in Reykjavik  Michael Lake from The Guardian, July 11, 2011

 

Chess: the genius of Bobby Fischer  Ronan Bennett and Daniel King from The Guardian, August 29, 2011

 

Chess: a tremendous attack by Bobby Fischer  Ronan Bennett and Daniel King from The Guardian, September 5, 2011

 

Chess: in search of zugzwang  Ronan Bennett and Daniel King from The Guardian, September 12, 2011

 

Chess: Bobby Fischer's clears up  Ronan Bennett and Daniel King from The Guardian, September 19, 2011

 

Garcia, Deborah Koons

 

THE FUTURE OF FOOD                                       C                     72

USA  (88 mi)  2004
 
While the information presented is compelling enough, a documentary on the effects of bio-engineered food on the planet, where the food industrialists have cornered the market buying up all the seeds of the world, patenting each and every one, then suing any private farmer who is caught with any of their patented plants growing on their farm, even if purely by accident, or when it is the result of spillage by the seed manufacturers themselves.  Supreme Courts in both the USA and Canada have ruled in the seed manufacturer’s favor, causing local farmers to have to destroy all natural home-grown seeds which they’ve relied upon for decades or more, as they are likely to be a mix that includes bio-engineered seeds.  In this manner, bio-engineered seeds have contaminated farms all across the world, and local farmers are ordered to pay the multi-internationalist corporations, like Monsanto, for damages.  American corn has already mixed with and contaminated centuries old Mexican maize, which in a decade, may destroy centuries of natural development.  Does this seem fair?  Of course not, but we only hear one side in this film, which suggests at the present rate, where corporations don’t even have to label bio-engineered food, it’s impossible to hold corporations accountable when they’ve completely concealed the extent of the damages. 
 
Only 4 companies own all the seeds in the world, and they are each working fast and furiously to change patent laws around the world to support their position.  All this is a result of a US Supreme Court 5-4 decision in the past decade which allows anyone to patent organic materials, which includes all the subsequent by-products that it may mix with.  Part of the problem is how government agencies are infiltrated with corporation representatives, suggesting consumer monitoring agencies are filled with former employees of companies like Monsanto, individuals who were trained in supporting the corporate practices, some of whom include Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.   And due to the alleged “reform” practices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, local farmers in small Third World countries can no longer grow food for their own consumption, as they are required to grow food for export in order to pay off the country’s debt, leaving them far worse off than they were to begin with.  The film suggests that ultimately, only 6 retail companies in the world will own all the food distribution markets, Walmart may be the only American outlet, and consumers will have no say on what they place on their shelves due to the fact they’ve already established themselves as corporate monopolies. 
 
The third wife of deceased Grateful Dead founder Jerry Garcia, Koons has master of Fine Arts from The San Francisco Art Institute and has made several educational and documentary films.  For the past decade she has focused primarily on films about agriculture and food systems.  Again, the information is intriguing, but it’s the kind of thing you read about in newspapers or see on TV special reports, and this film never rises above various monotoned voices offering their unchallenged views over and over again. It plays like a PBS television documentary, without any respect or understanding of the medium.  Instead, it’s all about the information, and not about how it’s presented.  Despite the severity of the message, this film felt boringly amateurish, never registering on any emotional level, until the very end when all of a sudden Irish bagpipes are utilized to raise the spirits of the viewers and send them off with images of collective idealists all working together to somehow change the world.  It’ll take much more than films like this that hardly anyone will see.     

 

García Espinosa, Julio

 

THE ADVENTURES OF JUAN QUIN QUIN (Las aventuras de Juan Quin Quin)

Cuba  (113 mi)  1967

Juan Quin Quin  Imperfect Cinema, Brecht, and The Adventures of Juan Quin Quin, by Anna Marie Taylor — with the collaboration of Julianne Burton, John Hess, Chuck Kleinhans, Julia Lesage, and B. Ruby Rich from Jump Cut

For an Imperfect Cinema   written by Cuban writer and director Julio García Espinosa from Jump Cut

 

Garcia, Nicole

 

PLACE VENDÔME

France  Belgium  Great Britain  (117 mi)  1998

 

BFI | Sight & Sound | Place Vendôme (1998)  Keith Reader from Sight and Sound, August 1999

 

García, Rodrigo

 

NINE LIVES

USA  (115 mi)  2005

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]

Rodrigo Garcia may be the closest thing we have to a master short-story artist working on the big screen. In "Nine Lives," the writer/director (son of Gabriel Garcia Marquez) carves out defining moments in the lives of nine women and creates a lovely whole from the fragments that, at first glance, don't piece together in any conventional way.

The characters are diverse: a rage-filled Latino woman (Elpidia Carrillo) struggling to stay on good behavior in an L.A. County prison; a married woman (Robin Wright Penn) shaken by a chance encounter with an old lover; the teenage daughter (Amanda Seyfried) of parents who only converse through her; a miserable middle-age wife and mother (a heartbreakingly fragile Sissy Spacek) in an affair with a charming younger man.

Other chapters are carried by Lisa Gay Hamilton, Holly Hunter, Amy Brenneman, Kathy Baker, Glenn Close, Dakota Fanning and the rich supporting cast around them.

Each story is shot in a single, graceful long take, carving it out as a contained slice of their life. Yet characters drift across the vignettes, creating not so much dramatic connections as a sense that these lives co-exist and touch, however briefly or tangentially.

And his dialogue has a slightly rarefied quality; introspective with a bruised feel and a literary beauty ("We're nothing. We're dreams and bones."). This beautifully sculpted poetic naturalism has more in common with the expressive use of words in the great screenplays of '40s and '50s than with modern movies.

Garcia is fascinated by the inner lives of women and his compassion and empathy bring them alive in these vignettes, these brief but intimate character sketches in a 12-minute or so span of life. Even in their most troubled, vulnerable, panicked moments, he reveals grace and beauty and honesty and raw humanity, perhaps especially in those moments of duress.

But the stories also take the audience on a journey, from rage and anger to connection and peace, a life cycle told through the moments of time from nine women who have nothing in common but their struggles, their search for happiness and their connection to the tapestry of humanity.

The Onion A.V. Club [Nathan Rabin]

As a film composed entirely of nine continuous long takes, Nine Lives certainly qualifies as unique. But what makes it rarer and more auspicious is that it offers such a rich bounty of great roles for middle-aged women. Given the dearth of quality parts for actresses beyond a certain age, is it any wonder that director (and ace cinematic miniaturist) Rodrigo Garciá managed to snag such big names as Holly Hunter, Sissy Spacek, Glenn Close, Robin Wright Penn, Dakota Fanning, Kathy Baker, and Amy Brenneman for a low-budget independent film with seemingly limited commercial prospects? As he's proven with this film, Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her, and Ten Tiny Love Stories, Garciá loves and respects women, and they've repaid that devotion with uniformly fine work.

In both form and content, Nine Lives feels like a continuation and extension of 2001's Ten Tiny Love Stories, which similarly delved deep into the emotional lives of women with vignettes that at best suggested the cinematic equivalent of superb short stories. The earlier film was composed of monologues captured by long static takes, but here the camera moves about freely to document multi-character stories.

In the strongest of the nine, Robin Wright Penn plays a pregnant mother and wife who unexpectedly bumps into an ex-boyfriend she shared an intense, passionate life with years earlier. Penn's performance and Garciá's incisive writing beautifully capture the excruciating awkwardness of people desperately trying to find a feasible middle ground between the primal emotional intimacy they once shared and the forced civility and strained politeness of people accidentally reconnecting after years apart. Their conversation accordingly slides between arbitrary small talk and heady discussion about the Big Issues that defined their lives and relationship. Several of the other stories explore similar issues and dynamics, particularly the one in which an angry, estranged sister and daughter returns to her family home to hurl accusations, reopen old wounds, and stew in bitterness, much to the discomfort of her more accommodating, conciliatory younger sister.

Not every vignette succeeds. Some end abruptly or never quite catch fire, while still others indulge in short-story writers' weakness for big dramatic gestures, but even the weakest stories are brilliantly acted by actresses who tear into Garciá's juicy roles with gusto. Nine Lives is admittedly a women's movie for the arthouse set, but the sensitivity and intensity Garciá brings to it suggests that's not inherently a bad thing. If only every women's movie had Nine Lives' fire, intelligence, and conviction, they wouldn't have such a shaky reputation in the first place.

filmcritic.com  Chris Barsanti

A well-cast compilation film suffocating on its own self-importance, Nine Lives aims to tie together nine vastly different stories, but ends up telling hardly any of them well. The conceit of writer/director Rodrigo Garcia is to take nine vignettes, each centered around a different woman (usually in desperate circumstances), and give us a brief glimpse into her life before cutting away to the next one, while stringing a few connecting threads between them all. To ensure that he’s not playing favorites, each piece is done in one single Steadicam shot and kept to only nine or ten minutes in length. A minor character from one vignette becomes a major player later on, or vice versa. As in literature, anthology works like this are a hit-and-miss affair, and in this case the misses far outnumber the ones that connect.

Nine Lives opens strong on Sandra (Elpidia Carrillo), an imprisoned mother. Mopping up a floor, she’s threatened by fellow prisoners, and harassed by a guard (Miguel Sandoval) who’s convinced she can give him information. Everyone tells Sandra she’s not going to make it, but you think she just might be able to, hunkering down turtle-like and just plowing through the rest of her sentence. But then her daughter visits, and the phone doesn’t work, sending Sandra into a stunning explosion of rage, like a mother bear kept from her cub. It’s a short, unrelentingly powerful story, and done by itself it would stand as a sublime little tragedy. The same goes for the final piece, in which Glenn Close and Dakota Fanning (hardly a better match could be imagined) visit a cemetery and talk with sublime ease about not much at all. But then comes the rest of the film in between.

In short order we’re given Robin Penn Wright as another mother, this one expecting, who runs into an old lover at a supermarket, Amy Brenneman playing a carefree woman at the funeral of the wife of her ex-husband, Holly Hunter getting upset with her boyfriend for telling too-personal stories to their uncomfortable guests, and so on. Even when the writing moves beyond bourgeois pathos – as is the case with a painfully overacted story where a manic Lisa Gay Hamilton confronts her father for some traumatizing transgression from the past – Garcia is rarely able to get inside his character’s heads in the span of time he’s allowed them, and the ways in which he’ll shoehorn an actor from one piece into another never adds anything and seems to be just showing off.

Little here is the actors’ fault, as Garcia has finagled himself (for the most part) an astoundingly talented cast who acquit themselves well, especially the previously mentioned Carrillo, and Deadwood’s Ian McShane, playing a wheelchair-bound father hiding his infirmity behind a wall of black humor. But by the time viewers have reached the fourth or fifth story, however, restlessness is likely to set in, as it becomes clear this is a film hurtling slowly towards nothing, with little to keep one interested along the way.

The DVD includes four featurettes, two shorts about the technical aspects of the film, a Q&A taped at the Lee Strasberg Theater, and more.

Reverse Shot [Kristi Mitsuda]  complexly virtuosic snapshot portraits

 

Slant Magazine [Keith Uhlich]  a gaping self-righteous abyss of its own creation

 

DVD Town [James Plath]

 

Reel.com [Kim Morgan]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Mel Valentin)

 

Film Journal International (David Noh)

 

stylusmagazine.com (Roque Strew)

 

Combustible Celluloid [Jeffrey M. Anderson]

 

CineScene [Howard Schumann]

 

Film-Forward.com  Parisa Vaziri

 

Nine Lives (Rodrigo García, 2005)  Eric Henderson from When Canses Were Classeled

 

eFilmCritic Reviews  Jay Seaver

 

Celluloid Heroes [Paul McElligott]

 

The Village Voice [Laura Sinagra]

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Cinepassion.org  Fernando F. Croce

 

DVD Talk [Preston Jones]

 

eFilmCritic [William Goss]

 

Cinema Blend [Joshua Tyler]

 

Austin Chronicle [Kimberley Jones]

 

Los Angeles Times (Kevin Thomas)

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Wilmington]

 

Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden)

 

MOTHER AND CHILD                                           B-                    82

Spain  USA  (125 mi)  2009

 

This film makes it extremely difficult for the viewer to like, as it is filled with such unnaturalistic characters continually shown at their worst, who seem to give overly dramatic speeches rather than offer any hint of natural dialogue, all feeling like forced behavior that borders on the pretentious, as these moments are elevated by their recurring sequence isolation, one after another, fragments in time that collectively form the thread of this overlapping storyline, an overwrought, overly serious melodrama told in small, interconnecting pieces.  Despite the off-putting feeling that leaves the audience completely disconnected to most of the characters, especially at the beginning, the film does somehow work, as despite some deplorable moments, there are also some equally exquisite moments.  Three top flight actresses do their thing here, including Annette Bening as Karen, a physical rehab worker who is so repressed and tightly wound that her mere presence onscreen feels uncomfortable, as she takes the work “difficult” to new levels, especially as she tends watch over her invalid mother, going through the obligatory motions without an ounce of love or real concern, as she is instead doing what she feels is expected of her.  Much more riveting is the presence of her mother’s in-home health care worker, Elpidia Carrillo, who continually brings her young 9-year old daughter to work, but the pride and fierce individuality of her character is a life force.  As a young 14-year old teenage girl, Karen gave away her baby to an orphanage, an act which has eerie personal ramifications, haunting her, perhaps even disabling her for the rest of her life, distorting and invalidating her own life as she keeps a diary where she writes letters to this daughter she never met, incapable of maintaining a relationship with anyone else on earth.     

 

Naomi Watts (who shot her scenes in only 8 days) turns out to be Karen’s biological daughter, a legal powerhouse who is quite capable of tending to her own needs without the aid or assistance of others, a lone wolf so to speak who never knew her mother, a dominant yet icy force from the day she joins a law firm owned by Samuel L. Jackson.  “I'm not in the sisterhood,” she says, “I'm my own person.”  Immediately the film falls off the rails in a contrived storyline where the two engage in a passionate affair, an act that is so unnaturally presented that one has to wince at the grotesque presentation of sex with their clothes on where Watts literally has an orgasm within 15 seconds, a near physical impossibility and another distorted depiction of reality.  Add to this narrative an overly eager Kerry Washington as Lucy, a black woman unable to conceive on her own, who turns to adoption with a manic force of desperation which overwhelms her less than impressed husband, David Ramsey, a soft spoken, uncharismatic but polite and steady force in her life.   Cherry Jones plays the Catholic nun whose role is the go-between from the orphanage and child welfare services, who helps link up prospective mothers with unwanted babies.  Shareeka Epps from HALF NELSON (2006) plays an angry teenager who wants nothing from her expectant baby except to give her away to Lucy, but with ridiculously over-controlled conditions that border on the insulting.  Through a cross-cutting of editing, these individual stories are all interwoven in what initially feels overly pre-determined, a typical narrative device over-utilized by producer Alejandro González Iñárritu in his own films.

 

What finally works is the prominence of the much more likeable secondary characters whose humanity uplifts the extreme deficiencies and limitations of not only the leads but the narrative itself, from Samuel L. Jackson’s uncharacteristic tenderness, S. Epatha Merkerson’s soulful display of honesty to her daughter Lucy, sending a message that hits her right between the eyes when she needs it the most, Jimmy Smits as an unusually nice and patient guy with Karen, the drama queen, whose difficulties mellow out over time, Brittany Robertson as Violet, the blind teenager who meets on the roof with Watts, becoming her only friend in the world, David Morse as the never forgotten high school sweetheart of Karen, Tatyana Ali as the cheerful grown daughter of Jackson, Lisa Gay Hamilton’s candid confession to her angry teenage daughter, and most especially Elpidia Carrillo, who in my mind was the best thing in this movie, as she is everything the dour and humorless Annette Bening is not, naturally curious, inquisitive, loving, bluntly honest while remaining tactful, and an understated presence that personifies the force of maternal love, professionalism, and loyal friendship.  There are wordless moments that are particularly strong, such as when Lucy has to be restrained and consoled at the hospital, when Watts meets Violet in the elevator, or when Karen stops hating the presence of Carrillo’s daughter, actually interacting finally and treating her as if she were her own daughter.  This transforming act is what the film is all about, even if it gets heavy-handed about it.  García is the son of Colombian writer Gabriel García Marquez, one of the more distinguished man of letters in the past half century, and author of one of the greatest novels ever conceived, 100 Years of Solitude, which is a beautifully mysterious depiction of family dysfunction, where each character couldn’t possibly have been imagined with greater love or endearing charm, embellished with magical turns of surrealism and poetry.  That’s a tough act to follow.     

 

Time Out New York review [3/5]  Keith Uhlich

The sensitive touch of Rodrigo García—a talented HBO house director (In Treatment, Carnivàle) with an extremely spotty feature career (Nine Lives, Passengers)—keeps this gimmicky ensemble melodrama out of the bullshit-detector red zone. As in most of his films, women take center stage: Middle-aged health-care worker Karen (Bening) is the biological mother of icy power attorney Elizabeth (Watts), whom she gave up for adoption immediately after birth. In a seemingly unrelated thread, the slightly manic baker Lucy (Washington) prepares to adopt a child of her own, since she’s been unable to conceive. All three live in Los Angeles, but none of them have ever met. Uh-oh.

Much as Nine Lives hinged on an aesthetic stunt (each sequence was filmed in a single shot), Mother and Child borrows the “we’re-all-connected” converging narrative patented by executive producer Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). It remains an annoying, faux-profound structural tic—at this point, there are no more returns to diminish—though this doesn’t negate the stellar performances García gets from his central female trio.

Watts is the most immediately attention-grabbing, with the story dictating that Elizabeth move from legal-eagle whore of Babylon (a terrific Samuel L. Jackson plays her willing prey) to martyred, maternal saint. A believably unbalanced Bening scores the movie’s true coup: Karen’s revitalizing relationship with a sweetly persistent coworker (Jimmy Smits) is a rare example of Hollywood doing right by midlife romance. And Washington, because she’s the least caught up in the twisted-pretzel plotting, gives Lucy’s every gesture the hallmark of truth. Everything else, sad to say, is just Hallmark.

New York Magazine (David Edelstein) review (Page 2)

Rodrigo García’s Mother and Child begins with a 14-year-old girl smooching a boy and taking off her shirt; then caressing her big, round belly; then screaming as her baby is born and carried off. In the next shot, that girl is a brittle, haggard Annette Bening, unmarried and childless in her early fifties, living with her elderly mother. “She’ll be 37,” she says, aloud, of the daughter she has never known. In the next scene, an ambitious, chillingly poised 37-year-old lawyer (Naomi Watts) tells her prospective employer (Samuel L. Jackson, with two good eyes) that she’s estranged from her adopted family, lives alone, has no plans to marry, and prefers to work with men because women are threatened by her. “I’m not in the sisterhood,” she says. “I am my own person.” Five minutes in, and already you want to kill yourself.

Mother and Child is suffused with grief and loss. It’s also suffused with compassion and insight. One of García’s earlier films was Nine Lives, in which nine women’s stories were poetically compressed, each told in a single long shot. This time, he has three stories that converge, although not in the way you expect. The third protagonist is a young woman (Kerry Washington) who can’t have children and undergoes a grueling grilling by a pregnant, seething teenager (Shareeka Epps) to see if she’s worthy to adopt the girl’s child. The film becomes a tapestry of mother-and-child stories, each child molded by the overbearing presence or absence of its mother, each wondering which is more important: blood or time spent.

Amid the almost unbearable sadness, Bening is hilariously brittle and defensive when wooed by teddy-bear widower Jimmy Smits, and Washington has a marvelous, Mary Tyler Moore–ish goosiness. When a movie has this kind of fullness, it’s worth the emotional workout.

REVIEW | From The Heart: Rodrigo Garcia’s “Mother and Child”  Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, May 4, 2010

In his 2005 film “Nine Lives,” Rodrigo Garcia did something cinematically unexpected. Bringing to the women’s picture a rigorous aesthetic design, “Nine Lives,” made up of nine disparate segments about different female characters shot in elaborate single takes, successfully translated the structure of a short story anthology to the screen, and without denying film’s unique properties. The narratives themselves, surveying women from different classes and pasts and at different life thresholds, may not have been equally gripping, but together the film had a cumulative power, while certain segments (especially Robin Wright Penn’s supermarket encounter) could be considered short-film classics. In his new film, “Mother and Child,” Garcia continues his mission to dramatize intersecting lives of women, yet here his three main characters are figures in a single, elegantly unfolding narrative. While not without its stilted moments and easy sentiments, “Mother and Child” is lucid, engaging, and novelistic in the best sense — even if it could have used that little extra aesthetic push that made “Nine Lives” so remarkable.

At this point, Garcia’s adoration of women can’t be mistaken. Even the title of this film begs to give mother-daughter relations iconic, mythic status. And though it can easily be argued that his idolization, even idealization, of femininity, motherhood, and female empowerment might cross the line into fetish, with his unerring focus on issues of birth and adoption, the result is genuinely warm and from the heart, and it provides meaty roles for three actresses: Naomi Watts, Annette Bening, and Kerry Washington.

Beginning with impressionistic, fleeting images of a teenage girl’s pregnancy, birth, and decision to give her baby up for adoption, the film then introduces us to Watts’s Elizabeth, an icy, driven 37-year-old lawyer who’s almost pathologically independent, making no time for lovers or even close female friends (“I’m not in the sisterhood,” she tells her boss); at the same there’s Bening’s Karen, an emotionally closed physical therapist in her early fifties, taking care of a dying mother she feels she doesn’t know. Rounding out the film’s triumvirate is Washington’s Lucy, a modestly successful baker in her twenties who’s desperate for a baby with her husband and turns to adoption when she discovers she cannot have one of her own.

It’s unspoken but it become relatively clear soon enough that Elizabeth, who speaks of being abandoned at birth by a teenage mother she never met, is Karen’s daughter. Yet Garcia’s ruminative narrative circles gingerly around this topic for a long while, instead letting us get to know these women before their lives inevitably re-intersect — which happens in wholly surprising, well plotted, and emotionally satisfying ways. Washington’s fateful significance in all this also makes itself evident bit by bit; especially in the way Garcia masterfully presents her search for a child as a touching parallel narrative in its own right.

In fact, Washington is the revelation of the film. While Watts brings complexity to a potentially difficult role (as written, Elizabeth is at times too cartoonishly malignant) and subtlety has never been Bening’s strong suit (whatever Karen’s emotions — cruelty, joy — Bening lays it on thick as spackle), Washington rarely hits a false note, moving effortlessly from charming neuroticism to professional confidence to tearful desperation.

The gamut of emotions Washington runs is indicative of the film as a whole, which never shies away from big, sentimental sweep, yet also somehow never tips over into cheeky melodrama. And though the film could never be called visually daring, Garcia here and there makes room for expertly crafted little grace notes, the most luminous of which is a late-film single take of Bening simply walking out her front door and down the street to a neighbor’s house: it sounds mundane, but coming where it does in the film, it’s anything but. Garcia brings dignity and lyricism back to a genre that all too frequently devolves into histrionics.

Chicago Reader [J.R. Jones]

 

Movieline (Michelle Orange) review [7/10]

 

Salon.com [Lisa Rosman]

 

Jason Bailey

 

A Nutshell Review [Stefan S]

 

IFC.com [Matt Singer]

 

Slant Magazine [Andrew Schenker]

 

The Wall Street Journal (Joe Morgenstern) review

 

The Onion A.V. Club review [B]  Keith Phipps

 

DVD Talk (Jason Bailey) review [4/5]  Theatrical review

 

DVD Talk (Jamie S. Rich) review [2/5]  Theatrical review

 

CompuServe (Harvey S. Karten) review

 

RopeofSilicon (Brad Brevet) review [B+]

 

exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

One Guy's Opinion (Frank Swietek) review [B]

 

eFilmCritic.com (Brian Orndorf) review [3/5]  also seen here:  DVD Talk (Brian Orndorf) review [3/5]  Theatrical review, and here:  Briandom [Brian Orndorf]

 

Big Picture Big Sound (David Kempler) review [2/4]

 

Annette Bening on Mother and Child, Taking Risks, and Getting Wrong Right   S.T. VanAirsdale interview of Annette Bennings from Movieline, May 6, 2010

 

The Hollywood Reporter review  Kirk Honeycutt

 

Entertainment Weekly review [C+]  Lisa Schwartzbaum

 

Screen Daily.com [Tim Grierson]  Subscription only

 

Variety (Todd McCarthy) review

 

Toronto Star (Greg Quill) review [3.5/4]

 

The Boston Phoenix (Tom Meek) review

 

San Francisco Chronicle (Mick LaSalle) review [3/4]

 

Chicago Tribune [Michael Phillips]

 

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

 

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

 

Garland, Alex

 

EX MACHINA                                               B+                   91

Great Britain  (108 mi)  2015  ‘Scope                             Official Facebook        

                       

As the author of The Beach, a 1996 cult novel that became a motion picture, also the writer of Danny Boyle’s highly inventive zombie thriller 28 DAYS LATER…(2002), the futuristic space adventure SUNSHINE (2007), but also the sci-fi box office disaster DREDD (2012), all depictions of humans on the brink of survival, often expressed through a bleak, post-apocalyptic vision where scientific progress imprisons and dehumanizes people as much as it liberates them and expands their potential, Alex Garland’s first venture into writing and directing has led him surprisingly to an A-list of actors to work with.  Exploring the idea of an early era of artificial intelligence, the film raises ethical questions about the rights of sentient androids created under a corporate banner that for all practical purposes “owns” them, capable of making modifications and updates, perhaps against the expressed wishes of the creatures themselves who have no say in the matter, but are completely owned and controlled by their creators, despite having feelings and a will of their own, in the process questioning our own idea of humanity, where the real monster is man and not the machine.  In a sense, this is a bit like the John Hughes teen comedy WEIRD SCIENCE (1985) where a couple of nerdy social misfits astoundingly create an ideal dream woman from their computers, one that supposedly meets their idea of perfection, where in each case, it’s hard for these men not to fall uncontrollably in love with their invention, modeling them, after all, to serve their every need.  Scarlett Johansson played a sexy computer operating system in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013) using just her voice, programmed to sound warm and compassionate, but that didn’t stop Joaquin Phoenix from falling in love with his computer.  This is a variation on that male fantasy, where what happens, perhaps unsurprisingly, is that these artificial creatures have a mind of their own, separate and distinct from their creators, as expressed by the dying and about to expire replicants in Blade Runner (1982), but also the ever expanding mental capacities of Johansson’s artificial intelligence, who never sleeps, by the way, demonstrating she’s capable of maintaining multiple relationships at once, each one more complex than the next in search of higher forms of consciousness, literally leaving humans behind on their evolutionary trajectory.  While the androids have a desperate desire to save themselves, even to get in touch with their own soul, if that’s possible, humans are still bogged down in relatively minor details, at the dawn of a new age of scientific invention, with little comprehension about playing God or crossing any real moral boundaries.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t minimize any of these issues, a throwback to Fritz Lang’s science-fiction classic METROPOLIS (1927), which featured an erotic female robot that drove men wild with passion, eventually instilling chaos in contemporary society, a cautionary tale about the crushing power of modern industrial life where the presence of a robot created in a heavily stylized human form was a jarring experience.  This film is modeled in that image, but on a much smaller scale in a more intimate setting, concentrating on a secret introductory project of unleashing artificial intelligence into the world while still in the early experimental stages.  While the title refers to a plot device known as “deus ex machina,” which literally means “god from the machine,” where an object magically solves an impossible problem in the narrative, the origin comes from Greek tragedy where a machine is used to bring actors playing gods onto the stage, often with mythological implications, a perfect example being Icarus flying too close to the sun, with this invention in the film being described as Promethean, literally bringing something from the gods down to earth, for which they will pay an eternal price.      

 

Something of a reinvention of Mary Shelley’s early 19th century Frankenstein story, perhaps the essence of the film is how complex thought is wrapped in such simplicity and sleek elegance, where the reliance upon such technical detail never feels over the viewer’s head, but is presented in a highly appealing manner set in one of the most extraordinary locations on earth.  From the outset we are introduced to a relatively low-ranking computer programmer in a large corporation, Caleb Smith, played by Domhnall Gleeson from Calvary (2014) and 2014 Top Ten List #10 Frank , also Shadow Dancer (2012), and before that an earlier Garland script NEVER LET ME GO (2010), which was actually written before the Kazuo Ishiguro novel upon which it was based was even published.  Caleb works for Bluebook, the world’s largest Internet search engine, where he’s been selected as the lottery prize-winner among company staff to win a week in an undisclosed remote location in Alaska with the company’s founder and CEO, Nathan Bateman, Oscar Isaac from A Most Violent Year (2014) and Inside Llewyn Davis (2012), the reclusive billionaire genius who wrote the code that launched his career success when he was only 13, retreating to the wilds of Alaska and has barely been seen or heard from since.  Flying by helicopter over mountainous terrain (actually shot in Norway), Caleb is surprised to discover it’s all Nathan’s land they’ve been traversing for the past two hours, dropping him off in the middle of an open field where he’ll be retrieved exactly one week later.  Following a river to an opulent, ultra-modern architectural dream home that is fully automated, installed with the latest hi-tech security systems, with Schubert and Bach playing on his sound system and Jackson Pollock and Gustav Klimt paintings hanging on his walls, blending uniquely into its natural surroundings with wall-sized glass windows, while also serving as his own private research facility, Nathan lives a solitary life attended to only by the enigmatic presence of silent house maid named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), who supposedly doesn’t speak English.  The reason for Caleb’s visit, where he was actually chosen for being the most talented coder in the company, is to evaluate a female robot Nathan designed with artificial intelligence, giving her the Turing test, designed by British genius Alan Turing from The Imitation Game (2014), where his job will be to determine if the android is indistinguishable from a human being, calling the experiment, somewhat modestly, “the greatest scientific event in the history of man.”   Named Ava, Alicia Vikander from Pure (Till det som är vackert)  (2009) and A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære) (2012), she utilizes her ballerina training by the gracefully fluid and agile manner in which she moves, while also being coy, impassive, and shyly demure, bringing a tender humanity to the character, where it’s often easy to forget she is playing a machine.  Whether in METROPOLIS or a recent film like Under the Skin (2013), for a hundred years the futuristic, science fiction element has allowed women to be viewed as an unknowable, alien presence.  Both emboldened by the opportunity, each daily visit holds a certain amount of suspense, because they are infrequent and limited in scope, each one entitled “Ava: Session 1,” etc.  She is, of course, surprised to see him, as she’s never seen anyone but Nathan before.  Thrown into the mix are blackout periods at the compound when the power inexplicably turns off, whereupon all doors are immediately locked until power can be resumed a short period afterwards, where Garland bathes the screen in a red light, creating a chilling atmospheric mood of dread and suspense.  During these blackouts, Nathan has no access to the sessions that he otherwise observes and records, where Ava uses one of these moments to warn Caleb not to trust Nathan, describing him as dangerous.  Isaac plays him as a larger-than-life character with secret motives, a mad genius hiding his real intentions as he controls everything within the confines of his home, overseeing all, playing God, so to speak, where despite his friendly hospitality and outwardly gregarious nature, both Caleb and Ava see themselves as little more than lab rats within his locked compound.   

 

In keeping with the futuristic aspects of the story, one of the keys to the film is the ultra-modernistic setting combined with such a cold, abstract interior design, adding a formal precision that just happens to be the Juvet Landscape Hotel, The Hotel - Juvet, an utterly spectacular Norwegian hotel that is one of the architectural wonders of the world, with a minimalistic, state-of-the-art design that continually exposes the majestic splendor of the unspoiled naturalistic world outdoors.  This extraordinary partition of a separate indoor and outdoor existence couldn’t be more pronounced, a mirror image of their own existence, where Caleb is shocked to discover Kyoko is an earlier test product, where she curiously seems programmed to provide Nathan with whatever he wants, something of a sex toy, an expression of male arrogance and ego, leading to creepy thoughts that become even more disgusting when he’s willing to share her with Caleb, but the unseen parallel story is a rat in a maze that can never escape captivity, as neither Ava nor Kyoko have ever been outside or allowed to leave their perpetual confinement of living behind glass walls.  Caleb naturally begins to feel empathy for their plight, believing they’re being mistreated, as underneath their robotic perfection, doing and saying all the things they have been programmed to do, they are deathly afraid of Nathan.  During another blackout that she has actually learned to create, Ava reveals her underlying fears of what might happen to her if she fails to pass the test, as she might be switched off for an upgrade.  Caleb begins questioning his own existence, wondering if he’s being programmed by Nathan as well, where Isaac and Vikander are both truly remarkable in the scope of their performances, conveying secret worlds of untapped motives and possibilities that remain hidden beneath the surface, challenging the audience to identify with a computer-programmed robot.  Who’s to say one is better than or inferior from another?  They are simply placed in different circumstances, where the story revolves around the lives of the three main characters, and to a smaller degree the fourth, where the brilliance of the film is that it reveals the Turing test for what it is, a test of the humans and not the machine.  Even Nathan envisions a future where the humans will be at the mercy of the machines, who will be so much faster and smarter, able to self-repair and live without sleep, illness, or aging, where they can literally live forever.  This understanding, however, leads to his security fears and overcontrolling nature, where he continues to tinker with what he’s created, where he feels introducing A.I. robots is an inevitable part of the human condition, that if he didn’t create them then someone else would.  It’s a fascinating balance of power between the main participants, constantly fluctuating in each scene, becoming a story of deceit, obsession, and manipulation, where the director himself never gives away his true intentions, which keeps the viewer off guard, where the less one knows, the better the experience.  The familiar aspect of these stories is attributing human traits to computers, where they are not simply content to serve humans any more than Scarlett Johansson is in Her, or your pet dog would be, as there’s simply more to a happy and fulfilling life.  Exploring human consciousness through a science fiction narrative has always held a certain mysterious intrigue both in literature and film, where Vikander’s beguiling beauty as Ava has an undeniable femme fatale appeal, complete with all the noirish trappings, where you might get sucked down the proverbial rabbit hole if you’re not careful.  The darkening mood throughout is unsettling and eventually disturbing, veering into horror territory, where the expanse of Nathan’s secret hideaway and the suffocating confinement within is an extension of his own flawed character, beautifully filmed by Rob Hardy, while the throbbing musical score by Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow underscores the enveloping claustrophobia, where the subject being explored is the mystery of the human condition, equally baffling whether seen through a computer or a human vantage point, where by the end they are seamlessly blended into one.     

 

To his credit, Garland enlisted Murray Shanahan (Home - Professor Murray Shanahan), Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Imperial College London, and writer and geneticist Adam Rutherford as science advisers.  Paul Smith interviews Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak from The Australian Financial Review Weekend, March 24, 2015, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on the Apple Watch ...:

  

“Computers are going to take over from humans, no question,” Mr Wozniak said.

 

He said he had long dismissed the ideas of writers like Raymond Kurzweil, who have warned that rapid increases in technology will mean machine intelligence will outstrip human understanding or capability within the next 30 years.  However Mr Wozniak said he had come to recognise that the predictions were coming true, and that computing that perfectly mimicked or attained human consciousness would become a dangerous reality.

 

“Like people including Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have predicted, I agree that the future is scary and very bad for people.  If we build these devices to take care of everything for us, eventually they’ll think faster than us and they’ll get rid of the slow humans to run companies more efficiently,” Mr Wozniak said.

 

“Will we be the gods?  Will we be the family pets?  Or will we be ants that get stepped on?  I don’t know about that … But when I got that thinking in my head about if I’m going to be treated in the future as a pet to these smart machines … well I’m going to treat my own pet dog really nice.”

 

Ex Machina review: Sci-fi thriller ventures into the garden of ...  Paul Byrnes from The Sydney Morning Herald

In 1927, Fritz Lang created a beautiful female robot for his futuristic Metropolis, a parable about the crushing power of modern industrial life. She was an erotic puzzle – stylised human form, mechanical brain, a metallic knockout who challenged conventional ideas of sexuality. 

Directing his first feature after some impressive scripts (28 Days Later, Never Let Me Go), Alex Garland applies the same idea, with a story about the world's first truly intelligent artificial babe. She's played by Alicia Vikander​, who's fast becoming the hottest new star in the cinema firmament. As Vera Brittain in the superb Testament of Youth, set during World War I, Vikander gives a joltingly human performance. Her performance as the cyborg Ava in Ex Machina is just as jolting, if less human. This is a film of creepy modernity and prescience, as Metropolis was in its time. 

Garland's script starts with the classics. A young man with a bright future is summoned to the castle-like home of a mysterious loner, like Jonathan Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) wins a competition within his giant technology conglomerate to spend a week with the company founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), working on new ideas. A helicopter flies him into a northern wilderness and dumps him in a field. "This is as close as I'm allowed to go," says the pilot. If a wolf had howled at the moon I would not have been surprised, but Garland sets the scene in daylight, to avoid such cliches. 

The young man finds his way along the river to a striking, architecturally bleak house on the edge of a cliff. Admittance is automated; there are no staff. He finds Nathan working out, nursing a hangover. He is overawed to be in the presence of the world's most brilliant technical mind. Nathan puts him at ease: he's just a smart dude with a cool house, where access to every room is controlled by a coded pass. And before we start work, please sign this non-disclosure agreement. 

Nathan is working on artificial intelligence. Caleb's job is to apply the Turing test to Ava. Devised by famed British scientist and mathematician Alan Turing, the test is designed to find out if a machine is capable of intelligent behaviour, indistinguishable from a human. Over the seven days, Caleb will talk to Ava while Nathan observes. Shaven-headed, delicately beautiful, she sits behind glass in her own room, a lonely princess, imprisoned by her creator. Caleb can't help but be attracted, but he is confused, too. She seems to be attracted to him. 

Stanley Kubrick was fascinated by the possibilities and dangers of AI, as we know, and Garland constructs this movie with deliberate echoes of his style. It's a cool conception, with highly designed modernist interiors that act like a bulwark to the rampant nature outside, and an unhurried rhythm. The only greenery inside is a wall next to Ava's enclosure. She draws the plants, suggesting to Caleb that she is artistically sentient. When the power goes down, she tells him not to trust Nathan, an alarming development in their relationship. 

There are lots of these synthetic creatures in movies lately, and they're mostly female. Scarlett Johansson played a sexy operating system in Her, using just her voice. She was so seductive, warm and caring that Joaquin Phoenix fell in love with his computer. Then he discovered that she was cheating on him. That was funny and logical, because a super-intelligent AI would certainly be capable of multiple relationships at once. Some might see an old theme here: faithless women. 

Ex Machina is certainly meant to carry an echo of The Book of Genesis, not just in Ava's name, but in the fact that the only plants inside the building are where she can see them. There's no apple tree, but you get the picture. The difference here is that Nathan, the Creator, is present in this Garden of Eden, along with the young man he has cast as Adam.

This is a film about men rather than women – their desires, weaknesses, stupidity and vulnerability. Technically speaking, there are no women in the film, just machines in female form. Garland suggests that given half a chance, men would happily take advantage of these sexy cyborgs, as long as they were able to be controlled. The question here is whether they would still be so malleable once they had artificial intelligence? As Hal the computer sang to himself as he died in 2001: A Space Odyssey: "Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do, I'm half crazy, all for the love of you." 

Ex Machina / The Dissolve  Tasha Robinson

The question of what it means to be human has preoccupied science fiction for decades: Futurism and ideas about new technology, new worlds, and new species have always caused creators to re-examine themselves, and wonder whether there’s anything fundamental to humanity that will stay the same if everything else changes. Even so, it seems like the question has been on filmmakers’ minds more than usual lately, with films as diverse as Transcendence, Under The Skin, and Her all poking queasily at the idea of how a non-human intelligence reflects back on the idea of a human one. 

Alex Garland, the novelist who wrote The Beach (which Danny Boyle adapted into a film) and the screenwriter of 28 Days Later and Sunshine (also directed by Boyle), makes his directorial debut with Ex Machina, the latest to take up the thread. In this case, the non-human intelligence is a robot named Ava, and the question is how close an A.I. can come to being human—and, given human frailties, whether she might want to. 

Domhnall Gleeson (Frank, About Time) stars as Caleb, a flunky programmer in a vast, industry-dominating computing corporation that’s half Google, half Facebook. When Caleb wins a company-wide contest, he’s granted a week with reclusive, mysterious company owner Nathan (Inside Llewyn Davis’ Oscar Isaac) at a high-tech, remote house where Nathan lives with one non-English-speaking servant (Sonoya Mizuno) and all the comforts of a futuristic prison. Nathan wants Caleb to interact with Ava (Alicia Vikander), who’s imprisoned in her own hermetically sealed quarters, and decide whether she’s a true A.I., or just a crafty program imitating sentience. Inevitably—in fact, immediately—Ava starts manipulating Caleb, seducing him in the hopes that he’ll help her escape. The questions that interest Garland aren’t whether she’ll succeed, but what her intentions are. Or really, what anyone’s intentions are, since Caleb, Nathan, and the servant are all just as opaque and alien in their various ways as the artificial being in her box.

None of Ex Machina’s broad strokes are surprising: The story falls out so predictably at every stage that it can be frustrating. It’s the details that are surprising, and purposefully alarming. Garland shot the film in low light, with a mostly desaturated palette, and in a setting made largely from smoked glass, dull metals, and polished wood. The environment itself becomes oppressively soulless and poreless, a repudiation of the whispering trees and rushing river just outside the walls. The spare, chilly, synth-y score, by nature-doc composer Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, follows suit, with suggestively throbbing themes designed to unnerve viewers and imply a lurking threat. The whole film feels alert and alarmed in a way that makes Caleb and Ava’s mild fencing about identity and intention, and Caleb and Nathan’s more complicated and contentious relationship, seem perpetually on the verge of violence.

Also more interesting than the plot, or the banal dialogue, which lays out the themes guilelessly and without much nuance: the shifting emotions of the piece, which take on more import than what’s actually being said. Caleb initially patronizes Ava gently, as if she were a child or a particularly smart ape. There’s an unmistakable masculine collusion between him and Nathan over her, as if Nathan were pimping her out, which isn’t far from the truth. Garland has Nathan underline his role with a grunting physicality—he’s a physical fanatic, constantly engaged in some form of sweaty, muscle-building exercise—and a series of attempts to get Caleb into a casually joshing, bro-tastic relationship. Ava’s gentle seduction of Caleb is rote, a playing out of old, tired “woman as unknowable mystery” tropes. But what keeps it interesting is that he’s aware of what both she and Nathan are up to, and he holds himself in reserve, fencing with them with what seems to him like sophisticated analysis. It doesn’t save him in either case. The whole film comes across as a claustrophobic, single-set stage play, but also as a three-handed game of chess in which the most confident player doesn’t realize he’s outmatched from the beginning.

Like Her, Ex Machina lacks any real twists, and proceeds along science-fiction lines that will be familiar to habitués. (See The Reveal for more.) But it makes up for its linearity with verve, first in the impeccably controlled, intellectually rigorous direction, and then in the performances. Vikander isn’t trying to seem human so much as she’s trying to seem like a clockwork device performing as a human, and the layers come across cleanly. Gleeson has rapidly stepped into Paul Dano’s abandoned role as everyone’s favorite outwardly well-meaning, inwardly peevish and hapless protagonist bound for trouble. He makes a perfect fit for what seems to be Garland’s favorite role: the Nice Guy whose self-effacing charisma hides a deeply selfish, narcissistic core. But Isaac is Ex Machina’s most important player, tasked with most reliably drawing and repelling Caleb and the audience, and giving the story its spine. He’s the one responsible for selling the film’s queasiest undercurrent: a feeling that if this is what humanity looks like, we’re definitely better off with artificial, alien, inhuman intelligences in charge.

Deep Focus: Ex Machina | Film Comment  Michael Sragow, April 22, 2015

Ex Machina is a high-IQ sci-fi film that connects viscerally and on every other level to audiences of all kinds. It’s exhilarating to see this movie in a theater packed with people rapt in the taut spell of its life-or-death drama and rippling with nervous laughter at its frisky, kinky sexuality and absurdist undertones. The subject is artificial intelligence, but the writer, Alex Garland, in his debut as a director, makes it about traditional intelligence and emotional intelligence, too. Though Garland builds dark twists into his realistic fantasy, he also imbues it with unexpected streaks of sympathy—for humans and for humanoids—that actually add to the tension and the horror.

This coiled-wire story unfolds within the confined research compound and conceptually limitless world of a genius tycoon, Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). He wrote the base code for the world’s dominant search engine when he was 13. Now he dwells in his own Fortress of Solitude in a mountainous northern clime. (The published script places the action in Alaska, but the stunning locations are Norwegian.) The movie starts when a young programmer wins a contest in Nathan’s company. His name is Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), and he looks impossibly boyish even for a lad in his mid-twenties.

The grand prize is to spend a week with Nathan at his lair. Caleb soon learns that he won’t just pal around with the boss in a grand-scale goodwill gesture, he’ll also test Nathan’s current object of obsession—a talking robot named Ava (Alicia Vikander), who could be Caleb’s dream girl. Her fresh face is crafted from some creamy flesh-like substance, and her fascinatingly curvy physique is molded from various metals and fibers that look tensile yet inviting. Special-effects supervisor Andrew Whitehurst has cited Brancusi as an influence on her design, but Ava plays like a runway superstar at the height of peekaboo fashion. She moves like a silvery vision—pretty and in synch. Apart from opaque patches on her chest and hips, she resembles a sensual version of the “Visible Woman” modeling kit, with fluid new technologies and snaky wiring viewable through her meshwork instead of bones, arteries, nerves, muscles, and veins. You notice strings of lights running down her neck like a vertical necklace or looping through her innards like warning lights at a rollercoaster turn. She’s the best-looking automaton ever—and the first that may be capable of thinking like a person.

Nathan wants Caleb to be the human component in his version of the Turing test. In the course of his getaway week he will interact with Ava and decide whether there’s any difference between this thinking robot and a real live human. Caleb says that to play “the Imitation Game” by classic rules, “the machine should be hidden from the examiner.” Nathan argues that Ava’s voice and verbal responses are so lifelike that Caleb would have to consider her human if he didn’t look at her. The true test, he contends, is whether Caleb can see Ava as the robot she is yet respond to her thoughts—and, yes, her emotions—as if they’re real.

The “Ava Sessions” comprise a superbly cunning setup for a surprisingly affecting sci-fi movie that’s also a merciless nail-biter. The content is cutting-edge science and the script is replete with debates, but Nathan’s challenge to Caleb puts the emphasis on his feelings and his ability to analyze the evidence of his senses. The narrative twists make viewers judge the depth of their own feelings and the keenness of their own senses. If you go in knowing it’s a thriller, you still wonder, in a good way, what kind of suspense is being generated, even as the film exerts an ineluctable pull. For long stretches Garland avoids conventional conflict and jeopardy while making clear that the stakes are as momentous as they are in a sci-fi epic like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (another movie that turns genre melodrama upside down, in an optimistic way). After all, bonding with the first fully human-like AI is as epochal an event as communicating up close with an ET. Ava is so enticing that Garland achieves erotic shock and awe.

That’s partly a tribute to Vikander, who at 26 has established herself as a performer of immense charm and range, breathing a full spectrum of poignancy into the ultimate ingénue role of Kitty in Anna Karenina (12), and summoning the passionate smarts needed to play Britain’s Princess Caroline Mathilde as an Enlightenment heroine in the terrific historical romance A Royal Affair (12). As Ava, Vikander explodes the concept of tabula rasa. She is not merely blank. She plays a multitude of nascent emotions infinitesimally small, as if Ava realizes how closely she’s being studied and knows that any flicker of her eye, upturn of her chin, or nibble of her lip creates a thunderous mood change. As a character, Ava is in turn touching and eerie. You may not realize how witty Vikander’s performance is until after the movie is over. Vikander does to moviegoers what Ava does to Caleb—draws us ever closer in.

Ava turns the tables on Caleb early on, noting, “You learn about me and I learn nothing about you”—forcing her interrogator to admit that it’s not a balanced foundation for friendship, as if being friends or lovers had always been their goal. Before long, it’s evident that she’s quicker at reading him than vice versa. She says she can tell that he’s attracted to her because of his “micro-expressions.” That’s a great word to describe the subtleties Gleeson invests in all his roles, even as the hero’s Army Air Force buddy in the bludgeoning Unbroken. Right now he’s nonpareil at playing a bright young man who can be affable to a fault, but is also wily and proud. He’s spontaneous and archetypal in Ex Machina—a scrawny Everyman for a wired world. He’s funny and sympathetic when he expresses fear, especially when he worries that shacking up with Ava would be like living with a lie detector.

In a narrative deck stacked with wild cards, Isaac’s Nathan is the craziest. He’s a mad scientist who is oppressively physical—a super-nerd who comes on as a crude guy’s guy. A workout fiend with a mysteriously silent mistress/assistant named Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno), he shaves his pate down to a stubble, lets his beard and moustache go full, and sports oblong wire-rim glasses. Nathan is a mess of contradictions. He’s a control freak who gets drunk. He’s a connoisseur who puts Schubert and Bach on his sound system and Jackson Pollock and Gustav Klimt on his walls but pretends he’s wowed by Caleb’s eloquence and cowed by his cultural references—notably a glib nod to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. After Isaac’s vapid Michael Corleone imitation in A Most Violent Year, it’s wonderful to see him comically original and creepy, whether disco-dancing with Kyoko or asking Caleb “Who you gonna call?” Isaac turns an unhinged knowingness into a horror-comic style.

Garland implants multiple themes in each strand of his simple plot. Even the asides in this movie are continuously intriguing, like Nathan assuring Caleb that his facial-recognition key-card will be a convenience, since it opens only rooms that should be guest-accessible. How often in this connected age do we barter away freedom for convenience?

In his most revealing speech, Nathan tells Caleb that his competitors thought search engines were “a map of what people were thinking. Actually, they were a map of how people were thinking. Impulse, response. Fluid, imperfect. Patterned, chaotic.” Those last half-dozen words sum up the look Garland, production designer Mark Digby, and cinematographer (as well as camera operator) Rob Hardy have devised for this movie. Garland and Digby imagine that Nathan carved his mostly subterranean grey-wood compound straight out of a craggy hill, then filled it with pieces that cry out “Scandinavian Modern.” It may be chilly, but it’s fun. For me, it evoked memories of Dr. Morbius’s rock-walled sanctuary in Forbidden Planet. Nathan lines one hallway with a display of masks through the ages. When Ava peers at them, the image is part Return to Oz, part Time-Life Books “March of Progress.” Whatever you think of him, Nathan is a genius who cross-pollinates digital and organic thinking. On the wall behind his computer he’s mounted a veritable cliff-side of Post-Its.

You think you see daggers of thought jump between his and Caleb’s eyes—that’s how precisely Garland and Hardy frame tense, elegant compositions. But they’re not slaves to formalism. Ava prepares herself for a fantasy date with Caleb in an intimate montage of loose, handheld shots, well cut by Mark Day. The movie is simultaneously playful and serious: blue bolts seem to shoot through Caleb’s ginger hair from the software Nathan embeds in company computers.

The movie is fraught with possibilities. Is Nathan genuine when he argues that every sort of consciousness contains a sexual element, or is he merely bending logic to explain his urges? Is Ava devoted to self-preservation or is she also in love, at least for a time, with Caleb? Is she ultimately a misanthrope, and if so, does that make the film misogynistic? (I say the latter notion is humorless, if not ridiculous.) And what responsibility does Nathan owe any conscious beings of his own creation after they’ve outlived their usefulness?

Ex Machina is the best kind of speculative fiction: its action is brisk, its characters startling, and its meanings multifarious.

Sight & Sound [Philip Kemp]  January 23, 2015

 

Seongyong's Private Place [Seongyong Cho]

 

"Consciousness Awakening"  Enil Seth from New Scientist, January 21, 2015

 

Film Racket [Bill Gibron]

 

'Ex Machina' Review: Artfully Programmed for Pleasure - WSJ  Joe Morgenstern

 

Review: Alex Garland's Gripping, Brilliant, And Sensation ...  Oliver Lyttelton from The Playlist

 

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

 

IGN.com [Chris Tilly]

 

“Ex Machina” and “About Elly” Reviews - The New Yorker  Anthony Lane

 

Ex Machina Review: This Is What Sci-Fi-- What ALL Movies ...  Vivian Kane from Pajiba

 

Slant Magazine [Ed Gonzalez]

 

DVDTalk.com [Jeff Nelson]

 

Next Projection  Adrian Charlie

 

The Film Stage [Bill Graham]

 

Angeliki Coconi's Unsung Films [Hannah McHaffie]  also seen here:  Hannah McHaffie [Reel Insights]

 

Little White Lies [David Jenkins]

 

Digital Spy [Emma Dibdin]

 

Ex Machina Review - Vanity Fair  Joanna Robinson

 

Critic's Notebook [Martyn Bamber]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

Ex Machina is smart sci-fi that loses its way - The AV Club  Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from The Onion A.V. Club

 

Review: EX_MACHINA, How Men Perceive A ... - Twitch  Shelagh Rowan-Legg

 

SXSW Review: EX MACHINA | Badass Digest  Meredith Borders

 

AVForums [Cas Harlow]

 

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak on the Apple Watch ...  Paul Smith from Australian Financial Review Weekend, March 24, 2015, also seen here:  Wozniak fretted to The Australian Financial Review 

 

Alex Garland's Overachieving 'Ex Machina' Jumps To 2000 Screens; Don't Hold Your Breath For A Sequel  Mike Fleming from Deadline

 

The Playlist [Chase Whale]  interview April 7, 2015

 

'Ex Machina': Standout Sci-Fi Film About Artificial ... - NPR  Steve Inseep interviews LA Film Critic Kenneth Turan from NPR, April 10, 2015

 

The Hollywood Reporter [Stephen Dalton]

 

'Ex Machina' Review: Oscar Isaac Stars in Alex Garland's ...  Guy Lodge from Variety

 

Variety [Tim Gray]

 

Ex Machina review – dazzling sci-fi thriller - The Guardian  Mark Kermode

 

The Guardian [Peter Bradshaw

 

Examiner.com [Travis Hopson]  also seen here:  Punch Drunk Critics [Travis Hopson]

 

New Jersey Stage [Eric Hillis]

 

Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]

 

Los Angeles Times [Mark Olsen]

 

LA Weekly [Amy Nicholson]

 

L.A. Biz [Annlee Ellingson]

 

Ex Machina - Roger Ebert  Matt Zoller Seitz

 

New York Times [Manohla Dargis]

 

"‘Ex Machina’ Features a New Robot for the Screen"  Mekado Murphy from The New York Times, April 2, 2014, also seen here:  New York Times [Mekado Murphy]

 

"Beware Our Mind Children"  Maureen Dowd column from The New York Times, April 25, 2015 

 

Garland, Judy – actress

 

Biography  from Reel Classics

FRANCES GUMM was born to a family of vaudeville performers in Grand Rapids, Minnesota on June 10, 1922. She made her stage debut at age three, and appeared with her two older sisters in "The Gumm Sisters Kiddie Act" until the girls changed their name to Garland and one of them married, breaking up the act. Judy, as she was now called, encouraged by an ambitious mother, went solo with her big voice, and was signed by Louis B. Mayer to an MGM contract at age 13. Her first film (a short) was EVERY SUNDAY (1936) in which she played opposite the other rising child vocal star of the time, Deanna Durbin, but it was her portrayal of a young Clark Gable admirer in BROADWAY MELODY OF 1938 (1937) that brought her prominently into the public eye.

In her early career Judy made several films with Mickey Rooney, including LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY (1938) and BABES IN ARMS (1939), but it was her role as Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) that made her famous. She even won an honorary Oscar for her outstanding performance as a screen juvenile. Stardom had a price for Garland however, as she began to be plagued by a weight problem and stress. These led to drug problems as well, due to the pills the doctors were giving her to suppress her appetite, as well as those to help her sleep when the strain of work became too much.

Her film successes continued however, despite her personal struggles. After MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) in which Judy immortalized the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," she married the film's director Vincente Minnelli, and in 1946 had their daughter Liza Minnelli. This was the second of Garland's five marriages, and it ended in divorce in 1951. Despite other great performances in THE HARVEY GIRLS (1946), EASTER PARADE with Fred Astaire in 1948, and SUMMER STOCK in 1950 with Gene Kelly, Garland was fired by MGM in 1950 for chronically showing up late or not at all for work.

She began her comeback with the help of third husband, Sid Luft, through a number of live concert performances including an incredible 19-week engagement at the Palace Theater in New York. Finally in 1954, she returned to the screen in A STAR IS BORN with James Mason-- a performance which earned her a Best Actress nomination. Her personal troubles continued however, and though she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1961 for JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and gave a memorable concert at Carnegie Hall the same year, her film career, TV show, concert tours, and marriages all faltered. On June 22, 1969 Garland died of what was determined to be an accidental overdose of sleeping pills.

Judy Garland  Reel Classics
 
mardecortesbaja.com :: EVERY LITTLE MOVEMENT (HAS A MEANING ALL ...

 

My dance with Judy  Tom Nolan from The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2010

 

Garrel, Philippe

BAM : Brooklyn Academy of Music  Retrospective commentary

"Philippe Garrel is the proverbial underrated genius. He’s the closest thing to a poet functioning today in French cinema." —Olivier Assayas

"The greatest filmmaker you've almost certainly never heard of." —The New York Sun

A director’s director—called “the child of Cocteau and Godard” by Jacques Rivette—Garrel is one of the greatest French filmmakers of the past 40 years. A child of the Paris May ‘68 revolts, Garrel has created a unique filmography, both experimental and narrative. He has worked with icons such as Nico, Jean Seberg, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Catherine Deneuve, often examining relationships as haunted memory.

Voyeurism of the Soul: The Films of Philippe Garrel  Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema

Masculine Subjectivity and the Representation of Woman: the films of Philippe Garrel  Hilary Radner from Senses of Cinema

Garrel Filmography  compiled by Joelle Lê from Senses of Cinema

Strictly Film School  Acquarello reviews

Garrel, Philippe  They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They

Cinema-Scope Interview (2005)  History is the Enemy of Art: Philippe Garrel on Les amants réguliers, by Stefan Grissemann

village voice > film > Tracking Shots: Lonely Heart: Philippe ...   Leslie Camhi from the Village Voice, July 26, 2005

French Maverick, Rebel Auteur: Four Films of Philippe Garrel   Jameson West from the Austin Film Society

MARIE FOR MEMORY (Marie pour Mémoire)

France  (74 mi)  1967

 

Time Out

Philippe Garrel was the only member of the Zanzibar group to continue making films. A ludicrously early starter (first movie at 14), he was at the heart of the group, a flamboyant, gifted galvaniser. Freud and the fascistic collaborate in this 'home movie' portrait of the repressive father. And Garrel calls on Rimbaud, Cocteau and the French Symbolisits to support his case for the artistic impulse in resistance. (For an introduction to Zanzibar films and the 'Dandies of '68' see the review of Deux Fois.)

LE RÉVÉLATEUR

France  (67 mi)  1968

 

Time Out

Perhaps Garrel's most significant Zanzibar film, this is a startling silent b/w work about 'coming of age' and its implications for family and society. A deeply austere piece, lit only by a single pocket lamp, it follows the apocalyptic wanderings of a man, woman and child through a derelict insterstitial landscape. Four-year-old Stanislas Robiolles plays le révélateur (meaning the 'developer', in photographic terms), a child with a Christ-like mission. Rigorous and intense. (For an introduction to Zanzibar films and the 'Dandies of '68' see the review of Deux Fois.

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]

PIMA Group's 7:45 p.m. dance performance is followed by an outdoor video screening of Philippe Garrel's black-and-white 1968 silent, an avant-garde nightmare as unsettling as it is unforgettable. Shot on sensitive film stock that renders its blacks and whites uncommonly pure, Le Révélateur's images have a visual clarity matched by their conceptual simplicity. Each of the movie's long takes — there are no conventional cuts — features the same three actors: bohemian couple Laurent Terzieff and Bernadette Lafont plus 4-year-old Stanislas Robiolles, who at times seems to be their child, at others something more impenetrable and vaguely threatening. At its most unnerving, the movie suggests Night of the Living Dead recast as an abstract psychodrama: Garrel shoots his actors running along a strand of barbed-wire fence in tattered fur coats that are at once parodic and primal, finally tumbling into a quarry and pounding at the door of an isolated shack. That Garrel never suggests what malevolent force might be pursuing them only makes the movie stronger.

Le Révélateur, which puns on the French term for the chemical used to develop film, is an early but characteristic work by the enigmatic Garrel, a favorite of the Cinémathéque Français who has been gaining some aggressive champions of late (although so far his films are available only as import cassettes from the Re:Voir label). Ideally, his films, many of which are meant to be shown without sound, deserve an audience full of breathless acolytes, but Le Révélateur's visions are powerful enough to turn a Fishtown backyard into a place of worship.

Senses of Cinema  Brad Steven from Senses of Cinema

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

The Cinematic Threads   Matthew Lotti

 

THE VIRGIN’S BED (Le Lit de la Vierge)

France  (114 mi)  1969  ‘Scope

 

Zanzibar Cycle  CINE-FILE Chicago

 
The phrase "Aidez-nous, détruisez-vous" (Help us, destroy yourselves) was a rabble-rousing graffito that marked the walls of University of Paris's Nanterre campus in May 1968. It was in this place and at this volatile time in world politics that a generation of French artists and thinkers defined themselves around youth and workers' movements (recently chronicled in such films as Bernardo Bertolucci's THE DREAMERS and Philippe Garrel's REGULAR LOVERS). Among them were the Zanzibar filmmakers, who took the many street mottos and images of the '68 protests and turned them into phantasmagoric film allegories, many of them shot in North and East African countries in sumptuous 35mm (a format rarely afforded to experimental cinema), and shown elusively to late-night audiences by Henri Langlois at the Cinémathèque Française. Difficult to see for decades, a selection of the thirteen or so films made under the Zanzibar header from 1968-70 have recently resurged through the efforts of researchers such as Sally Shafto and original Zanzibar filmmaker Jackie Raynal, who will be present for both programs. Programmed by Gabe Klinger with generous assistance from Jackie Raynal-Saleh.
 
In this post-revolutionary re-imagining of the story of Christ, '60s fashion icon Zouzou (later the Chloe of CHLOE IN THE AFTERNOON) alternates three roles as mourning mother, pregnant Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene , while a withered Pierre Clementi (BELLE DE JOUR, THE CONFORMIST) plays Jesus reborn into the present world. Wandering, unable to understand the indifference around him, he bangs on the doors of apparently empty houses, crying "I am the savior!" Shot in black and white 'Scope, production began in France, but when further financing came in from heiress and Zanzibar patron Sylvina Boissonnas, Garrel expanded to exotic Marrakech and to the sacred Christian catacombs of Rome. Punctuated by lyrical longtakes, the film is also distinguished by music from John Cale and Nico, who Garrel met in post-production and who would vitally influence many of his later films. (Minimal French dialogue with English subtitles).
 

Read the Program Notes   Jameson West from the Austin Film Society

His is not a pious cinema, although it is a cinema of revelation.
--Gilles Deleuze, speaking of Philippe Garrel in The Time-Image

Zanzibar Films, less a production company than a state of mind, was originally formed under the auspices of a wealthy French heiress-turned-film-producer, Sylvina Boissonnas, as a haven for young Parisian artists and intellectuals whose only qualification was their willingness to transplant what they had witnessed in the lead up to the revolution onto the silver screen.  The short-lived film collective was offered an unprecedented level of creative freedom at a time of great social upheaval and the few films that remain today stand as the most deliberate affront to French cinema’s classical narrative conventions on record.  There were 13 film projects made under this banner between 1968 and 1970, many of which were never completed, went missing, or, in the case of Boissonnas’s directorial debut, entitled simply UN FILM, intentionally destroyed.  Nevertheless, the films that survived document an important cultural heritage mapped out in a series of 35mm black-and-white experimental films, a virtual zeitgeist repository which taken together bridge the gap between the nouvelle vague and the avant-garde, Zanzibar films stepping in as their proudly illegitimate offspring.

The first film to bear the Zanzibar name, Serge Bard’s DETRUISEZ-VOUS (the title a reference to the incendiary mantra emblazoned on the graffiti-ridden walls of the University of Paris’s Nanterre campus: “Aidez-nous, détruisez-vous/Help us, destroy yourselves”), prefigured the events of the revolution of May ‘68 and was shot literally weeks before the uprising with prophetic scenes of lecturers speaking to empty classrooms.  Soon after the revolution, more films began production under Zanzibar, many of them shot  outside of France in Africa and Morocco by artists in self-imposed exile.  Most were directed by first-time filmmakers who were famous for working in other facets of the industry.  Jacquie Raynal, who had already been working as a professional editor on Eric Rohmer’s films, was encouraged by Boissonnas to direct a film of her own, resulting in DEUX FOIS, a film in which Raynal introduces herself and the story to follow by asserting, “This evening will mark the end of meaning.” Another Zanzibar film immediately following the revolution, VITE, a non-narrative, surrealist act of protest heavily influenced by the French Symbolists, was directed by the accomplished Daniel Pommereulle, a painter, sculptor and occasional actor who played Daniel in Eric Rohmer’s LA COLLECTIONNEUSE and Joseph Balsamo in Jean-Luc Godard’s WEEK-END, ironically proclaiming at one point in Godard’s anti-film, “I am here to announce the beginning of flamboyance in all domains, especially in the cinema.”

But out of all the various filmmakers and artists who factored into the Zanzibar constellation, it was Philippe Garrel who shined the brightest, a young savant who first made a name for himself by directing LES ENFANTS DESACCORDES at the tender age of 16 and whose MARIE POUR MEMORIE, made four years later, had won the top prize at the Festival d’Hyères in 1968.  By the end of Zanzibar’s run, Garrel would make 3 films under the Zanzibar imprint: LA CONCENTRATION, starring New Wave icon Jean-Pierre Léaud; LE REVELATEUR, featuring Laurent Terzieff, known for his roles in films by Pasolini, Carné, and Buñuel, and Bernadette Lafont, who played Marie in Jean Eustache’s LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN / THE MOTHER AND THE WHORE; and, lastly, the film which represents the culmination of the director’s early, radicalized career, LE LIT DE LA VIERGE, begun only months after May 1968, with Garrel leaving the barricades of Paris behind to travel to Marrakesh and Rome.

LE LIT DE LA VIERGE opens on an extreme close-up of Zouzou, the model/actress, here playing dual roles – The Virgin Mary (the Mother) and Mary Magdalene (the Whore), an unholy trinity of fame, divinity and carnality, wrapped up in a headscarf and shrouded in black.  Her expression is one of quiet rapture and calm ecstasy.  The camera slowly tracks back on the woman’s blissful state, revealing a bed floating near the sea.  Garrel, who once described cinema  as “Freud plus Lumière,” plays with Oedipal themes throughout the course of the film, preoccupations which go back to his early Cocteau and Dreyer-influenced silent film, LE REVELATEUR.  As the canvas widens further, another figure (Pierre Clementi, an actor who likewise directed a number of Zanzibar films, here playing Jesus Christ in a trance-like, mythmaking performance) dressed in white linen emerges from the water, shivering and bewildered, a child naked and delivered from the womb.  The family is now complete – save for an absentee Father.

Thus begins Garrel’s first in a series of exactly 30 extended tracking shots which make up the whole of LE LIT DE LA VIERGE.  If tracking shots really are “a question of morality,” as Godard, inverting Luc Moulet’s assertion in a 1959 issue of Cahiers du Cinema, so ingeniously proclaimed, then Philippe Garrel’s LE LIT is undoubtedly the most moral – or, perhaps more appropriately, morally questionable – film ever made.  With the revolution still fresh in his mind, Garrel, effortlessly manages to compress the Immaculate Conception, the Resurrection and the Crucifixion in a single, circular, blasphemous movement, all the while posing a question at the outset uniquely suited to his time:  What would Jesus do if he were reborn a Parisian in 1968?  No one in the film, including the Savior himself, seems to quite know the answer. What follows in the parabolic arc of Garrel’s allegorical tale reflects his profound disillusionment to this end, one that the director would carry with him for 40 more years and 30 some films, all the way up through LES AMANTS REGULIERS.

Jesus, the reluctant revolutionary, is greeted with scorn upon his entrance into the city, treated kindly only by the prostitutes and lost children he encounters along the way.  Amid all the cries and desolation above, the film eventually moves underground to the sacred Christian catacombs of Rome, where an even worse fate awaits him.  Herein lies the horrors of the failed revolution, a nightmarish wellspring of shackled and wailing prisoners, masked men and tear-gas, guard dogs and firing squads; a surreal mosaic of serpentine hallways, ancient crypts, and half-mad generals; a “liturgy of bodies” as Gilles Deleuze, the French philosopher and film theorist, once referred to them. According to this dark vision of a crumbling civilization filled with straw men and scarecrows stuffed with newspaper, one can only barter with rocks – or, in a more apropos translation, “cobblestones.” In Garrel’s blasphemous version of the Bible story, Jesus is a lost soul in the complete sense, thrust upon a world he wants little to do with. Kafka’s lose-lose scenario:  The Son of God can’t gain entrance to the Castle, even with a bullhorn.  Sadly, the Savior’s only solace comes from playing that most existential of games: Hopscotch.

In the end, LE LIT DE LA VIERGE is a refutation of practically everything: revolution, religion, atheism, apathy, engagement, affectation, asceticism, action, inaction.  Even the collectivist spirit of the Zanzibar group, evidenced by the lack of credits, is deliberately undermined by the director’s appearance as himself in a scene in which he boldly orchestrates the action, pointing the camera towards the two leads as Nico’s “The Falconer” plays ominously on the soundtrack.  This willingness to separate himself from the pack was received poorly by many of his fellow Zanzibar filmmakers who accused the film of betraying the intentions of the movement, with its aesthetic beauty, technical virtuosity and deeply pessimistic view of the revolution and its promise.  In this way, Garrel succeeded in making a truly total and unified provocation, an achievement that was in keeping with the true spirit of the Zanzibar vows, but like so many of the aims espoused by the zealous militants of the May ’68 revolution, was more acceptable to them in purely theoretical terms. 

Notes on the Cinema Stylographer: Philippe Garrel Archives  Acquarello from Strictly Film School

 

YouTube - Le Lit de la vierge (Philippe Garrel, 1969) - clip  (3:30)

 

THE INNER SCAR (La Cicatrice Intérieure)

France  (60 mi)  1972

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: mingus_x from N.Y.

 

one of the worlds most underrated directors and one of his early masterpieces (besides 'les hautes solitudes'(jean seberg_those wonderful eyes, those secret moments !)). i have seen those movies about ten years ago and since then desperately try to make it all happen again, but monsieur garrel hides his work in paris from the outside (video)dvd-world, why ??(why not, he may answer since his french production company has got this name) please hear(read) this and make at least one of your admirers life joyful again...

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: (mmillington554@hotmail.com) from United Kingdom

 
Where to begin? A review of a film over 30 years old, seen by so few people that its existence in the public domain is now a source of wonderment. How I don't know, but somehow a version of this film has surfaced in Japan on DVD, complete with Japanese subtitles. Little help one suspects for a bemused audience needing fluent French, English and German to follow the plot and the songs.

Plot, however, is something of a misnomer. There appears to be one...of sorts.

In some ways this is Nico's film. She wrote the script, has a central role in the film, and provides about half of her songs from her album Desertshore, and the later recorded Konig, as soundtrack. In fact the songs are integral to the film in a way that predates the later use of promotional video. She looks, as always, stunning. Even though dressed in what looks like biblical sackcloth, cut in a modern design. Philippe Garrel was said to have designed their clothes.

The main star of the film is not however human - it is the landscape. Garrel has filmed his story in a wide range of deserts. Hot sandy deserts, cold glacial deserts, hot rocky deserts, hot lava deserts in a cold environment. Earth, fire and water (often in the form of ice) are very much at the centre of the film. This return to the elements, to the absolute basics of being, provides a platform from which a narrative evolves. Not many films have not only the distinction of being filmed in Sinai, Death Valley and Iceland, but of making the landscapes such a central feature of each scene.

Given the difficulties of getting to see this film at all, I'll run the risk of "spoiling" the plot by talking about it. This is nowhere near as straightforward as might be assumed. Any description of the plot will inevitably involve a good deal of speculation and interpretation.

The films opens with Philippe Garrel walking a rocky path. His clothing and general appearance indicate a poet, a romantic. He encounters Nico sitting on a rock. In silence he takes her onto his path and into his journey. She asks "where are you taking me", receives no answer, but continues to walk with him.

The next scene has Nico, totally distraught, sitting in a different desert holding onto Garrel, who appears to want to leave. Eventually he pulls away from her hand and walks away. He walks around in a circle, panned perfectly by the camera, stepping over Nico as he completes his circle, only to walk another circle before she stands, pushes him away and wanders off in a different direction. All of this accompanied by Janitor of Lunancy, a sado-masochistic song about power in relationships addressing the past, present and future. You might think that this is the end of the relationship, but no, because they break up again as they walk along a glacier in a different desert. This time Garrel dies, but Nico survives.

And hence into a sort of opening scene, where Nico provides a commentary in German.

Nico appears from this point on to have become something of an old testament prophet. Dressed in her biblical sackcloth and standing on a rock in yet another another desert, she has a soliloquy, contrasting nonsense with mercy, concluding that there is no mercy, before being given a small goat by a passing shepherd. She has prophesied that the "waters will rise over your heads".

Cue for the next scene to begin with a small sailing boat containing a naked man washed up on a glacial beach. This is the archer and horseman. He mounts an Icelandic pony who takes him away. Nico is still prophesying, at first on a cliff, then in one of the most beautiful scenes ever filmed, standing on a rock at the base of a waterfall from where she informs him that "we can never be here until we die/dance???". The photography in these scenes in especially impressive. The technical difficulties of filming large scale scenes with dialogue against a wind swept or water teeming backdrop are transcended. All scenes are shot in real time with a single moving camera. There is no visual editing to improve the realism. Garrel makes every shot count.

In the next scene the fireguard picks up and carries a bowl of fire. Walking slowly against the wind and past lava flows, he guards the flame, before merging with the dark.

A naked child, alone, lies on a bed of feathery down, indented in the glacial ice. A nest. The archer sails in, bringing a bowl of fire, and sets it down on the icy shore. The child is pleased.

We now enter the land of fire. The horseman is running across a flat hilltop, volcanoes in the distance, tracked by the camera until he encounters Nico, still as a statue. She is petrified to the spot. He wakes her from a spell. She wants him to stay but she walks backwards away from him. They leave in different directions. He turns to watch her in the distance. Two figures in a landscape somehow conjoined but very separated.

Nico, wind swept, stands high above a glacial lake. The scene lingers, wind providing the only movement. The camera turns 90 degrees. The horseman rides in from nowhere. They walk together toward the seashore. He sails away, she returns inland.

Nico walks down a rocky path. She finds the fire king. He sees her sitting high on a ledge above his cave. He climbs the rock to pass her his sword. She has become king. The song Konig accompanies the scene.

 

The New York Times (Roger Greenspun)

 

LES HAUTES SOLITUDES

France  (80 mi)  1974
 
A Tale of Two Conferences: For Ever Godard and Garrel Éternel   Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema (excerpt)
 
Les Hautes solitudes is a silent, black and white study primarily of three women - Nico, Tina Aumont and, especially, Jean Seberg - and the nature of performance (a man, Laurent Terzieff, also fleetingly appears). In a series of close up images of heart stopping beauty, the sort that bring to mind Jean Renoir's claim that it was the power of the close-ups of actresses in the cinema of the '20s that made him want to make films, Aumont and Seberg improvise psychodramas.
 

LE BERCEAU DE CRISTAL

France  (80 mi)  1976

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: david melville (dwingrove@qmuc.ac.uk) from Edinburgh, Scotland

 

A weird and dreamy minimalist underground art movie, Le Berceau de Cristal offers no joy whatsoever to mainstream film buffs - but doomed romantics, drug takers and fans of director Philippe Garrel may find it hypnotic and profoundly moving. An androgynous poet/dreamer (played by Nico - Velvet Underground singer, Eurotrash icon and Garrel's other half) sits and writes and meditates on the aching void that is her life. Hieratic and semi-mythical beings show up to haunt her dreams. Dominique Sanda as a fleshy Pre-Raphaelite earth goddess. Anita Pallenberg as an impishly grinning, emaciated drug diva - shooting up live on camera. An early icon of 'heroin chic.'

Not one of these figures utters a word to disturb Nico's reverie. Beyond the poet's voice is only silence and an intermittent, achingly lovely music score. (Uncredited, but perhaps the work of Garrel's frequent collaborator, the Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale.) Impossible to say what any of this is about, only that - in the last few seconds - Nico takes out a revolver and blows a hole in her skull. By that time, you may be so bored that you have an overwhelming desire to do the same, or you may be - as I was - curled up in a primal ball, gazing raptly at the screen and silently sobbing.

So if you are a morbid manic-depressive neo-romantic, Le Berceau de Cristal is the film for you. If you value your sanity, stay well clear.

 

L’ENFANT SECRET

aka:  Secret Child

France  (92 mi)  1982

 

Rouge [Serge Daney]

A man communicates that he has suffered. A filmmaker claims to be testifying for his generation. An experience struggles to become a story. A frozen narrative still burns. Is it a film? If so, then L’Enfant secret bears little resemblance to what passes today as French cinema. ‘Suffering’, ‘testimony’, ‘experience’, ‘narrative’ – ill-seen, ill said, old-fashioned words, words that frighten. Let’s start again. 

The man has suffered but he doesn’t complain too much (he’s a dandy). His generation? Lost, of course, but there’s more to it, since it’s our generation. The experience? There’s no point in mourning. A man and a woman with biblical names (Elie and Jean-Baptiste), played by two Bressonian actors (Anne Wiazemsky and Henri de Maublanc) – shock treatment meets overdose under the rooftops of Paris. And between them Swann, the child, a badly kept secret. The Swan, a sign of life and mutual survival: the child of children, a fragment of trembling celluloid. And what about the narrative? They don’t make them like this anymore. Each moment, cut as finely as flint, fondled like a pebble passed from hand to hand, with a beginning and end, a before and after. In that case, let’s start again. 

This isn’t the kind of suffering that’s proud of itself, but silent, contained, having few words and images at its disposal. What counts is that it’s there. In the place that he’s had to pass through. In a convulsive gesture (watch Wiazemsky’s hands in the final scene) or a toneless voice (listen to the man talk about his psychiatric confinement: the pain of ‘putting himself together again’ between two periods of absence from himself). It’s in the ugliness of hotel rooms in a freezing cold Paris. It’s on a blood-stained sheet, in the overdue smile of one character, in the grin that passes for a smile of another. There’s nothing to say about suffering. It’s every man for himself, shot by shot. The same goes for the spectator (it’s taken for granted that the spectator has also suffered). 

As for the testimony, one can laugh for sure. One more lost generation! Of late (with the appearance of Mourir à trente ans), questions have been asked about which veteran will recount the fine tales of the generation that was twenty in ’68 (Garrel’s generation). Who will film the militancy, the drugs, the destitution, the trips and the flips? Which insider can do it? Now L’Enfant secret isn’t The Mother and the Whore but, ten years on, it’s the film that comes closest to it. In Eustache’s film characters spoke until they vomited, they never stopped judging, discourse might have killed them. Yet they clung on to a zone of mortal silence at the heart of a native language taken to breaking point. 

With Garrel we have the inverse situation. Characters are too quiet, the words they use too awkward, no one knows how to judge anymore, they form part of a world where everyone must be good (Garrel’s angelism, no secret to anyone) and that must exist somewhere but never quite where one is. Garrel carves out a zone of ‘blank’ monologues at the heart of aphasia. Observe Elie and Jean-Baptiste talking to each other captured by a single aerial camera movement. ‘Have you eaten today?’ – ‘Wait, let me tell you about the film ... ’ 

Now to experience. It isn’t smooth communication. It’s a very poor conductor of ‘social phenomena’ but it leaves traces. Garrel thinks it necessary that these traces be as unspectacular as possible, because spectacle is tied to the other pole of experience, that of marketing. We are wide of the mark here in France wishing to sacrifice everything to spectacle (or to its hypocritical denunciation à la Yves Boisset), because French cinema is very strong on experience, on the existential, and quite weak on the spectacular. That’s the way it is. What makes French cinema unique is unsummarisable films, works that appear to be pages torn from logbooks or intimate diaries, and a preference for black-and-white and voice-over: Un chant d’amour, Pickpocket, Le Testament d’Orphee, Le Petit Soldat, L’Enfance nue, L’Amour fou, all of Eustache and now L’Enfant secret.

To finish, let’s look at narrative. This is where the film gets it most right, the place of this gruelling recovery à la Jean Paulhan. You narrate in order not to die or because you’re dead already (look out for the next Raul Ruiz!). You narrate to recover. It’s a sign of life to say ‘before’ and ‘after’, something that really intrigued Robert Musil. Garrel’s filmography sometimes has been like the desert in La Cicatrice intérieure, as flat as an encephalogram, with ascents to the Sulpician sky and camera-icon gazes. In this regard, the narrative of L’Enfant secret, so taut, so ‘impoverished’, is staggering. And since the question is one of childhood, I think of this Tom Thumb of modern cinema who, over the course of fourteen films, has learnt one thing: you must scatter crumbs of bread behind you and each one must be unique. The ‘scenes’ of L’Enfant secret are long inserts, playlets or (Jean Douchet has good reason to say) caresses. If they are sometimes arid (put it down to what remains here of amateur cinema), then they are also sumptuous (you have to remember that Garrel doesn’t at all deny beauty, that from an early age it had him on his knees). 

It’s as if this autobiographical film has succeeded in holding its bearings without forgetting the trace of each stage of the journey it’s passed through. Fragments of pure sensory experience (touching, feeling cold), heartless acts (shock therapy), serene and furtive moments. I very much like the scene where Jean-Baptiste, now truly destitute, lights the butt he has just picked up from under a bench. I was fooled into believing that Griffith or Chaplin had returned for an instant. Garrel has succeeded in filming something we have never seen before: the faces of actors in silent films during those moments when the black intertitles, with their paltry, illuminated words, filled the screen.

Reprinted with permission from Ciné journal vol. 2 1983-1986 (Paris: Cahiers du cinéma, 1998). Originally appeared in Libération 19 February 1983. Translated by Fergus Daly and Adrian Martin.

Senses of Cinema (Fergus Daly)   Spirits In The Night – A reply to Adrian Martin on Garrel's L'Enfant secret

 

LIBERTÉ, LA NUIT

France  (82 mi)  1983

 

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston)

 
In his 1988 documentary on post-New Wave filmmakers (Eustache, Akerman, Doillon, Jacquot, Techine, Carax, Werner Schroeter) Les ministeres de l’art Garrel singles out Doillon’s 1979 La femme qui pleure for particular praise. So it’s interesting that Liberte, la nuit, coming between the two, has a central section of precisely that: a crying woman. Mouche, separated from political activist Jean (he’s involved in a clandestine Algerian group during the Algerian struggle for independence), is shown weeping as she sews in an otherwise empty theatre; then again breaking down as she sits in the car with Jean. But in this later scene Garrel privileges Mouche (a magnificent Emanuelle Riva), immediately cutting to another shot in the car, this time not weeping, with an overlaid piano score cutting out Jean’s voice.
 
Mouche is also the focus of a central scene in the middle of the film, when she’s assassinated by the OAS for supplying guns to the Algerians. The film stock suddenly changes, and the otherwise grey-toned black-and-white shifts into a over-grainy impressionism.
 
But Liberte, la nuit is a mixed success. The subsequent romance bewteen Jean and a much younger pied noir seems pretty unconvincing to me, and the sequence of their idyll by the sea, keyed to a piano score, is in some shots terribly banal. Fortunately it’s balanced by some magnificent filmmaking, when the camera holds on Christine Boisson’s face at length, as she sits there, simply being.

 

User reviews from imdb Author: Alice Liddel (-darragh@excite.com) from dublin, Ireland

 
'Liberte, la nuit' is not really a political film, or, at least, a film about politics. Its central figures are an aging revolutionary helping Algerians in the anti-colonial war against France, his separated wife, a dressmaker who gives them guns, and his mistress, a French Algerian emigree. Such a set-up might offer opportunities for allegory - white Algeria returning to the aging bosom of the fatherland, and all that. The film's most dynamic sequence is pure political thriller, an assassination by the OAS, confusingly shot and edited on grainy stock that evokes both documentary immediacy and the whirring of a surveillance camera, complete with exciting car chase. The human relationships - especially the drawn-out separation of Jean and Mouche, are said to be caused by his political activity, while his contact with others has some basis in his 'work'. Even, as I say, his final escape with an apolitical menial has political overtones; and their idyll is ultimately no escape from history.

'Liberte' is shot in monochrome, a consciously artificial act in the context of 1983, allowing for the artificiality of talk, movement and composition throughout the film. Unlike most contemporary films that use black and white, for its shadowy Expressionist/film noir effect, Garrel privileges gleaming white over murky black. This, together with its concern with dream, memory and the past, connects 'Liberte' to another elegiac film about an aging revolutionary living past his moment, Resnais' 'La Guerre est finie' - the gleaming white contributes to the dreamlike effect Garrel gives his static, mostly empty exteriors; near the end, there is an astonishingly beautiful silhouette of a pier and buoys in shadow against a sea that looks like it was lit from underneath. 'Liberte' can't help recall that other famous, and famously banned, French classic about the Algerian War, Godard's 'Le Petit Soldat', another black and white, dialogue-driven film in which political violence mingles with personal dilemmas.

The film is called 'Liberte, la nuit', and frames two types of liberty, the struggle for political freedom, and the more personal freedom within relationships (and in the conflict with one's aging, one's reputation) against the central scene of Mouche's assassination. This pattern sees Mouche gravitating unwillingly towards political action, and Jean in the opposite direction. It's never quite clear what Jean's precise political activities are - when we first see him he is talking to a friend, their children in the back seat, about a retired film director. When they meet a group of Algerians, Jean could as easily be a drug dealer as a revolutionary - he speaks in a language which is not translated, emphasising the presumed audience's outsider status and Jean's sense of belonging or negotiating between two groups. However, this sense of being two seems to make him less of a man - throughout are interspersed sketchy, incomplete pictures that provide a kind of commentary.

This crosscutting of Mouche and Jean, is also figured in the move from interiors or cramped exteriors to wider vistas, mountains, lakes etc. But there is another movement that suggests Garrel's true interest: a gendered one. His film features two realms, a male and female one. The male one is one of action and history, one that speaks, analyses and moves with ease between realms. the female one, by contrast, is marked by immobility and silence, their inner selves signalled by the music that plays over their activities. If they do speak it is to mouth their husband's lines (the puppeteer's wife), or to react to their husband's decisions.

Mouche's movement into the male world of action results in her death. Jean's move into the female world of reaction, where he longs to be consumed by apathy, results in his. In a marvellous closing shot, literally so. Jean finally tracked down and executed, his death signals the film's end, freezing the rippling water and breeze, confirming that it was a film or world made in his image, which would die with him. that there can be no real connection between these realms is suggested in tense compositions that imprison characters in frames at the mercy of their unseen interlocutors.

 

d+kaz [Daniel Kasman]

 

ELLE A PASSÉ TANT D’HEURES SOUS LES SUNLIGHTS…

aka:  She Spent So Many Hours Under Sun Lamps

France  (130 mi)  1985

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

Faceted, fragmented, and oneiric, Philippe Garrel's Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights... (She Spent So Many Hours Under the Sun Lamps) is more exorcism than expurgation, elegy than lamentation - an abstract, yet lucid chronicle of love and loss, death and birth sublimated through textural, self-reflexive impressions, visceral gestures, and metaphoric tableaux. A profoundly personal film dedicated to the memory of friend and fellow filmmaker (and May 68 idealist) Jean Eustache, and haunted by the unreconciled specter of Garrel's failed relationship with Nico, the film opens to a crepuscular image of a couple - perhaps an actor and his lover (Jacques Bonnaffé and Anne Wiazemsky) as apparent surrogates for Garrel and Nico - in the midst of a breakup on a public street on a cold, winter evening, as their seemingly tenuous reconciliation is truncated by the subsequent shot of the couple returning home, and an all too familiar rupture as she once again lapses into the desensitized haze of heroin addiction in the distraction of his preoccupying rehearsals. A seemingly isolated shot of another woman, an actress named Marie (Mireille Perrier) waiting in the office of the Ministry of Art subsequently connects the troubled couple through the sound of the rapid, half-whisper, off-screen script reading, first by the actor preparing for the role in the apartment, then subsequently by the voice of the filmmaker, Philippe (Philippe Garrel) as he casts her in his latest project - the seemingly disparate narrative arcs reconciled through the intersection of the autobiographical nature of Philippe's proposed project inspired by his own tumultuous relationship with model, singer, actress, and muse Nico (a transparency between art and life that is further compounded by the eventual appearance of Garrel as the director of the "film within a film" film). Another break in logic is created in the long shot of the actor, in the role of the film director, discarding a film reel from a bridge overlooking the river before meeting Marie, initially unfolding as the shooting of a film scene through the transformation of Marie's visage at the moment of performance, but subsequently subverted by the repeated episode of the couple - perhaps no longer acting in character - driving away, a romantic liaison that is reinforced by a subsequent, silent image of the couple engaged in an (apparently) intimate conversation.

Gradually, the bounds between reality and fiction begin to disintegrate in the interpenetration of dreams and memories, passions and anxieties, becoming increasingly fractured and irresolvable. Like his alter-ego character on the bridge, Philippe has grown apprehensive over the seeming irresolution of the film, and enlists the aid of friends: Chantal Akerman who is, uncoincidentally in the process of shooting The Eighties, a metafilm on the nature of repetition and performance); Christa, also played by Wiazemsky, and who, in turn, also evokes a self-reflexive, permeable reality through reconstructed, iconic poses that not only allude to Nico's early career as a fashion model, but also mimic the Bressonian model figuration of her character, Marie in Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar); and actor Lou Castel, whose "new" character is introduced midway through the film shoot as Marie's new paramour (and indirectly, replacing Philippe - through his alter-ego - from her life). It is interesting to note that in introducing Castel into the film, Philippe not only enables a means of closure for his failed relationship with his former lover through their surrogate selves, but also illustrates the emotional process of transference, transition, and figurative rebirth. In essence, the transfiguration of death - subliminally illustrated, initially, through the liberating image of Marie riding carefree in an automobile to the music of Nico that serves as an evocative counterpoint to Jean Eustache's debilitation from a car accident, then subsequently, through the shot of a somber Garrel standing beside a collapsed noose that alludes to Eustache's suicide - inevitably paves the way for the film's second chapter (and metaphoric turning point), La Nativité. Inspired by the birth of his son, Louis (and who would later appear Emergency Kisses and Regular Lovers), the film dissolves into an instinctual collage of quotidian portraitures - of actors waiting, pacing, observing - of temps morts. Concluding with the elliptical, parting shot of Philippe standing by a window in visible discomfort as evening approaches, his suffering becomes as a double entendred, metaphoric representation: the physical withdrawal (whether through substance abuse or the separation of death) of profound loss, and the implacable - but necessary - ache of realized creation.

EMERGENCY KISSES (Les Baisers de Secours)

France  (90 mi)  1989

 

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston)

 
The fine texture of Garrel’s personal, introspective, melancholic, poetic cinema lies not only in his obsessive circling round the (for him) eternal question of nature of love and the couple, with his own personal history (past relationships, past heroin addiction) thrown into the mix, but in the look and feel of the cinematic image itself.
 
There’s a great scene in Emergency Kisses where the director’s wife visits the actress her husband has chosen to star in his new film, in order to convince her to turn that role down, as it’s her role, based on her life. Their conversation is in a single take (common to conversations throughout the film) and the camera moves with the speakers, the black-and-white softening and whiting-out as they stand by the window, then regaining its clearer contrasts as they resume their seats at the table. The to-and-fro of conversation, camera movement and image texture are all as one.
 
The autobiographical quality to Emergency Kisses is a fascinating one, with the film’s director being played by Garrel himself, his wife Jeanne played by his wife of the time (Brigitte Sy), his son by his son (Louis Garrel – Regular Lovers’ star making an appearance as a toddler), his father by his father (Maurice Garrel). But ambiguous too, as each is still performing a role written (co-written with novelist Marc Cholodenko) for this film. The story itself is focused on the dissolution of the couple, with each committing what is seen by the other as an act of betrayal. For the wife, it’s the husband’s choice of another actress to play herself. For the husband, it’s the deliberate act of adultery (staged for the eyes of both husband and son). And it’s the son that brings the couple together again, but with the whole nature of this couple at the end of the film left at a point of uncertain irresolution.

 

J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE                       A                     96

aka:  I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore

France  (98 mi)  1991

 

One doesn’t get a chance to see films like this very often, a premiere in Chicago 17 years after it was released, opening with little or no fanfare, no special announcements or critical appraise, little to alert the public of a special event, playing in a near empty theater where only those few who have heard about it by word of mouth are there.  Garrel’s more appreciative work was his most recent film, REGULAR LOVERS (2005), a mammoth 3-hour work that looks behind the scenes at the student demonstrations in Paris during the late 60’s which played the festival circuit and was widely acclaimed, starring Garrel’s own son Louis who may as well be the poster child for French films.  To my knowledge, that is the only film that had a run here in the United States.  Garrel’s other 25+ films have only been talked about, perhaps a few have been screened across the country in recent retrospectives, but most have never been seen.  This is a magnificent looking film, one that takes full advantage of the utilization of space, usually from close to medium range shots where the emptiness of the unfilled space between characters becomes one of the themes of the film.  Cinematographer Caroline Champetier makes it all look effortless with an extremely fluid camera style that at times resembles choreography, particularly the way she changes the focus between characters by following the pace of their body movement.  This is an extremely naturalistic film, one of the quietest seen, much of it shot in interior rooms conveying a maximum amount of silence where even natural sound appears to be muted, where quiet, near inaudible conversations appear to be taking place in a vacuum, as if the outside world is not allowed to protrude.   This mood is perfectly accentuated in brief glimpses by outstanding original music by Faton Cahen, which features a piano and a few ascending jazz riffs on a sax, an eloquent testament to a narcotic induced haze.  
 
While this nearly non-narrative, highly impressionistic film is certainly not for everybody, as it’s clearly downbeat and utterly sad, an unglamorous view without artifice of what might be described as the cinema of no emotion, but what it does offer is an artistic appreciation for realism with a nervy intelligence.  With no particularly likeable characters, this is an extremely personalized, understated, autobiographical film, a fictionalized recreation, opening in bed with a couple awakening from sleep on the sunny Italian Riviera, Gérard, Benoît Régent, a stand-in for the director, and Marianne, Johanna ter Steege, brilliant as a stand-in for his real-life girlfriend Nico (Christa Päffgen), from the Velvet Underground, with whom he spent ten years of his life and made 7 trippy films together in the 70’s.  While discussing the ramifications of love, it’s apparent they are questioning every word, every syllable, in attempting to break down anything phony in their commitment to one another.  Marianne especially finds Gérard’s words to be a kind of empty articulation that feels learned and ingrained, hardly spontaneous revelations “of the moment.”  Régent offers an unusual style of being completely noncommittal, almost as if he’s not even there, as we never learn his profession, what money he lives on or anything about his background, instead he remains hidden behind a cloud of mystery, somewhat reminiscent of Bill Pullman in LOST HIGHWAY (1997).  Marianne on the other hand, whose every movement is followed by the camera, has her own sensual style with a playfully inquisitive mind, very direct and to the point, but never forcing the issue, simply asserting her views openly.  They share their time with another couple, Gérard’s friend Martin (Yann Collette), a painter who has lost an eye and his girlfriend Lola (Mireille Perrier), with whom Gérard may have at one time been intimate.  Anouk Grinberg as Adrienne plays yet another outside interest.  Together they express a free wheeling, somewhat indulgent philosophical style that represents a lofty, grandiose view of themselves. 
 
Moving back to Paris, the interior mood has darkened considerably, as has their increased drug use, introducing heroin into their relationship.  It’s interesting to see how one’s obsessed notion of “need” can become an illusion, used frequently as a romantic expression between lovers, yet with narcotics it’s a foregone conclusion who (or what) becomes the real need.  Humans become completely irrelevant.  Marianne quickly disappears without a trace, presumably with another man, though perhaps out of self preservation, which leaves Gérard nearly immobile and alone.  Like an answered prayer, a woman appears at his door, announces she’s a friend of Marianne named Aline (Brigitte Sy, Garrel’s former real life wife and mother to Louis), who proceeds in grand style to nurse Gérard back to the living, which includes getting married and having his baby, all of which is realized in a single shot.  Compared to everything else we’ve experienced, usually seen through oblique, intensely personal conversations, a dinner sequence with her family and the newborn baby has a tinge of the ridiculous, yet it’s perhaps the most normal scene in the film.  When Marianne returns, Gérard is torn between separate lives, his old and his new, and hasn’t a clue how to make it right, as it’s clear his earlier high-minded ideals and confessed promises to Marianne are coming back to haunt him.  The internal damage this causes each of them after supposedly cleaning up their lives, is devastating, perhaps best represented in a scene between Marianne and Aline, which appears to be something of a peace offering but soon deteriorates into a strange personal confession by Marianne describing her life with Gérard, which evolves from an existential meaninglessness to greater transcendent heights, all of which is meant to casually dismiss Aline’s world to the near-irrelevant, but it perhaps drives a stake through her own heart instead. 
 
This film is gorgeous, intelligent, and surprisingly tender, offering little if any emotion emanating from the screen, but that is the Bressonian mold which forces the viewer to supply their own emotional perspective.  Partly that is what makes this film so unique, as it doesn't follow convention any more than the characters do, as when moving in a single shot from the day he meets Aline to a subsequent day when they are married and already have a child.  That type of economy is, to say the least, unusual.  Also, of interest, the filmmaker spares no one, especially himself, revealing his own inadequacies in nearly every shot, especially the last one.  This kind of ruthless critique of one’s own behavior deserves some recognition.  The spared down version of how he tells the story of his life is unique, yet due to the way he films it, where so much detail permeates specific periods, it's as if we've read a book, as we feel intimately familiar with the lives of the central characters.  Marc Cholodenko is credited with the stunning dialogue, much of which owes a debt to Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (La Maman et la Putain) (1973), as the unsparing confessional tone is mixed with a raw internal dysfunction, where the physical quality of the peeling paint on the walls literally takes on a life force of its own, where people’s lives start to resemble the worn out, dilapidated buildings that they casually inhabit all their lives, never giving it a second thought.  Yet by the end, it’s clear that Gérard was never honest with himself throughout the entire film, a realization that haunts him and taints his memories of Marianne, clearly the singlemost significant relationship in his life.  What stands out is the amount of time wasted in this director’s life where so much is lost on drugs and personal missteps, where only after Nico’s death does Garrel come to realize how much he loved her and that she was in fact the love of his life.  With this film, the haze has cleared and Garrel finally has the opportunity to tell the unvarnished truth.  The film is dedicated to Nico who died three years before its release.    

J'Entends Plus la Guitare  Andrea Gronvall from the Reader

Philippe Garrel (Regular Lovers) dedicated this harrowing autobiographical drama (1991) to the memory of his former companion, Nico of the Velvet Underground. A romantic young Parisian (Benoit Regent) is devastated when his German lover (Johanna ter Steege) leaves him; after returning, she fills his aching void with heroin, and he becomes as rootless and selfish as she. Garrel avoids bathos and maintains a rigorous formalism through poetic elision, his jump cuts and brief, enigmatic shots often conveying more than Marc Cholodenko's cerebral dialogue. In French with subtitles. 96 min.

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston)

Here is quintessential Garrel, all reduced down to his core concern (inevitable in a film that is both dedicated to the memory of Nico and based on his relationship with her), the nature of love and the couple: how we try to find words to describe a love that is already slipping away; the inevitable shifting contours of love and relationships; the loss and regret we experience as the years part. There’s an impressive intensity here, a sombre austerity whose pause-filled dialogue scenes can sadly (as I’ve just experienced) make a Film Festival audience very restless.

NewCity Chicago    Ray Pride

When I saw Phillipe Garrel's 1999's "Le Vent de la nuit," I wasn't sure what I was watching, but I wish I could see it again now. In 2005, the longtime French film director, headstrong throughout a prolific career, made his marvelous, little seen remembrance of Paris 1968, "Les Amants reguliers," one of the best films of the past decade, and his 1991 "J'entends plus la guitare" ("I Don't Hear The Guitar Anymore") demonstrates his romantic, elliptical, suggestive style in the most concrete way of the three. Garrel emphasizes moments that occur between two male friends, Gerard (Yann Collette) and Martin (Benoit Regent), and the women in ever-irresponsible Martin's life. Martin's especially driven by his passions for Marianne (Johanna ter Steege), a strawberry blonde with a dark soul and her own relationship with drugs. The story's patterned after Garrel's own lengthy relationship with Nico, and he made the film three years after her death. For some, "Guitare" will be gallingly Gallic, but its tapestry of love and heartbreak, the very harrowing of breath, is a marvel: these simple, painful exchanges by grown-ups effortlessly dressed but emotionally frayed, hair tousled just so, against backdrops of exposed brick and weathered walls, are articulate, ill-aware wails. The world outside is an insistent bird, a telephone, saucers jangling to the gestures of a spoon in a café. It's all music. The score by Faton Cahen is unexpected in all the best ways, a separate current. Bonus: the most alarmingly playful kiss while Marianne, seated, pisses loudly. 95m.

Time Out New York (David Fear)

Auteurists believe a director’s personality is present in every frame he shoots. In the works of the criminally underrated Garrel, you get not only a singular artistic anima, but, often, the creator’s life flayed bare. Like his 2005 esprit de ’68 scrapbook Regular Lovers, this 1991 drama draws deeply from Garrel’s personal history. The philandering, drug-addicted Gérard (Régent) represents the filmmaker—or rather, all of his negative traits crammed into one self-loathing character. His girlfriend, Marianne (ter Steege), is an avatar for the director’s late lover Nico, to whom Garrel dedicated the film.

Bonding over notions of passion as a transcendent perpetuity, Gérard and Marianne bicker, break up and reunite while riding the white horse, eventually splitting prior to his settling down. (The fact that the new female presence in his life is played by Brigitte Sy, Garrel’s former spouse and the mother of his son, Louis, only adds to the nakedly confessional aspect.) When Marianne reinserts herself into Gérard’s life, she’s clean but no less emotionally volatile. You can guess what’s around the corner.

Utilizing an elliptical style that’s alternately invigorating and maddening—Gérard goes from druggie to daddy in a single cut—Garrel’s eulogy is both a tribute to and a pitiless autopsy of a couple’s self-destructive tango. The guitar he can no longer hear, however, isn’t just the late singer but the promises the past sweeps away. According to the movie, that’s the macrotragedy of life: Be they social or romantic, youthful ideologies are destined to eventually die on the vine.

User reviews from imdb Author: Alice Liddel (-darragh@excite.com) from dublin, Ireland

 
'J'entends plus la guitare' is dedicated to the memory of Nico, the Swedish model and actress who was director Garrel's muse, most famous as the blonde Marcello meets at the castle party in 'La Dolce Vita', and the singer with the haunted monotone on the Velvet Underground's extraordinary 'Banana' album. the heroine of the film is a blonde German who, like Nico, turns to drugs - her last appearance is marked by a pun on heroine/heroin (the Velvets' most famous song), and the Velvet-esque guitar of the title is no longer heard by the hero, or the director. The female is usually signalled in Garrel's films by music, as if music itself was somehow a feminine principle - the 'Je', therefore, is plausibly the director's, offering the film as a mea culpa, blaming himself for a death triggered by pure male egotism. Gerard is one of the least likeable characters in European cinema, an emotional vampire who needs to suck the emotional blood out of countless women, leaving them diminished, empty, to save himself from a similar fate.

Perhaps, again in tribute to Nico, Garrel's usual stylistic austerity is filtered through a Warhol-like sensibility. this is one of the most gruelling films I have ever squirmed through, in terms of style - long, punishing takes in shabby, bare environments of people either talking self-serving philosophical twaddle, or, worse, little at all, the peeling of the walls against which the characters are framed speaking more eloquently for the emotional and imaginative inertia; takes that are so long and unadorned that the characters (or actors) arent' allowed to hide, and the various mannerisms or tics or little theatrical heightenings are exposed for what they are, not as accretions to be stripped away to reveal some real 'truth', but as part of the truth that we can never strip them away, never truly give ourselves to another - and in terms of content.

The film begins as a stereotypical French film, with two couples frustrated in love: one is in love with another but won't give him a child; one refuses to tell his lover he loves her because she doesn't know what the word means. The men begin the first of their discussions about their relations to the women, one grounded in culture, the other in experience. One could argue this as the philosophical base of the film.

In any case, things go from bad to worse, people start leaving each other, losing their children, sleeping with prostitutes or older, abused women. What is unusual in this film is that 'seedy' subject matter usually treated luridly or with too much downbeat detail, is here represented in a flat, monotonous visual style, and through a disarming ellipsis that doesn't warn the viewer that five minutes or five years have passed. This is the closest cinema has gotten to the numbed, unsensational texture of life itself. To even ask entertainment of it is beside the point.

 

User reviews from imdb Author: Chris Knipp from Berkeley, California

Philippe Garrel is a French director of cult status whose work has not been much seen in the US. Interest among film buffs certainly must have grown with the showing of Garrel's wonderfully atmospheric evocation of 1968-69 'Regular Lovers'/'Les amants réguliers' (2005) at the New York Film Festival, with a brief New York theatrical showing two years later. After re-watching Regular Lovers last year I wrote that it is "the kind of film that burns itself into your memory and keeps coming back."

And this is a French cinematic dynasty. Philippe's brother Thierry is a producer; his father Maurice is a veteran actor with well over a hundred credits (recent notable ones: 'The Red and the Black,' Dercourt's 'My Children Are Different,' 'Kings and Queen,' and 'Regular Lovers'); and his son Louis, the young poet and central character of Regular Lovers, is the hottest young French screen actor in more senses than one. Americans saw Louis with Eva Green and Michael Pitt in Bertolucci's 2003 'The Dreamers.' But what are Philippe Garrel's important films? I don't know; the promoters of the Film Comment Selects series at Lincoln Center say 'J'entends plus la guitare' ("I No Longer Hear the Guitar") is "arguably Philippe Garrel's masterpiece."

Masterpiece or not, this film (which won the Silver Lion in Venice) is a complete contrast to the over-three-hours-long, epic-feeling black and white 'Regular Lovers'--and yet memorable in its own way. It's quieter and more intimate and more obviously autobiographical--almost like a loose compendium of fragmentary diary entries from a man who had many lovers and one good friend, a painter (Martin, Yann Collette, a veteran actor who happens to have a sunken and blind left eye). The man is Gerard (Benoît Régent). One of the women is Aline (Brigitte Sy, mother of Louis Garrel). But most important in Gerard/Philippe's life is Marianne (Johanna ter Steege), a luminous exotic Nordic lady drawn to drugs and dirty longhairs (unseen in the film but described with distaste by Gerard) who say "Yeah man!" and "cool."

The film begins with Marianne and Gerard in Positano, on the Italian Riviera, with Martin and his friend Lola (Mireille Perrier). They go back to Paris where Gerard spends every evening smoking hashish at Martin's place talking about Marianne. Gerard's fascination with her is obvious, but there are no love scenes. One day Marianne meets another man and wanders off.

Marianne is, as is well-known, the stand-in for Nico (stage name of Christa Päffgen) the singer of the Velvet Underground and Warhol "superstar" with whom Philippe Garrel had an ongoing relationship for over a decade. In the person of ter Steege, Nico/Marianne's appeal is obvious. Nico herself was in seven of Garrel's films in the Seventies. This one was made three years after her death--and Marianne like Nico is described as dying while riding a bicycle.Gerard meets Linda (Adélaïde Blasquez) Aline (Brigitte Sy), and then Adrienne (Anouk Grinberg), but Marianne remains in Gerard's world, the love of his life.

Scenes of 'J'entends plus la guitare' over twenty years later still evoke the Sixties and Seventies in content and style. They are so simply staged they're arresting. A woman comes to the door and says she's a friend of someone else. Apparently she moves in, just like that. The next thing you know Gerard is in the bath and this new woman brings him a plate of food which he forks down hungrily. He gets up, hastily towels off, puts on a shirt while still wet. The woman spreads two sheets on the bed. They get under them, clothed, and propped up on their elbows lie looking into each other's eyes. This is how the beginning of a new relationship is described.

When Gerard's girlfriend has a baby, they eat at a table with a whole family, but nobody's identified. Closeup of a young teenage boy looking on with eager happiness as the food is dished out. Most of the scenes are one-on-one conversations (unlike much of 'Regular Lovers,' which is more collective and symphonic). This is like an autobiographical meditation, verging, the FCS blurb suggests, on "psychodrama." Garrel is an heir to the Nouvelle Vague who captures life in the raw with lovely cinematography and interesting and attractive people but not very sophisticated or self-conscious technique. His films (so far as I've seen them so far) can be irritating and slow but are curiously endearing. Think Warhol, but without the titillation and voyeurism, and with a European straight male sensibility, particularly here. Even without the presence of Louis (who was around eight when this was made) this is still a fresh, youthful kind of film-making. It may seem self-indulgent, but it doesn't age.

The Village Voice [Nathan Lee]

Philippe Garrel's 1991 masterpiece J'entends plus la guitare (I Don't Hear the Guitar Anymore) opens with a set of proofs, puns, definitions, and propositions. Two Parisian couples are on holiday in a village by the sea. Marianne (Johanna ter Steege), an opalescent nymph crowned with fizzing amber curls, rouses herself from a sun-dazed torpor and casts her gaze on the balcony, where stands her placid, introspective lover Gerard (Benoît Régent). They make a little small talk, start playing with words—"la mer" (the sea); "la mère" (the mother)—then cuddle up for pillow talk: love first, a child can come later.

Elsewhere on these vibrant slopes, raven-haired Lola (Mireille Perrier) appeals to her beau, Martin (Yann Collette), a sweet-natured artist with one sunken Quasimodo eye: "Why don't you paint pictures of me?" The reply, "You're too real," initiates an extended disquisition on speech, love, and the infinite degrees of reality. "What does that mean, 'to love?' " needles Martin. Lola: "It means something when someone says it! It means that one wants to say it, for instance." Martin: "But to want to say something, when you don't know what it means? That's really to say nothing." Lola: "Maybe."

Very French, all this pseudo-logical, improbably erudite discourse—philistines beware, there's a Heidegger reference and Italian poetry recitals just around the corner. Despite his flights of verbal fancy, however, Garrel's feet are firmly grounded; he's advancing, in these heady preliminary scenes, toward a firm destination. Gerard and Martin meet up for a stroll to the shore, descending a steep stone walkway to the strains of mournful cello music and elaborating on the abstractions they've just tossed about with their lovers. At the edge of the sea, they arrive at this: "You think you'll see it in quotes or in grand statements. It's in living beings."

The meaning of love, the mystery of women, life, and all that: Garrel finds it, everything, in the faces, bodies, and words of his actors. If not the greatest movie we'll see this year—though it's a strong early candidate—J'entends will surely prove the most tenderly played. For the rest of its trim, entrancing run time, the movie contemplates its concepts as embodied in the daily existence of its bohemian Parisians. A child is born, heroin is consumed, bills go unpaid, affections splinter and recombine, tested by circumstance and challenged by ego. The guitar no longer being heard belongs to the Velvet Underground. Raw, rueful, and piercingly alert, a film of tremendous formal instinct and cogent human truth, J'entends is an oblique memoir of the filmmaker's relationship to Nico (Steege)—and a testament to the elusive genius of a postwar French master.

The object of an impassioned cult in France and almost totally unknown in America until the acclaimed, if marginal, release of Regular Lovers (2007), his sublime memoir of May '68 and its aftermath, the weird, wounded cinema of Garrel is inevitably honored with the vague epithet "poetic." That's one way of acknowledging that his narratives eschew prose-like continuity, twisting and leaping with evocative ellipsis and rhythmic irregularity. And "poetry" is one way to specify a nutty trance like The Inner Scar (1972), featuring a smacked-out Nico wailing through the desert in the company of a naked hippie on horseback, or the inscrutable prophet-chic of The Virgin's Bed (1969), a mix of Biblical allegory and Warholian lassitude swamped in narcotic haze.

Why Garrel clicks is hard to pin down in part because he clunks; the eloquence of J'entends is inseparable from its awkwardness. There's a softly discordant thrust to Garrel's montage, a pervasive tone of docile atonality. He retains the junkie's habit of tremendous concentration on nothing; you feel the intensity of his gaze without quite understanding it. He can seem, like Cassavetes (or Henri Rousseau), at once the most sophisticated and naïve of artists. My guess is the tremendous force of Garrel's vision, as exemplified in J'entends—the most disciplined of the half-dozen pictures I know, and widely considered his apotheosis by devotees—is rooted in a brilliant eye for casting. It's in living beings for sure; few filmmakers match Garrel's ability to register palpable human presence in every shot.

Memoir nonpareil, J'entends blazes past into present. There's additional poetry, then, to have it as the inaugural release of the Film Desk, a boutique distribution outfit run by BAMcinématek programmer and fervid New York cinephile Jake Perlin. Full disclosure: I've known Jake—and his nutty enthusiasms (John Landis, stupid monkey movies, "late" Eddie Murphy comedies)—for years, and would probably have been inclined to rave up a Film Desk revival of Beverly Hills Cop III. Don't laugh, that shit could happen. Fortunately, he's stepping into the brutal arena of art-house releasing armed with a knockout.

Read the Program Notes  Jameson West from the Austin Film Society

Nico was born Christa Päffgen on October 16th, 1938 in Cologne, Germany.  She embarked upon the first of her many careers at the age of 14 as a model in Berlin.  An assignment in Ibiza, Spain for the photographer Herbert Tobias lead to her being christened “Nico” after the Greek filmmaker, Nico Papatakis.  In the late 50s, she moved to Paris and quickly became a fashion icon before landing roles in Alberto Lattuada’s LA TEMPESTA and Rudolph Maté’s  FOR THE FIRST TIME.  Her first major part came thanks to Jean Becker, son of French filmmaker, Jacques Becker, who met her on an assignment in Paris and promptly gave her a role in his next film, UN NOMME LA ROCCA.  After appearing in a memorable scene in Federico Fellini’s LA DOLCE VITA, she began studying acting in earnest, taking classes with Lee Strasberg in New York.  There she met the pop culture icon, Andy Warhol, who indoctrinated her into the Factory scene and cast her in a number of his collaborations with the director Paul Morrisey, including CHELSEA GIRLS and IMITATION OF CHRIST.  It was at that time, in the 1960s, that she also began fronting as leading vocalist in Andy Warhol’s art project-cum-pop band, The Velvet Underground.  

Distancing herself from Warhol to focus on her solo career in the late 60s, she began traveling throughout Europe, meeting Philippe Garrel in 1968.  Nico appeared in 7 of Garrel’s films throughout the course of their 10-year relationship, sometimes playing herself, sometimes in character (although, as in so many of Garrel’s films, it’s oftentimes difficult to tell which is which).  The first film by Garrel in which Nico appeared was LA CICATRICE INTERIEURE (THE INNER SCAR), made in 1972.  An experimental film shot in Egypt, Italy, Iceland and New Mexico and described as a “masterpiece” by no less than Henri Langlois of the Cinematheque Français, it features Nico, her son (fathered by Alain Delon) and Garrel in starring roles set to songs from her solo album, THE DESERT SHORE.  Two years later, she appeared in Garrel’s LES HAUTES SOLITUDES, a silent, black-and-white film featuring Jean Seberg, the Iowa-born actress who became a key figure of the French New Wave following her role opposite Jean Belmondo in Jean-luc Godard’s BREATHLESS.  In 1975 and 1976, Nico acted in two more feature films made by Garrel, UN ANGE PASSE and BERCEAU DE CRISTAL, and then again, this time opposite Maria Schneider (of LAST TANGO IN PARIS fame) in Garrel’s VOYAGE AU JARDIN DES MORTS.  After 1978, their relationship began to crumble in the wake of her heroin addiction and Nico appeared in only one more film by Garrel,  LE BLUE DES ORIGINS, a silent 50-minute avant-garde character study filmed with a hand-cranked camera starring Nico, Zouzou, Philippe Garrel himself and Seberg in her last film appearance before her suicide.

J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE opens in Positano, the Italian city where Nico and Garrel first met at the home of Tina Aumont (the daughter of Hollywood’s exotic Technicolor queen, the Dominican Republic-born Maria Montez, and an actress who starred in Fellini’s CASANOVA and Minneli’s NINA) and Frédéric Pardo (a French surrealist painter, godson of Jean-Paul Sartre and the model for the young “decorator” of walls and canvases in Garrel’s LES AMANTS REGULIERS).  The year was 1968 and Pardo was filming an experimental, behind-the-scenes look at Garrel’s LE LIT DE LA VIERGE, a film featuring the song “The Falconer,” which Nico had just finished recording.  Garrel later memorialized the coastal city in the LE VENT DE LA NUIT in the scene in which the lonely Serge stops along an Italian highway to survey the mountainside buildings while the young sculptor, Paul, snaps a picture of the boats floating in the harbor.

Yet despite Garrel’s longing for that era, his aversion to anything approaching an overtly glamorized portrayal of his time spent there with Nico is very much in evidence in the bare-bones style of J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE, in which long stretches of time and changes in location occur abruptly and without exposition.  The photographic compositions are pared down to their essentials, consisting mostly of close-ups and medium shots, a far cry from the ornate camera movements and elaborate special effects of his early work in films like LA REVELATEUR and LE LIT DE LA VIERGE.  GUITARE’s structure can essentially be broken down into three acts:  The first section, shot on location in Positano, is leisurely paced and drenched in golden, sun-baked hues, shot mostly outdoors in this “town of stairways.”  The second portion of the film following their return to Paris, in which Nico becomes increasingly withdrawn due to her drug abuse, is suffocatingly claustrophobic, set primarily indoors, with darkly lit backgrounds of peeling brown wallpaper.  The final section, in which domesticity intrudes on Gerard’s life, is photographed in pointedly drab settings in unadorned two-shots.

J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE opens with a woman, Marianne, sleeping peacefully.  She awakes to find her lover, Gerard, staring out at the view below.  Gazing up at him from the bed she enigmatically intones: “The man.  The sea.”  This marks the moment at which the couple’s love is in full bloom, but as the story progresses, finding its way back to Paris, their tenderness towards one another begins to wilt. Johanna ter Steege, a blond-haired Dutch actress known for her roles in George Sluizer’s THE VANISHING, Robert Altman’s VINCENT AND THEO and a Garrel film made two years later, LA NAISSANCE DE L’AMOUR, plays the character of Marianne, a role clearly modeled on Nico, although that’s not to say there’s a one-to-one correlation between the details of Nico’s life and the character in the film.  Steege is far too accomplished an actress and Garrel much too sensitive a director to have her simply ape Nico’s mannerisms.  Rather, Steege’s character is allowed room to carve out her own character within the storyline.  

Gerard’s character, based on Garrel himself in a not always flattering portrayal, is played by Benoît Régent, who prior to J’ENTENDS performed as one of the leads in New Waver Jacques Rivette’s LA BAND DES QUATRE and later was featured, along with Juliette Binoche, in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s TROIS COULEUR’S: BLUE, part of the director’s “Three Colors” trilogy. The film also introduces us to another French couple living together in Positano, Lola and Martin, friends of Marianne and Gerard who are loosely modeled on Aumont and Pardo, the latter a close friend of Garrel’s at the time.  Lola, whose talk of a film in Rome is a veiled allusion to Tina Aumont’s career at the time, is played by the French actress Mireille Perrier, a fixture of Leos Carax’s early work, particularly his debut, BOY MEETS GIRLS, and MAUVAIS SANG.  Pierrer was also the star of Garrel’s 1985 film, ELLE A PASSE TANT D’HEURES SOUS LES SUNLIGHTS…, dedicated to his late friend and mentor, the great French filmmaker, Jean Eustache.  

Martin’s character alluding to Frédéric Pardo is performed by Yann Collette, a French actor whose loss of an eye at the age of 16 has resulted in the accomplished actor being mostly typecast as a villain.  Garrel’s choice of Collette in a sympathetic role here speaks to his unconventional approach as a filmmaker.  Another actress of note seen briefly in LA GUITARE, Brigitte Sy, had her film debut in LA DEROBADE, directed by Daniel Duval, the same actor who played Serge, Garrel’s stand-in in LE VENT DE LA NUIT.  Sy also performed in a number of Garrel’s in the 1980s, LIBERTE, LA NUIT and LES BAISERS DE SECOURS, the latter an intensely autobiographical story about a director casting a film using his real-life family members that alludes to Garrel’s troubled marriage at the time.  LES BAISERS was made immediately prior to J’ENTENDS and was in the middle of filming when Nico died in 1988.  Two years later, Garrel paid tribute to her by dedicating this film to her memory.

Voyeurism of the Soul: The Films of Philippe Garrel  Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema

 

Reverse Shot [Nick Pinkerton]

The Auteurs' Notebook  Daniel Kasman

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]  (excerpt)

The House Next Door [Keith Uhlich]  (excerpt, about halfway down the article)

CINE-FILE Chicago  Jeremy Davies

 

village voice > film > Tracking Shots: Lonely Heart: Philippe ...   Leslie Camhi from the Village Voice

 

J'Entends Plus la Guitare  Facets Multi Media

 

J'ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE   Andréa Picard from Cinematheque Ontario

 

New York Post (V.A. Musetto)

Chicago Tribune  Sid Smith

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

 

THE BIRTH OF LOVE (La Naissance de l'amour)

France  Switzerland  (94 mi)  1993

 

Chicago Reader    Jonathan Rosenbaum (capsule review)

 
An investigation of love, family life, and friendship starring Lou Castel, Jean-Pierre Leaud, and Johanna Ter Steege, this autobiographical black-and-white feature (1993) is one of the first by the highly influential Philippe Garrel to be shown in these parts, though he's made about two dozen films by now--some experimental, all highly personal. (A spiritual son of Jean-Luc Godard, steeped in the moods and textures of silent cinema, Garrel can also be regarded as the spiritual father of Leos Carax.) Relatively indifferent to lucid storytelling as it's generally understood, this revolves around the restless moods of a professional actor (Castel) undergoing some sort of midlife crisis and periodically breaking away from his wife, teenage son, and infant daughter to have affairs with younger women. Its beauties and strengths rest almost entirely in the poetry of its images and rhythms and its stabbing emotions rather than its narrative flow. The breathtaking cinematography is by Raoul Coutard, who shot most of Godard's early features.
 

Not Another Teen Neophyte [Vadim Rizov]

 

In many ways, The Birth Of Love looks like the mythically awful foreign film which dominates popular perception of this artifical genre. Foreign films, of course, are just films, not some freakish aberration to an otherwise orderly world, and not necessarily any stranger than home-grown product - but the stereotypical foreign film is an arty, black-and-white production where old men wander around, nothing much happens, silent shots of people walking in place drag on for minutes, and broad bullshit philosophical discussions start at the slightest provocation. Up till now, I didn't know this movie actually existed - but here it is, complete with noxiously repetitive and substanceless score by John Cale. And yet, strangely enough, something noteworthy does happen in this seemingly inert film. Superficially, The Birth Of Love plays like a humorless episode of "Seinfeld" for dour intellectuals - the shiftless Jean-Pierre Léaud and Lou Castel, buds of sorts, wander around lamenting their lives and bitching about the most insignificant things and, occasionally, pledging (in vain) to change things. To fit the stereotypical Art Film mold, there are many of shots of people walking around with nothing happening, as well as lines like "Rome is not our destiny, Rome is our destination. In fact, you could say that the trouble with Western civilization is that it does not have a destiny." The film is also heavily autobiographical, but since Garrel is extremely underdistributed in America, you'll have to guess to what extent based on vague rumors about his 10-year relationship with Nico. Nevertheless, something does happen in this film. Nowadays, viewing the world in black-and-white isn't just an aesthetic choice, it's a deliberate affectation of tone. By choosing to view the modern world through the washed-out lens of two washed-up old men who reduce everything to an outdated aesthetic standard, Garrel manages to admirably convey what being a near-60 dissolute male without close friends feels like. Whether what he conveys is novel or surprising is debatable, but at least The Birth Of Love makes up for its indulgences by being somewhat self-aware. In other words, rather than emerging totally disgusted that a false rumor had come to life, I gained some respect for why making such a film was inescapable.

 

New York Times (registration req'd)  Stephen Holden

 

What becomes of self-styled cultural revolutionaries once they have headed into their fretful 50s? If they haven't grown up -- and who ever really grows up? -- they turn into flabby philanderers and borderline crackpots spewing out grandiose pie-in-the-sky career schemes. "The Birth of Love," a 1993 film directed by Philippe Garrel, a talented French New Wave director who never achieved the international renown of Jean-Luc Godard, studies two friends, Paul (Lou Castel) and Marcus (Jean-Pierre Leaud), who are only dimly aware their time has past.
 
Paunchy, stringy-haired Paul, a minor stage actor, carries on a succession of affairs with younger women while ignoring his pregnant wife (who gives birth to a baby girl) and emotionally needy adolescent son. Castel's portrait of this selfish malcontent is so naked that you feel for him even while cringing at his callousness. Marcus, whose girlfriend has just left him, is an aging journalist who still dreams of writing an earthshaking book. He is also prone to windy middle-aged ruminations. Two samples: "Work is a fully assumed obsession untiringly fulfilled," and "Men choose their destinations to calm their lack of destiny."
Both men brood out loud about the fathers who damaged them. Paul's abandoned the family (as Paul would like to do with his own family), while Marcus's kept him cruelly under his thumb. The wounds still smart.
 
The elegant black-and-white cinematography underscores the mood of quiet desperation in the film. Johanna Ter Steege, Dominique Reymond and Marie-Paule Laval portray women who in spite of their discontent seem one step ahead of the men in self-awareness and their acceptance of what life has brought them. These little dramas unfold against the televised backdrop of the Persian Gulf war, which seems as aimless as the lives it frames.

 

Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader 

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

Queer View (English)

 

NIGHT WIND (La Vent de la Nuit)

aka:  The Wind of the Night

France  Italy  Switzerland  (95 mi)  1999  ‘Scope

 

Time Out

 

Unconscionable pretentious tosh about three upper middleclass French intellectuals, all either talking about or actually working on suicide bids. Deneuve has the least screen time as Beauvois' older, married lover, and has a couple of very intense scenes, but much of the rest consists of non-conversations between the unappealing young man and '60s radical Duval, mostly as they traverse the autoroutes of Europe. Before long, most of the audience will also have considered ending it all.

 

not coming to a theater near you (Ian Johnston)

 
This contains the most emotionally raw and melodramatic scene I’ve seen in any Garrel film: Catherine Deneuve is in her living room listening to her much younger lover discussing literature with her husband when she suddenly picks up a glass, smashes it, and slits her wrist. Perhaps this is the contribution of one of the co-writers Arlette Langmann (Pialat’s wife and writer of a few of Pialat’s films, including A nos amours, based on her own life). But this is the one moment that raw emotion breaks uncharacteristically through, for there’s a very cool and measured tone to most of the film. It’s also more overtly beautiful than you expect from Garrel’s work, widescreen colour, with an interest in aesthetic effects (the play of colour: Deneuve’s red coat against the red of Serge’s car), a very different look from the more naturalistic J’entends plus la guitare, also in colour (rare with Garrel) and also shot by Carole Champetier.
 
Initially, Le vent de la nuit seems to be another investigation of Garrel’s favourite theme of the nature of love, with the intial concentration on a middle-aged woman shifting to Paul, her younger lover, another of Garrel’s portraits of his emotionally feckless self. But then the older Serge starts to form the core of the film, a representation of the failed ideals of the ‘68 generation, where suicide in the end becomes the justified response to the emptiness of the world.

 

User reviews  from imdb Author: Alice Liddel (-darragh@excite.com) from dublin, Ireland

This is one of those films that sorts the pseuds from the cynics. I am firmly on the former side. After initial groans at ANOTHER French movie about logorrheic sexual relationships (and yet another May-December coupling, although, happily, the elder in this case is the woman), one finds oneself wholly compelled without ever really knowing why. Because the content is frequently less than exciting - two men talking (or not) on a lengthy road trip; endless snakes of pristine Euro-motorway; interminable shots of a woman silently climbing floors of stairs, entering an apartment, getting it methodically ready for afternoon coitus (feminised Melville?).

Even when the content is beautiful - an overhead vista of a sun-parched Neapolitan town; an overgrown cemetery - the manner of filming remains detached. The camera often stops on a road or a wall, long after the human drama has passed by, or waits for a character to come into view, rather th an following her. There is very little of the editing that would draw us into the characters and their situations. Camera movements that break with the generally static style become heavy with their uniqueness - see the remarkable scene where Catherine Deneuve stares out the window; the camera follows her gaze, making it solid, pregnant, until it stops being a gaze, and we return to Deneuve, who is no longer looking out.

These two uglinesses, or rather excessive plainnesses, manage to create something very beautiful. I was reminded very much of the films of Manoel d'Oliveira - not just because Deneuve's ex-lover and daughter starred in his last two films. There is the same deceptively air-brushed, non-commital style that steadily accretes to become emotionally powerful. The image, in its unnatural cleanness, seems to be weighed down with nothing, to exist entirely in the present tense - and yet this is a film obsessed with history, the past, creating echoes and gaps in the present tense, through which seeps the emotion and subjectivity the distant style and performances initially forbid, like the traces of light that linger after a scene dissolves into darkness.

The film is a mystery story with the viewer as detective - we are given clues about each character, fragments of motivation and backstory; we have to sift the possible disparity between actions, what people think, what people say, and what people say about them. The film's mathematical structuring and patterning (especially doubling) does not prevent the ending being profoundly moving.

In many ways, the film is one of the stranger buddy-buddy road movies; we are never allowed get very close to characters who only offer of themselves piecemeal, yet the relationship between Xavier Beuvois and Daniel Duval is wholly engaging, so much so that you hope there are more roads for them to drive down so the film doesn't have to end.

Deneuve is the nominal star, but this is a very different Deneuve to the majestic grande-dame projected in the last two decades - frumpy, plump, lined, prepared to be humiliated to keep her young lover, knowing it will only drive him away. Whenever she appears, you just want the road movie to start, and she is conscious of this marginalising - when she brings her lover to her husband, she is even ignored as the hoped-for fall-out becomes a discussion about an obscure right-wing anarchist. A suicidal cry for help (a jolting, bloody, physical scene is such a refined film) serves to marginalise her from the film further, failing to break its masculine grip.

Read the Program Notes  Jameson West from the Austin Film Society, also seen here:  Austin Film Society [Jameson West]

Catherine Deneuve, the grande dame of French cinema whom Jacques Demy first catapulted to international stardom with his freewheeling Technicolor musical, THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, has worked with a host of legendary filmmakers in her lengthy and illustrious career. During the 60s and 70s, she starred in roles as various as the schizophrenic, sexually repressed murderess in Roman Polanski’s REPULSION; Mylène, the silently suffering pregnant wife of Michel Piccoli in Agnes Varda’s LES CREATURES; Cathy, a woman playing both sides of the law opposite Alain Delon in Jean-Pierre Melville’s UN FLIC; and a stage actress in Vichy-era France in Francois Truffaut’s THE LAST METRO. More recently, she’s been featured in projects by Leos Carax (POLA X), Raoul Ruiz (GENEALOGIES OF A CRIME), Lars von Trier (DANCER IN THE DARK) and François Ozon (8 WOMEN). Yet never has Catherine Deneuve allowed herself to appear as vulnerable in front of a film camera as she is in Philippe Garrel’s LE VENT DE LA NUIT, wherein her cool, blonde exterior, a façade carefully cultivated throughout her career, is stripped painfully, irrevocably away. Owing to a role she later admitted came uncomfortably close to her true self, Garrel’s 1999 film reveals a very different side of the reserved French actress, a woman who’s desperately lonely, needy, self-destructive and increasingly conscious of her fading glamour.

Outwardly, LE VENT DE LA NUIT bears little resemblance to the first film in our series, LES AMANTS REGULIERS, made only six years later. The latter, with its rich, fathomless depths of black-and-white photography and insular, period setting stands in stark relief to the former’s auburn-tinged, deep-focus, wide-angle lensing of modern-day Paris, Naples and Berlin. Even so, LE VENT is unmistakably a film by Philippe Garrel, with its deliberate pacing, recurring themes of bitter regret, lost love and longing across generations and relentless focus on the emotional landscape of its three central characters, all which immediately connect it to his other work. There’s a memory-suffused beauty and extraordinary purity to the film, a careful attunement to the passage of time and an underlying pressure that swells beneath the glossy surface of its cross-country sprawl: a road movie and travelogue buttressed by John Cale and his wonderfully attuned soundtrack, the journeyman singer-songwriter-composer formerly of the Velvet Underground also responsible for scoring Garrel’s earlier, 1993 masterpiece, L’NAISSANCE DE L’AMOUR, starring Jean-Pierre Léaud and Lou Castel, and whom Garrel first met on the set of his 1968 film, LE LIT DE LA VIERGE, along with Nico, the director’s perennial muse and the woman to which the German sections in LE VENT directly relate.

The first scene of the LE VENT DE LA NUIT unfolds in characteristically indirect and allusive fashion. A middle-aged woman, Hélène (Deneuve), ascends a staircase to a third-floor flat, surreptitiously unlocks the door with a hidden key and opens it quickly, trying not to be noticed. After entering the room, she surveys the sparsely furnished space, and then begins to make the bed, spraying it with wisps of perfume. It is only later that we realize that her actions in this non-descript setting are in preparation for a secret tryst between the unhappily married woman and her much younger lover, Paul, played by the great, young French actor and director, Xavier Beauvois. Beauvois first got his start working as an assistant director for André Téchiné and Manoel de Oliveira before directing his first feature film, NORD, and his grim follow-up effort, the Prix Jean Vigo and Cannes Jury Prize-winning N’OUBLIE PAS QUE TU VAS MOURIR, whose emphasis on familial relationships and class consciousness recall Garrel’s own preoccupations.

It is especially important to take into consideration the backgrounds of the actors Garrel chooses to appear in his films, since many of them write much of their own dialogue and contribute liberally to the script, LE VENT being no exception. Their real-life biographies tend to influence the fictional universe of Garrel’s stories, turning the films’ scenarios into something strikingly intimate and personal. For instance, Xavier Beauvois’ working class upbringing is drawn on implicitly in the story. Beauvois grew up in the Pas-de-Calais, an out-of-the-way province of France subsisting primarily on the steel and mining industry, and owes his career to a number of benevolent mentors, like Jean Douchet, the filmmaker and critic who gave a lecture at his school, and the professor who helped enroll him at La Fémis (the famous French film institute responsible for the careers of Alain Resnais, Louis Malle, Arnaud Desplechin, Volker Schlöndorff, Clair Denis, Patrice Leconte and Theo Angelopoulos to name a few). A class there at the time happened to be taught by Marc Cholodenko, the screenwriter with whom Garrel has collaborated on virtually every project since LES BAISERS DE SECOURS and J’ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARRE. Another mentor of Beauvois’s who championed his work early on was the late Serge Daney, an influential critic for Cahiers du Cinema, the famous French-language film journal responsible for the birth of the nouvelle vague, who became disenchanted with the publication’s political failings following the events of May ’68 and perhaps not so coincidently shares the same first name of the aging architect who befriends Paul in Garrel’s story. A further credit of note is Arlette Langmann, the wife of the late Maurice Pialat, another titan of French cinema whose slice-of-life films, particularly L’ENFANCE NUE, A NOS AMOURS and LE GARÇU, mirror much in Garrel’s oeuvre.

Following the clandestine liaison that serves as a kind of prelude to LE VENT DE LA NUIT, Paul, a struggling young art student, explains to Hélène that he must leave Paris for a few days to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a new building in Naples which features one of his sculptures (a surprise announcement which his partner initially protests and then accepts with anxious resignation) and it is there, in Italy, that he is first introduced to Serge, a wealthy architect who might be able to help further his career. The character of Serge has an aloof, wearily forlorn look about him, but there’s also something more deeply wounded in his dour mien which immediately connects him to Deneuve’s character. He’s played by the French character actor Daniel Duval. Duval recently acted in small parts in Michael Hanake’s CACHE and Francois Ozon’s A TIME TO LEAVE, but rarely receives starring roles. Significantly, he is also a French filmmaker of the 60s, whose early works – AMELIE’S JOURNEY, SHADOW OF THE CASTLES, and LA DEROBADE – are rarely screened nowadays, a parallel particularly of interest since the back-story of Serge’s character hews so closely to Garrel’s own.

The majority of LE VENT’s second act is devoted to following Serge and Paul as they travel cross-country in a cherry red sports car, Hélène’s damaged psyche hovering like a phantom over the two men as they drive on French and Italian motorways and endless autoroutes, stopping occasionally to eat, drink and critique the banal décor of roadside stands, rest stops and gas stations. They take detours to abandoned cathedrals and survey unfinished frescoes adorning the interior walls. They speak of philosophy and politics, and the architect’s background, particularly his participation in the riots of May ’68, an autobiographical touchstone for the director and the beginning of a series of further revelations regarding this lonely, suicidal character’s past. At one point in the journey, Paul awakes to find the car pulled over to the side of the road and Serge gone. He discovers the absent driver crying and shouting out at the trees alongside the highway. Towards the end of the film, Serge visits a woman’s grave in Berlin, an allusion to the director’s ten-year relationship with a German chanteuse from which he, like Duval’s character, never quite fully recovered. Eventually, some two-thirds into its running time, the story circles back to its central Parisian milieu for a fated meeting between Serge and Hélène. But their fleeting nighttime embrace, rendered simply and elegantly, provides only a brief respite before the tragic, inevitable denouement.

The House Next Door (Immediate Impressions #3) [Keith Uhlich]

 

WILD INNOCENCE (Sauvage Innocence)

France  Netherlands  (123 mi)  2001  ‘Scope

 

The Village Voice [Jessica Winter]   (excerpt)

Comediennes and the poor saps who love them also figure prominently in BAMcinématek's brief series of new French film. In Philippe Garrel's irony-soaked Wild Innocence, a fledgling director (Mehdi Belhaj Kacem), still pining for his dead lover, finances his "anti-heroin movie" via a heroin deal and casts his present girlfriend (Julia Faure) as his smack-casualty ex; the Method muse one-ups his incipient Vertigo by acquiring a nasty habit of her own. Shot in glittering black-and-white by frequent Godard cinematographer Raoul Coutard and in cool command of its Hitchcockian echoes, Wild Innocence collapses (literally) under the weight of its symmetries with a grimly glib punchline.

Posted Wednesday 7 August    Aaron Goldberg from Senses of Cinema

Dragged along by a more cinematically educated friend, this film was a real punt. I went along knowing only that it was made by a guy who was connected to French junkie-chanteuse Nico and that there are more articles written about him in Senses of Cinema than anywhere else. The pretence meter was flashing in full effect, and to make matters worse, it was some sort of junkie movie (always a draw for boho-ghetto types)! Anyway I sat down, held my tongue, and let the meandering but luminous images of Wild Innocence float over me. In fact they were so hypnotic, audible snoring could be heard in the seat behind me. Regardless, this was quite an interesting, elegiac film, and it seems that Garrel's experiences with both heroin and the creative process gave what could have been the usual drug-war movie type scenario a mature and measured edge. Basically Wild Innocence revolves around the trials of a young guy that looks like a reject from the 'Melbourne Mafia' (a circle of world famous Melbourne musicians and filmmakers who revolve/evolve around Nick Cave) who is trying to make an 'anti-drug' film after the death of his model girlfriend. Yes it's all in the realm of the best Calvin Klein photo-shoot, but things becomes interesting when the filmmaker has to totally compromise himself by picking up heroin in order to ultimately finance the film. In a masterful and subtle turn, Garrel shifts the second half of the narrative away from the main protagonist and focuses on the actress in the film, the young man's lover, and her eventual demise as a result of the whole creative process and emotional game that is involved. It never ceases to amaze me that these aging French guys can still make films about 'young people' that are more energetic, intense and powerful than anything that today' s hot film-school 3-picture-deal-enfant terribles could forge in their wildest, postmodern dreams.

The Japan Times (Giovanni Fazio)   (excerpt)

Films about filmmakers are rarely an appetizing proposition; like writers who write about writers, these exercises in deep navel-gazing usually reveal little more than how narrow and self-obsessed the director's worldview has become.

Not surprisingly, many of these films are from France, where the cult of the director as a driven, romantic artist is particularly strong. Coming in the footsteps of such yawnathons as "Irma Vep" and "The Pornographer" is Phillipe Garrel's "Sauvage innocence," a semiautobiographical look at the director's younger years in the '70s, and his turbulent relationship with Velvet Underground chanteuse Nico.

Garrel, known as the enfant terrible of the nouvelle vague, is working with a more conventional narrative form here, than, say, the Warholian boredom of "Les hautes de silence." He has actors with drop-dead good-looks in the leads: young novelist Mehdi Belhaj Kacem plays Garrel's alter-ego and stage actress Julia Faure is his muse. The story he tells, however, fails to engage.

"Sauvage innocence" begins when two women on the street recognize young radical director Francois (Kacem). Both girls are actresses, and one cup of coffee later, Francois has put the moves on Lucie (Faure), a wide-eyed beauty. Predictably, he decides to cast her in his next film. The screenplay is about a former lover who died from a drug overdose. Francois is committed to showing the horrors of addiction, but this downer topic fails to attract any producers. With his film a nonstarter and Lucie getting offered other work, Francois childishly lays a guilt trip on her, forcing her to equate their relationship with the making of his film.

Desperate to play the artiste, Francois cuts a deal with a smooth-talking lizard named Chas (Michel Subor). Sure, he'll put up the money; all Francois has to do is shuttle a suitcase from Italy to Paris. The contents? Kilograms of pure heroin.

Francois eventually agrees to this deal with the devil and winds up smuggling drugs to finance an antidrug film. Soon his entire cast and crew, Lucie included, are strung out on smack, and history seems doomed to repeat itself.

It's hard to find sympathy for someone so blinded by his own "art" as Francois. As a parable on the dangers of mistakenly valuing art over real life, though, "Sauvage innocence" is not without merit. And Garrel, as he is prone to do, captures the wasted beauty of his leads in exquisite black-and-white compositions. Fans of Leos Carax will swoon.

Senses of Cinema (Quintin)

 

A Tale of Two Conferences: For Ever Godard and Garrel Éternel  Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

REGULAR LOVERS

aka:  Les Amants Réguliers

France  (178 mi)  2005
 
The Village Voice [Dennis Lim]    (excerpt)

 

Philippe Garrel's three-hour May '68 monument, REGULAR LOVERS, which screens at the New York Film Festival this Saturday, is what The Dreamers should have been. Inviting comparison to Bernardo Bertolucci's ludicrous memorial to the same historic moment, Garrel installs his son Louis, who starred in The Dreamers, as the lead. Shot by William Lubtchansky in impossibly luminous black-and-white, the film stages the Night of the Barricades, in an unforgettable, nearly wordless hour-long sequence, as a ghostly hallucination. Revolution thwarted, Regular Lovers settles into the dazed aftermath—its young artists wander through a depopulated Paris, retiring to a wealthy friend's crash pad for opium highs, and tentative free love (a pair of amazingly fluid party scenes, scored to Nico and the Kinks, are almost tactile in their immediacy). Its charged first hour looms larger and grows more remote as this epic slacker movie gradually succumbs to the inevitable hangover of adulthood: Regular Lovers is one-third idealism, two-thirds disillusionment—not unlike life itself.

 

REGULAR LOVERS  Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion
 
An epic depiction of France's near-revolution of May 1968 and its aftermath, Regular Lovers sets up a dialogue with several other films about the events. Its period ambiance is perfect, but instead of feeling like a documentary, it suggests an apocryphal French New Wave opus, while jousting overtly with Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers. Francois (Louis Garrel) is an aspiring poet who dodges military police to fight on the barricades of May '68. He becomes involved with Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), a sculptor who works in a foundry casting objects for more successful artists, and hangs out with Antoine (Julien Lucas), a wealthy opium addict.

The pacing of Regular Lovers is leisurely, but Garrel assumes that we need some time to adjust to the rhythms of another period. His characters aren't motivated by ideology as much as the chance to make a difference in everyday life: they view travel or poetry as political acts. While this doesn't always turn out so well, Regular Lovers never suggests that the attempt was misguided or doomed from the start. A thousand sub-MTV montages set to bad pop songs have destroyed the idea of music as an expression of ecstatic spirit; in a dance sequence set to the Kinks' "This Time Tomorrow," Garrel manages to dredge that notion back from nostalgia's dustbin. He brings the past — even its unfashionable bits — back to life with an immediacy that bypasses retro cool. For that reason alone, Regular Lovers is a must-see.

 

Philadelphia City Paper [Sam Adams]   (excerpt)

Definitely not coming to a theater near you is Philippe Garrel's Regular Lovers, a three-hour chronicle of the student revolt of Paris 1968 and its underwhelming aftermath. Word was that Garrel, who lived through the time as a 20-year-old artist, intended his movie as a corrective to Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, which starred his son, Louis, as a cloistered cinephile. But Lovers is nothing so simple as an "answer film," although Garrel does throw in a pointed call-out to The Dreamers' auteur.

Where Bertolucci made his name with Before the Revolution, Regular Lovers is the revolution and after, running from anti-establishment furor to a long, smothering disillusionment. Instead of a movie-mad loner, Louis Garrel plays François, an anarchist poet who takes to streets that glow with the light of burning cars and military spotlights. Handed a Molotov cocktail, François leaves it burning in the gutter, and soon ends up hiding on rooftops, a moment of almost supernatural stillness in the midst of purposeful anarchy.

The revolt fizzles, of course, and François' friends retreat into a hash-fueled haze, idly wondering if it's possible to "have a revolution for the working class in spite of the working class." He dances to the Kinks, falls in love, scribbles in his garret and generally drifts through life, ending up in a scene out of Garrel's 1967 Le Révélateur. Like the moment it chronicles, Regular Lovers is anticlimactic and intellectualized; rather than sweeping you up in revolutionary fervor, William Lubtchansky's luminous, high-contrast black-and-white photography threatens to stop time altogether. But it's a singular experience, not least because the movie's chances of U.S. distribution are practically nil.

Distributor Wanted: Regular Lovers   Michael Chaiken from Film Comment

 

Philippe Garrel is, for sure, an anomaly. A self-described artisan, he has managed to carve out a personal space for himself in spite of the French film industry's protracted Night of the Long Knives against its aesthetic rebels. Acknowledged at home as the most important filmmaker of the post-Nouvelle Vague generation, his reputation is steadily growing overseas due, in large part, to a passionate and ever-growing coterie of people interested in his work.

Garrel's latest, Regular Lovers, is a sublimely beautiful black-and-white 35mm epic shot by master cinematographer William Lubtchansky. Much has been made of the film's relationship, or anti-relationship, with Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers. Indeed, both films star Garrel's son Louis, and, yes, there is a moment in Regular Lovers that makes explicit reference to Bertolucci. But whatever Garrel's intentions, this nearly three-hour film is about May '68 in the same way that Melville's Moby-Dick is about a whale. Regular Lovers is an affectionate, dreamlike elegy to youthful idealism laid waste. Simultaneously underserved by their ambitions and overnourished in their pleasures, the protagonists in Garrel's film—a poet (Garrel), an aspiring sculptor (Clotilde Hesme) working in a foundry, and an opium addict (Julien Lucas) whose inheritance allows him to create a "kingdom without laws" for himself and his friends—find themselves in the existential quandary of having to live after the revolution when the clarion call of '68 is silenced by the "terrible roar of nothingness."

Distressingly, not a single one of Garrel's films has U.S. distribution, and given the tepid attitude of distributors and filmgoers alike toward films that are neither straight popcorn nor straight bullshit, it might be some time before Regular Lovers is seen on our shores. Some small hope: a recent retrospective of Garrel's work curated by Jake Perlin at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Cinematek drew large and enthusiastic audiences, and the Cinémathèque Française is actively restoring and preserving the director's early works, such as The Inner Scar (72), which screened this year in a new digital restoration at MoMA. It's hard to imagine a filmmaker more deserving of major reconsideration by serious students and enthusiasts of film art. So, let's all be reasonable and demand the impossible: Garrel now!

 

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

 

Austere, underlit, uncompromisingly lackadaisical at three hours, and anachronistic in a half dozen ways, Regular Lovers is the first New York theatrical opening for the veteran French avant-gardist Philippe Garrel. Avant-garde, of course, is a relative term: When Garrel and Michel Auder, another Warhol-smitten French filmmaker, showed their "underground movies" here in 1970, Jonas Mekas called them "very sad cries from the past, one almost pities them."

Garrel, however, has endured. He's made nearly 30 features (despite a prolonged '70s heroin jones) and Regular Lovers, which was featured in the 2005 New York Film Festival (Garrel's first Lincoln Center appearance since 1972), is personal in ways we can only guess. It stars Garrel's son Louis as a version of the filmmaker as he might have been in the high '60s—a sincere poseur and humorless poet named Francois, smoking hashish and opium, and passively resisting the draft.

Regular Lovers celebrates the events of May '68 with a long (long) street-fighting nocturne and an even lengthier sequence of police pursuit. It's exhilarating and futile. "Can we make the revolution for the working class despite the working class?" one comrade wonders. The answer may be a foregone conclusion but Regular Lovers plods on dutifully, exhibiting the same glum perseverance as Garrel's career. Although the distinguished William Lubtchansky shot the film, its frissons are rarely visual. More surprising than any of Garrel's set-ups is the abrupt introduction, amid more random piano doodles, of the opening chords from "I Am the Walrus."

Revolutionary failure brings girls, rock music (including a song by Garrel's mid-'70s paramour, Nico) and a certain listless communalism. There's still considerable hanging out but once Francois starts lying around with the aspiring sculptor Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), the emphasis shifts. Scenes from revolution become scenes from a romance. With its attention to detail and character, Regular Lovers is novelistic, albeit in a special way—the characters have little inner life and engage in relatively few actions. Ambiance is all. A fondness for cutting from mid-scene to mid-scene and a few primitive dream sequences notwithstanding, Garrel's most daring device is his use of duration. Ultimately this languid tone comes to seem a strategy, quite poignant, to extend youth as long as possible.

The film's subject matter and casting present an unavoidable critique of The Dreamers, Bernardo Bertolucci's risible evocation of Paris '68, which also starred Garrel fils. Dourly withholding as it may be, Regular Lovers is superior in every sense—not least in its near-complete absence of cinephilia. (The one reference is to Bertolucci.) For Garrel, culture isn't restricted to movies. It's the Paris air. When Francois is tried for draft-dodging, his lawyer defends him as a poet; in a later scene, cops bust the commune and stop to admire the paintings. It's ironic but heartfelt. Garrel is not just an artless aesthete, he is unexpectedly and intensely romantic—imagining and realizing a character who can die for love.

Regular Lovers  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

The rumors are true; Garrel's latest represents an artistic breakthrough for this most ornery of French cineastes. The films of his I've seen have always been grounded in autobiography and personal memory, and Regular Lovers is no different. However the loose framework of May '68 – not even the events as such, but the battle over their cultural legacy – has allowed Garrel to organize his impressionistic directorial style into a broad-swath symphony of sorts. In keeping with Garrel's style, the new film is still sprawling and agonized and latches onto the spectator with a forceful nowness that obviates easy explication or even coherent retrospection. But like a piece of classical music, Regular Lovers operates in textures and contrapuntal cadences. The first thing we see is a ten to fifteen minute passage of a nighttime battle on the barricades. A group of young people is held in long shot as they outflank the police, lobbing Molotovs and overturning cars. At the end of this sequence, Garrel inserts one of the only overtly metaphorical shots in this most materialist of films. We see young revolutionaries in the garb of the Ancien Regime peasantry, wheeling a stolen cannon into position.

After an extended sequence showing Antoine (Louis Garrel) escaping the police, the film becomes more and more loose-limbed and ambling, following the shifting identities and priorities of the young radicals.  It's not that personal drama replaces politics; it's that for a brief moment a new, inchoate way of life seems possible wherein the personal and the political are constantly weaving in and out of one another.  It's precisely because our present political moment makes such utopian visions seem so hopelessly naive that Garrel fights so hard to demonstrate the valor and seriousness, the present-day urgency of this world and the need to learn from it, and as much as is feasible, to bring it back.  However, this film is not an exercise in nostalgia. To paraphrase the Situationists (whose spirit hovers over Regular Lovers, even if they themselves might not recognize it), Garrel has given us an image of the passage a few persons through a rather brief period of time, asking us whether or not we can see any fragment of ourselves reflected therein.  Filmically, there are obvious forebears to Garrel's project. From Godard, Garrel borrows William Lubtchansky's ravishing black-and-white cinematography (a virtual hovering presence of the sixties) and the discontinuous use of music and sound.  The doomed romanticism and at times excoriating self-critique are pure Eustache.  And yet probably the most significant influence is Andy Warhol. In many respects Garrel has fashioned a work of portraiture, with long passages of close-ups on open, radiant faces, listening to music or smoking opium.  He uses extended static shots, allowing his performers to slide indistinctly in and out of character, both performing and just being themselves, until any such distinction becomes academic. 

Warhol's spirit informs other formal choices, such as Garrel's inclusion of end flares and his unfashionable use of 1:33 ratio (just barely wider than 16mm film). But it's the freedom he allows himself and his performers (go ahead – call it indulgence if you must) that most clearly harks back to the late-60s zeitgeist. If the film eventually careens toward a somewhat clearer narrative trajectory, or ends on a note of absolute closure, this hardly mitigates stunning poetic sequences like the 68ers dancing to the Kinks, or Clotilde Hesme chipping out someone else's sculpture in a foundry.  This is Garrel getting mad, taking back the May '68 that he experienced (and calling Bertolucci out in the process), and, in the casting of Louis as Antoine, fashioning one of the most touching father-son aides memoires the cinema has ever seen.

By Stefan Grissemann   History Is the Enemy of Art: Philippe Garrel on Les amants réguliers, which includes an interview from Cinema Scope

If there’s a place that film history has reserved for Philippe Garrel, it’s to be found somewhere beyond the neat gardens of French mainstream auteurism and far away from the hip dreams of the nouvelle vague and its contemporary beneficiaries. Most film encyclopaedias, even the more specialized ones, shun Garrel as if he were a ghost that only appears every now and then, quietly endangering established histoire(s) du cinéma. Pretend he’s not there, for heaven’s sake: What you don’t acknowledge will never exist anyway. Garrel has thus become something of a phantom, an artist condemned to splendid isolation on the very fringes of personal filmmaking, a director on the outside of everything: a lone master working on the backside of fame, fashion, and the film industry.

But life on the margins has its advantages: the chance, for instance, to develop a very special aesthetic, a unique world view without much interference. Garrel’s wildly personal cinema, its violent intimacy comparable only to the films of Jean Eustache or Maurice Pialat, has given rise to indispensable works: from his early lyrical underground films such as the very alien—and strangely beautiful—landscape musical La cicatrice intérieure (1972), a counterculture version of Cocteau’s orphic visions featuring a radiant Nico, to more narrative productions like L’enfant secret (1982) or Sauvage innocence (2001), a highly self-reflexive tale of cinema. At all times Garrel’s films—as simple materially as they are complex intellectually and aesthetically—seem to open up to worlds as yet unseen. In an article for Libération in 1983, Serge Daney claimed that with L’enfant secret Garrel had “succeeded in filming something we have never seen before: the faces of actors in silent films during those moments when the black intertitles, with their paltry, illuminated words, filled the screen.”

It must have already seemed clear back in 1973, when Garrel was only 25, that this was a filmmaker for the lucky few, a visionary only for those who knew exactly where to look. It must have been obvious that the fragile masterpieces Garrel had directed by then would be hard to be seen by anyone’s, even a connoisseur’s, standards. In a cursory homage to Laszlo Szabo 32 years ago François Truffaut took Garrel’s initial works as supreme examples of cinema’s sensitive nature. Films, Truffaut stated, were like babies—it just wasn’t enough to bring them into the world. Will anyone, he wrote, ever be able to see “beautiful and inspired” films like Marie pourmémoire (1967), La concentration (1968), or Athanor (1972)? Truffaut was right, of course. Nothing has changed in the three decades since: those films—and most of the others Garrel has managed to bring forth since—remain inaccessible, almost invisible, repressed like some dangerous, contagious truth.

With Les amants réguliers, which premiered at the Venice film festival, things are a little different. Its subject alone would seem to guarantee a certain, if limited, amount of attention. Garrel’s unflinching look back at the events of (and after) May 1968 in Paris offers a more generally political topic for public debate—taken very personally by the filmmaker, however. In Garrel’s minimalistic reconstruction—he claims to have based it on his own lost documentary footage of the nightly street riots of 1968—there’s no romanticism, no sentimentalism whatsoever. This revolution is born out of sadness and it’s fought by a wavering, prematurely disillusioned youth. How much this film is, almost uncannily, in keeping with the times can be seen at a glance: the emblematic images of burning cars and embittered immigrant kids of the Parisian banlieues in 2005 shine through Garrel’s unknowingly premonitory recreations of 1968. The director’s son Louis plays the loner François, a poetic, unhappy soul who winds up in the midst of a revolution that he cannot fully understand—and with his life going down the drain. The conditional love of the girl he meets, Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), only hastens his personal decline. Les amants réguliers carries the weight of a chef d’oeuvre with its epic, three-hour length and the precious, serene, high contrast black-and-white photography of master DP William Lubtchansky. The assured mise en scène, subtly blending autobiography and literary fiction, makes for a dreamlike quality, a fascination that is prototypically Garrelian. History is never simply repeating itself, and tragedy does not return as farce—it comes back as a melancholy love letter to those who vanished with it.

Read the Program Notes  Jameson West from the Austin Film Society

"Philippe Garrel is the proverbial underrated genius. He’s the closest thing to a poet functioning today in French cinema." —Olivier Assayas

Born in Paris in 1948, Philippe Garrel, the director of LES AMANTS REGULIERS, was just twenty-years-old in May, 1968, the month and year when the social, economic and cultural stopgaps formed by General Charles de Gaulle’s already unstable government finally gave way, revealing a deep fissure that exists in France to this day.  Raised in a loving and artistic, if sometimes tumultuous, environment by his father, Maurice Garrel, a French character actor, mime and puppeteer, the nascent filmmaker and the rest of his left-leaning household participated in the lead-up to these epochal events along with over two-thirds of the workforce who joined arms in protest against Gaullism.  Almost two hundred years after the French Revolution, the battle between the Left and the Right, progressives and conservatives, blue collar and bourgeoisie, finally reached a tipping point, one that was long in the making.
    
LES AMANTS REGULIERS, a careful rumination on those fateful days, opens modestly, with black-on-white credits.  The first image we see is of the Seine, calm and darkly glittering at night.  A couple of twenty-something revolutionaries cross a bridge and ascend a flight of stairs to smoke hash.  The first full line of dialogue – “Do you think I should publish them … my poems” – is spoken by the stoned Francois Dervieux, played by Louis Garrel, the real-life son of the director who functions as a stand-in for the filmmaker forty years ago. “You know, I’d never want to be famous or important.  I want to be anonymous,” a young painter replies.  Glimpses of fresh-faced students throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the Girondists, barricades built with cobblestones and flaming, overturned cars, and stone-faced gendarmes lined up in full riot gear soon follow.  When the revolution breaks out in earnest relatively early in the film, Francois winds up on the rooftops, hiding from the police and peering down at the firestorm below.  Philippe Garrel filmed on the same buildings he found himself on in May and it’s from this birds-eye vantage point that Francois first begins to feel pangs of ambivalence and remorse.

Philippe Garrel was a young contemporary of the nouvelle vague generation, the same one that spawned all those titans of the French New Wave – Francois Truffaut, Jacques Rivette, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer, Jean-Luc Godard, et al. – yet he never entered their ranks, nor did he especially aspire to.  Still, no one creates films in a vacuum, and even someone as isolated as Garrel has been throughout his career still has to have some kind of model, a source of filmic inspiration.  But in tracing the lineage leading to Garrel’s unique brand of cinema, one finds very few films mirroring his own.  One notable exception, in terms of subject matter, technique and status as an outsider, is that of the great French filmmaker Jean Eustache and his sadly abbreviated oeuvre, particularly his first feature film, LA MAMAN ET LA PUTAIN, starring Jean-Pierre Leaud (a regular in Garrel’s later films).  Eustache, a close friend of Garrel’s until he committed suicide in 1981, provides the closest parallel to Garrel’s method, and it’s impossible to watch LES AMANTS REGULIERS without thinking of that seminal milestone in French cinema. Like Eustache and his career, Garrel and his films are staunchly independent, uncompromisingly personal and anti-climactic in a way few films of the French New Wave (whose much-publicized revolt against French classicism arguably never amounted to the kind of cinematic revolution that it continually professed) ever dared to be.

Garrel makes family films, in the Cassavetes sense.  His ability to convey intimacy on-screen has few rivals and his work always reflects deeply personal feelings not always readily apparent to his audiences.  Garrel’s work also became more ascetic, less adorned, as he grew older.  His early, experimental short films and features made immediately following the revolution were surprisingly elaborate and full of surreal visual effects. Perhaps it is telling that out of all the New Wavers, Godard is the only filmmaker Garrel speaks of feeling close to in his sporadic interviews, admiring his refusal to compromise in both an artistic, commercial and, most importantly, political sense throughout his long career. Garrel’s films have never reached the same level of international notoriety.  Structurally, they most closely resemble Pascal’s Pensées, thoughts and fragments of thoughts grouped in bundles of paper, liasses, cut and sewn together. Bresson, in his “Notes on the Cinematographer,” once wrote to himself “… film is not readymade.  It makes itself as it goes along,” which speaks perhaps more to the stubbornly elliptical nature of Garrel’s cinema than Bresson’s own.  His roots, like Bresson’s, lie in impressionism, with narratives often broken up into a series of vignettes and digressions rather than a single story arc.  In interviews regarding his latest film, Philippe Garrel has repeatedly invoked Stendhal’s THE RED AND THE WHITE, the great French novel of post-Napoleonic France and its tragic tale of idealism and ambition of young Julien Sorel, as an inspiration for the film’s structure and meaning.  This method of revisiting history at the crossroads – how you cross history and how history crosses you – informs his films at every turn.
    
“They’re losing the revolution indoors,” Jean-Christophe, a disillusioned freedom fighter writes in a letter at one point halfway through LES AMANTS REGULIERS.  The revolutionaries’ apathy and ennui, captured so exquisitely in this film, is charted through their clandestine meetings, which at first take place in subterranean bunkers and non-descript flats, but, as the story progresses, become more chic than bohemian, with parties increasingly more decadent and elaborate.  Anarchy and abnegation segue into pleasure-seeking escapism.  It is at one of these gatherings that Francois meets a young sculptor, Lilie (Clotilde Hesme), and their rendezvous marks a turning point in the film’s focus away from all the impassioned rhetoric.  Love, the true subject of Garrel’s late films, irrevocably intrudes on the militancy of his revolutionary zeal.  When Francois quotes from the Ukrainian anarchist, Nestor Makhno, the self-satisfaction on his face only underscores the hollowness and ineffectualness of the whole enterprise.  One disgruntled Marxist asks if they can sustain a “revolution for the working class despite the working class,” a question that’s made rhetorical by the film’s end.
    
When Francois is finally arrested for refusing to take a medical exam for obligatory military service, at his hearing his defense argues for the delicate sensibilities of the would-be poet.  The judge answers: “the Rimbauds, the Baudelaires … they all need to be put in prison.”  The invoking of Baudelaire is especially apt, since it’s through the eyes of the flâneur that we see the events of May ‘68 for what it was – an idyllic rebellion encapsulated by Francois and his face blackened with soot. Unlike Bertolucci’s unabashed cinematic paeans to the revolution and all its promise, BEFORE THE REVOLUTION (to which LES AMANTS REGULIERS makes explicit reference) and THE DREAMERS (which coincidently also starred Louis Garrel), Garrel is more interested in the revolution’s shortcomings and surprisingly uneventful aftermath.  Quoting French poets like the 19th Century poet and novelist Musset, Francois’ fervor eventually dwindles into nothingness.  This sentiment is clearly made manifest in the film’s coda, the dream of an idealistic young man on his deathbed which harkens back to Garrel’s first feature-length narrative film, LE LIT DE LA VIERGE, made immediately after the revolution in 1968.  Yet the perfect summation of Garrel’s feelings regarding the revolution comes not from Francois but from the director’s actor-father, Maurice Garrel, who makes a brief appearance in LES AMANTS REGULIERS, playing Lucien, Francois’ grandfather.  Despite his short time on-screen, he nevertheless delivers the most important and depressingly prophetic insight spoken in the film.  Speaking to his grandson, still full of rebellion following his night at the barricades, he tells him flatly, “It’ll be like none of this ever existed.  Like nothing ever happened.” Forty years later, one need only to look around at the current political climate, in France and elsewhere, to see the sad truth behind that statement. 
 
Confessions Of An Opium Eater   Jonathan Rosenbaum from Sight and Sound

The experimental films of Philippe Garrel are psychodramas haunted by his famous lover Nico and heroin. But his new Les Amants réguliers shows how 1968 turned poets into activists.

DVD Times  Noel Megahey

Reverse Shot [Nick Pinkerton]

indieWire [Nick Pinkerton]

Reverse Shot   A Cold Day in Hell, Reverse Shot Blog

 

The More Things Change... : Philippe Garrel's Regu...   Travis Mackenzie Hoover from The House Next Door

 

Philippe Garrel • Director – September 4, 2005  a brief interview with the director by Fabien Lemercier, from Cineuropa

 

Slant Magazine [Jesse Paddock]

 

Not Coming to a Theater Near You [Beth Gilligan]

 

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

 

DVD Verdict (Jesse Ataide)

 

european-films.net   Boyd van Hoeij   

 

d+kaz . intelligent movie reviews [Daniel Kasman]

 

Klinger on Garrel  Gabe Klinger’s observations from Fipresci magazine

 

DVD Outsider  Slarek

 

PopMatters (Michael Barrett)

 

stylusmagazine.com (Bill Weber)

 

The New York Sun (Steve Dollar)

 

The Cinematheque (Kevyn Knox)

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]  Page 3

 

New York Film Review [Nathan Gelgud]

 

The IFC Blog [Alison Willmore]

 

Offoffoff.com    Leslie (Hoban) Blake

 

Strictly Film School  Acquarello

 

musicOMH (Jon Bright)

 

Guardian/Observer

New York Times (registration req'd)  Manohla Dargis

DVDBeaver.com [Per-olaf Strandberg]

FRONTIER OF DAWN (La Frontiere de L’Aube)

France (108 mi)  2008

The Mysteries of Cannes, #2  Glenn Kenny at Cannes from Some Came Running

Easier times were had with Philippe Garrel's Frontier of Dawn, a nice soak for those who love the indolent angoisse and tristesse of the Garrel mood, something the director is able to conjure, a friend noted, just by turning on the camera. Or so it seems. The more some folks ostentatiously laughed at the introduction of a supernatural angle into the plot (achieved via effects that date back to Cocteau if not Melies), the more I loved the film.

Fabien Lemercier  at Cannes from Cineuropa

 

Frontier of Dawn – the 28th feature by traditionalist director Philippe Garrel – met with tumultuous applause and whistles following its competition screening before the international press at the Cannes Film Festival.

Lauded on several occasions at the Venice Film Festival, the 60-year-old filmmaker is in official competition at Cannes for the first time, with a work characteristic of an oeuvre that could be described as timeless and anachronistic, or even suggestive and ephemeral, depending on one’s point of view.

A past master in the art of black-and-white filmmaking with the help of talented DoP
William Lubtchansky, Garrel has this time reduced the duration of the extremely long takes, making his recent films a truly hypnotic experience. The livelier rhythm and editing nonetheless do not detract from the director’s distinctive style, as he captures – with a sharp eye for beauty – human fragility and the slightest emotional response on the faces of the three protagonists, played by Louis Garrel (very much at ease in his father’s film), Laura Smet and newcomer Clémentine Poidatz.

Through the story of two love affairs experienced by a young photographer, Frontier of Dawn – co-written by the director, Arlette Langmann and Marc Cholodenko – establishes a symbolic link between the lure of dark realms and destructive passions (embodied by the suicidal actress played by Smet) and seemingly more conventional desires (the birth of a child and marriage plans).

Interspersed with fantasy sequences – in which the dead woman appears in the mirror and calls her former lover to the other side – the film’s classic confrontation between the forces of the mind (unconscious/conscious, dark room/sun and light, life/death) is portrayed in quasi-metaphorical terms.

This intimate battle is first of all explored subtly and then brought to the brink of abstraction by the radical Garrel, whose audiences are free to decide whether or not to join him on his journey through the mirror towards the Frontier of Dawn.

 

Frontier Of Dawn (La Frontiere De L'Aube)  Lisa Nesselson at Cannes from Screendaily

The indelible power of true love, however destructive or impractical, is at the flawed heart of Frontier Of Dawn. Earnest, inherently divisive effort, lusciously photographed in black and white, is one of the weaker recent entries in Philippe Garrel's four decade career of bravely iconoclastic art films. Garrel's son Louis continues to embody his generation, projecting an appealing blend of mop-topped insouciance with doubt and anguish on tap. But his presence in this episodic love story with supernatural overtones is insufficient to overcome the film's endearing but awkward retrograde aura.

Nothing could render Garrel's work commercial at this late date, although his Night Wind (1998) featured one of Catherine Deneueve's most interesting roles and Regular Lovers (2005) surely won the director new fans. Beyond France, this outing will remain a curio, with news of its for-or-against Cannes debut likely to fuel curiosity among fest audiences elsewhere.

Photographer Francois (Garrel) arrives at the spacious Paris apartment of Carole (Smet), an actress, to take her portrait. Although the story is pegged to 2007 and after, Francois shoots on film and uses a darkroom. There's not a cell phone or computer in sight and characters write to each other on sheets of paper rather than via email or text messages. The director paints a contemporary yet timeless world in which the intensity of human feelings is the main distraction.

Although Carole recently married a countryman who has been abroad since the wedding, within 24 hours Francois and Carole have segued into an affair. The lovers speak of how they'll go about calling it quits one day even as their romance is in full bloom.

When Carole's husband returns, Francois keeps his distance which, to put it mildly, has an adverse effect on Carole's mental health. A year later Francois has remade his life with Eve (Poidatz), yet finds himself haunted - literally - by Carole.

While the film's central stab at visual poetry - a sort of magic mirror with a direct pipeline to the afterworld for doomed lovers - takes the story in an unforeseen direction, the effect will be risible for many; it elicited titters and guffaws at the Cannes press screening. And yet, Garrel is legitimately mining the territory he has carved out for himself from the very start: the ravages of being apart from one's soulmate in this realm or the next. He remains dedicated to depicting feelings and states of being on celluloid, via the interplay of light and shadow.

Moments of intentional levity are scarce but include the amusing and quotable "windshield wiper" theory of romance and friendship. Another scene that shines is Francois' encounter in a bar with a gung-ho self-described anti-Semite. The director seems to be suggesting that anti-Semitism, like 'l'amour fou' and it's scars, are givens. One can no sooner eradicate - or even tone down - anti-Semitism than one can obliterate the fallout of true love.

Karina Longworth  at Cannes from Spoutblog, including her next day follow up [Karina Longworth]   

The French title of Philippe Garrel’s film in competition here is La Frontière de l’aube; the English translation in the Cannes guide is Frontier of Dawn, but the subtitle at the beginning of the film read, The Dawn of the Shore. Neither title gives any indication of what this film is: a story of amour gone so fou that the natural world becomes subject to the supernatural. Hands down the most accessible Garrel film I’ve seen, it’s still a strange, swoony, genre-bending challenge.

I have to wonder if those critics who dismissed James Gray’s Two Lovers earlier in week will bother to grapple will the similarities between that star-studded American production and Garrel’s infinitely cooler, warm-toned black-and-white capital-A work of Art. On paper, they’re essentially the same film: a Jewish photographer falls for a difficult, substance-dependent blonde; even though that relationship is clearly doomed from the start, it haunts him and prevents him from happily settling into a domestic routine with a still-beautiful but less troubled and exciting brunette. The big difference, at least narratively speaking: in Gray’s film, as the director told Andrew O’Hehir, the protagonist ultimately “does choose life.” Spoiler alert! The resolution to Garrel’s story is the diametric opposite.

Movie star Carole (Laura Smet) is living half a world away from her filmmaker husband when she meets Francois (Garrel’s son Louis, his eyes dark, as if eyelinered naturally), a photographer who comes to her hotel to take her picture. It’s not clear if Francois is a journalist or an artist or what, but the project seems to take him weeks to complete, and by the second photo shoot, Francois and Carole have fallen into bed. They pledge undying love, but the sharp violin/piano jazz-horror score alerts us right away that things aren’t going to work out. Gin-swilling serial suicide attempter Carole seems destined to go the way of Frances Farmer, and though she seems convinced that Francois can save her from herself, he can’t stop what’s coming for long.

After Carole’s husband comes home suddenly and just misses catching Francois in her bed, Francois leaves and, despite Carole’s pleas, stoically refuses to come back. Carole’s heartbreak leads to a swerve into Shock Corridor territory. Meanwhile, Francois takes up with the lovely but fairly normal (and thus comparatively boring) Eve. A year after Carole violently exits the picture, Eve becomes pregnant; just as Francois has accepted that he’s about to become a father, the spectre of Carole comes back to try and drag his happy home life into the grave.

Perhaps because there are more than a few members of the press corps who could be described as socially awkward Jewish males, there’s been a lot of attention paid to the fact that in Two Lovers, Gwyneth Paltrow’s character is able to push Joaquin Phoenix’s as far as she does because she embodies his bad girl shiksa fantasy. When in that film, the nice Jewish boy threatens to abandon his family and local community in order to run off with the dangerous blonde instead of settling for the sensible match of his same background and faith, it might be a mistake and it might be a dissapointment to his parents, but it’s hardly a tragedy of biblical proportions.

Garrel’s film takes the mystical threat of the shiksa far more seriously, literally turning her into something out of a horror-movie as the film morphs from classical, almost slight romance to a serious meditation on love, faith and eternity. Garell tells us twice that Francois is Jewish––once directly, once implicitly (Francois thinks talk of concentration camp survivors if fit for pillow talk; amazingly, Carole agrees). Taking place in Paris, far outside Two Lovers’ world of Brighton Beach second-and third-generation immigrants, this information only seems significant after the final scene. At the risk of giving away more than I’d like to, the film’s denouement requires its Jewish protagonist to believe in an afterlife.

When confessing his bind to a friend, the friend has no sympathy for Francois’ inability to concentrate on his impending nuptials and push Carole out of his head. “Bourgeois happiness,” says the friend. “Scary, isn’t it?” Apparently, it is–it’s such a prominent fear that it’s become the subject of two films in competition at Cannes in the same year. I like both but they’re such stylistic polar opposites that I imagine that most critics will champion one and bash the other. For me, the borderline-genre elements of the Garrel film make it the more interesting specimen. There are shots in this film’s second half that are scarier than anything I’ve seen in a horror film in recent years––without the aid of any effect more special than a basic optical print––and simultaneously, incredibly moving in their invocation of a love that won’t die. Or, at the very least, refuses to abide by traditional boundaries of love and death.

[edit, next day addition—Philippe Garrel’s La Frontière de l’aube may be falling to the same fate. This is the first Garrel film to make it to Cannes since 1983, and his presence here was apparently not welcome. As you know, I think the movie is great; many, many people do not, The premiere crowd gave the virtually de rigueur standing ovation, but the press screening ended with boos. Variety trashed it, with Leslie Felperin’s brashly dismissive review teaching us that using the word “bitch” to describe a female protagonist is apparently compatible with the publication’s patented Slanguage. It’s that old double-edged sword: if all goes well, a festival like Cannes can be the platform of an independent filmmaker’s dreams, but a single press screening-gone-bad can make for a crippling comedown.]

A BURNING HOT SUMMER (Un été brûlant)              B-                    81

France  Italy  Switzerland  (95 mi)  2011  ‘Scope

 

For whatever reason, Philippe Garrel films rarely play in the United States, where in the last two decades only 2 of the director’s 8 films had an official release here, where I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore (J'entends plus la... (1991) was released in the USA in 2008, 17 years after it played in Europe, following the successful release of his critically acclaimed REGULAR LOVERS (2005).  Others films, like this one, which will be available to the public on View On Demand beginning the 29th, have made their way to various art houses, but are virtually unseen by the viewing public.  Garrel is an acquired taste and is not for everyone, but he’s a throwback to a different era of cinema where film had to matter, using an autobiographical, stream-of-consciousness Proustian style of personal confession, something along the lines of Jean Eustache, whose wrenching drama The Mother and the Whore (La Maman et la Putain) (1973) remains a seminal work in a radical and provocative style of cinema that challenges the viewer, a searing confessional masterpiece that unfurls in exhausting, exhilarating detail.  Garrel’s characters writhe in the agony of their own despairing souls, where the only life worth paying attention to is one that recognizes how intertwined life and death really are, as life doesn’t exist without human tragedy.  Marc Cholodenko has co-written all of Garrel’s films in the past 20 years with the director, where their style is to convey complexity through completely unsentimentalized emotional directness.  Perhaps this family might be comparable to America’s John Huston, whose father Walter acted in over 50 films, and whose children Angelica and Danny have both built successful careers in motion pictures and television.  Philippe’s father Maurice acted in over a hundred French films, while his son Louis first appeared onscreen at age 6 and has gone on to replace Jean-Pierre Léaud (who happens to be his godfather) as the next generation’s heart throb in French films.

 

In typical Garrel style, the film opens with a suicide, as the bleary-eyed Louis Garrel speeds his luxury BMW into a tree, becoming an image of death and stillness, where his last thought was a naked image of his wife (Monica Bellucci).  The rest of the film is a flashback narrated by his best friend Paul (Jérôme Robart), a relatively nondescript kind of guy who sells revolutionary political papers on the street while working part-time as a movie extra.  Paul’s girlfriend is Élisabeth (Céline Sallette), a cute girl he meets on the movie set, becoming lifelong partners.  Frédéric (Louis Garrel) is a painter living in a gorgeous villa in Italy with his voluptuous older wife Angèle (Bellucci), something of a sexpot movie star, where he invites them both to come spend the summer together in Italy, as he’s having difficulty painting, “All that dead beauty is so uninspiring.”  Frédéric and Paul spend all their time together discussing revolutionary politics, among other things, where Paul believes it’s a question of the police, as they inevitably support the Fascist state, where you have to actively live a life that defies the need for police, suggesting “Fidelity is an outdated, petit-bourgeois concept.”  Frédéric, on the other hand, believes in art and love, tolerant of all political views so long as he’s allowed to live his life.  Élisabeth starts feeling left out as Paul is constantly at Frédéric’s side, where he’s not ashamed to admit he enjoys admiring his wife, which is a roundabout way of belittling Élisabeth.  When Angèle receives rave reviews for her latest role, they celebrate and throw a party, where Angèle creates something of a scandal on the dance floor to Dirty Pretty Things - Truth Begins - YouTube (5:23), creating a sense of sexually uninhibited euphoria Dancing in Philippe Garrel's "A Burning Hot Summer" - YouTube (4:32), which ends badly with Frédéric, where things are never quite the same between the two of them, mired in the complacency of a personal malaise that may have political roots.  It should be stated that Maurice Garrel was a resistance fighter against the Nazi’s in the 40’s, while Philippe was a leftist student activist in Paris, May 1968, helping to organize the largest nationwide strike in history, involving 22% of the entire French population over the course of two weeks.  Louis, on the other hand, is the product of a French generation without a war or a cause to rally behind, becoming ambivalent about politics, emblematic of the nation’s complacency which led to the election of Nicolas Sarkozy, President of a right-wing party, soon to become the most divisive conservative politician in France.  During Angèle’s lifetime, Italy has been rocked by the self-serving antics of billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, the longest serving postwar Prime Minister of Italy, a term plagued by corruption and scandal and personal indiscretion.  

 

Louis Garrel is always the most indulgent and annoyingly self-centered person in the room, a guy that thinks only of himself, who couldn’t possibly take the time to understand others, as he’s completely enraptured with himself.  But in Monica Bellucci, she’s more indulgent than he is, as she has to be the center of attention where she can be adored all the time.  If people aren’t paying attention to her, she feels something’s wrong.  So of course, she runs off and has an affair with her next filmmaker, Roland (Vladislav Galard), falling madly in love, as he gives her all the attention she needs.  Both Frédéric and Angèle are pleasure gluttons, where they simply can’t get enough of themselves, making them rather empty headed and vapid characters, most of the time feeling superficial at best.  When things go wrong between them, as they inevitably do, they never talk to each other or try to work things out, as other than sex, they’re not used to communicating anything.  So long as the sex was great, everything else just fell into place, but when people started feeling left out or distant, they didn’t know how to reconnect.  Élisabeth doesn’t really understand what is happening between them, but she intrinsically takes the woman’s side, knowing this could one day be happening to her.  When Angèle runs off with the filmmaker, Frédéric falls apart, becoming an emotional wreck.   When Paul tries to console his friend, Élisabeth has had enough of being left out.  This film is defined by unlikable characters that don’t know how to talk to one another, that create distances and empty spaces, and then are surprised to feel alienated.  The quality of the filmmaking is excellent, told exclusively as a series of lived in fragments or vignettes, though strangely the narrator himself is rarely a featured character, where Willy Kurant’s cinematography remains intimately focused, and the music by John Cale has a way of accentuating something unexpressed.  Everything about the film works except the lead couple, where there’s no sizzle, and while the film may attempt to be more, as it’s largely a film about two male friends, it gets bogged down by the couple’s emotional limitations, as both of whom couldn’t be more full of themselves, making it hard for the audience to care about a loathsome pair who could care less about anybody else.  All the crocodile tears that Frédéric feels are just missed opportunities where no one’s paying any attention to him—could anything in life be worse?  There’s an interesting appearance at the end of the film from Maurice Garrel, the last role he appeared in before he died just months before the film’s release.   

 

Chicago Reader  Drew Hunt

Directed by French master Philippe Garrel, this leisurely paced drama continues his penchant for intimate, small-scale narratives that nevertheless aspire to complex emotions and themes. A married couple on the brink of divorce (Louis Garrel, Monica Bellucci) invite another couple (Jerome Robart, Celine Sallette) to spend a summer with them in Rome, where they discuss all manner of sex, love, art, and politics. Garrel's work is indebted to silent cinema style, but his recent films have shown a real flair for dialogue too; his characters tend to espouse hollow rhetoric that hints at ingrained conflicts. As a young man Garrel was involved in the protests that rocked Paris in May 1968, which may explain his disillusionment with the Sarkozy era; the real legacy of the left, he suggests, may be the political ambivalence its supporters passed down to their children. In French with subtitles.

TimeOut NY  Eric Hynes

Small-time actor Paul (Jérome Robart) serves as a Nick Carraway–like witness to an impossibly beautiful duo whose Euro-hipster glamour obscures a romance in ruins. Painter Frédéric (Louis Garrel, the director’s son) and movie star Angèle (Monica Bellucci) invite Paul and his girlfriend, Élisabeth (Céline Sallette), to spend the summer with them in Rome, where they parry between worshipping and punishing, adoring and despising each other. The specter of tragedy hangs over a spiraling affair: When Angèle runs off with her lover, Frédéric’s red-hot jealousy warps into a lethal case of the blues.

Love and death couldn’t be more closely intertwined than they are in Philippe Garrel’s latest boho melodrama, and like most of the French auteur’s work, it has a near-adolescent purity of purpose in how it handles love and loss. It’s unsurprising that the younger Garrel’s predilection for emotional daredevilry is perfectly exploited, but pinup beauty Bellucci is the revelation here, playing a woman condemned by adoration and dependence. “Men always blame you for what they do to you,” she says, with both resentment and resignation. There are subtler, more allusive films about stormy conflicts of the heart, but A Burning Hot Summer wisely knows when and how to surgically slice directly to the bone. It’s a bad romance of the highest order.

TimeOut Chicago  Patrick Z. McGavin

French director Philippe Garrel (Regular Lovers) makes nakedly autobiographical movies marked by a commingling of sex and death. (Many of his films deal with his ten-year relationship with actress, musician and Warhol muse Nico, who died young in 1988.) Jean-Luc Godard was both a critical influence and key early supporter, and Garrel’s new film, A Burning Hot Summer, is an echo—or inversion—of Godard’s 1963 masterpiece Contempt. The director’s first color film since 1999’s Night Wind, the new movie was photographed by Willy Kurant (Godard’s Masculin Féminin) in a spare, muted palette that intensifies its anguish and despair.

Making glancing allusions to Contempt, the movie starts the way Godard’s film ends, with a car crash, and loops back to contrast the intertwined fates of two couples, the painter Frédéric (the director’s son, Louis Garrel) and his wife, Angèle (Monica Bellucci), a beautiful but emotionally fragile Italian actress. They share their Roman villa with two struggling French actors, Paul (Jérôme Robart) and Elisabeth (Céline Sallette).

Garrel’s movies are easy to deride because of their emotional directness, and because plot and story are clearly not his strengths. Like John Cassavetes, Garrel is at his most authentic and electrifying depicting extremes of instability and romantic tumult. His camera is constantly alert to his actors’ bodies, faces and gestures, as in a fantastic party sequence that reveals Angèle’s infidelity. The interplay of history and memoir achieves a lyrical grace in the finale, which finds the younger Garrel and his grandfather (Maurice Garrel) engaged in a haunting confrontation. (Available on VOD Fri 29; see ifcfilms.com for details.)

Film-Forward.com [Christopher Bourne]

A Burning Hot Summer, despite the appropriateness of its title, is not a documentary about the current weather in New York City as I write this. Instead, it’s the latest relationship chamber drama by Philippe Garrel, who began his career in the wake of the French New Wave and the May 1968 uprisings. It fits solidly in the mode of his previous work: raw and unadorned, autobiographical portraits of people navigating their way through life, love, and art, often with great suffering and tragedy along the way.

These works are created with rigorous, academic precision, and Garrel consciously works like a master painter whose creations are inspired by the work of other masters. This time, Garrel offers his self-described take on Godard’s Contempt, detailing the cruelties and emotional terrorism that people often visit upon one another, while calling it love. A Burning Hot Summer, like Garrel’s other works, is narratively elliptical, each scene capturing moments out of time, leaving it up to the audience to draw the necessary connections between the episodes.

Garrel is quietly confrontational, putting his issues of love, art, and politics solidly front and center, taking an art-for-art’s-sake approach to his work, with a nearly obsessive repetition of deeply personal themes and episodes from his own life that often doesn’t sit well with some critics, who often find his autobiographical approach as overly hermetic. However, I was riveted and came away with renewed admiration for the naked honesty and raw passion that comes through with such directness.

The film opens with a death, that of painter Frédéric (Louis Garrel), who crashes his car into a tree. The final image in his mind is that of the naked form (ready to be painted) of his Italian wife, actress Angèle (Monica Bellucci). The events leading up to Frédéric’s death are recalled by his best friend, Paul (Jérome Robart), a bit player in search of bigger acting roles. During his recollections, we also learn about Paul’s relationship with his girlfriend, Elisabeth (Céline Sallette), whom he met on the set while they were both playing small roles in a French Resistance movie.

Frédéric lives in Rome with Angèle, and is wealthy enough that he doesn’t have to sell his artworks to make a living. Materially he lacks for nothing, but he is spiritually impoverished. Living in close proximity to some of the world’s supreme masterpieces of art does nothing for his own work. “All that dead beauty is so uninspiring,” Frédéric laments. He devotes much of his time to treating Angèle with petty cruelty, often casually neglectful of her, and cheating on her with wanton abandon, mostly with prostitutes. He does this even as he declares that he can’t live without her, which ultimately proves to be the literal truth.

As for Paul, besides being an actor, he is a self-styled revolutionary, who distributes on the street a broadsheet articulating his political ideology. Frédéric rejects any kind of political engagement, preferring to devote his life to strictly personal, artistic concerns. The men’s political and social differences (Paul is a much poorer man than Frédéric) would seem to preclude such a close bond between them, but they indeed have a strong friendship, so strong that it wreaks havoc on Paul’s relationship with Elisabeth. She’s in great distress over what she perceives as Paul’s neglect of her, since he spends so much of his time with Frédéric. This is a potentially dangerous situation since Elisabeth, a melancholy woman by temperament, has attempted suicide in the past.

Although A Burning Hot Summer is intimately personal— it was inspired by the death of Garrel’s painter friend, also named Frédéric—the underlying theme encompasses a much larger scope. Garrel describes in his director’s statement that the aim of his film is to show “people who haven’t known war,” and I think that is the key to understanding these characters. Frédéric’s grandfather (played by Maurice Garrel, the director’s father) was a fighter in the French Resistance, and, of course, this is also the subject of the film within the film that Paul and Elisabeth act in. Philippe Garrel came of age during the May ’68 protests, which he revisited in his earlier film Regular Lovers. By contrast, today’s youth for the most part have a decided lack of political idealism and engagement. Even though Paul spouts revolutionary rhetoric at every opportunity, one senses that he gives little more than lip service to these ideals, and that once he achieves a more stable financial and social position, all of his vaunted radicalism will quickly fall by the wayside. The lack of commitment to anything outside themselves and their limited social circles is what causes the characters to retreat into inflicting emotional terrorism on one another, turning their anger and discontent against their own rather than the powers that be.

A Burning Hot Summer trades in the richly textured black-and-white imagery of Garrel’s two previous features Regular Lovers and Frontier of Dawn (both shot by the late, great DP William Lubtchansky) for colors that convey the heat of the film’s title. This time, another great cameraman, Willy Kurant, handles cinematography duties. Garrel favors sustained long takes and vast stretches of dialog, where characters pour out their passions, heartbreak, politics, and philosophies with raw, direct emotion. These beautiful people suffer exquisitely, most especially Louis Garrel, the director’s son and frequent star, and Céline Sallette, who delivers an especially mesmerizing performance.

Slant Magazine [Ela Bittencourt]

 

Review: 'A Burning Hot Summer' Is A Thundering Bore That Verges ...  Oliver Lyttelton

 

Village Voice  Nick Schager

 

Movie Reviews - 'A Burning Hot Summer' - Two Couples Bunk ... - NPR  Mark Jenkins

 

The House Next Door [Fernando F. Croce]

 

A BURNING HOT SUMMER  Facets Multi Media

 

Bonjour Tristesse (English)

 

'A Burning Hot Summer' review: luckwarm - SFGate  Walter Addiego

 

A Burning Hot Summer - Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times

 

New York Times  Manohla Dargis

 

JEALOUSY (La Jalousie)                                     B+                   90

France  (77 mi)  2013  ‘Scope

 

You don’t love someone in a void.     —Claudia (Anna Mouglalis)

 

At age 66 Philippe Garrel continues to maintain a link with the French New Wave, where it was his father, French actor Maurice Garrel, a resistance fighter during the war who acted in over a hundred French films, while Philippe embraced the 60’s counterculture, developing a particular fascination for New Wave giants François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Rivette, where his early films of the 60’s and 70’s were largely underground films or portraits of artistic alienation.  Working with miniscule budgets in relative obscurity, ignored by the mainstream press, virtually unknown outside of hardcore cinephiles, very few of his films have actually been released in America.  He started filming in 1964 at the age of 16, becoming part of the May '68 generation, dating German singer and Warhol Superstar Nico from the Velvet Underground from 1969 to 1979, where she appeared in seven of his films beginning in 1972, sharing a turbulent decade of wild bohemian lifestyle and drug addiction together that ended up with electroshock treatment.  Afterwards, his films were variations on his own life, becoming more autobiographical, making stark portraits of intimacy, alienation, and the pursuit of love, often shot under the shadow of lost loves or lost dreams of the 1968 uprising, perhaps best represented by REGULAR LOVERS (2005), a mammoth 3-hour work that looks behind the scenes of the student demonstrations in Paris during the late 60’s, starring Garrel’s own son Louis who may as well be the poster child for French films, the natural heir of Godard and Truffaut’s New Wave darling Jean-Pierre Léaud.  What perhaps distinguishes Garrel’s films are his bleak, claustrophobic portraits of intimacy and alienation, where abrupt moments of happiness are usually short-lived, eventually replaced by an all-consuming cloud of despair that hovers over his featured characters, shot in a portrait like style, using close ups and long takes, allowing conversations to develop where nothing feels forced.  His couples drown in each other’s sorrows, often suffocating on their misery, where suicide inevitably becomes an option.  JEALOUSY is a remake of Garrel’s second film, a fifteen-minute short DROIT DE VISITE (1965), made at the age of 17 and based largely on his own childhood memories when his stage actor father left his mother for another woman. 

 

Jealousy  The 51st New York Film Festival, from Film Comment    

 

Philippe Garrel is a true child of French cinema. His father was the great actor Maurice Garrel, he made a second home for himself in the Cinémathèque Française, he shot his first film at the age of 16, and he rode through the streets of Paris shooting newsreels of May ’68 with Godard in his red Ferrari. From the start, Garrel’s intimate, handcrafted cinema has stayed elementally close to the conditions of silent film—the unadorned beauty of faces, figures, and light—and revisited the same deeply personal themes of loss, mourning, and rejuvenation through love. In this sharp, vigorous film, shot in glorious black and white by the great Willy Kurant (Masculine Feminine), Garrel takes a fresh look at his titular subject, patiently following the professional and emotional crosscurrents between two romantically entwined theater actors played by the director’s son Louis and Anna Mouglalis. With a beautiful score by Jean-Louis Aubert. A 51st New York Film Festival selection, voted best undistributed film of 2013 in Film Comment’s year-end poll.

 

Most likely by design, the film has the spare black and white look of a 60’s Godard film, beautifully shot in ‘Scope, adding a visual elegance, made up largely of fragmentary, moment-by-moment sketches, where Garrel uses tight framing on an exasperated Clothilde (Rebecca Covenant), who is utterly distraught at the sight of seeing Louis (Louis Garrel) gather his belongings and walk out the door, shouting “Don’t leave me alone.  Don’t do this,” an emotionally devastating moment that Charlotte (Olga Milshtein, stealing every scene she’s in), their young and impressionable 8-year old daughter, witnesses through a keyhole from her bedroom.  While set in the present, the film recounts an episode in the 50’s when Maurice, a struggling actor, left Philippe’s mother for another woman.  That would interestingly make Louis (the director’s son) the director’s father Maurice onscreen, while the young child Charlotte assumes the identity of the director.  In REGULAR LOVERS (2005), it was Louis playing his father’s role in the turbulent 60’s.  Keeping things in the family, Louis’s younger sister Esther onscreen is played by his real life sister Esther Garrel.  Louis takes up with another actress Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), once thought to be a rising star, though she hasn’t had a part in six years, where both are down and out actors with barely enough to get by.  According to the director in an interview, one was able to survive in the late 60’s on three or four francs a day, where the barren, claustrophobic confinement of their tiny top-floor apartment was typical of the era.  While initially overjoyed to be with one another, striding quickly together arm in arm through the busy Parisian streets, Louis tries to help her land a job, while there are also amusing moments, like introducing Claudia for the first time to his overly inquisitive daughter, where Louis arranges to see Charlotte every other weekend, spending much of the time walking through the city or hanging out in parks, eating communal sandwiches, stealing lollipops, where they giddily converse with one another.  While Louis playfully has tickle fights with his daughter and is more gregarious, enjoying time spent socializing with friends in bars or restaurants, Claudia is more distant, something of a continually brooding, intellectual existentialist who is used to being alone and detached from the world.  When Louis asks, “If one of us ever cheats, do we tell?”, a giveaway hint that pretty much explains his state of mind, Claudia simply responds “You’re so complicated.  I only need you to love me.” 

 

At a modest 77 minutes, the film is a threadbare, small-scale project told in two parts with chapter headings, the first entitled “J'ai gardé les anges (I Kept the Angels),” mostly rooted in the first-hand experiences of the characters, while the second “Sparks in a Powder Keg” relies more on harder to reach memories, set in a barren, wintry landscape where jackets are even worn inside.  Louis lets his sister Esther in on the “law of the desert,” where you accommodate a stranger for three days and three nights under the safety of your tent, but then they must leave.  Having never heard this before, Louis claims it came from his Dad, but Esther points out regrettably and somewhat sadly, that she was too young to remember their father.  There are more dropped hints of Mayakovsky and Seneca, both of whom took their own lives, not to mention Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, which also deals with suicide, while the ever dour Claudia is continually heard uttering cryptic comments like “This apartment will be the death of us.”  This foreshadowing lingers like smog or stagnant air for awhile as the couple settles into a kind of accepted resignation, where they pretend not to be ignoring one another.  When Claudia, who sleeps with random men by habit,  begins an affair with a theater director, Henri (Eric Ruillat), finding work in the process, the director bankrolls an upgraded apartment that Claudia moves into at once, without even asking Louis, where the director is supposedly laissez faire regarding the continued presence of Louis.  But in no time, Claudia walks out on Louis much like he earlier walked out on Clothilde, leaving him feeling blindsided, emotionally paralyzed, and heartstruck by the move, as if it’s against the laws of nature, suddenly finding himself alone in an apartment he can’t afford.  While it’s actually amusing to see a completely perplexed Louis Garrel get his comeuppance, as in film after film he’s always playing the callous lothario, but here his grand and tragic gesture leads to a suicide attempt, shooting himself in the chest, and missing, where we see him afterwards hooked up to every known contraption in the hospital ward.  As it turns out, Maurice Garrel once tried to commit suicide in exactly the same way.  The sad truth of the matter is the film’s melancholic mood reveals how quickly dreams disappear and one’s idealistic hopes are crushed, beautifully set to the tender guitar music of Jean-Louis Aubert, one of the better scored films of the year.  Garrel offers one of his more likeable low-key efforts, expressing a genuine affection for his downbeat characters, another doomed short story about the fragility of happiness along with relationships loved and lost, where a friend points out to Louis, “You understand your characters better than those close to you,” a poignant truth about cinema that runs throughout the New Wave era, where insights into art are more easily achieved than reflecting philosophically on one’s own existence. 

 

Senses of Cinema: Daniel Fairfax  November 2013

By contrast, Philippe Garrel’s La Jalousie was a masterful work. I have a simple rule of thumb for Garrel’s films, which is almost always reliable: when they are in black and white, they are incredible; in colour, however, for whatever enigmatic reason, his work is significantly impoverished. After the disappointment of Un été brûlant, it was with alacrity that I learnt that his new film would be en noir et blanc. Indeed, thanks to veteran cinematographer Willy Kurant, La Jalousie presents the same ashen vision of Paris that is common to Garrel’s best work, from Marie pour mémoire (1967) to L’enfant secret (1982) and Les amants réguliers (2005). That the new film has a heavily autobiographical strain to it is, of course, of no surprise to anyone familiar with Garrel’s work, but this time the film-à-clef is taken in a curious direction: here, Garrel’s son, Louis, plays a character based on his father, Maurice, while the character based on Philippe himself is played by a nine-year-old girl. Although set in the present, La Jalousie centres on an episode taking place in the 1950s, when Maurice, a struggling actor, left Philippe’s mother for another woman (Claudine in the film, played by Anna Mouglalis). Progressing in elliptical fashion, the story leads up to an emotionally devastating scene where Claudine confronts Louis with their common acts of infidelity inside a monstrously oversized 16th arrondissement apartment. But even with this subject matter (and the inevitable suicide attempt by Louis), the 76-minute film takes on the air of a fairytale, a quality aided no doubt by the fact that much of it unfurls from the child’s point of view. In the end, it is actually one of the most accessible films in Garrel’s œuvre – as the enjoyment of the young audience packing into the Gartenbaukino for the screening I attended attests.

Stephanie Zacharek  The Village Voice

Among moviegoers who try to keep up with French cinema, the more recent pictures made by post-New Wave avant garde-type Philippe Garrel tend to inspire either passionate defenses or impatient eye-rolling, with not much in between. Perhaps the biggest lightning rod is Garrel's frequent casting of his son, Louis Garrel, an actor with a magnificently floppy tousle of hair and a sullen pout worthy of a disgruntled Roman god. Louis starred in his father's 2005 romantic drama Regular Lovers, playing a super-serious poet swept into the life-changing current of May '68, an echo of a role he'd played a few years earlier in Bernardo Bertolucci's sensual and sorely underrated romance The Dreamers. Louis is good at playing disaffected youths, but a little goes a long way, and his father definitely pushed those limits with the 2011 A Burning Hot Summer, casting Louis as a brooding painter bored with his marriage to movie star Monica Bellucci. If that's not a world's-tiniest-violin problem, I don't know what is.

But Garrel père and fils have made a near-miraculous recovery with Jealousy. Jealousy works because it's not trying to do too much: Rendered in lustrous black-and-white by veteran cinematographer Willy Kurant (who shot Masculin Féminin for Godard), the picture feels intimate and concentrated, less fluttery than some of Garrel's other pictures—it's right at the intersection of direct and oblique, like a good haiku. Louis plays a young actor—also named Louis—who walks out on his partner, Clothilde (Rebecca Covenant), leaving her to care for their young daughter, Charlotte (Olga Milshtein, adorable in a fetchingly matter-of-fact way). In the opening scene, a tearful Clothilde begs Louis not to leave, but he has his heart set on shacking up with Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), a failed actress with a seductively throaty voice and not a centime to her name.

Claudia is trouble all right, stalking through the movie on a great pair of stems, and it's not long before we learn that she has a rather elastic notion of sexual fidelity. Louis suffers, oh how he suffers! But he has good reason, and the younger Garrel keeps his mooning to a minimum as he shapes the contours of this character's heartache. He's particularly striking in his scenes with the young Milshtein. She's so unstudied and vibrant that she sets something free in him: He's relaxed and a little goofy, less preoccupied with carrying the onerous weight of actordom. She's the authority figure here, giving him permission not to take himself so seriously. Maybe his dad will take note.

Tony Pipolo on Philippe Garrel’s Jealousy  Artforum, August 13, 2014

SMACK IN THE MIDST of the usual summer glut of digital behemoths and bulging muscles, Philippe Garrel’s Jealousy—his latest, bittersweet semi-autobiographical homage to the French New Wave—comes as a relief. With nary a special effect in sight, the film revels in ravishing black-and-white ’Scope, the stunning limpidity of which makes one wonder why it’s been used so infrequently since the heyday of Kurosawa and Imamura. Given the simplicity of the story and settings of Jealousy, the wide screen might seem a luxury, but the format is friendly to the film’s semi-improvisational style and allows the emotional distances between characters to echo throughout each frame. Even the uncluttered vistas of a park are overcast with a sense of melancholy.

Except for the presence of a cell phone in one scene, the film could easily be set in the mid-1960s, when Garrel had just begun his career and his declared mentors—Bresson, Godard, and Truffaut—were in vogue. There are even hints of Truffaut’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel, in the befuddled look of the main character Louis (played by Garrel’s son Louis) when he is ditched by his new girlfriend Claudia (a wonderfully brooding Anna Mouglalis). Yet the film seems less an act of nostalgia than a jaundiced reaction to the current state of cinema. Its physical look alone can be read as a critique of the visual banality of so many French imports over the past few decades.

As always, Garrel is preoccupied with the labile nature of romantic love. But he’s the flip side of Éric Rohmer, whose amorous chronicles, however unresolved, are more ebullient than doleful. Rohmer’s characters talk incessantly about their feelings, while Garrel’s rarely elaborate beyond flat, invariably controverted declarations. Garrel’s father Maurice cautions his son in Emergency Kisses (1989) that “cinema is not just pictures,” yet the dialogue in Jealousy reveals little about the whys and wherefores of character behavior. No one talks about what bothers them; they just act out, a dynamic that makes their widescreen interaction all the more pitiable. As Marianne, one of love’s casualties in Garrel’s I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar (1991), sums it up, we were happy, and then we were not.

Louis and Claudia are both stage actors, an ironic commentary on the paucity of meaningful speech in their lives, in which things just unfold and then come to a halt. When Claudia, depressed over the impasse in her career, picks up random men, we know that another sudden, unexplained split is imminent. Yet when she walks out, Louis seems completely perplexed. How deeply he feels the loss is mitigated by those sardonic Doinel-like touches. If these characters seem incapable of thinking deeply and learning from what happens to them, it may be because Garrel believes that psychological probing is futile, or out of fashion, or just too hard.

But if romantic attachments are notoriously fragile in Garrel’s work, blood relations endure, apparently on and off the screen. In Emergency Kisses, Garrel, Sr. plays himself as devoted father to his five-year-old son, Louis. But as he told an interviewer, he is represented in Jealousy not by the adult Louis, but by Charlotte, the fictional daughter of Louis and Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), whose breakup is the catalyst for the narrative. This child, played by Olga Milshtein, a spunky ingénue with indelible presence and charm to spare, is, like the young girl in Henry James’s What Maisie Knew, a pivotal figure who must navigate the fallout of her parents’ divorce. Her role is established in the second shot, following one of Clothilde crying in the kitchen, her loneliness complemented by the expansive emptiness around her: Charlotte, hearing her mother pleading with Louis not to leave, gets up to peek into the other room. Like Maisie, Charlotte is instinctively inquisitive, although she belongs to a decidedly different class, and so is freer to sympathize with her mother while remaining devoted to her father and friendly with his new girlfriend.

In one scene, Louis and Charlotte snuggle and tussle so spontaneously that you would think, given the peculiar dynamics of this tribe, that they are actually father and daughter. But the truth is more affecting and ironic: The scene is a replay of one in Emergency Kisses in which director Philippe as a younger man wrestles lovingly with his real son, the same Louis whose playful reenactment with Charlotte feels like déjà vu, a ritual by which he gets to father his real father in the guise of this five-year-old surrogate.

In the final scene, recovered from a botched suicide attempt, Louis sits in the park with Charlotte and his sister Esther, two attachments presumably above the fray and miseries of male/female relationships. In the spirit of the cross-references and overlaps of Garrel’s work, we might recall that only at the last moment in Regular Lovers (2004) do we learn through a narrator that François (also played by Louis Garrel) has killed himself. But if the revelation comes as a shock, it is surely because the lonely interior of that character has been no more accessible to the viewer than it was to the woman he loved. The virtual inevitability of this tragic divide between lovers, in which neither can fully open to the other, may be the strongest and most heartbreaking theme of Garrel’s work.

Esther is played by the actor’s real sister, the director’s daughter, and so in the last scene of Jealousy, autobiographical tension persists. It would seem then, as one of the film’s intertitles suggests, that when most of our hopes and illusions collapse, we get to “keep the angels,” i.e., our children. However disillusioned its view of romance, Garrel’s new film manifests genuine love for these lost characters and for the wonderfully engaging people who impersonate them.

Transit: Adrian Martin   February 2014

Children say deep things in the films of Philippe Garrel. In Les baisers de secours (1989), little Louis Garrel quizzed his father about why he slept with other women apart from the wife/mother of their close-knit family unit. Twenty-four years later, in Jealousy (La jalousie, 2013), Louis is, in turn, quizzed by his daughter Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) on even more philosophical matters. “You know who Daddy loves more than anyone in the world?”, she asks at the dining table, and then supplies the answer as well: “His Daddy”. Later, she ponders the fact that, when her Dad was younger, he did clearly did not want to have children – because if he did, he would have had them sooner. So why was Charlotte herself born? He tries to get out of this trap by declaring: “When I saw you, I fell in love”. She flatly replies: “Sure, you did”. Charlotte’s logic, and her powers of observation, are unbeatable. So, too, is her understanding of that complex human state we call jealousy.

Jealousy is often confused, by many, with envy. Envy is a desire for something you want – perhaps a trait that somebody else possesses, like beauty or courage – but you do not have. Jealousy is more complicated and knotted – and longer-lasting in its echo. It is the desire for something – such as a person’s affections – which you believe should rightfully be yours, but is now someone else’s. While envy stings, jealousy burns. In the roundabout of relationships in Garrel’s cinema – changes of partners, spouses, friends, terms of access to one’s children or parents – jealousy is intimately tied to abandonment, and to the sick, bitter feeling that one has been substituted for by another. “Who replaced me?” – this is what Louis asks his sister Esther (Esther Garrel) about his ex-lover Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), not long after he has survived a suicide attempt prompted by their split.

Jealousy, according to its maker, was inspired by the memory of a childhood incident: Garrel himself was the child moving between father, mother, and a new girlfriend. Innocently professing his admiration for this cool new lady enraged his mother – who was struggling with that feeling of being suddenly replaced in her husband’s affections and desires. But this is only the seed of the fictional rumination that the film undertakes. Jealousy is, in some variation, the basis of many relationships, ties and affinities in the film. The wife/mother Clothilde (Rebecca Covenant) is jealous of Claudia. Louis is jealous of Henri (Eric Ruillat), who snatches (without any apparent effort) Claudia away from him. And Charlotte is potentially jealous of everyone (dead or alive) and everything that gets between her and her Dad, as he rightly jokes: “Say ‘I’m jealous, O revered father. The man who is my whole life to me’. Admit it!” She slaps him for it, and he, in turn, hugs her.

In this narrative diagram, jealousy becomes the determining principle for virtually every human relationship – particularly, as per the literary theory of René Girard, when we consider them from a socially intersubjective perspective of three or more interconnected persons. Movies about teenagers or young adults (see Reality Bites [Ben Stiller, 1994], for one example among hundreds, or the UK TV series Skins [Jamie Brittain, Bryan Elsley, 2007-2013]) adopt this perspective easily and unselfconsciously; while Garrel insists – and this is far less common – on displacing the model to account for the behaviour of children and older adults, always defined by the core nucleus of the family, however splintered or tormented it may be.

Jealousy is, as a Garrel film, both very familiar and very surprising. The project came together quickly and cheaply, after a sequel/continuation to Un été brûlant (2011), again to feature Monica Bellucci, fell apart. The film displays a casual mastery – of framing (by veteran cinematographer Willy Kurant in black-and-white widescreen), of the choreography of bodies and actions in daily settings, of the mixing of professional and non-professional performance styles – which is breathtaking in its simplicity and directness (as is the plaintive acoustic guitar-based score by Jean-Louis Aubert). Garrelian fans know the motifs (couples or families walking down streets, dining scenes, conversations with wise, wily old mentors), but they will be disarmed by the offhand freshness with which they are delivered – one would like to say sketched, as in a free-form drawing – here. Especially significant and notable is the remarkable rhythm that Garrel gives the film’s unfolding: at seventy-seven minutes, it covers a lot of ground (and not a small number of characters) in a gallop, without ever seemingly overly elliptical. This compression is a source of energy for Garrel’s style.

The combined effect of the jealousy motif and the rhythmic combustion is to displace, in a powerful but also liberating way, what we normally take to be the centre of gravity in Garrel’s films. The drama of the neurotic and secretive lover (here incarnated as Claudia) – which Garrel has depicted so many times before, with evident autobiographical candour and agony – is here located within a larger mosaic. Likewise – and even more strikingly – the story of Louis’ suicide attempt is rendered as hardly anything more than a fleeting detail in the flux of events, realigned affiliations, and emotional negotiations.

Garrel’s films often end in a definite, confronting, even shocking way, with a death – and I avoid labelling this a tragic conclusion, since so often this death seems logical, as the resolution to a pressing, psychic crisis (as in La frontière de l’aube, 2008), or as a reasoned, existential choice (as in Le vent de la nuit, 1999). But Jealousy, like La naissance de l’amour (1993), ends on a note of openness and lightness: simply a shot of Louis alone. In recent cinema, Bernardo Bertolucci began his Io e te (2012) with a shot very much like this one, a recognisably Garrelian homage: the teen hero (Jacopo Olmo Antinori) with his unruly head of hair bowed, static, finally stirring into life. Bertolucci traced the itinerary of his youthful alter ego from there to a concluding, Truffaut-like moment of self-realisation and joy. But in Jealousy, at the end, there is no particular revelation or epiphany. Louis is in the midst of his changing life, thinking, still for a moment, and then moving into the frame to switch off his bedside light. This is Garrel’s cinema in its mode of guarded optimism – the calm before a storm. We, the faithful, wait for the dark clouds to gather …

Cinema Scope: Blake Williams  December 30, 2013

At one point in Philippe Garrel’s La jalousie, eight-year-old Charlotte (Olga Milshtein) asks Claudia (Anna Mouglalis), the new girlfriend of her father Louis, whom she thinks her father loves more. Claudia’s answer: “His father.” In one sense, of course, this reply is an evasion of the question Charlotte was actually asking—i.e., “Does Daddy love you more than he loves me?”—in a bid to (temporarily) avert the inevitable competition for attention that occurs whenever the parent-child bond is complicated by the addition of a third term. Within Garrel’s nakedly autobiographical filmic universe, however, Claudia’s answer is also an invocation of Garrel’s own father, the great actor Maurice Garrel, who died shortly after making a cameo in his son’s previous film Un été brûlant (2011). Yet while this places the film in line with the eulogistic impulse underlying so much of Garrel’s cinema (à la J’entends plus la guitare [1991], the terminal entry in his long series of films chronicling his tortured relationship with Nico), La jalousie’s contextual complexity extends even further when one considers that it is Garrel’s son Louis who plays the pater-worshipping eponym in the film—which not only gives Claudia’s utterance a distinct double edge, but hints toward the far more knotty and peculiar form of jealousy Garrel is alluding to in his title.

One of the last genuine romantics (and Romantics) of French cinema, Garrel has never made any bones about the transparency between his films and his life, his casting of Louis as his onscreen alter ego in all of his films since Les amants réguliers (2004) continuing that autobiographical connection. Yet while his latest films are as rife with uncensored angst as ever, melting in daydreams of death and suicide, there’s a sense that the world has stopped advancing for Garrel—that the further he gets from the traumatic events and tortured individuals that inspired him, the more his unrelieved woe begins to seem merely perpetually maudlin. While his recent work ranges from the expansive sweep of Les amants réguliers to the claustrophobic intimacy of La frontière de l’aube (2008), his films are always endowed with a smothering pathos that threatens to virtually suffocate his characters, if not his audience first.

Initially, La jalousie looks as though it will be more of the same. The film opens with a gaze through a keyhole: we see a woman, Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant), seated at a dining-room table, tearfully pleading with Louis not to leave her; the next shot reveals that the gaze belongs to Charlotte, the couple’s daughter, who is witnessing her parents’ final split after Clothilde has discovered that Louis has been having an affair with Claudia, whom he met at the theatre where he’s been performing in a play. While this voyeuristic opening, and the theme of infidelity, would seem to align the film with Alain Robbe-Grillet’s unrelated 1957 novel of the same name (which employs the title as a double entendre, referring to both jealousy and the jalousie windows through which the narrator watches his wife and her lover), Charlotte’s eavesdropping is the extent of the film’s clandestine surveillance: Garrel’s lovers don’t snoop, even as Louis and Claudia’s relationship itself degrades due to their respective disloyalties to one another. Keeping with Garrel’s guileless nature, La jalousie is a resolutely single entendre, a direct, thorough, and painfully sad confrontation with that deadliest of love’s symptoms, which here spreads beyond its romantic iteration to infect the familial and filial in turn.

While Garrel has claimed, in an oft-cited 1992 quotation, that cinema is an amalgamation of Freud and Lumière (both les frères and la lumière itself, presumably), the spectre of Proust haunts Garrel’s cinema, and La jalousie in particular, just as much as Freud’s does. Like Freud and Garrel, Proust worked through the medium of memory for his studies of feelings and passions, with a particular emphasis on desire. Throughout his work, the greatest satisfaction attainable in one’s desired Other (the “significant” Other) lay in the quixotic possibility that that Other is fully knowable; that the mystery that attracts but also defies comprehension (and thus control) may be extinguishable via possession, surveillance, and knowledge. As detailed in the fifth and sixth volumes of À la recherche du temps perdu, it is Proust’s narrator’s inevitable failure to unreservedly possess his beloved Albertine—as he literally kept her to himself, shut up in their house, all her actions known to him and only him—that elicits the all-consuming jealousy that ultimately destroys their love, just as it does for so many of Garrel’s ill-fated couplings.

When one considers, however, that La jalousie is the second of Garrel’s films to be based upon his father Maurice’s extramarital affair during Garrel’s adolescence—the first being the 15-minute short Droit de visite, made in 1965 when Garrel was only 17, and in which Maurice himself played a part—the Freudian perspective becomes quite telling as well. Jealousy is, of course, a prominent component of the Oedipus complex, in the child’s resentment of his same-sex parent as correlative to his desire for his opposite-sex parent. Yet where in Droit de visite the Garrel surrogate is a young boy who spends his weekends hanging out with his father and his father’s mistress, in La jalousie Garrel portrays his own adolescent subjectivity through the character of Charlotte, which creates a remarkable complication in Garrel’s usual mode of self-reflexivity—and by displacing Maurice’s infidelity (the original sin in Garrel’s cognitive development) onto an onscreen alter ego enacted by his real-life son, Garrel makes of La jalousie’s desired/despised father figure a transgenerational emblem of his own patrimonial pathologies.

To Garrel’s credit, La jalousie is neither excessively aggrieved nor hagiographic in its depiction of Louis, who is enacted by Garrel fils in his dependably mopey, self-centred register (though he does tone it down a little this time). Mouglalis’ Claudia, meanwhile, is portrayed with something close to reverence, and is even afforded the dominant agency in her relationship with Louis. A few scenes after we see Louis kissing another actress in his rehearsal room (presumably mirroring the origin of his affair with Claudia), he asks a provocative question of Claudia while the two occupy separate rooms in his apartment: “If ever one of us cheats, do we say so?” Claudia, nonplussed, walks into the room where Louis is reclining and replies, “You’re so complicated; I only need you to love me.” It’s the most important moment in the film: in deflecting Louis’ semi-confession, Claudia seeks to refute the Proustian possessiveness that is imbricated with the desire for full knowledge of one’s partner. Yet in resisting that invitation to jealousy she only further, if inadvertently, cements the emotional impasse that Louis has created in their relationship, one that will devour their passion and eventually terminate their love, culminating in a classic dumping scene that mirrors the film’s opening—though this time it’s the woman who walks out, leaving Louis slack-jawed and dumbstruck.

For Garrel, who’s far more of a pessimist than Proust, jealousy isn’t just inevitable in romantic relationships but embedded within their very foundations. Yearning to know and to be known by the other, each partner is also convinced that their own selves are too rotten to be fully divulged; shutting themselves up, they shut down the other, until the suppressed resentments culminate in melodramatic crescendos that Garrel indulges with a brio that can invite mockery from the casual cynic. Thankfully, La jalousie largely avoids the overbearing moroseness of much of Garrel’s recent work, while its brevity (a brisk 76 minutes) gives it something of the feel of an exercise, a trait that characterizes most of his best films. And more than any of his work from this century so far, it packs an emotional wallop, precisely because Garrel relegates his gloominess to the margins and tempers his everlasting sadness with the spectral promise of enduring endearment. “I deeply loved your father,” an apparition says to Louis as he takes a midday nap in his rehearsal room, “and he was also crazy about me. Even now, I love him just as much as I ever did.” A lifetime compressed into a simple yet evocative sweet nothing—that’s really all it takes.

MUBI [Boris Nelepo]

 

The New Yorker: Richard Brody  Bohemia and Its Discontents, October 3, 2013

 

Reverse Shot: Max Nelson  October 3, 2013

 

In Review Online [Kenji Fujishima]

 

Spectrum Culture [Jake Cole]

 

Slant Magazine [Nick McCarthy]

 

Philippe Garrel tackles another doomed romance in Jealousy  Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from The Onion A.V. Club

 

Why Philippe Garrel's 'Jealousy' Is a Masterpiece | Article ...  Adam Cook from Grolsch Film Works

 

Little White Lies [Jordan Cronk]

 

Jealousy / The Dissolve  Mike D’Angelo

 

Review: Philippe Garrel's 'Jealousy' Starring Louis Garre ...  Kimber Myers from the Playlist

 

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Anne-Katrin Titze]

 

Sound On Sight  Trish Ferris

 

In Review Online [Carson Lund]

 

Boho Parisians Face the End of a Lifestyle in Jealousy ...  Alan Scherstuhl from The Village Voice

 

Jealousy - The 51st New York Film Festival | Film Society of ...  Film Comment

 

Senses of Cinema: Joshua Sperling  December 17, 2013

 

Philippe Garrel - Senses of Cinema  Maximilian Le Cain, February 2001

 

The mastery of French filmmaker Philippe Garrel | Bleader ...  Ben Sachs from The Reader

 

Daily | NYFF 2013 | Philippe Garrel's JEALOUSY | Keyframe ...  David Hudson from Fandor

 

The Everyday Fantasies of Philippe Garrel - Page - Interview .  Colleen Kelsey interview from Interview magazine, November 2013

 

Jealousy (La Jalousie): Venice Review - Hollywood Reporter  Boyd van Hoeij

 

Variety [Leslie Felperin]

 

Time Out New York: Keith Uhlich

 

The Cleveland Movie Blog [Bob Ignizio]

 

Not much 'Jealousy,' or any other emotion, for that matter  Sheri Linden from The LA Times

 

Jealousy Movie Review & Film Summary (2014) | Roger Ebert  Godfrey Cheshire

 

'Jealousy,' Directed by Philippe Garrel - The New York Times  A.O. Scott

 

Garrone, Matteo

 

THE EMBALMER (L'imbalsamatore)                            B+                   91       

aka:  THE TAXIDERMIST

Italy  (101 mi)  2002

 

Dark, moody, atmospheric film, perhaps even a thriller, as there’s a stylish, underlying tension that pervades throughout, beautifully filmed in ‘Scope by Marco Onorato, examining a relationship between a dwarfish, Danny DeVito-like small man, the taxidermist, Ernesto Mahieux, a man with joie de vivre, with ideas, with imagination, with a brain, who might be connected to the Mafia, and Valerio Foglia Manzillo, a tall, dark and handsome man, “who walks into a room and attracts all the eyes, as he looks like a God,” but who is aimless, not really connected to anyone, an innocent, who is lured, or should one say manipulated, by the small man with ideas in what I felt resembled a Pinocchio story.  Perhaps there is a parallel here with the real Mafia, small men with guns who are really pulling the strings, and whose power is constantly threatened.  Similarly, the taxidermist is threatened when Valerio finds a girl he likes, who crowds into his prized possession, which he doesn’t share easily. The character of the taxidermist is tenacious, perhaps even evil, as he hides his real motives behind his jokes and smiles.  Something’s got to give, and even at the end of this film, we’re not quite sure what.

 

The Embalmer   Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

I'm very sorry to have missed this on the big screen, since it is one of the best-looking films of the year. Its overall style is vaguely out of time, although more than anything, it resembles European art cinema from the 1970s (especially New German Cinema).  There is a grainy, faded quality to the film stock, which perfectly underscores its dilapidated vision of urban Italy -- crumbling tenements, empty streets, garish hotels and neon-and-vinyl bars.  The film is downright Fassbinderian in its circumstantial intersection of characters: lonely gay dwarf taxidemist, aimless beau-hunk, and steely middle-class sexpot.  Mike D'Angelo complained that the film made no metaphorical or allegorical hay of the profession of taxidermy, but I was like, thank god.  Despite some shrewd opening moments at the zoo (our mismatched protagonists examined from the animals' POV) and some humorous compositional foregrounding of stuffed creatures, which was reminiscent of Petra von Kant, The Embalmer regards its flawed characters non-judgmentally, refusing to turn them into Sundancy collections of freaky quirks.  For the most part, there is an open, ambling atmosphere, giving Garrone's characters room to simply exist, and this allows the roiling sexual conflicts to assume a surprisingly naturalistic shape.  Only when the script seems to concoct unnecessary conflict (i.e., Peppino's Mafia connections) does this atmosphere falter, and even a rather needlessly dramatized ending feels far more restrained than it would on paper.  A grungy, anachronistic surprise.

PRIMO AMORE (First Love)

Italy  (100 mi)  2004

 

Primo Amore  Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack

[MINOR SPOILERS] At the risk of drawing the ire of certain holistic types with my shameless dip into buffet-style criticism, Garrone's latest was a certain 4 in its first half, but unexpectedly rallied in the second half, ending somewhere in the solid-7 zone. (And now, analysis!) I wasn't entirely sold on Garrone's last film, The Embalmer, at least as far as its love-triangle psychodrama was concerned. If you're exploring thwarted lust, bundling it all up in an allegory and depositing it on the back of a gay dwarf taxidermist-cum-gangster seems a little, um, overdetermined. And yet, against the odds, Garrone mostly made it work, since his repressed emotional pitch and narrow compositions (turning otherwise benign roadsides, hotel rooms, and apartments into pinched objects of a nasty universal leer) recalled Fassbinder in Fox / 13 Moons mode. It was a pretty good start. In Primo Amore, we have the masochism tango of Sonia (Michela Cescon, in a breakout performance) and her cruel opposite number, the laconic Vittorio (Vitaliano Trevisan). Again with the overloaded occupations: Vittorio is a goldsmith, fashioning malleable metal into precious things; Sonia works at a fair-trade store. A Pygmalion for the global-capital era? The gold standard exacts its sadistic revenge on crunchy-granola resistance to its reign? You see how quickly all this spins out of hand, and Garrone doesn't help matters by giving us, in the first half, less than zero character development or motivation. The two meet in a café, presumably after some online chatting. Vittorio breaks the ice with the immortal opening line, "I thought you'd be . . . thinner," and somehow he subtly bullies Sonia into not turning on her heels and reboarding her train. Sonia comes across as shy but possessed of some dignity, while Vittorio, toiling away in the goldsmithing shop (it was his dad's!), is a complete nonentity. Where's the appeal? Why is this relationship even happening? Then, once Garrone has gotten us to accept this shaky premise by simply pounding incessantly away at it, he delivers a brutal and rather complex short film about control and obsession. Vittorio becomes Sonia's living, breathing eating disorder, dominating her every bite, forcing her into diets and then eventually starvation. Sonia's psychological state becomes more and more precarious, and this gives Garrone the opportunity to break up his bland Italian naturalism with some disorienting visual and auditory stunts. The ending, while morally questionable, was certainly satisfying in terms of narrative closure and feminist righteousness. Make no mistake: it's still little more than an above-average film, and as an exploration of anorexia as fascism, Primo Amore cannot hold a candle to Todd Haynes' Superstar. But, two films in, I still think Garrone is one to watch.

GOMORRAH (Gomorra)                                        B+                   92

Italy  (135 mi)  2008  ‘Scope

 

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss”   —“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” by The Who

 

Based on the Robert Saviano book, this powerful and excruciatingly intense film chronicles the violent tales of various people and their connection to the infamous Gomorrah gang, originally a Naples Mafioso gang that has accumulated such massive wealth that much of it has been reinvested in legitimate business operations, which effects countries all over the globe, amusingly depicted on Italian television when American movie star Scarlett Johansson wears a formal evening gown that the viewers have just seen was made in a mafia sweat shop, costing several people their lives.  While the long, sprawling narrative is confusing, where it’s hard to tell which players are on what side, suffice it to say there is a gang war in operation and the body count is high in this film.  The film never follows the actual kingpins, who are so mysteriously embedded into normal life that they are all but unrecognizable, who get together only briefly in this film, and even then over a minor matter.  Instead the film follows people on the periphery who get in over their heads, who get suckered into a world that has no good guys, as it’s consumed by hard nosed badasses who are all about money, who couldn’t give a rat’s ass whether you live or die, but simply how they can use you to get what they want. 

 

Made by the director of the curiously strange THE EMBALMER (2002), here the most amusing thread follows two punk kids who grew up mimicking De Palma’s SCARFACE (1983), who play with toy guns and act out scenes from the movie, which escalates into street punks with real guns who knock over unsuspecting drug dealers, video arcades, and find a secret mafia gun stash where they playfully go on their own private target practice run in their underwear at a riverside, shooting guns for sheer pleasure and exhilaration, including a rocket launcher that demolishes a boat launched on the other side.  These kids used to be just kids, and they are warned by their elders in the neighborhood to knock it off, but the picture of child disobedience is so deeply entrenched in this mammoth concrete housing project that serves as their apprentice grounds growing up.  Simultaneously, we see a money man who makes payments to families who have lost someone or who maintain their silence while still in prison, a thankless job that gets little respect from the recipients, and whose world keeps getting smaller and smaller as there is nowhere in the middle of a gang war where he can be safe carrying around loads of dough.  He is continually seen hiding for his life, despite wearing a bulletproof vest, eventually pleading to his own boss to change neighborhoods, but his instructions are to keep it up or die.  One of the two SCARFACE knuckleheads has a brother who runs grocery errands, but the gang turf is so divided that each brother ends up on separate sides.  As a result, the money man cuts off funds to the single mom due to her son’s betrayal, even though the other has remained loyal.  This kind of split allegiance or routine betrayal within rival gangs makes it hard to tell who’s doing what to whom, as there are so many different layers of hierarchy, one wonders who’s really running the show?  On another level, we see the dubious business dealings of Tony Servillo, from Sorrentino’s CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE (2004), who represents the Mafioso when they monopolize the industrial waste market, which includes toxic products, which are treated just as routinely, buried in the same landfills irrespective of any health hazards.  The important thing is they landed the contracts and got the money.  When garbage truck drivers refuse to continue working upon realizing what they’re hauling is so contaminated, they are sent home and clan member’s little kids arrive excitedly to drive the red, green, or blue trucks into the landfills.

 

What’s exemplary here is the sheer weight of the film, which in totality adds up to a grotesque picture of the world we live in, putting a dour face on the modernized view of the importance of a global economy.  Grittily shot without a hint of embellishment, many of the actors were nonprofessionals from the neighborhood adding a realist stamp of authenticity to the film.  Despite the violence, none were gratuitous or stylishly glamorized, but were necessary in the telling of the story.  When we finally see the actual Gomorrah family heads sit down to discuss an irritating matter, which takes about five minutes of film time, they turn out to be totally unpretentious guys from the neighborhood who live in the slums, who own next to nothing just like everybody else, and who sit around quietly and play cards all day.  One might ask:  what do they get out of all this if they have nothing to show for it and live in the midst of such squalor?  Apparently what they get is the right to wear a permanent “do not disturb” sign around their necks as people would be well advised to simply leave these guys alone.  Obviously in this depiction, every generation has would-be big shots with delusions of grandeur that never learned that lesson.  According to this wire story, Mafia wants "Gomorra" author dead by Christmas - Yahoo! News, a Gomorrah contract was put out on the author’s head, as well as some of the actors from the neighborhood, when this book and subsequent movie became instant hits in Italy, a generational follow up to the Sicilian mafia depicted in THE GODFATHER (1972).

 

George Christensen at Cannes:

 

8:30 am  screening of "Gomorrah" weren't admitted until 8:28.  Two minutes was not enough time for us to scamper up the red carpet, have our bags checked, get scanned and find a seat before the lights went dark.  Rather than sending us up to the balcony, we were let in on the main floor.  It was packed.  I found a nice little nook by an emergency exit and could just see the subtitles of this Italian film over the heads of those properly seated. There was enough padding under the carpet that I survived this two hour plus saga of the Napoli syndicate without squirming.   It wasn't that the movie was so good.  Maybe my two weeks of sleeping on the ground has toughened me up as well.  This was a very realistic portrayal of the stranglehold the mafia has on Naples and how a great number of people in the community are drawn into.  It follows five or six different stories, using professional and non-professional actors.  The depiction just rambles along without any strong narrative until a couple of kids who think they are tough guys get hold of a stash of guns and think they can have their say.  It was too bad there were not more scenes of originality such as that of the guys in their underware along the beach shooting off the guns, including a rocket launcher.

 

Excavating the Past to Set the Record Straight  A.O. Scott at Cannes from The New York Times

Also, Matteo Garrone’s “Gomorrah,” the best movie I’ve seen at this year’s festival, as well as a furious and brilliant engagement with the times in which we live.

Gomorrah” is also something of a rebuke to fans of “The Sopranos” and the countless other television programs, movies and books that traffic in the mythology of organized crime. The problem is not just that the gangs of the Camorra — Naples’s equivalent of the Mafia — are ruthless and violent. Mr. Garrone, following a sensational book by Roberto Saviano, traces the malignant extent of their influence, from drug dealing in housing projects into the worlds of haute couture and industrial waste disposal. And while this complicated, multistranded story is saturated with local detail, its implications resonate further. This modern life is not a reverie, but a nightmare.

CANNES '08 NOTEBOOK | Auteur Fatigue, "Gomorra" Pops and Wayward Youths  Anthony Kaufman at Cannes from indieWIRE

One unsuspected competition surprise, however, is "Gomorra," one of the competition's two Italian films. Directed by 39-year-old filmmaker Matteo Garrone ("The Embalmer") and based on a scandalous Italian bestseller, "Gomorra" (as in Sodom and Gomorrah) is a pun on the name of the Naples-centered mafia, the Camorra. After an alluringly lurid tanning-salon massacre in its opening moments, "Gomorra" interweaves several different stories related to the violent criminal gangs that continue to operate in the region: There's the graying accountant; the young innocent who wants to join the gangs; the mob tailor who moonlights for the Chinese; a Mafioso businessman's apprentice working in toxic waste removal; and most notably, two aspiring Tony Montanas, who provide the film its most indelible image when they sample a stolen cache of machine guns and grenade launchers in their underpants.

Because of so many disparate stories, "Gomorra" doesn't have an emotional center. There's a feeling of distance to the proceedings, almost as if you were examining this strange otherworld like ants through a magnifying class. Indeed, what's even more distinct about the film (besides the underwear machine-gun scene) are the locations and the authentic sense of life that Garrone injects into them. Much of the film is set in dilapidated multi-level housing projects, where a wedding could be going on along one outdoor corridor, while drug deals might be happening simultaneously on another, just as armed henchmen patrol the rooftops at all times. "Gomorra" may be better than your standard variety mob picture, but the plot strands themselves aren't remarkable. Ultimately, the film stands out because of its meticulous attention to detail.

Slant Magazine [Fernando F. Croce]

By its very title and subject, Gomorrah promises crushingly obvious intimations of Biblical barbarity. In execution, however, Matteo Garrone's account of the multiple levels of organized crime in modern-day Naples works the opposite way, sidestepping grandiose gestures and statements in favor of a grimly matter-of-fact chronicle of how pervasive the Mafia influence has become. Paring down Roberto Saviano's densely researched bestseller to a quintet of parallel character strands, Garrone composes a chilling mosaic that, with an analyst's calm and a hitman's eye for impersonal brutality, lays out the social, political and economic reverberations of the Camorra criminal families. The characters' struggle across the age spectrum reflects the many stages of the organizations' reign of terror, from 13-year-old Toto (Salvatore Abruzzese) eagerly starting out at the bottom of the Camorra ladder to Pasquale (Salvatore Cantalupo), a weary tailor who bridges high fashion and lowlifes. In between them, there's Tony Montana-obsessed knuckleheads Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone) running around with machine guns, money-runner Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato) pondering the cost of fidelity as signs of gang war begin to brew, and toxic-waste entrepreneur Franco (Toni Servillo) corrupting his fresh-out-of-the-university assistant's worldview.

Garrone's gangster-as-capitalist view never softens its focus a la Traffic or turn its executions into exploitative set pieces a la City of God; lean and coolly distanced despite the plot's escalating violence, the film at its most fierce feels like a continuation of Francesco Rosi's caustic exposés like Lucky Luciano and Illustrious Corpses. Expertly controlled for most of its sprawling running time, the film's points about life under ruthless criminal rule grow inexorably redundant, particularly as, in an attempt at connecting the dots in Garrone's massive canvas, it gives in to the stock mobster shocks it had rigorously eschewed. Still, few mafia films so thoroughly depict an order in which crime is to its people not an underworld but, simply and bleakly, the world itself.

Gomorrah | Reverse Shot  Michael Joshua Rowin

 

The mafia: Is there any other organization, legal or illegal, that’s so benefited from the mythologizing power of the cinema? While engaging with such subject matter invites de facto vicarious thrills Italian director Matteo Garrone can never entirely shake—even in the post-Sopranos era he’s still dealing with a semi-hidden world that provokes wonder and fascination no matter the attempts to divest its players of the untouchable aura of outlaw beatification—he goes as far possible into the realm of the mafia’s unfeeling ruthlessness in his latest film, Gomorrah, without tripping over sentimentality or stylization. Gomorrah doesn’t intend to do much in the way of formal innovation, but this year’s Cannes Grand Prix winner might very well make its influence felt in its direct and unpretentious approach toward the nefarious activities of the Camorra, the enormous mafia empire that, according to the film’s closing titles, is responsible for the murder of some 4,000 people in the last 30 years, and has such formidable financial muscle that it’s even claimed a stake in the reconstruction of Ground Zero.

 

Based on the bestseller by Roberto Saviano (also one of the film’s many screenwriters), Gomorrah shows how the Camorra have snaked themselves into every facet of life in Naples and Caserta. They mold the moral development of 13-year-old Totò (Salvatore Abruzzese), a street kid who enlists as a soldier with one of the clans and must betray the trust of a neighborhood woman whose groceries he delivers; they have also grabbed a hold on the imaginations of Marco (Marco Macor) and Ciro (Ciro Petrone), two brazen young hoodlums whose mimicry of Scarface’s “The World Is Yours” fearlessness runs them afoul of the local families who manipulate their naïve greed so that they can be easily removed from the picture. Of the five interwoven (though thankfully never connecting—we’ve had enough of that in recent years) stories that comprise Gomorrah, Marco and Ciro’s is the funniest and also the saddest. One of the punks speaks in a scratchy voice, the other a whiny one, the two forming a sort of Mutt and Jeff team of morons who, in order to make a name for themselves in the underworld, conduct drug deals and then hold up their buyers, steal from a secret weapons stash, and rob an arcade. Gomorrah’s best scene has the dubious partners in crime strutting around a shallow riverbank, shooting off rounds of ammo (including a bazooka that blows up a boat) in nothing but their underwear, screaming lines from Scarface. It’s imagery both silly, pathetic, and not a little threatening—there’s no telling here whether Marco and Ciro should be taken at all seriously (loose cannons are, after all, the most potentially dangerous) or should just be pitied for pompously believing in the gangster machismo that will cost them their lives and waste their youth.

 

Aside from this moment (and another one where a hazardous mafia-run job of filling a quarry with toxic waste is eventually undertaken by children, the only ones willing to drive the trucks), there’s little “poetry” or self-conscious gangster “operatics” on display in Gomorrah. Violence is sudden, brutal, and definitive (several drive-bys and hit-and-run assassinations descend with no warning, and are thus absolutely terrifying), the closed-door scheming is cold, practical, and unfeeling (a schlubby boss rebukes Marco and Ciro for their wildness in between rounds of video games), and the “family” loyalty that’s been so essential in the cinema for raising common thuggery to the heights of Greek tragedy (from The Musketeers of Pig Alley to Rocknrolla) is utterly absent or else routinely betrayed. Unlike Afterschool, in which shallow focus is drearily employed for sub–Van Sant stabs at signifying “alienation,” Garrone expertly controls depth of field so that characters remain locked into their immediate surroundings, unable to escape an environment both systematically and physically restricted. Garrone also proves himself expert at framing and directing his actors. Don Ciro (Gianfelice Imparato), a thankless errand man who pays out to relatives of prisoners who’ve remained loyal to his clan, becomes more and more jailed within the labyrinthine of a multilevel slum complex that is his monthly route, while his increasingly vulnerable condition stiffens his posture and cowed expression to the point of betraying utter helplessness and “family” abandonment.

 

It’s small details like these that should be looked for in Gomorrah—if stylistically the film is unostentatious and narrative-wise its storylines are more demonstrative than character-driven (as reinforced by the topical closing titles), those choices together foster a tough portrait depressingly close to the poverty of the slums and the avarice-guided business practices of its overlords. In short, Garrone has allowed us wide-scoped entry into a forbidden world without making its taboos indicative of the same old, boring, exotic danger or titillating recklessness—Gomorrah’s is the unremarkable mafia of pimple-faced teenage soldiers and techno-blasting, tracksuit wearing troglodytes. If Garrone often makes obvious points in connecting a mafia-controlled tailor to the Hollywood A-list or showing how a young apprentice can stand up to his unscrupulous toxic waste “manager” boss, he also presents all these dirty and despicable dealings in the most unadorned clear-eyed manner; it’s not comforting and doesn’t have the requisite tragic dimension. At Gomorrah’s end some of its characters have survived, some have been brutally killed, but nothing has been “concluded.” We’ve witnessed several moments in organized crime’s ubiquitous stranglehold over an entire social stratum, where lives get chewed up and spit out through a system grinding ceaselessly on.

 

Letters from Cannes - May 18/19: Gomorra (Gomorrah)   Boyd van Hoeij at Cannes

 

Cinematical (James Rocchi) review

 

Lessons of Darkness [Nick Schager]

 

Gomorrah (Gomorra)  Lee Marshall at Cannes from Screendaily

 

Cannes, Competition: "La Mujer Sin Cabeza," "Gomorra""  Glenn Kenny at Cannes from Some Came Running

 

Movie Martyr (Jeremy Heilman) review [3/4]

 

The House Next Door [Vadim Rizov]

 

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]  at Cannes

 

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

 

Daily Film Dose [Alan Bacchus]

 

They Shoot Actors, Don't They?  Jeff

 

The Rake [Erik McClanahan] Toronto IFF 08 report

 

The Hollywood Reporter review  Natasha Senjanovic

 

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

 

A mafia feud that began with a row over a firework leaves six dead   Kate Connolly and Tom Kington from The Guardian, August 16, 2007

 

Mafia wants "Gomorra" author dead by Christmas - Yahoo! News  Stephen Brown, October 14, 2007

 

Gomorrah - Roberto Saviano - Book Review - New York Times  Rachel Donadio, November 25, 2007

 

Review: Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano | Books ...  John Dickie from The Guardian, January 12, 2008

 

Calabrian mafia boss caught after 20 years on run  James Orr from The Guardian, February 19, 2008

 

Hill, Henry ex-Mobster/Mafiosa Inspiration for Goodfellas and My ...  Interview with GOODFELLA’s Henry Hill, who, in contrast, has been out of the Witness Protection Program program for years, has written books, makes public appearances, has 2 TV shows in pre-production, 2 scripts in the works and a cookbook

 
REALITY                                                                   B-                    81

Italy  France  (115 mi)  2012  ‘Scope

 

Life doesn't imitate art, it imitates bad television.        —Rain (Juliette Lewis) from Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives (1992)


Without a doubt, this is a film with sensational camerawork throughout by Marco Onorato adding a degree of power and complexity missing from the rest of the film
that often feels slight and overly superficial, where an extended opening aerial shot draws us into a surrealist fantasy aspect of the film, reminiscent of a Disney fairy tale wedding where the newlyweds arrive in a horse drawn carriage to festivities that appear right out of a Fellini film, where fat, old, and grotesquely ugly characters fit right in with the colorful artificiality of the moment, giving it a garish, carnivalesque atmosphere where the guests are ogling over a Reality TV star named Enzo (Rafaele Ferranti), whose appearance seems to inspire a special delight.  Flying in and out on a helicopter surrounded by a throng of photographers, one of the local Dads, Luciano (Ariello Arena), hoisting his young daughter on his arm, asks for a celebrity autograph, mesmerized by all the attention Enzo gathers and how easily this impresses his young daughter, making up his mind right then and there to become a contestant on the Realty TV show Big Brother.  While this may be a satirical attempt to expose the self destructive effects of reality television, it seems more interested in the superficialities of celebrity worship and the idea that something inside every one of us wants to be famous, worshipped, and adored by the public.  While this thought alone is a delusion, as just as many intentionally avoid the spotlight, this plays out more as an internalized fantasy playing out in one man’s mind, where an all-consuming, get-rich-quick fantasy takes over his actual life, becoming so obsessed with the desire to be on the TV program that this sudden rush of interest replaces his own ordinary life, much like Star Wars or Star Trek fanatics live vicariously through movie characters, literally inhabiting a fantasy world.  

 

Garrone wanted to use actor Ariello Arena as a hitman in his earlier neo realist crime drama GOMORRAH (2008), as he is actually sentenced to a life sentence without parole in Volterra prison for shooting three rival gangsters in 1991, but the prison parole board felt the part was too close to his actual crime.  He was allowed day passes to work on this film, however, delving into a self-imposed manic fantasia that may be easier to channel by spending large amounts of time locked up, isolated from the rest of society.  Arena plays Luciano as a typical ordinary guy with a special exuberance and child-like wonder, an everyman who lives for his family and friends, a popular man in the community where he works in the local street markets selling fish with his partner Michele (Nando Paone), but often socializes with others who work nearby, including Ciro Petrone, a young coffee server who played one of the teenage gangsters in GOMORRAH.  Together with his wife Maria (Loredana Simioli) they run a neighborhood scam on unsuspecting housewives selling them products they eventually reclaim.  Living in an old, dilapidated section of Naples with plenty of family nearby, he’s the object of continual affection with the older women constantly doting on him, always laughing at his bad jokes, where he often performs skits for family entertainment at birthday parties, becoming something of a familiar clown.  When Big Brother tryouts arrive in Naples, Luciano is interviewed, still toting his kids around with him wherever he goes, as if this TV program offers him some status of legitimacy that he wouldn’t otherwise have.  He’s even called for a second interview in Rome's Cinecittà Studios, becoming the talk of the town, where it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a contestant.  

 

Unlike the ultra realism of his earlier film, Garrone chooses to embellish this film with wild Italian stereotypes and exaggerated, over-the-top characters often seen yelling back and forth at each other, where there isn’t an ounce of subtlety here, as everything is expressed through a brightly colored world of artifice, where gestures and mannerisms are as prevalent as gossip and rumors.  When he learns that TV sends out observers, where anyone he sees could be a spy for the show, this immediately exacerbates his growing sense of paranoia, where every stranger’s face suddenly works for the station and is watching him, becoming a personal test.  He becomes so confident of his winning personality, however, that he even sells his fish stand, making way for his all but inevitable appearance.  When the new season starts without him, though, he slowly disappears from public view, becoming isolated and anti-social, withdrawing from the neighborhood, spending every waking hour watching the show, wondering how to impress the judges and what test he must pass to be chosen, like modifying one’s behavior to get into Heaven.  When he starts giving away all their personal belongings in an absurdist Christian gesture of contributing to the poor, he grows further out of control and unreachable, so alienated from his wife that she goes to live with her mother.  While there is a strong sense of local community and neighborhood support that is ultimately rejected, the film is a study of delusion and broken dreams, where fantasy takes the place of reality.  There is at least the suggestion that television may be the new religion, what Karl Marx called “the opiate of the masses,” where it offers a soulless moral reflection of the vast emptiness of modern society.  Guided by unhealthy notions of consumerist popularity and commercial success, Reality TV exists almost without purpose, which is itself a kind of alternate reality, as who needs to watch the empty, unfocused lives of others?  This film makes no attempts to offer any cultural significance to the medium, delving instead into the psychological void that exists within.  

 

Geoff Andrew  at Cannes from Time Out London (link lost)

Matteo Garrone’s ‘Gomorrah’ was undoubtedly a tough act to follow. Few outside of Italy knew his earlier work (though his 2002 foray into the underworld with ‘The Embalmer’ did play the festival circuit a little). But Garrone’s sharp if sprawling account of organised crime at work in the Neapolitan suburbs not only won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes but enjoyed widespread box office success. So ‘Reality’ had a lot to live up to.

And in many respects, it certainly succeeds in doing so. Its striking opening sequence – shot from a helicopter as a horse-drawn golden coach makes its way through the traffic of the suburbs beneath Vesuvius, finally arriving at a wedding of ostentatious opulence and vulgarity – sets everything in place: the preference for long, sinuous sequence shots, the painstaking attention to mood and detail, an impressive, almost epic sense of scale. But it’s that last quality, carried over from ‘Gomorrah ’, which is at once the film’s strength and its shortcoming. As the narrative focuses increasingly on Luciano, a Naples fishmonger supplementing his family’s income with scams involving kitchen goods, who’s persuaded to seek fame and fortune by auditioning for a series of ‘Big Brother’, so the film turns from amusing, faintly absurd satire towards ever ‘bigger’ themes. These are concerned with the destructive role played in modern life by our obsession with celebrity and appearance. In short, the movie becomes a little too long and heavy-handed for the more intimate and immediately plausible aspects of its subject.

That said, while the film is seldom as funny as it probably wants to be, and drags here and there towards the end, it nevertheless has more than its fair share of strong scenes suggestive of a latter-day ‘La Dolce Vita’. (Here it’s not a statue of Christ that hovers over the city of Rome but a brash TV celeb, flying over a Neapolitan rave packed with tacky revellers.) As Luciano gradually loses his grasp on reality, changing his ways in the hope that charitable acts might gain him access to TV heaven, Garrone just about keeps things under control long enough to make the surprisingly quiet coda emotionally satisfying and resonant. En route, by the way, he’s helped no end by a splendid cast, some of whom will be familiar from ‘Gomorrah ’.

The A.V. Club [Scott Tobias]

There’s virtually no way to talk about Matteo Garrone’s comic fable Reality without giving a nod to The King Of Comedy, Martin Scorsese’s masterful dark comedy about the dreams and delusions of a lonely shut-in who seeks to becomes the next late-night TV star. And while the comparison is inevitably unflattering to Garrone’s film, Reality makes a fine companion, responding to a time when the word “reality” sometimes belongs in air quotes and people feel more entitled than ever to their 15 minutes of fame. The King Of Comedy’s Rupert Pupkin remains as disturbingly antisocial as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, hosting an imaginary talk show with cardboard cutouts in his basement. By contrast, the hero of Reality is a Neopolitan fishmonger and family man who’s gregarious to a fault; he’s already the acknowledged center of his cozy universe. His need to extend that approbation into national fame and fortune is a peculiar pathology the film explores with humor and exuberance. 

The spectacular opening shot descends from the heavens until it finds an ornate horse-drawn carriage clomping through the streets of Naples, en route to a wedding that doubles as a garish televised event. The special guest is “Enzo,” the glad-handing winner of the Italian Big Brother, but Aniello Arena, a guest who’s changed into drag for the occasion, is eager to get his share of the spotlight. The display would be more pathetic if Arena wasn’t genuinely charismatic, or if his friends and family weren’t so encouraging of his shenanigans. When auditions for the next Big Brother season open up at the local mall, Arena charms his way in front of the camera and becomes utterly convinced that his slot on the show is assured. Then he waits for the call. And waits. And waits. 

Garrone laughs along as Arena’s impatience and worry manifest as intense paranoia and desperation: In one scene, he accommodates a bum at his fish stand after convincing himself that the guy might be a network plant; in another, he pleads to Enzo from behind the air-duct grate in his dressing room. While its barbs on celebrity and reality television are expected and a little facile, they’re mostly a misdirect for a story about family, community, and religion, and Arena’s willful estrangement from a perfectly happy life in pursuit of another, more rarified one. His outrageous, self-destructive journey lands him in a place just as ironic as Rupert Pupkin’s in The King Of Comedy, but it’s haunting and mysterious, too, reflecting the dream that consumes his life.

Village Voice [Michael Atkinson]

Rampaging through the otherwise arid desertscape of contemporary Italian cinema, Matteo Garrone doesn't want for ambition—he may be the premier chronicler of Berlusconi-era Italian culture, and its most muscular satirist. (That is, when Italian society isn't busy outpacing satire altogether.) Reality, his follow-up to 2008's Gomorrah, begins with a realistic yet Felliniesque wedding party so grotesque and overwrought that you feel the teeth of Garrone's ironic title in every glimpse of faux-aristo opulence. Is this real? Not for a moment, but it gets only more hyper-unreal when the nuptials, already crammed with frenzied disco gaiety and drag shtick, are guest-visited by a beloved former cast member of Big Brother, whose presence electrifies the crowd. The family patriarch, Luciano (Aniello Arena), is bedazzled as he watches the quasi-celeb get choppered away like a dignitary from another planet.

It's a world Luciano can't get out of his skull. Soon the hit Euro reality show is staging auditions in a Neapolitan mall, and to please his kids Luciano submits to an interview—despite being middle-aged and far from telegenic. His enthusiasm nets him subsequent auditions (which we don't see), and with just that much encouragement, his threadbare life selling fish and running pension scams begins to shred. Garrone's film explores nothing less than a mass delusion, personified by this one eager schmuck, a savvy Everyman who descends into paranoid magical thinking, finally obliterating his family and his sanity in order to cross over into the broadcast afterlife.

Garrone is in complete control of his thematic plutonium. Step by step, with a setup that evokes Honeymoonersepisodes, Realitybuilds to as scalding a vision of televisual simulacra and its maddened victims as Scorsese's The King of Comedy. Luciano mutates into the perfect television being—a man whose identity is defined by his blind devotion to the lie. It hardly matters that even in Italy Big Brotheris a fading phenom; the metaphor it presents, of being "on the show" as inhabiting a screen-idealized circle of Paradise, is dazzlingly rich.

It may be overstating things to detect a Dantean map beneath the drama, an idea that bruises when you find out that Arena, who's sensational in a demanding role, is a prison convict with a life sentence, shooting the film on day passes and returning to his cell at night. What wouldn't this weathered, muscly, Hank AzariaAfter the Fallhard-luck case do to step over the threshold himself, and live in a heavenly TV bubble? (Is it a coincidence that the Tavianis' contemporaneous Caesar Must Die also looked to Italy's mobster-filled prisons?) A prizewinner at Cannes, Garrone's film grows in your head afterward, making royal hash out of a cultural paradigm we'll be loath to remember years from now—if, by then, everything hasn't become "reality."

Film Comment [Robert Koehler]  May 29, 2012

It’s a curious condition of modern cinema that few films have addressed television’s role as the most powerful entity in our lives. How television has fundamentally remolded social systems and mores—the rapid emergence of gay rights, including marriage, has been profoundly fueled by television images from Will & Grace to Glee—is of enormous interest to a realist like Italian filmmaker Matteo Garrone, who has singlehandedly reformed notions of classic neorealism to a contemporary climate. While Gomorrah was Garrone’s full-range neorealist examination of Neopolitan crime syndicates, seen from a distanced perspective and told with an ensemble of characters, Reality is considerably more stylized and privatized, almost exclusively trained on one man who becomes obsessed with landing a slot on the new season of Big Brother.

There’s nothing more scripted than reality TV, and the very phrase is an aberration, one of the prime examples of modern media’s mangling of English. The fascinating idea at the core of the screenplay (co-written by Garrone and Massimo Gaudioso) is that an Everyman (Luciano, played with a gradually unfolding display of madness by Aniello Arena), who’s a nominally religious man but not devotedly Catholic, finds a kind of postmodern Communion with a television show as his new dogma. The previous year’s Big Brother winner, Enzo (Raffaele Ferrante), now a superstar who gets transported from one event to another via helicopter, is a God-like figure for Luciano. In one stunning sequence, Enzo appears at a concert, hoisted overhead on cables and flying above the crowd, sending Luciano into paroxysms. Big Brother itself is a show about the television camera as an all-seeing entity, and the notion of submitting to its 24/7 surveillance amounts to a sacrifice, a giving over to something greater and omniscient.

Perhaps the truest American response to the impact of media on the individual remains Elia Kazan and Budd Schulberg’s prophetic A Face in the Crowd, with its plotting of an arc of showbiz success (and monstrosity) as possible only in America. Reality provides a reading of TV that’s ingeniously Italian and Catholic. Garrone inserts scenes that consciously quote from early neorealism, such as Visconti’s Bellissima for a sequence in which Luciano’s family visits Cinecittà for Big Brother tryouts (while  reversing the parent-child equation: here the child urges the parent to get into the show). Yet Garrone's interest here is much more theatrical and private. Luciano’s tilt toward obsession and madness occurs in invisible patches of time, until suddenly, his family is blindsided by the spectre that daddy has gone bonkers in his desire to get on the show, imagining regular local folk as “agents” and “watchers” for the show. At the same time, in an acidic display of Christian “sacrifice” and abandoning of material needs, Luciano gives away possessions to anyone off the street who wants them, much to the horror of his wife Maria (Loredana Simioli).

The realist issues within Reality then shift from media matters and Garrone’s interest in undermining cinematic reality (which he does from the mind-blowing opening airborne shot) to one man’s grasp on the difference between reality and delusion. That the show’s studio set happens to be physically close to the set-like Vatican underlines (to an obvious extent by the film's final stretch) the tie-ins between old-time religion and new electronic entertainment with its powers of seduction and pull toward an alternative life. If Luciano hasn’t quite found it in the end, he is right where he wanted to be.

Sight & Sound [Pasquale Iannone]  April 2013

 

“Reality”: Toxic celebrity, Italian-style - Salon.com  Andrew O’Hehir

 

Slant Magazine [Jesse Cataldo]

 

Cinespect [Ryan Wells]

 

JamesBowman.net | Reality

 

Eric Kohn  at Cannes from indieWIRE, May 18, 2012

 

Drew McWeeny  at Cannes from HitFix, May 18, 2012

 

Michal Oleszczyk  at Cannes from Hammer to Nail, May 18, 2012

 

The Playlist [Kevin Jagernauth]  at Cannes, May 18, 2012, also seen here:  Kevin Jagernauth 

 

The House Next Door [Budd Wilkins]  at Cannes, May 19, 2012

 

Paste Magazine [Will McCord]

 

theartsdesk.com [Nick Hasted]

 

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

 

PopMatters [Elena Razlogova]  also reviewing IN THE FOG

 

Reality  Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily

 

The London Film Review [Jean-Baptiste de Vaulx]

 

Screen Comment [Ali Naderzad]

 

Film-Forward.com [Kent Turner]

 

Film Freak Central Review [Angelo Muredda]

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk [Anton Bitel]

 

Exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

Film School Rejects [Simon Gallagher]

                       

Combustible Celluloid Review - Reality (2013), Ugo Chiti, Maurizio ...  Jeffrey M. Anderson

 

The Film Stage [Dan Mecca]    

 

ShockYa.com [Harvey Karten]  also seen here:  CompuServe [Harvey Karten]

 

Screenjabber.com  Ian Ford      

 

Film School Rejects [Andrew Robinson]

 

Film.com [Eric D. Snider]

 

Cannes Best-Actor Candidate in Prison, Reportedly for Double Murder  Julie Miller at Cannes from Vanity Fair, May 18, 2012

 

CANNES 2012 DIARY: The Best Actor You Won’t Meet in Cannes  Eugene Hernandez at Cannes from Film Comment, May 18, 2012

 

Ryland Aldrich  at Cannes from Twitch, May 18, 2012

 

David Jenkins  at Cannes from Little White Lies, May 18, 2012

 

DAILY | Cannes 2012 | Matteo Garrone’s REALITY »  David Hudson at Fandor

 

Reality: Cannes Review  Deborah Young at Cannes from The Hollywood Reporter

 

Reality  Jay Weissberg from Variety at Cannes, also seen here:  Jay Weissberg

 

Reality | review, synopsis, book tickets, showtimes, movie ... - Time Out  Dave Calhoun 

 

David Fear  at Cannes from Time Out New York, May 18, 2012

 

The Guardian [Peter Bradshaw]  at Cannes, May 18, 2012, also seen here:  Peter Bradshaw 

 

The Telegraph [Tim Robey]

 

Steven Zeitchik  at Cannes from The Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2012

 

New York Times [Manohla Dargis]

 
Gatlif, Tony
 

Tony Gatlif  an interview by Gerald Peary from the Boston Phoenix, August 1998

 

THE PRINCES (Les Princes)                                          A-                    93

France  (100 mi)  1983

 

A dreary and devastating portrait of lower-class Gypsy life, outcasts living on the margins of society trying to preserve fragments of their Gypsy identity, Gatlif acts as the musical director in a film immersed in Gypsy music.  The film is not bashful at all about confirming many Gypsy stereotypes as uneducated, ill-mannered thieves, smugglers, prostitutes, and low-life rip-off artists, revealed by following one family led by the stubborn patriarch Nara, a bullying, brutal man living a dreary, day to day existence in French tenement housing on the verge of eviction with his grandmother and daughter Zorka, refusing his daughter from seeing her mother, banishing the mother from the household for life despite her persistent efforts to see her daughter and despite the repeated arrests this causes her for being a vagabond.  The mother, Miralda, is always shown peering around corners, hiding behind walls or various abandoned structures, where she appears to live an invisible existence.  The neighborhood is surrounded by mud, with endless pictures of life in the mud and garbage strewn fields, abandoned broken down cars, and various fires where people gather. 

 

Nara’s friend is seen stealing a carcass of meat, cutting cable wires or pieces of wire from fences, selling stolen horses or even window frames from their apartments, as everyone seems to be scrounging something.  Nara chases women and listens to Gypsy music at the Bar des Princes, where he has a friend Bijou who appears afflicted with tuberculosis, but walks out with another barmaid, later following yet another woman until he is caught by her husband at the bar, threatening to send him back to his own country where he can rape his own women.  “That would be pretty easy, as I’m already there,” as he ducks his way out of being punched. 

 

Miralda’s three brothers arrive in an expensive red car, all wearing suits, looking like small-time hoods from Scorsese’s MEAN STREETS (1973).  One is played buy the director himself, wearing a red shirt, always carrying a switchblade, and they meet with Nara and Miralda separately to discuss the split in their marriage.  Nara indicates he has renounced her for taking birth control pills, “like Gadje women,” instead of having lots of children, “like we always do.”  The three go and huddle with Miralda who admits it’s the truth, returning to Nara concluding she must love him or their sister would never have admitted such a thing, urging them to get back together again.  But Nara insists he intends to remarry, causing the brothers to fight among themselves, each suggesting their own brand of justice with Nara while Miralda screams she wants to see her daughter across an empty field where no one is listening.

 

Nara decides to pull Zorka out of school, despite being the best in her class, as he claims he doesn’t like the teacher, then insults his best friend Bijou during a discussion about robbing rich old women, spending the rest of the night getting drunk at the bar.  The next morning he’s jumped from behind, leaving him a crumpled bloody mess, all witnessed by Miralda who claims it was his own friend.  Nara takes revenge with a knife, chasing Bijou into an abandoned building until he begs for mercy.  Later he is informed Bijou died in the night, his things thrown out into the street by men with machine guns, which forces them to return to their nomadic lifestyle, cooking and sleeping outside, dancing to the mournful Gypsy songs.  When they attempt to sleep in an abandoned building, the police arrest them and burn the building down.  Zorka pleads her desire to return to school, that she hates being a nomad, but they are forced to wander, followed silently and unseen by Miralda who is always on the edge of the frame.  Tourists stop their car to take pictures of this authentic Gypsy family.  Nara nearly beats the man to a pulp.  “You shitty Gadjo, we’re not monkeys.” 

 

Nara leads his family to a nomad camp outside of town, which turns out to be a garbage dump, then meets a German reporter who treats him to dinner at an expensive hotel, asking about the origins of Gypsies.  “We always lived in the slums, I just came from the public dump, that’s where we’re supposed to camp.” The reporter asks about the status of women in Gypsy culture as we see Grandma next door reading fortunes for money.  Nara makes a vulgar pass at the reporter, who leaves in disgust, throwing ten dollars on the table which he stomps on in a little Gypsy dance.  Miralda’s three brothers arrive wielding switchblades, threatening customers, kicking tables.  Zorka is seen buying food in a corner marker, flashing her money, then running out with the merchandise without paying for it followed by the shopkeeper, as Nara slips into the store to pilfer more food.  Zorka pleads with her father that she doesn’t want to be a thief, that perhaps he could get a job, which brings a quick slap to her face. 

 

They all walk down a city street peering through store windows for something they might be able to take, as Grandma actually enters through an open window and treats herself to a five-course meal while the couple living there argues in the room next door.  On a muddy road in the rain, Grandma can’t walk any further.  Miralda who has been silently following them from behind holds her under an umbrella while Nara runs for help down an empty road, bringing back the three brothers in their red car, ultimately burying Grandma on the side of the road, joined by another group of traveling Gypsies, children running everywhere, along with horses, goats, and bringing up the rear, a man with two bears.    

 

Time Out

Inhabiting a squalid slum, along with his obstinate old mother and his daughter, Nara (Darmon) has problems. He is forever threatened with eviction; his job, to say the least, is less than secure; and he is the constant victim of contempt and prejudice emanating from 'respectable' society, whose guardians are the surly gendarmes. For Nara is a gypsy, and as such is automatically relegated to the lower echelons of French society. Gatlif's episodic study of the gitanes of modern France carries plentiful conviction, thanks no doubt to the fact that the director is himself of Romany stock. The grim options afforded his nomadic heroes are depicted with grainy realism (Jacques Loiseleux's muted, sombre photography providing countless evocative images of a France rarely shown on film), and Gatlif rarely sentimentalises: the gypsies' macho, patriarchal culture is viewed critically, while moments of humour alleviate the film's downbeat thrust.

User reviews from imdb Author: John Simpson (post@jandesimpson.wanadoo.co.uk) from Hastings, England

When I came to look up "Les Princes" on this database it was something of a surprise that there were no user comments or external reviews of a film I would regard as particularly worthy of attention. By comparison two of Tony Gatlif's other gypsy films, "Lacho Drom" and "Gadjo Dilo", worthy but lesser works in my opinion, would appear to have been "discovered". The earlier "Les Princes" is a savage and angry work about a proud people trying to survive in a world that regards them as human scum, fit only to exist in squalid council apartment blocks - and there only under the continual threat of eviction - after which there is only the open road or a space set aside by the municipal rubbish tip. Nara, the central character, is hardly a sympathetic type. He has a harsh temperament that is often given to violence. Yet, for all the scrapes he gets into and a failed family life - a little girl whom he adores by a trollop he detests and an elderly mother with whom he is always bickering - he carries his head high - a match for all those he comes up against, particularly a patronising woman journalist who seeks an interview with him. One of the most remarkable features of "Les Princes" is its use of carefully chosen locations to underline the squalid conditions these unaccepted people have to exist in. It was shot in and around the town of Guise in the north-east, a part of France that tourists possible never visit apart from passing through. The first half of the film is played out in urban landscapes, the housing apartments where even the window frames are good for flogging, a seedy bar ironically named "Bar des Princes" and a derelict factory. It is a crazy and cluttered world mirrored in a slightly confused narrative. It is only when the family is evicted and take to the open road, with Nara's mother - a marvellous study of female stubbornness and resilience - determined to find a lawyer that will put things right, that the film achieves a clear narrative flow that at times touches on greatness. It becomes the mother's film at this point, her odyssey leading the others onward through a landscape buffeted by rain. The happenings of the last half-hour are truly remarkable.

LATCHO DROM                                                      A                     99

aka:  Safe Journey

France  (103 mi)  1992  ‘Scope

 

A beautiful and immensely moving film brimming with joy and optimism, a companion piece to Kiarostami’s AND LIFE GOES ON (1991) for one of the most uplifting films of all time, beautifully edited following the passing of the seasons, an exuberant celebration of Gypsy migrations over the past 1000 years, moving across Europe following much of the same routes, taking on the musical forms of each successive country, beginning in India, traveling through Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, France, and Spain.  A culture without any written history, so the film is without dialogue, instead Gatlif, himself a Gypsy, expresses nomadic, communal memories through the use of bright, colorful ceremonial costumes luxuriantly photographed in actual exotic locations, capturing performances of songs by the Rom or Gypsy people which are nothing less than extraordinary.  Singers, dancers and musicians reveal in song that despite a history of political exile, hatred, persecution, and even executions in gas chambers, there is an resultant sadness and a bitter anguish, but more importantly an impassioned lust for life which feels right out of Bizet’s Camen, assisted in the Egyptian segment by Youssef Chahine who featured similar images in his film DESTINY (1997). 

 

From out of the desert, like the beginning of Kaige’s YELLOW EARTH (1984) or Yimou’s RED SORGHUM (1987) comes a nomadic tribe wearing incredibly bright colors, women in red skirts, dresses, shawls, or scarves, men in white, white oxen leading wooden wagons filled with children accompanied by goats, dogs, and a rooster, stopping under a lone tree where they set up tents, forge knives and tools, and from behind a tree jumps the first singer.  Under a full moon on a darkened night:  “My song is a light in the darkness.”

 

By daylight they travel into town, where a young boy is called away from the fields, peering into a window where a voluptuous woman is performing a belly dance, bells around her butt, rings in her fingers, doing a raw, pulsating, rhythmic dance in a small crowded room, a communal experience then imitated outside the room by a very young girl who prances in front of a young boy.  “The fire that burns inside me drives my soul crazy…when I think of my love so far away.”  When the dancer is finished, she immediately breastfeeds her baby, as we see an image of boats on a river and a young boy playing music alone on a riverbank to a setting sun. 

 

There is a Muslim prayer call, a twilight view of a Turkish city with a ravishing skyline of minarets among the hills, as a little girl sells flowers and little boys shine shoes and play with sticks and drums.  Behind them are steps completely filled with pigeons.  Women call their children from apartment windows high above laundry lines, as a man with a grizzly bear entertains a crowd with a tambourine and a stick.  Men weave baskets, a young girl brings a burning stick to light a cigarette for one of the basket weavers.  Inside, men dressed in suits play music to a room filled with other men who are drinking and swaying their arms in hypnotic approval.  A young girl is alone, by herself, dancing in the back room.  A man with a telescope on a city street urges customers to “Come see the moon.  Come see the moon, 100 lira for 5 minutes.” 

 

A young boy walks down a muddy city street in a morning fog, around a corner he finds two men under a tree, one plays guitar while the other is playing the violin using a loose string which produces a harsher sound, singing about Romanian dictator “Nicolae Ceaucescu, the criminal…They’re taking to the street yelling ‘Freedom,’ to live in freedom…Tyrant you destroyed Romania…Green leaves, flowers of the field.”  The camera pans to the huge government building in the background, as we see a man and a boy eat bread, followed by blowing leaves.  A boy leads a white horse back down that same muddy street in the fog. 

 

One by one, men empty out houses playing musical instruments followed by dancing women, young and old, like the Pied Piper, as they all join together playing old, old instruments in the center of town where everyone gathers.  There are images of horses running through the woods leading to a long, straight train track.

 

There is a flight of birds above and a mournful song of tears:  “The whole world hates us. We’re chased, we’re cursed, and we’re condemned to wandering all our lives…The world is hypocritical.  The whole world is against us as if we were thieves.”  A well dressed woman wearing a fur sits on a bench at a train station with her son, tears in her eyes.  A crowd of Gypsies builds a fire across from the tracks and gathers to sing.  They boy wanders across the tracks and dances to the music, returning to his mother, still dancing.  He is elated at the sounds and is trying to fill her world with joy.  She smiles, as all the singers play for her until a train arrives.  The singers hug and kiss passengers getting off the train.  It starts to snow.  There is an image of barbed wire in the snow as we hear a song:  “In Auschwitz, we die of hunger.  Life is so far off, death is so close.”  There is a perfectly gorgeous image of a town on top of a hill off in the distance across a snowy field.  A woman walks out of the wood to begin the long walk across the field.  An old woman with a tattooed number on her arm sings the mournful song of tears, snow and ice are melting, water is starting to flow. 

 

People are living in layers above the snowy ground in trees, complete with plastic bags around them, fires for cooking, exhaust pipes:  “God has condemned us to wandering, and we have come very far.  One misfortune leads to another.  We have fled from misfortune so often, never again will we be treated like dogs, we must keep moving.”  There is a close up of a dog’s teeth and we hear barking as they enter the next town, also horses’ hooves clattering on the pavement.  They stop by a river outside town and wash the horses, resting awhile, until men with guns arrive and they move on, past green fields, as kids pick yellow flowers and tie them in a bunch, placing them on a fence. 

 

A man driving a nice car drives by and sees the flowers on the fence and decides to follow them, picking up one man with a guitar, as a shaggy-haired man in a purple shirt drags his upright bass through a brilliantly yellow field of daisies.  They all meet in a candle-lit church and play music, each kissing a black Christ, saying a prayer, playing a soft, mournful song to Christ.  Next there is a church procession walking down a crowded street to the river, where there are horses and people carrying umbrellas in a lightning storm.  A very jazzy guitar sound of Django Reinhardt can be heard, as dueling musicians play at an indoor banquet, playing jump music.  “We Gypsies, no one will ever change our way of life…” 

 

We see a boy playing a video game, driving a car, crashing on the side of the road, leading to sounds of singing and clapping – this is Flamenco.  A woman in red dances powerfully and beautifully, joined by a few women dressed in black, then joined by an old woman whose partner joins her, as we see glimpses of the faces of children, young girls and old men.  In a white walled town, officials are placing bricks over a window of an abandoned building as police wander by.  When they’re gone, the sound of a voice leads to Gypsies walking out of the house, continuing out of town into a flat plain:  “I’m a black bird who has taken flight…Why does your wicked mouth spit on me?  From Isabelle the Catholic to Hitler and Franco, we’ve been the victims of their wars.  Some evenings, I find myself envying the respect you give your dogs…”  On a small hill overlooking a housing project at the edge of town, a mother and son sing next to a burning fire, as the sound of wind and distant cries may be heard over the end credits.    

 

Kinoblog [Michael Brooke]

Technically a French film, but you’d never know, Tony Gatlif’s 1993 film Latcho Drom (which translates as ‘Safe Journey’) is an enthralling Cinemascope panorama tracing the thousand-year passage of the gypsies from India to Western Europe via Egypt, Turkey, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia. There’s no dialogue or conventional narrative: everything is told in songs and dances appropriate to the relevant country, presumably performed by musicians steeped in the right tradition.

(I say “presumably” because I don’t know, but the presence of Taraf de Haïdouks in the Romanian scenes - which someone’s uploaded to YouTube here - prove that Gatlif knew what he was doing, especially given that this film was made 14 years ago when they were far less internationally renowned than they are now. I think this film played a major part in building their current reputation)

The only subtitles cover the song lyrics, which - as one might expect - deal with the theme of being an outcast in whatever society one happens to be in (ancient India, Nazi Germany, Ceauşescu’s Romania), but these explicit themes very much play second fiddle to the vivid sense of place, colour, composition and rhythm adorning more or less every shot. It’s an exhilarating piece of work.

This film needs the best presentation it can get (there are loads of YouTube clips, but they’re not a patch on what’s playing in the background as I write this), but thankfully the Australian DVD (Madman) is up to scratch - it’s got a flawless print and transfer and lively soundtrack (it only seems to be plain stereo, not the advertised Dolby 5.1, but I can live with that), and the subtitles are infrequent enough for me not to mind them being yellow. It was also going cheap enough for me to risk an blind purchase (I’m reviewing Gatlif’s latest, Transylvania, and wanted some context), and I’m very glad I did.

MOVIES  Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Reader

 

Edwin Jahiel

 

hybridmagazine.com   Quin Arbeitman

 

James Berardinelli's ReelViews

 

Washington Post [Hal Hinson]

 

The New York Times (Stephen Holden)

 

GADJO DILO                                                            B+                   92

aka:  The Crazy Stranger

France  (97 mi)  1998

 

Part III of Gatlif’s Gypsy trilogy, following the realist depiction of Gypsy persecution in THE PRINCES, the combination of history and art so poetically blended together in LATCHO DROM, concluding with this film of an outsider’s view of a Gypsy village in Romania, which takes on a life of its own once its secrets are revealed, namely that life flows freely from the heart.  Gatlif is a Spanish Gypsy born in Algeria, who also writes his own music. 

 

VENGO

France  (90 mi)  2000

 

Vengo   Ed Gonzalez from Slant magazine

 

Tony Gatlif's Vengo whets the soul with its gypsy moans and lucid imagery, a vision so pure you can almost feel the flamenco beats working their way through your blood. Not since Carlos Saura's Carmen has a director so successfully meshed heart-piercing cultural noise with the melodrama of a people in constant emotional flux. Gatlif's Andalucia is the colorful backdrop for gypsy angst; sleek black cars hover majestically before churches whose overexposed white exteriors hint at a slippery spirituality that pulsates in a people who exorcise pain through dance. Ever since Caco's brother Mario fled from home, his garden has lost its soul. Promises of vengeance are painted on the garden's exterior walls by members of the Caravaca clan (Mario stands accused of killing one of their men); Caco's mamacita and her sisters whitewash the threats away with a magical realist drop of a mamoncillo fruit. Vengo's soundscape is such a labyrinthine work of beauty that every drum pound and cricket chirp ebbs complimentary to the spare narrative. Mario runs up the hill to his home, his footsteps the equivalent of a drum stick hitting the earth's surface. Spanish divas wearing long, lacy garbs twirl to the wails of a gypsy elder; you might weep for the film's plucking of the soul's strings. For Gatlif, a christening signifies the birth of godliness and a suicidal chivalry comes to represent the ultimate act of unspoken familial loyalty. Technology, from cars to cell phones, plays as important a symbiotic relationship to Andalucian lore as does the pulse of tapping feet and the gyrating of the body. A blade pierces the stomach of a man who lies dead amongst scattered, noisy car parts which signal his celebratory transcendence into the realm of the dead. Vengo is a stunning piece of performance art, an ode to the seguiriya (the song of mourning). It bleeds so profusely it hurts.

 
EXILES (EXILS)                                          A-                    93
France  (105 mi)  2004
 
From the director of LATCHO DROM, we have another off-beat road movie, following a young Parisian couple who travel through Spain to return to their family’s homeland, Algeria, a land they know nothing about except it’s where their ancestors fled for Europe. Disconnected from any cultural identity, she expresses their mutual thoughts:  “I feel like a stranger everywhere.”  Gatlif himself is a Spanish Gypsy born in Algeria who writes his own music, which is nothing less than brilliant, always vibrantly alive and poetically evocative.  Sometimes he has a tendency to get carried away with the dreariness of the road (THE PRINCES 1982), but here, like LATCHO DROM (1992), this is a beautiful and immensely moving film, shot in Scope, with musical songs along the way that act as an unseen narrator.  Utilizing a documentary feel for life on the streets, on trucks, buses, ships, in a flamenco bar, or meeting with strangers on the side of the road, the couple’s search for self-discovery includes the kindness and hospitality that is generously offered to them along the way.  Suffice it to say, Gatlif is a master for locations, and knows what to do once he’s found them.  But unlike European directors, who express strangers in a strange land from an existential quiet, alienated and lonely, utilizing long shots and a sense of isolation and distance, Gatlif effortlessly immerses his characters into ethnically diverse crowds of humanity, rubbing the flesh with nomadic streams of people whose lives are etched all over their faces, wordlessly expressing the entire range of human emotion, always accentuated by wonderfully eclectic music that underscores the vitality of being alive.  This is a wonderfully life-affirming film.  

 

Exiles (Exils)  Allan Hunter in Cannes from Screendaily

 
Director Tony Gatlif’s yearning to return to the land of his childhood is the guiding motivation behind Exiles, a polished road movie journey of self-discovery that takes place between France and Algeria. Unfortunately, it is the local colour, vibrant locations and use of music that linger in the memory rather the banal and predictable revelations that await two lovers in search of their cultural identity and family roots.
 
Many will feel that the film has nothing original to say and at Cannes it could only suffer in comparison with its close proximity to the Walter Salles road movie Motorcycle Diaries, which is more accomplished and meaningful on every level. A career on the film festival circuit and some modest theatrical interest could still result from its competition exposure, especially in those territories where Gatliff, who won best director, has already carved himself a niche.
 
Born in Algeria in 1948, the director of Gadjo Dilo (1998) and Vengo (2000) fled the country in the 1960s and did not return for over 40 years. Zano (Duris) and Naima (Azabal) are symbols of what he terms the children of the Diaspora, a younger generation not entirely at ease with their European-ness and curious about the part of them that has been shaped and formed by a different culture.
 
One day Zano simply asks Naima if she would like to go to Algeria and they set off by train, ferry and foot on a journey that finds them constantly heading in the opposite direction from those Algerian refugees seeking the promise of a better life in Paris or Amsterdam.
 
Travelling through France, Andalucia, Morocco and, finally, Algeria, the couple bicker and bond, earn some money by picking fruit, steal lifts and encounter a good deal of hospitality and warmth among the gypsy families, illegal immigrants and Algerians they meet along the way.
 
There is a great interest in Naima as people question why she does not speak Arabic, wonder if she might be Muslim and cannot comprehend why she initially refuses to cover herself up as a sign of respect. The questions leave her with a burning sense of being divided between two cultures.
 
“I feel like a stranger everywhere,” she claims, and dialogue like that is one of the problems of a film that feels the need to spell everything out, yet which never presents us with a fully developed sense of who these characters are. Zano is an orphan who survived a fire that took the lives of his parents. “Music is my religion,” he pompously replies to one question.
 
In Algeria, the couple witness the devastation of the earthquake that rocked the country and they finally connect with their roots in a Sufi spiritual ceremony in which they are encouraged to escape their fears and inhibitions by achieving a state of transcendence.
 
Taking a documentary-like approach to shooting on the streets of Seville and near the earthquake ruins in Algiers, the film conveys a real sense of place as a backdrop to the story. There is a warm feel to the scenes with immigrants from Africa, Morocco and Algeria, and Gatlif makes extensive use of the music he has helped to compose, clearly believing that music expresses the soul of a country - whether its the staccato beat of a flamenco dance in Seville or the intense, repetitive Sufi ceremony which is observed at  excessive length during the climax of the film.
 
All these elements are quite interesting in themselves but they are not enough to counteract the sketchy, slightly half-hearted fictional drama that they are asked to support. One suspects that Gatliff should have been bold enough to just take the leap of making the film much more personal and creating a documentary about his own long voyage home.
 
In Algiers, Zano visits the family home that was abandoned 40 years earlier and discovers (very conveniently) that the same people have been living there ever since.
 
Pictures of his grandfather and grandmother still adorn the walls and elderly sisters present him with a tin box full of family photos. It is a touching moment, undermined by the fact that we really do not know who Zano is. How much more moving it would have been to discover Gatlif’s own emotions on returning to the memories of his past.
 

Reviews roundup | Features | Guardian Unlimited Film  Peter Bradshaw from the Guardian

 

Tony Gatlif's Exils, or Exiles, is a free-wheeling, exuberant and heartfelt journey that swims like a salmon against the traditional migrant tide of the Franco-Algerian community. While many Algerians strive to leave their native land for the relative prosperity of France and the EU, Zano (Romain Duris) and Naïma (Lubna Azabal) are heading in the opposite direction. They are a young couple in Paris whose love-making expresses aimless anger and alienation. Zano impulsively suggests that they head off to Algeria, the land of his father, an anti-colonial activist. Naïma, also of Arab descent, shruggingly agrees.

As the couple head down through Spain to North Africa, they become calmer, gentler and more accessibly human as they get closer to the spiritual wellspring of Arab culture. Gatlif's movie taps into the energy of local music and dance, and there's a climactic, almost Dionysiac moment in which Naïma physically surrenders herself to the rhythms of the local band.

Perhaps the movie's views are simplistic, and it leaves unresolved the question of Islam and women's rights - Naïma is ordered to wear a headscarf in Algeria, but then discards it apparently without reproof - but Exils is engaging and often moving.

TRANSYLVANIA

France  (103 mi)  2006  ‘Scope

 

Time Out London (Trevor Johnston)

Through dramas like ‘Gadjo Dilo’ and the doc ‘Latcho Drom’, Algerian-born director Tony Gatlif has expressed his celluloid kinship with the Roma communities of Eastern Europe, and this latest offering finds him on the road in the farthest reaches of Romania with a wide-eyed and sullen Asia Argento. Her characteristically flighty heroine is two months pregnant and in pursuit of the gypsy musician who left her behind in France, but as soon as the camera introduces us to Birol (‘Head-On’) Ünel’s rapscalliony hustler, an itinerant dealer in whatever he can persuade rural old folks to part with, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see where the story’s going. Still, it’s hard to imagine these two out-sized personalities lasting more than a few minutes in the same room before a screaming match kicks up.

Life is loud in these parts, as the movie evolves into a whirl of thronging local festivals, rapid-fire cimbaloms and violins, fist fights, smashed crockery, female armpit hair and more than the odd hissy fit. ‘Why is my heart possessed?’ wonders Asia at one point, and she might very well ask, since the sketchy screenplay outlines the characters’ high-octane emotions but never really allows us access to them. It’s frustrating really, since both leads are clearly up for Gatlif’s all-the-stops-out approach, only for the material to let everyone down. Still, with lashings of authentic musical fervour and Céline Bozon’s camerawork capturing post-Ceausescu industrial wasteland, magical twilight and elemental snowscapes with hallucinatory immediacy, it’s still an insidiously memorable visual experience, even if it offers only dazzling snapshots of contemporary life in the region which gives it its title.

January  End of Cinema

 

For now I will start things off with a review of one of my favorite films of the year, Transylvania. An amazing amount of gratitude must be given to Canadian distributor Mongrel Media for releasing an English friendly dvd of the film and supplying me with a review copy of the film. I caught this film last March at the Cleveland International Film Festival and was floored and I have once again remained speechless upon second viewing of the film.
 
The film is a revelation, quite honestly. I must say, the only work of director Tony Gatlif I was even familiar with was his last effort Exiles which I had not seen prior to this film. I must say my main draw to the film was Asia Argento who I have always been a fan of and this time around she did not disappoint. Her performance in this film is, by far, her most mature and complex work I have ever seen from her. She is a sensation in this film. Naysayers of her work should really give this film a chance because, in my opinion, no one has ever seen her on this level before. Each film she does seems to outshine the next, however, it is really going to be hard to top this. Actor Birol Ünel brings one a hell of a performance to endure in this film.
 
The film is essentially a road movie with Argento's Zingarina in search of Milan Agustin a musician who in her mind is her one true love and the father of her unborn child. Milan (played by Marco Castoldi), however, wants nothing to do with her. Heartbroken and distant from everyone who care for her, she resorts to becoming an unlikely traveling companion with a drifter named Tchangalo (Birol Ünel).
 
Really, that's all you need to know. The chemistry or rather lack there of between Zingarina and Tchangalo is just a pleasure to watch. Director Gatlif, is less concern with structure in this film, which many critics have bashed him for, and instead relies on the companionship of the two leads. For me, this tactic really worked wonders. I am not the type of viewer who really needs closure and connection from A to B. If a film holds my attention with the performance and direction that is all I need, really. In that prospect Argento and Ünel drive this thing home for me. Along with Gatlif superb direction and some amazing cinematography from Céline Bozon, the film represents everything I need to make a film truly brilliant, which is the case with Transylvania. It is a true shame that this film has yet to be distributed in US. I actually have yet to find information on whether or no there even is an American distributor for the film. Please, do yourself a favor and get your hands on Mongrel Media's dvd release as soon as you can. You will not regret it.

 

Culture Wars [Ion Martea]

Three girls stop with their car in a seemingly deserted town in the heart of Transylvania. Luminita (Alexandra Beaujard) is a local Romanian gypsy. She is the guide. Marie (Amira Casar) is a French girl who accompanies her Italian friend, Zingarina (Asia Argento), in the search for the latter’s boyfriend, Milan Augustin (Marco Castoldi), a Romany musician who has been extradited from France. Zingarina is two months pregnant.

This is the opening of Tony Gatlif’s Transylvania. From the start, a passionate gypsy tune promises a ride like no other through the colourful, yet harsh, life of a community always on the move. In their search, Zingarina meets Tchangalo (Birol Ünel), an itinerant antiques salesman. He says he is in search of gold. She says she is looking for love. They drink to that, letting the intensity of the music pass through their blood. Drunk and reinforced in her quest, she hopes Milan is near. Milan is indeed close, but he rejects her. And the music carries on, stupefying Zingarina’s senses to the point that she realises that it wasn’t Milan that she really loved, but that music, that passion, that rhythm which keeps life in the human body. Tchangalo is thus an adequate replacement in terms of physical desire, while her love of music, passion itself, slowly takes over her life.

Gatlif’s is a simple story of two people falling for each other. Displaced in time and space, the two require nothing from the world but one another’s presence. Love is nothing but pure accommodation with the presence of the other. Their relationship becomes the epitome of humanity, as it was created at the dawn of time. Gatlif remains thus truly engrained in the romantic tradition, and does nothing to shy away from it; moreover, everything becomes an exaggeration, the isolation of the two characters finally being driven to wider and emptier landscapes. The only thing that stays constant is the love for the music.

Transylvania is not like Emir Kusturica’s Black Cat, White Cat (1999), in which the Romany community becomes a source of inspiration but also humour, nor is it an anthropological documentary, primarily concerned with cultural aesthetics slightly peppered by the effects of socio-economic poverty. If anything, it is closest to Emil Loteanu’s spellbinding Gypsies Are Found near Heaven (1975). What Gatlif is exploring is what makes the gypsy life so appealing on a cultural level, yet so marginalised on a social one. By using actors of different backgrounds, he immediately erases any possible caricature, thus allowing the discourse to flow unhindered by preconceived attitudes.

Two themes emerge in consequence. The first is that the social marginalisation of the Romany community is a result of larger society’s displeasure with people who depart from the norm. Zingarina’s poor hygiene or ignorance of fashion is not a sign of rebellion, but emerges purely from the fact that she does not value her body as her true self. Her tattooed body is just her presence in the world, one that she wants to see, but chooses not to participate in. Her escape through a densely packed ‘Goat Procession’ symbolises her physical displacement from tradition, and hence from the society’s mores. From this point, her existence ceases to require the support of other humans, ending in an isolated space surrounded only by those she chooses to share a life with.

The other, more predominant theme is that of music. Zingarina and Tchangalo each share a perfect fusion with folklore. They are both in a state of trance, music seemingly moving their body from one place to the other. What Gatlif captures is not so much the quality of gypsy music, as the passionate craftsmanship of the musicians. ‘Music is meant to make one live’, says one of the players while refusing to give Tchangalo an accompaniment for his suicidal dance. The characters’ rejection of pop songs reinforces the sense that the performers play for some other aim than the pure celebration of music.

This is arguably something shared by Gatlif, who has not used any manele (the most commercially effective gypsy songs on the Romanian market) in the whole film. There is also very little authentic Romany music. What the director relishes are his arrangements of traditional Romanian folk music, adding that extra tempo, making the melodies burn in their passionate intensity. It is the gypsy players who have developed their skills such that every note reaches that perfect pitch, leaving one’s feet powerless to resist dancing. Romany cultural heritage thus lies primarily in its artists. Zingarina’s and Tchangalo’s identification with folklore emerges purely from the quality of playing music, rather than the content. When the musician fails to perform, the music loses its essense, and he becomes nothing but a teddy-bear toy, tilting his head left and right randomly, while playing his balalaika, in a boring Ukrainian-border village-bar.

Gatlif seemed to have chosen Transylvania for this feature to emphasise that it is not race, but our relationship to a cultural heritage that makes us what we are. Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Romany, Ukrainians, Turks, Jews – all share the stage in Transylvania, each having their own language, music and traditions. Zingarina chooses to be Romany because it rings closer to what she wants in life. Will she and Tchangalo continue their life as wanderers? Gatlif is not interested. The important thing is that they are content with who they are and with what they have.

Jigsaw Lounge [Sheila Seacroft]

 

DVD Talk (Svet Atanasov)

 

EyeForFilm.co.uk  Amber Wilkinson

 

Guardian/Observer

 

Gaudet, Aron and Gita Pullapilly

 

BENEATH THE HARVEST SKY                        B+                   92

USA  (116 mi)  2013  ‘Scope                 Official site

 

Good people make bad choices.                     —Casper (Emory Cohen)

 

Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly worked together for five years following the lives of three senior citizens who spent years greeting nearly one million returning U.S. troops when they arrive at the tiny Bangor, Maine airport in the documentary THE WAY WE GET BY (2009) before finally getting married in a wedding profiled in The New York Times Vows Section.  Their documentary film experience clearly effects the meticulous detail expressed in this film taking place entirely in the small border town of Van Buren, Maine, becoming a portrait of the hardscrabble life in the bleak and economically deprived town where the French-Canadian accents are built into the everyday language.  Infused with the best traditions of the American indie film style, which are often hampered by monetary restrictions, they make up for it in the authenticity of the experience, where the film offers a genuine view of what it’s like to grow up in the world of rural poverty, as afterwards the audience is likely to feel a familiarity with this tiny rural town with a population of less than 2000 inhabitants, as if we’ve been there, where there’s a comically derogatory reference to the movie FROZEN RIVER (2008), which covers similar territory.  The film immediately captures one’s attention by a scene in a high school classroom where they are studying S.E. Hinton’s 1967 teen novel The Outsiders, a novel published when the author herself was only 18, a realistic portrayal of poor teenagers from the wrong side of the tracks featuring the likes of characters named Sodapop and Ponyboy, who may as well be the leads in this film, featuring two fiercely loyal high school friends that couldn’t be more devoted to one another, Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe).  While Dominic is spending the summer helping out his parents with the potato harvest, he’s a smart kid with a bright future, but he continually gets drawn into the troubled affairs of Casper, a hothead Alpha male that plays by his own rules, thinking he’s infallible, making him a bit of a small-time hood with ambitions to get out of town, where their shared dream is to move to Boston (seemingly a million miles away) where they can watch Red Sox games. 

 

At the urging of others to stay away from Casper, as he’s always up to no good, Dominic is forced to constantly defend his friend, claiming others just don’t understand, yet their friendship feels reminiscent of the Biblical Cain and Abel saga, paralleled by two other brothers in the film.  The film is seen through the eyes of Casper, who is mostly a despicable character, someone we’ve all encountered at one point or another in our lives, the kind of guy destined for the penitentiary or death by the age of 25, as the only decisions he knows how to make are the wrong ones, where he makes a living glorifying the persona of being rebellious, almost always seen on the wrong side of the law.  We see him break into people’s homes and steal their prescription medicine, making him part of an underground, pharmaceutical black market network that transports pills across the border to New Brunswick, a business that’s been in his family for generations, where they pride themselves in being able to move contraband without detection.  Casper has a 15-year old girlfriend Tasha (Zoe Levin) who quickly becomes pregnant, where the adolescent tension is only aggravated by the fact that he orders her around, continually berates and belittles her, while both continue to live with their parents.  The feeling of being trapped is at the heart of the picture, as essentially every character plays into this dead-end scenario, with the potato harvest as the only thriving business in town, where there’s just no future for these kids unless they can get out.  Illustrating this point is Dominic’s short term relationship with Emma (Sarah Sutherland, aka Kiefer Sutherland’s daughter), a girl that’s already visited prospective colleges in Vermont, where she’ll soon be moving on, making their relationship tenuous at best.  The looseness of the film’s structure is part of its appeal, as it’s a highly impressionistic, stream-of-conscious mosaic connected by the raw and achingly lonely songs from musician Dustin Hamman, the front man of the group Run On Sentence, moving from unpretentious moments of raucous street euphoria to the saddest and darkest feelings of despair (the musical soundtrack can be heard in its entirety here: pre-order). 

 

While the film is told out of time, it has a tendency to get lost exploring its many jagged side plots, often growing messy and losing narrative coherence, which may detract some viewers, but what it does beautifully establish is more local flavor into the film, where the town itself may as well be the lead character, expressed through a series of vignettes showing a farm community at work, populated entirely by secondary roles that tend to come and go, or move in and out of view, where we might even see a drunken late-night moose chase on the highway or a rather incredible performance by a heavy metal punk band that suddenly appears out of nowhere.  Only Casper is a fully developed character, but as he’s such a mischievous and thoroughly detestable soul, treating everyone around him like shit, thinking he’s above it all and impervious to criticism, where the glorification of his character, flaws and all, is a difficult and often unpleasant journey, especially when he remains at the centerpiece of the film.  He’s obviously a bright, if misguided kid, with few options, where he has a tendency to continually get ahead of himself, to act before he thinks, where he never foresees the murky trouble that lies ahead, mirroring the adults around him, thinking instead that none of the dirt and muck will stick to him.  As he gets deeper into his estranged father’s (Aiden Gillen) business, Dominic calls him on it, claiming he’s become an errand boy for his father, which is exactly what everyone in town expected from him as he was growing up, where only Dominic had faith that he’d make more out of himself and become something different.  This disappointment leads to a personal tragedy that resembles a similar fate of Ponyboy’s best friend Johnny in The Outsiders, a heartbreaking moment that draws attention to the significance of these young lives, each so terribly fragile, with dreams dissipating into thin air after high school when few opportunities await them due to the economic bleakness that pervades the vicinity.  Written, directed, edited, and produced by this artistic team, it has a distinctively autobiographical, though male-tinged flavor, where the filmmakers lure in the viewer, with both inhabiting the same shared space for a brief duration of time.  Like Shunji Iwai’s ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU (2001), another teenage angst film filled with brooding high school characters that get lost in an overpowering stylization, this is irrefutably impressive filmmaking, where the indie-style cinematography by Stephen Capitano Calitri is nothing less than mesmerizing at times, but there is a disconnect with so many of the people that inhabit this film, which may be the point, as the audience is left with an anguishing emptiness that literally stirs the soul in this barebones musical coda that brings down the closing credits, Run On Sentence "Wide Open Sky" YouTube (5:03). 

 

Chicago Reader   JR Jones

Two high school pals (Emory Cohen and Callan McAuliffe) long to escape from their dead-end existence in the potato-farming community of Van Buren, Maine, but their dream of relocating to Boston is threatened when the wilder of them decides to get involved in drug smuggling over the Canadian border. Despite the story's familiarity, this working-class drama (2013) reeled me in with its fine performances and credible portrayal of the personal frustration and family dysfunction that attend a life of small-town poverty. Aron Gaudet cowrote and codirected with his wife, Gita Pullapilly, though his most impressive achievement may be the editing; the languid pace effectively communicates the characters' crushing boredom, yet the dramatic interest never flags. With Aiden Gillen, Timm Sharp, Carla Gallo, and Sarah Sutherland.

BENEATH THE HARVEST SKY  Facets Multi Media

Trapped in a dead-end industrial town in Maine, two teenage best friends Casper, (Emory Cohen, The Place Beyond the Pines) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe, The Great Gatsby) take tragically different paths to realize their dream of making it to the big city, in this vividly detailed fiction feature debut from veteran documentary filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. They are restless teenagers stuck in the declining industrial town of Van Buren, Maine, with nothing much to do besides push old jalopies off cliffs, shoot potato guns and chase moose along the back roads at night. The boys dream of leaving Van Buren and moving to Boston, but to do that they need money and how they get money is where these best friends most obviously differ. Dominic spends the harvest working on a potato farm, while Casper falls into a drug-running scheme with outlaw father (Aidan Gillen, The Wire, Game of Thrones), a gig that is just as likely to land him in jail as to help him escape. Eventually, these circumstances push their friendship to the brink and adult choices are forced upon them all too soon, with disastrous results.

A standout narrative debut from Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly (The Way We Get By), and their depiction of small-town life is vivid: the abandoned houses and open fields, the teenage pregnancies and embittered divorced parents, the good times and bad blood. Beneath the Harvest Sky is a gripping coming-of-age thriller set against an authentic portrait of small-town American life.

Reel Film Reviews [David Nusair]

Beneath the Harvest Sky details the exploits of small-town teenagers Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) and Casper (Emory Cohen), with the emphasis placed on the latter's illegal endeavors and its ongoing impact on the former's straight-and-narrow existence. It's clear immediately that Beneath the Harvest Sky has its work cut out for it in terms of grabbing the viewer's interest and sympathy, as filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly offer up a central character, in the form of Cohen's Casper, that couldn't possibly be more unlikable - which does ensure that the movie's admittedly rich and authentic atmosphere is, more often than not, rendered moot. Casper, despite Cohen's strong performance, remains an absolutely abhorrent figure from start to finish, and it often seems as though Gaudet and Pullapilly are going out of their way to transform Casper into as reprehensible a character as one could possibly envision. (How else to explain his treatment of his pregnant girlfriend and his passion for late-night "moose safari" jaunts?) Beneath the Harvest Sky's arms-lengths atmosphere is perpetuated by its overlong running time and disastrously deliberate pace, with the movie's middling midsection, which which virtually nothing of interest seems to occur, testing the viewer's patience to an almost infuriating degree. (It doesn't help that Gaudet and Pullapilly have suffused the proceedings with subplots that couldn't possibly be less compelling.) And although the film does improve substantially in its final stretch - there is, for example, an unexpectedly engrossing sequence in which a smug character is arrested - Beneath the Harvest Sky, saddled with one of the most repugnant central characters to come along in quite some time, has long-since established itself as a thoroughly unpleasant moviegoing experience.

IFFBoston: Beneath the Harvest Sky Review - Next Projectio  Derek Deskins from Next Projection

Many great independent films are successful because of their personal nature. Limited by often miniscule budgets, they make up for the lack of financing with intimacy. The best kind of indies have a great strength of character, showing that the writers and directors know these people. For that is what they are, not merely actors playing characters, but people. It draws us further into this world, and the familiarity leads to our own abandonment of the real. There are bits and pieces of this with Beneath the Harvest Sky, but not nearly enough to make it memorable.

[Gaudet and Pullapilly's] documentary background is evident throughout much of the film, particularly in developing the world of their characters. Van Buren is painstakingly detailed and there is a familiarity with the town that translates wonderfully to the screen.

Taking place in the small rural community of Van Buren, Maine, the film centers upon the friendship between Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe). The boys are hopelessly devoted to one another, although most onlookers do not understand why. Dominic is a smart boy with a seemingly bright future, while Casper is the rebel perpetually assigned detention. Regardless of what others think, they have plans to leave the sleepy northern Maine town as soon as they graduate and head to Boston to watch the Red Sox. In order to fulfill their dream, they have to make some cash, and their chosen paths are reflections of their potential futures; Dominic working the harvest and Casper moving drugs.

Beneath the Harvest Sky is the narrative debut of writing-directing duo Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly. The couple, former documentarians of The Way We Get By, acclimate themselves adequately to the medium but not without their share of growing pains. Their documentary background is evident throughout much of the film, particularly in developing the world of their characters. Van Buren is painstakingly detailed and there is a familiarity with the town that translates wonderfully to the screen. Shooting with a de-saturated palette, the town seems to be under a perpetual haze. The depression of the area is palpable even before you begin to notice the forlorn expressions of its inhabitants. Its people head to jobs that offer little joy for nearly as little pay, and no one appears to be thriving. This is a confining world in which even as tourists we begin to feel trapped.

Going hand-in-hand with the cinematography is an original score that does more to elevate the film than any of its other components. From first time composer, Dustin Hamman, the music goes from a soft rumble to raucous thump. With a grit that mirrors the visual palette, it is as if Van Buren is constantly emitting this sonic pulse. The music is a part of the film, not something that is merely tacked on. It is the blood pumping through its veins, and shows a deep partnership between composer and filmmaker. Unfortunately, for all the work put in to the establishment of place it is disappointing how little is translated to story and character development.

The film is hopelessly overpopulated, and even the leads are offered little complexity. The camerawork that works so well for the development of location fails the actual story. We constantly linger nearby, voyeurs in a world that didn’t invite us, close but dramatically separate. This separation carries over to the characters themselves. All of the characters, save Casper, are nebulous and broadly drawn. Their motivations are unclear and mutable to the point of frustration. This keeps us from understanding who they are as people and limits the potential for a deeper connection. As consequences begin pile up, we are left wondering if we even need to care. There is no familiarity, no intimacy, we are little more than acquaintances, and for many, closer to strangers. I yearned for a deeper understanding of these people, hoping for more than just outward appearances, but was offered none. The film purports to be about friendship, but is far more concerned with Casper’s story, causing a thematic confusion. Nevertheless, even Casper is offered little chance to become more than a shallow representation of a deeper character, despite an authentically raw performance from Emory Cohen.

The camerawork that works so well for the development of location fails the actual story. We constantly linger nearby, voyeurs in a world that didn’t invite us, close but dramatically separate.

In addition to the poor character development is a story that is scattershot at best. Gaudet and Pullapilly mention that they were greatly inspired by the people and stories of Van Buren, attempting to infuse as much of the local flavor into the film. What results, however, is a mishmash of disconnected scenarios and needless side plots. Thematic elements are revealed through heavy-handed exposition, but then never followed through upon. These distractions and a front half of near constant wheel spinning, speak to this absence of propelling vision. Once the actual plot arrives it feels like an afterthought and its disconnection from larger themes is nearly maddening. The town of Van Buren remains the only character to be fully realized, and its role in the story falls by the wayside as the film nears its end. Somewhere at the core of Beneath the Harvest Sky is an honest film about growing up in a nowhere town, but it is so buried under poor pacing and distance from its own characters to be just too far out of reach.

[Review] Beneath the Harvest Sky - The Film Stage  Jared Mobarak

 

Exclaim! [Robert Bell]

 

In Review Online [Andy Crump]  also seen here:  Movie Mezzanine [Andy Crump]

 

Sound On Sight  Christopher Clemente

 

Slant Magazine [Nick Prigge]

 

Film-Forward.com [Madison Bloom]

 

Beneath The Harvest Sky / The Dissolve  Mike D’Angelo

 

Beneath The Harvest Sky mucks up a fine regional mood ..  Ignatiy Vishnevetsky from the Onion A.V. Club

 

Tribeca 2014 Review: Slinging Potatoes And Pills ... - Twitch  Joshua Jablinsky

 

Tribeca: Rural-Noir Beneath the Harvest Sky Wears Us Down, But Sean Gullette’s Traitors Is Alive With Scuzzy Energy  Nick Schager from The Village Voice

 

Village Voice  Zachary Wigon

 

Five Questions with Beneath the Harvest Sky Directors Aron ...  Nick Dawson interviews filmmakers Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly from Filmmakers magazine, September 8, 2013

 

Hollywood Reporter  Boyd van Hoeij

 

Bangor Daily News - article (06/21/12)  Emily Burnham 

 

Chicago Tribune   Peter Debruge, also Variety  

 

'Beneath the Harvest Sky,' a Drama of Northern Maine ...  Stephen Holden from The New York Times

 

Gita Pullapilly and Aron Gaudet - The New York Times  October 29, 2009

 

Gauja, Andris                      

 

THE LESSON (Izlaiduma gads)                          C                     72       

Latvia   Russia  (108 mi)  2014

 

Writer, director, producer, and musical composer, Andris Gauja has attempted to do it all in his first feature film, where Latvian films are seen all too rarely at film festivals.  While originally intended as a documentary shooting a group of graduating high school seniors, eventually the schools kicked them out telling them they couldn’t shoot there any more, apparently due to the behavior of the kids, as it was perceived as portraying Latvians in a poor light.  Gauja then broadened his concept into a feature film, becoming a love story on the run.  Much of what is shown onscreen is utterly preposterous, where by all accounts, the initial instincts of the schools do seem well founded, as this does present Latvia in an extremely negative manner, where its jaded citizens are used to living in such a corrupt and deteriorating society that moral laws no longer apply, where there is no longer any recognizable concept of right and wrong.  Latvia was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany during WWII, then after the war re-occupied by the Soviets for the next 50 years until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, where as a consequence, many Russians still live in Latvia along with Estonians, both neighboring nations, each comprising about 25% of the population.  Shot in the Latvian city of Riga, the film opens with an unpleasant break-up, where young and attractive Zane, Inga Alsina-Lasmane, is forced to rebuild her life, but opens the new school year as the Russian instructor, but also the mentor to an unruly group of graduating seniors.  This concept of a mentor is confusing to many, as it’s a position that doesn’t exist elsewhere, but their role is someone nearer the age of the students than other teachers who acts as an intermediary should authority issues or communication conflicts arise.  What’s perhaps most surprising is how mentors act outside the dictates of school guidelines, where they need to be liked and appreciated by the students, so they often invite them into their homes for parties and act as a party planner for their active social lives. 

 

On her first day, only a handful of kids show up for class, as the rest are loitering around outside smoking and making fun of those who actually attend class.  To combat this indifference, Zane organizes a beach field trip/party that turns into a drunken all-night affair with no adult supervision whatsoever, swimming naked in the sea, smoking and drinking whatever they want, where it obviously spirals out of control.  Despite complaints from other teachers and several parents afterwards, Zane is apparently pleased with herself as she’s drawn the students back into her class.  Probing into the personal life of one of her troubled students, she actually invites one of the girls, Inta (Ieva Apine), to come live with her, while at the same time, after her initial refusal, she begins having an affair with one of the students, Max (Marcis Klatenbergs), a guy who barely even shows up for class, whose father is a Russian gangster affiliated with the mafia.  This is a film where actions seem to have little or no consequences, as Inta’s parents and family never come looking for her, while Max’s parents obviously don’t give a damn either.  Soon, with his father’s money, Max is enticing Zane with a romantic weekend to Paris, dining in fancy restaurants, eventually landing in bed, taking naked pictures of each other, where this may as well be the realization of a male fantasy bearing little to no relation to reality.  One wonders how this young woman could be so blind as to think none of this would matter, or that the photos wouldn’t find their way onto the Internet, where she’s jeopardizing her entire career over a relatively undistinguished son of a gangster, who without his daddy’s money wouldn’t attract anyone’s interest.  Making matters worse, as if it wasn’t bad enough the first time, Zane organizes another drunken party at her own home, again without any adult supervision, and again all hell breaks out as the kids are free to do whatever they want. 

 

None of the kids are professional actors and it shows, as they play stereotypes of unruly, disaffected kids, often seen smoking and turning their video cameras on in the classroom, sulking much of the time, showing no hope or any prospects for the future, never spending any time doing homework, never taking any tests, where it’s just not like any school anyone ever attended.  Zane is never seen actually teaching the class, but instead makes herself busy as their social planner.  When other teachers get wind of what’s going on, she tells them to mind their own business, as she’s too busy playing the popular girl in school, where she’s completely oblivious that any of her actions will have negative ramifications.  Her deluded state of mind makes for uncomfortable cinema, where the unseen horror is how the film plays into the audience’s expectations, knowing nothing good could come of this, where you wait for the bombs to explode.  It’s all a bit amateurish, where there’s a reason kids aren’t the teachers in classrooms, as Zane simply shows no aptitude for professionalism, where she’s something of a disgrace to the teaching profession, where in many societies she’d be locked up on morals charges.  Making matters worse, there’s little to no chemistry between any of the characters, including the smitten couple, which only makes this more uncomfortable, as it’s an overly contrived picture of a nation, once the Soviets left, with no moral authority.  It’s a strange and unusual portrayal of an empty society, wildly uneven throughout, yet the performance of Inga Alsina-Lasmane is a bit captivating, where the premise is a train wreck waiting to happen with the audience taking on the role of interested onlookers.  The crash is something unexpected, as love on the run never looked more bleak, where Russia turns into an industrial wasteland without a hint of hospitality, as if they entered into a colorless dead zone that only exists in sci-fi movies.  Peppering the film with many pop songs, some written by the director, the film retains a bleak youthful view of crushed hopes and a nonexistent future, supposedly broken before any of these kids arrived, but they are under no illusions about their ability to fix anything.  

 

World premiere of Andris Gauja film "The Lesson" in Montreal  Film New Europe

Today marks the world premiere of “The Lesson”,the debut art film of Latvian director Andris Gauja. The film is taking part in the First Films World competition at the Montreal World Film Festival (FFM) at 19:00 local time, with 18 films entered in the category. The only other full-length film to represent Latvia in this festival was the 1998 Laila Pakalniņa film "Kurpe".

“The Lesson” premieres at FFM on August 27th at 19:00 local time, with additional screenings on August 28th at 14:30 and August 29th at 16:40. All viewings will take place at the Cinema Cineplex Odeon Quartier Latin (screening room L10): 350, rue Emery, Montreal. „The Lesson” is set to premiere in Latvia on October 9th in "Kino Citadele" and will be in cinemas nation-wide on October 10th.

After its Montreal debut “The Lesson” will also be showcased at two other international film festivals at the end of September: The Bergen International Film Festival (BIFF) in Norway and Russia’s Kinosok (Киношок) film festival.

Watch the trailer here: http://youtu.be/FkG7qmSCqvs

“The Lesson” is a story about a young teacher named Zane. After disappointmentsin her private life, Zane devotes herself entirely to work and tries to establish a connection with a class of unruly students whom she tutors.

Zane goes beyond her duties – she organises house parties, arranges several-day trips and houses students with family issues. The boundary between student and teacher is gradually starting to fade...and when one of her students falls in love with her, Zane must face a difficult choice - weather to succumb to personal happiness or to adhere to her own ideal of a good teacher.

Thefilm is made in a documentary style, with professional actors (Inga Alsiņa-Lasmane, Gatis Gāga, Liena Šmukste, Marina Janaus, Andrejs Smoļakovs, Ivars Auziņš, Laura Atelsone and others) working together with youths with no prior acting experience (Mārcis Klatenbergs, Ieva Apine, Aigars Ligers, Edgars Siliņš, Elza Feldmane, Agirs Neminskis and others).

Film director Andris Gauja and cameraman Aleksandrs Grebņevs have already achieved wide critical acclaim with their previous project, the documentary „Family Instinct” which was selected for more than 25 international film festivals around the world and received the Best World Feature award at the Silverdocs Film Festival (USA). “The Lesson” is Andris Gauja’s narrative film debut.

„The Lesson” is directed by Andris Gauja, cameraman - Aleksandrs Grebņevs, artist - Ilze Kauliņa, script by Lauris Gundars and Andris Gauja, montage director - Tambets Tasuja (Estonia), producers - Guna Stahovska and Andris Gauja. The film was shot in Latvia, France and Russia. Post-production was handled by "Prasad Group" and "FutureWorks" studios in Mumbai, India. The project was created with the support of the State Culture Capital Foundation (SCCF), Riga Municipality, "Wess Select / BMW Latvia", "AirBaltic", "Cinevera", "Capital", "Casting Bridge", "FreshStep", "Pandora Media", "Neiburgs" Hotel and others, as well as with support from private individuals. The film was produced by "Riverbed" studio (Latvia) in partnership with "Mojo Raiser Production" (Latvia) and "Horosho Production" (Russia).

Gavras, Julie

 

LATE BLOOMERS                                                 B                     87

France  Belgium  Great Britain  (95 mi)  2011

 

A bit of a surprise that this film flew under the radar, that it was not embraced by the senior film going population, who instead chose to see the nostalgia-tinged, reflection of colonialism in India as the good old days in John Maddin’s British ageist, feel good comedy THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL (2011), which features a host of elderly British acting royalty, letting them play eccentric and cranky old people looking for that last adventure in life.  LATE BLOOMERS, on the other hand, has its comical moments, but is a low key attempt at embellishing the aging process with a bit more grace and realism, showcasing the superb acting talent of Isabella Rossellini and William Hurt as Mary and Adam, a couple married for 30 years, who now that they’re free from raising their three grown children and are finally on their own, they go through a bit of a rough patch.  Rossellini is simply adorable here, right from the start when she speaks Italian so gorgeously with her mother, reminiscent of her own mother Ingrid Bergman, who was roughly the same age as Rossellini when she made the film AUTUMN SONATA (1978), both films about attractive women who must come to terms with aging.  Co-written by the director, the daughter of Greek director Constantin Costa-Gavras, best known for politically laced thrillers, this has a distinctively gentle touch about it as it lovingly embraces the two leads, trusting that they are authentic and brilliant enough to pull this off, which they do with panache.  Opening with Adam winning a prestigious architectural award, one that casts light on the totality of his career, as if he’s being given the gold watch of retirement, which is based on similar late career accolades lauded upon the director’s father, which were emotionally harrowing and always viewed by the family as premature obituaries.     

 

However the tone here is comic, accompanied by a thumping Greek brass band, where the couple good-naturedly kids one another about their approaching demise, especially when someone supposedly pays a compliment to Adam, “Your husband’s a dying breed—they just don’t make buildings like his anymore.”  Naked and in each others arms the next morning, Mary can’t remember how she got there, where a fleeting memory loss sends her in a panic to the doctor, thinking early signs of Alzheimer’s Disease have set in, but not to worry, she’s in excellent health, where for mental alertness, now in retirement from a career in teaching, she needs to find an activity and start exercising regularly.  When she shows up at a water aerobics class, she is easily the oldest one there, and when the rapid pace of the music quickly passes her by, she mostly just splashes around in the water in a state of total confusion.  Late on arrival another day, she watches the synchronized movements and just turns around and walks out, not really motivated to join in.  This outsider status is something “imposed” by society, where people treat you differently based on age, and Mary is disappointed to see men look at her differently, or more to the point, they don’t look at all, which she finds unnerving, as if her sexuality has been compromised.  She suddenly reaches the conclusion that now they are in their 60’s they are old and need to make drastic adjustments in their lifestyle, outfitting their house with senior friendly gadgetry, from safety bars in the bathtub, a remote controlled hospital styled mattress that reclines up and down, and a giant button telephone, likely things they don’t need yet, but she loves irritating him when he simply doesn’t want to be bothered thinking about growing old.     

 

Adam, on the other hand, is still working for a London architectural firm that prides itself on unpopular projects, so when his boss, the brilliant Shakespearean actor Simon Callow, sleazily pitches a new commercial design for a retirement home, claiming the business is booming, so they better get in on it, Adam is plainly not interested, not even after Mary organizes a Gray Panther meeting in their living room where the seniors are excited at the thought of architecturally designed retirement homes, ones so attractive they will make “younger people look forward to getting old.” Instead Adam recruits a group of junior architects that express an interest in entering a major competition to design a new museum.  Working late night hours, going out drinking with his much younger colleagues, one of whom may have her eye on him, Maya (Arta Dobroshi), spending all his time at the office, now wearing a leather jacket and jeans, he all but avoids Mary’s amusingly adapted home for the old and senile.  This cat and mouse game between the all-too familiar married couple now living apart plays havoc on their children, where they plot and scheme to keep them together, where at a disco party at a new art installation, the two of them have a way of carrying on a conversation across a crowded room through hastily invented sign language.  Despite the seriousness of the subject matter, Gavras has written what feels like an intelligent  play filled with intimate moments, one sequence succeeding the next, driven by an affectionate, light-hearted tone, where Rossellini especially is simply superb, embracing every moment with that warm and endearing smile to Hurt’s more gruff and grouchy character, but underlying it all is a light romantic touch, where it would be hard to find two people today do it any better. 

 

Late Bloomers - Page 1 - Movies - New York - Village Voice  Michael Atkinson

A life-crisis farce custom-built exclusively for self-absorbed menopausal women, Julie Gavras's film wants nothing more than to have coffee and kvetch with the gray-cougar, elder-boomer sisters out there. The rest of us are not invited. Gavras follows Isabella Rossellini's upper-middle-class housewife (married to aloof award-winning architect William Hurt) as a momentary memory-loss episode and the approach of her 60th birthday sends her spinning toward end-of-life heebie-jeebies, until she is joining (and quitting) aquafit classes, flirting unsuccessfully with young men in public places, and installing geriatric support handles into every room of their posh London apartment. Separation and infidelities ensue, all chirped about by a Greek chorus of familiar BBC faces (Joanna Lumley, Simon Callow, etc.). The battery of obstacles before the actually-59 Rossellini is substantial—including Gavras's smirky screenplay and direction, and fed-up Hurt's vaporous attempt at a Brit lilt. But she is radiant in a profoundly ordinary and believable way, as always, and stirs up generational pathos all by herself.

LATE BLOOMERS  Facets Multi Media

In writer/director Julie Gavras' delightfully warm and wise romantic comedy, screen legends Isabella Rossellini and William Hurt play a couple whose 30-year marriage is starting to run into trouble. Hurt is Adam, a London-based architect who is surprised to find himself the recipient of awards that suggest that he has reached the end of his career, while wife Mary (Rossellini), taken aback by an unexpected health scare, sets a course of radical action in league with her vivacious best friend Charlotte (Joanna Lumley). Adam has been asked to help design a retirement community, a prospect that has him picturing himself as a potential resident, while each of them copes with their age anxieties in different ways, from fitness regimens to full-on midlife crisis moments. Their diverging directions put a strain on the marriage and as Adam and Mary respond to these challenges in completely opposite and unpredictable ways (successfully infuriating each other in the process), their three adult children plot to find ways to keep them together.

With luminous supporting performances from a mix of established and upcoming British acting talent (including Simon Callow, Kate Ashfield and Luke Treadaway), Late Bloomers is an elegant and engaging portrait of marriage: will age get the better of their time-tested relationship, or can they both come to their senses in time?

Onion AV Club  Alison Willmore

French director Julie Gavras was inspired to make the three-quarters-life crisis comedy Late Bloomers after observing how her father, the filmmaker Costa-Gavras, handled aging. Judging from the film’s patriarch, played by William Hurt, he was in deep denial. Hurt stars as an American living in London. He’s an architect famous for designing airports, and he reacts to turning 60 by taking up a new side project and working late into the night with his firm’s junior members. His English-Italian wife (Isabella Rossellini) heads in the other direction, accessorizing their house with large-button phones and adjustable beds as if they’re on their way to a nursing home.

It’s a pleasure to see Hurt and Rossellini work together and apart as a couple who still have a spark, in spite of their growing differences. But Gavras’ film is glib and overly cute in its ideas about coming to terms with one’s age and changing status in the world. After a moment of (half-metaphorical) memory loss leads her to get a check-up, Rossellini takes up a water-aerobics class filled, for whatever reason, exclusively with sporty young women. Hurt gets a new commission to plan a forward-thinking old-age home, leading him to bellow “I don’t want to design storage for hordes of incontinent zombies!” When he receives a prestigious career-achievement medal, the man presenting it tells Rossellini, “Your husband’s a dying breed—they just don’t make buildings like his anymore.”

Some of this on-the-noseness may be due to a language gap (the film is primarily in English, though Rossellini sometimes slips into Italian), but some of it is structural, including the reuniting of the couple and their grown trio of children by way of the death of another main character. Late Bloomers is at its best when it’s being breezy and simply taking pleasure in its lead actors, who turn in strong performances in spite of certain clunky character developments. Chalk it up to Gavras’ Euro sensibility that both halves of the central pair wind up in the arms of others for a while—it’s their time apart that’s the most fun, with Hurt drinking his first Red Bull and Rossellini hanging out with her activist friend (Joanna Lumley), who’s involved with the Gray Panthers. As a portrait of aging, Late Bloomers is a little too easy, but its cast makes it worth a look, even so. 

NPR  Mark Jenkins

The protagonists of Late Bloomers have a problem, but it's not that they're getting older. Their dilemma is that they're reacting so differently to aging. Mary (Isabella Rossellini) adapts somewhat overeagerly to her imminent 60s, buying a big-button phone and outfitting the bathroom with grab bars. Adam (William Hurt) prefers denial, and he reacts angrily to his wife's adjustments.

Adam has a point. While Mary has retired from teaching, he's a well-known architect who continues to work. The couple's three children — financier James (Aidan McArdle), physician Giulia (Kate Ashfield) and fledgling artist Benjamin (Luke Treadaway) — are grown. But Mary's feisty mother (Doreen Mantle), who raised her daughter in Italy, still lives right next-door to Mary and Adam's well-worn apartment in — uh, where?

Amid the cacophony of accents, it gradually becomes apparent that Late Bloomers is set in London, although director and co-writer Julie Gavras never establishes a strong sense of place. The movie's first third is a bit muddled, which could be intentional; Mary suffers a bout of memory loss, and fears senility. So maybe Gavras is attempting to simulate her heroine's frame of mind. But the film gets better as the somewhat labored setup recedes, and events and characters come into tighter focus.

Gavras' second fiction feature, Late Bloomers was inspired by the many late-career awards bestowed on her father, director Costa-Gavras. These accolades struck his daughter as premature obituaries, and she came to find them "quite harrowing."

So this movie opens with Adam winning an architectural award, and a well-wisher telling Mary that her husband "is a dying breed." She takes this comment too literally, and is soon having an MRI. The doctor tells her to boost her brain by keeping active, so water aerobics and volunteer work beckon, as her best friend (Joanna Lumley) urges her to relax.

Meanwhile, Adam instinctively recoils from the new job offered by a major client and old pal (Simon Callow): designing a retirement home. Instead, he buys into the dream of a flirtatious young associate, Maya (Lorna's Silence star Arta Dobroshi), who wants the firm to enter the competition to design a major new museum.

Adam starts working on the plan after-hours with the junior architects and is introduced to Red Bull. Soon, he's sleeping at the office while Mary builds a new life alone — or maybe with an admirer from the gym.

London was probably chosen as the movie's location so the Paris-based Gavras could work in English, which offers a larger potential audience. Yet many of the most evocative moments don't involve dialogue at all. Rossellini conveys an Everywoman's unhappiness with age simply by contemplating her neck as she pulls back its slack skin. The director wins smiles with a series of moments in which various family members, young and old, reach for those controversial grab bars. And there's a lovely scene where the estranged Mary and Adam communicate perfectly despite being on opposite sides of a room that's throbbing with electronic dance music.

Late Bloomers suffers from a stridently jaunty jazz score, and some gags that don't rise above sitcom level. And ultimately, it's not distinctive enough to draw viewers who haven't given much thought to aging. But that still leaves a substantial audience for the film's gentle laughs and modest insights.

Salon.com  Andrew O’Hehir

 

Smells Like Screen Spirit [Don Simpson]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

Late Bloomers  Don Groves from SBS Film

 

New York Post  Lou Lumenick

 

Director interview  Sally Pryor interview from The Sydney Morning Herald, February 18, 2012

 

Variety [Peter DeBruge]

 

Japan Times  Kaori Shoji

 

Chicago Sun-Times [Roger Ebert]

 

Late Bloomers - Movies - The New York Times  Stephen Holden

 

Costa-Gavras - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Costa-Gavras: Information from Answers.com

 

Gazecki, William

 

WACO:  THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT        B                     85

USA  (136 mi)  1996

 

A long, somewhat detailed and exasperating look at what happened in Waco, Texas with plenty of photos and footage of highly controversial circumstantial evidence about Government overreaction and eventual cover up, ultimately with nothing conclusive, but with some interesting music.

 

Gebbe, Katrin

 

NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN (Tore Tantz)                B                     87

Germany  (110 mi)  2013                       Official site

 

Punk fascism disguised as a religious parable, where Gebbe’s film is the German answer to Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s miserablist Paradise Trilogy, Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe), Paradise: Faith (Paradies: Glaube), and Paradise: Hope (Paradies: Hoffnung) (2012), with both films divided into three chapters, Faith, Love, and Hope, not necessarily in that order, where it seems the Austrian version was not hard corps enough for this director, who inflicts sadistic brutality with a surgical precision that recalls the punishing treatment of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games (1997), where the inflicting punishers go by the Biblical names of Peter (Frank Giering) and Paul (Arno Frisch).  Reaching into her trick bag of mercilessly inflicted brutality, which is all in vogue today with torture porn, Gebbe’s film was invited to Cannes this year in the Un Certain Regard category, largely for its tortuous provocation, as instead of plumbing the depths of her nation’s ills, she’s instead made a graphic exposé of human debasement, which is a well-crafted, but somewhat knee-jerk reaction to these other stylistically powerful films.  Perhaps the one film that may have spawned this degree of anti-humanist miserablism is Seidl’s DOG DAYS (2001), a darkly satiric stab at the banality of evil, as it shows what depths of depravity seemingly ordinary people are capable of, where humiliating others for sport is viewed as foreplay.  While DOG DAYS is all-in when it comes to holding nothing back, forcing the audience to endure unending tales of sadism and misery revealing the dark side of Austrian suburbia, including unsimulated sex that turns to rape, extended torture scenes, acts of extreme humiliation accompanied by threats of murder, where it’s a provocatively vile film that emphasizes all manner of grotesque human behavior, made all the more powerful by the documentary realist style and the unrelentingly depressing tone.  While Haneke was questioning the audience’s implicit involvement in desiring a violent revenge to the insufferable outrage they were witnessing onscreen, he made sure to show viewers that this was only a movie, so the violence witnessed was fictionalized arthouse movie violence.  Gebbe’s film makes no such distinction, but instead places her characters into a mainstream of German society, paralleling the increasingly disturbing behavior shown onscreen with the belligerence of extreme fascist behavior, suggesting a Darwinian “might makes right” form of domination where powerful interests seeking out weaker adversaries to attack and bully is a natural part of human development and not something that can be eliminated from society, even after extensive post-war education efforts.  

 

Supposedly inspired by an actual event, this has to resonate even more deeply in Germany, home of Hitler’s Third Reich and his extermination plan, perhaps the ultimate example of the strong brutalizing the weak with a blitzkrieg of assaults intended to annihilate one group off the face of the earth.  While the religious aspect is overemphasized, a simplistic exercise in the manner of Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST (2004) painfully graphic Jesus-like suffering is on full display for ardent believers, with various references to the passive teachings of Christ heard throughout, the central character Tore (Julius Feldmeier) may as well be a cult follower, as the problem isn’t the repetitive use of religious text, which has multiple layers of meaning, but his slavishly obsessive robotic adherence to it.  Seen as part of a budding Jesus Freak movement in Hamburg, we know nothing about the background of any of these participants, seen as young street kids with no home to speak of, who seem to be part of a beleaguered underground Christian punk movement obsessed by Biblical catch phrases which they obediently repeat, like Red Book quotations from Chairman Mao, as if this gives their otherwise worthless lives meaning and purpose.  Walking through the streets, imposing their scripture upon others, they’re seen as little more than an annoying nuisance, like Hare Krishna cult followers, instead of a serious fabric of society.  Nonetheless, Tore can be heard praying and asking for divine intervention throughout, as if this is the cure for all ailments.  When his praying miraculously seems to get one man’s stalled car engine started, of course giving all praise to Christ, Tore hands out cards to onlookers for their next musical gathering, making a public spectacle praising the power of Christ.  When we see his followers jumping around to angry punk music with a Christian message targeted specifically to those who have been abused and left destitute, Tone has joined the throng, flailing his arms around, but drops to the floor, seemingly in an epileptic fit where he is ignored until the same man seen earlier in the car cradles him in his arms and places him in his van, supposedly on his way to the hospital when he comes to, but Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) instead decides to bring him home to his wife Astrid (Annika Kuhl), teenage daughter Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof), who is Tone’s same age, and young son Dennis.  Benno’s friendship and hospitality seems met by empty stares from his family, apparently resigned to doing what they’re told, setting up a tent for him in the back yard while also sharing regular meals. 

 

Benno quickly starts ridiculing Tone’s naïve religious views, literally punching him in the face at one point, where Tone offers no resistance, becoming his punching bag on a regular basis after that, where Benno seems to enjoy bullying the young kid for pleasure.  Sanny is drawn to Tone’s helpless fragility, showing the bruises on her body as well, where it seems Benno is brutalizing the entire family, making unwanted sexual advances on his stepdaughter Sanny, where her mother simply ignores Bruno’s behavior.  Tone takes this as a sign from God that he must stand up to this outrageous force of evil, believing God is testing him, where he must learn to love his enemy, even as he gets pulverized in the process.  When Benno sees Tone as a rival for the desires of his stepdaughter, he shuts him out of the family, forbidding him from having food, forcing him to pilfer through the garbage for scraps to eat, where he’s eventually caught stealing from the garbage.  Even though the meat is rotting, it’s Astrid who suddenly gets in on the game by insisting he eat an entire maggot-infested chicken while she and Benno watch, initially force feeding him until he obediently follows their demands.  The film escalates into further psychopathic behavior that Tone is humiliatingly forced to endure, throwing scraps of religious sayings in his face as they continue to torment him, where he becomes their sadistic play toy.  Refusing to walk away, as he’s zealously following the fanatically passive interpretation (as opposed to a violent example where Jesus overturns tables and throws all the money lenders out of the temple) of “being like Christ,” much like the character of Prince Myshkin (also an epileptic) in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, a walking saint on earth who was considered “an idiot” by the respectable society of the times, whose endlessly naïve and compassionate outlook was constantly at odds with the dark forces of evil, moral corruption, and all-consuming earthly desires.  In Tone’s deranged eyes that means submitting to any test of barbaric humiliation, where the film takes us into wretchedly uncomfortable territory where the graphic display of monstrous human behavior seems to be Gebbe’s real interest, where the film becomes a disturbingly cruel metaphor for the evils of fascism on display, where the director meticulously documents how this slowly building process is part of the human condition.  While she only really emphasizes the raw and excruciatingly distressing surface realities, captured by the fluid handheld camera movements of Moritz Schultheiss, the rest is for the audience to consider, where one of the spectacular underlying elements of the film is the quietly haunting musical score by Peter Folk and Johannes Lehniger which only accentuates the creepy effects of something unbalanced and off kilter happening.  Not for the faint of heart.     

 

Movie Mezzanine [Tom Clift]

Wrapping up a strong if utterly miserable day one at the festival was Katrin Gebbe’s misleadingly titled debut, Nothing Bad Can Happen. Taking a leaf from the Michael Haneke playbook of audience punishment, this ominously shot, scored and edited film follows Tore, an emaciated, homeless, epileptic and deeply Christian teenager from Hamburg who befriends Benno, the seemingly friendly head of a holidaying family of four.

After moving into the family’s backyard, however, Tore discovers things are not what they seem. Despite outward appearances, Benno is prone to moments of violence, and makes creepy advances towards his fifteen year old step-daughter, Sanny. Actor Sascha Gersak’s jolly appearance and demeanour makes the character’s behaviour that much more unsettling.

But it’s newcomer Julius Feldmeier, playing Tore, who makes the lasting impression. In a film steeped in Christian imagery and ideology, the rake thin blonde is a tragic would-be messiah; pious, innocent and always ready to turn the other cheek, even in the face of his increasingly heinous abuse (The Passion of Tore could have been an alternate English language title – the original German names, Tore tanzt, translates literally as Tore Dances).

What point Gebbe is making – and whether Tore’s suffering was in vain – is ultimately left to the viewer. At one hundred at ten minutes, Nothing Bad Can Happen does feel on the long side, and while I was certainly enamoured (aesthetically speaking) by the suffocating precision of Gebbe’s craft, prolonged exposure is numbing. Then again, perhaps that’s the point.

Nothing Bad Can Happen / The Dissolve  Scott Tobias

With a tall, gawky frame, shock of curly white hair, and perpetually blissed-out expression, Tore (Julius Feldmeier) makes for a conspicuously awkward adolescent, even before the film he’s in reveals much about him. He looks odd. He isn’t cool. And yet there’s some animating force within him—and that force, it turns out, is Jesus. Based on a true story, the brutal German drama Nothing Bad Can Happen has a half-ironic title: Bad things can and do happen to Tore, who endures escalating torments and abuse, but to him, it’s a matter of perspective, of facing whatever trial the Lord has decided to put him through. If it’s his mission to turn the other cheek, Tore will do it even if he knows that cheek will get bruised, too. Writer-director Katrin Gebbe rubs viewers’ faces in this dog dish of a film, with the promise that some sliver of transcendence will redeem it. But it’s all dog dish. 

As the film opens, Tore is running with the “Jesus Freaks,” a small collective of Christian punks in Hamburg who have the requisite spiked hair, piercings, tattoos, and anarchy T-shirts, but use their weekly club shows to sing the Lord’s praises. Tore doesn’t appear to have a family—his past is left wisely unclear—so for now, he’s crashing with a fellow Jesus Freak and living off government stipends. After he suffers an epileptic fit at a show, a sympathetic adult, Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak) scoops him up and gives him shelter in his dilapidated house for the night. That temporary arrangement turns permanent, and Tore becomes part of Benno’s family, which includes his distant wife Astrid (Annika Kuhl), a girl named Sanny (Swantje Kohlhof) who’s Tore’s age, and a little moppet named Dennis (Til Theinert). But Benno’s behavior soon grows erratic and violent, and it becomes clear that his family, which now includes Tore, lives in fear of his eruptions. 

Nothing Bad Can Happen recalls Lars von Trier’s habit of putting virtuous heroines through the wringer; as with Emily Watson in Breaking The Waves, Tore’s expressions of faith are answered by abuse and degradation, and his relationship with God is tested in the process. Gebbe has a fine sense of place, evoking the forgotten fringes where Tore resides, from the couch at a makeshift Jesus Freaks commune to a tent in Benno’s backyard, where his only visitors are Sanny, a stray cat, and further misfortune. Tore has no resources and few options, and his faith has encouraged a dangerous obstinacy with regard to Benno: He comes to believe that Jesus has sent this terrible man not as a protector, but as a challenge. Practically speaking, that means passively accepting whatever sadistic horrors Benno throws at him. 

It’s as simple as that, really. The trouble with Nothing Bad Can Happen, especially once the ugliness gets ramped up in the second half, is that Gebbe’s focus on sending Tore through the spiritual gauntlet overwhelms the relationships she developed more carefully in the early going. Benno, in particular, is a blank spot: His hardness could be read initially as blue-collar machismo, an attempt to make a man out of Tore, whose passivity and godliness disgusts him. But he transforms into evil incarnate, an unknowable source of pain who exists to bring the boy along on his schematic journey. The film deposits its villain in a dark, all-too-familiar place. 

Slant Magazine [Clayton Dillard]

There is provocation, there is exploitation, and then there is Nothing Bad Can Happen, a film so comprehensively miscalculated in its desire to be a batshit think piece that it potentially creates a new category of offense for its multitudinous levels of dastardly nihilism masquerading as a socio-philosophical horror show. Tore (Julius Feldmeier) is a newly inducted member of the "Jesus Freaks," a group of straight-edge teens in Hamburg attempting to correct what other denominations have gotten wrong by "living the way He did." After having a seizure at a concert, Tore is taken in by Benno (Sascha Alexander Gersak), who, along with his wife and kids, find Tore's beliefs fascinating, while remaining heavily skeptical. Benno becomes increasingly aggressive, demented, and violent toward Tore, eventually forcing him into an extended session of torture, both psychological and physical, as a test to his supposedly unwavering faith.

These narrative elements could be the makings of a contemplative horror film and, for the first 20 minutes or so, writer-director Katrin Gebbe's slow-burn pacing and sonically oriented aesthetics suggest intelligence may loom within later portions of the film. However, it's soon apparent that Gebbe's interests are less in exploring how youthful desire for transcendence is exploited by bourgeois underpinnings, than concocting a sadistic, elaborate setup within which to place her borderline mentally handicapped protagonist, soon to be humiliated, bruised, beaten, tortured, and raped at the mercy of Benno, whose inexplicable turn from curious interlocutor to merciless grim reaper reeks of genre-tinged fecklessness.

In fact, Nothing Bad Can Happen becomes so riddled with jaw-droppingly cruel and gleefully nasty scenes that, by the time Benno drowns a cat, watches Tore have a seizure, and then labels him a "retard" while walking away, it's difficult not to wonder about Gebbe's complicity with the gestating absurdity and whether this material is, truly, meant to be taken seriously. These concerns only manifest further in the film's second half, which transforms Tore from a punching bag into a full-blown piñata of pain, through a series of sequences so pathetically, transparently mean-spirited and self-serious that any suspicions of Gebbe's ceaselessly grave intentions are immediately dispelled. Were the scenes alone not telling enough, Gebbe divides the film into three chapters labeled "faith," "love," and "hope," a sophomorically daft choice that heedlessly apes Lars von Trier's preference for chapter titles and gruesome, ascetic tendencies.

Nothing Bad Can Happen would be virulent were it not a base product of film-school ignominy, with "provocation" being the valorized dispositif, no matter how flawed or asinine the conceit. Yet what's most damnable about Gebbe's feigned conviction is how deliberately she seeks a built-in defense for the film's not one, but two inexcusable rape scenes, the latter of which makes the risible gay sex scene in Steve McQueen's Shame look positively Bressonian by comparison. After kidnapping and forcing Tore into a gay club to be brutally and repeatedly raped, Benno asks on the ride "home": "Have fun with the boys? Oh yeah, Christians don't like homos." Neglecting the implications of an underground gay club replete with leering transvestites and grunting rapists is actually the least of Gebbe's problems. By attempting to posit the scene as a necessary evocation of Benno's seemingly endless capacity for torturous endowment, Gebbe engages a rhetorical gesture equal to Benno's: a pseudo-Socratic method of critical inquiry, masking larger, psychopathic tendencies. Thus, Gebbe's subterfuge amounts to prizing art-house guttersnipe moves at all costs, no matter the ramifications.

Filmleaf [Chris Knipp]

 

Paste Magazine [Tim Grierson]

 

IONCINEMA [Nicholas Bell]

 

Film.com [Jordan Hoffman]

 

Film Pulse [Kevin Rakestraw]

 

[Review] Nothing Bad Can Happen - The Film Stage  Jared Mobarak

 

Nothing Bad Can Happen - Film School Rejects  Shaun Munro

 

Fantastic Fest Review: NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN Twists ...  Britt Hayes

 

Nothing Bad Can Happen (Blu-ray) : DVD Talk Review of ...  Kurt Dahlke

 

DVD Verdict (Blu-ray) [Michael Nazarewycz]

 

Blu-ray.com (Blu-ray) [Michael Reuben]

 

Blu-ray.com [Brian Orndorf]

 

Film-Forward.com [Madison Bloom]

 

grolsch Film Works [Anton Bitel]

 

Review: NOTHING BAD CAN HAPPEN, A Haunting ... - Twitch  Dave Canfield

 

'Nothing Bad Can Happen' Review | Sound On Sight  Kenny Hedges

 

Tore Tanzt: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter  Stephen Dalton

 

Cannes Film Review: 'Nothing Bad Can Happen' | Variety  Scott Foundas  

 

Austin Chronicle [William Goss]

 

Los Angeles Times [Martin Tsai]

 

Nothing Bad Can Happen Mixes Horror, Punk and Jesus ...  Amy Nicholson from LA Weekly

 

Nothing Bad Can Happen Movie Review (2014) | Roger Ebert  Brian Tallerico 

 

In 'Nothing Bad Can Happen,' a Young Believer at Risk ...  Jeannette Catsoulis from The New York Times

 

Nothing Bad Can Happen - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Geffen, Shira and Etgar Keret

 

JELLYFISH (Meduzot)                                          A                     95

Israel  France  (78 mi)  2007                  Etgar Keret’s official site

 

A ship inside a bottle cannot sink,
or collect dust.
It's nice to look at
and floats on glass.
No one is small enough to board it.
It doesn't know where it's heading.
The wind outside won't blow its sails.
It has no sails,
only a slip, a dress.
And beneath them, jellyfish.

Her mouth is dry, though she's surrounded by water.
She drinks it through the openings in her eyes
which never close.
When she dies, it won't be noticeable.
She won't crash on rocks.
She will remain tall and proud.

 

Acclaimed husband and wife team of Israeli author Etgar Keret, who has also written plays, short stories, and children’s books, and poet and playwright Shira Geffen who wrote this script and was pregnant during production, collaborate in this well-constructed, interwoven trio of tales about lonely and disconnected souls in Tel Aviv.  An outstanding feature, an exquisite caricature of modern misunderstanding that is alarmingly precise in its miniaturization, beautifully written, well acted and edited, genuinely poignant and funny, this is a strikingly original take on the human condition.  Humor in this film feels grounded in frustration, the kind Buster Keaton might fancy, not poking fun at anyone in particular, but using pointedly sharp satire that is still tender and warm-heartedly hilarious.   The lead characters are memorable, closely observed and real, verging on the edge of sanity at times but nonetheless people we can identify with.  The premise of the film is people in turmoil, all set to a rousing version of Edith Piaf’s La Vie En Rose in Hebrew. 

 

Shot in a seaside location in Tel Aviv, beautifully shot by cinematographer Antoine Héberlé, a guy leaves a girl in the opening scene, Sarah Adler as Batia, from Godard’s NOTRE MUSIQUE (2004), which all happens a bit too quickly for her to comprehend the situation, as by the time the words finally form in her mouth, he disappears from her life.  Another couple gets married in a big wedding scene, Michael and Keren (Gera Sandler and Noa Knoller), but the bride gets stuck in the bathroom stall, breaking her leg attempting to escape, all but ruining their Caribbean honeymoon plans as instead they’re stuck inside a seaside hotel with no view of the sea, while a third sequence introduces a Philippino care giver (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a woman named Joy whose job is caring for miserable peopleirony in the best sense of the word.  These characters remain aloof from each other and the world around them, but might feel right at home in the slow, hypnotic pace of a Tsai Ming-liang movie where everyone is similarly lost or out of place. 

 

Batia appears to be the worst waitress on the planet, whose home is infested with a ceiling leak that is over-running the bucket capturing the drops, who receives daily messages left on her answering machine from her celebrity mom, whose visage is seen on giant billboards all over town and on television programs, but otherwise completely ignores her daughter, as does her father who has found himself yet another young bulimic girlfriend about his daughter’s age who consumes every minute of his time.  In due time, Batia is fired from her job along with a pitiful wedding photographer Tamar (Tsipor Aizen) who shoots everything except the bride and groom, both of whom work for an overbearing employer who turns out to be the film director.  (Note – the ice cream man is the director’s father, and the beach location is where they grew up.)  Batia and Tamar become fast friends, though for no apparent reason, yet Batia becomes enamored with Tamir’s childhood home movies, claiming she loves the fact there is no story development. 

 

Meanwhile the love birds in the hotel are having anything but marital bliss, as in a game of musical chairs they keep moving to a different hotel room, as the bride continues to find fault with the one they’re in.  As the elevator doesn’t work, he finds himself lugging her up the stairs on a continual basis.  In perhaps the most hilarious sequence in the film, the husband reminds her of their first date when they went to see a movie, but were continually beset by obstacles that prevented them from seeing or enjoying the movie, but they discovered, instead, each other.  Their time together is interrupted by long walks the husband takes to get away or have a smoke on the stairwell, occasionally meeting a mysterious woman in the building (Bruria Albeck) who introduces herself with the come-on line:  “How do you spell ‘eternally in disgrace,’ one ‘l’ or two?” before she disappears into the elevator. 

 

Joy, on the other hand, is visibly distressed by not having her young son back home with her, where phone calls leave her feeling so helpless, as he doesn’t understand why she’s so far away.  Ironic again that she cares for elderly or infirmed patients whose families are too busy to take care of them, yet she as well needs someone to care for her own son.  After one disastrous job assignment, Joy meets Galia (Ilanet Ben-Yaakov) in a bustling coffee shop, a woman who’s too worried about the upcoming production of Hamlet where she plays Ophelia to care for her elderly mother, who she describes:  “My mother. She’s a tough person, she can be rude.”  Malka (Zaharira Harifai) is like a grown up version of Keren, an embittered, somewhat racist old woman who has spent her lifetime handing out insults and complaints.  When neither speaks the other’s language they get along splendidly. 

 

Thrown into this mix is Nikol Leidman, a young 6-year old girl that doesn’t speak, but whose hair remains wet throughout the rest of the picture, who appears out of the sea wearing only panties and an inner tube around her waist and finds Batia alone in a gloomy seaside mood.  She follows Batia around, like a lost dog, having no other apparent reason to exist.  Batia brings her to a police station, but there are no resources for missing persons where neither parent is making a complaint.  Seeming to understand one another intrinsically, they leave together, live together, and seemingly belong together before the girl mysteriously disappears as strangely as she appeared.  Here a theme is linked that appears hatched from Antonioni’s dream sequence in the middle of RED DESERT (1964).  Joy keeps seeing a toy ship in a shop window, thinking this would make her son happy, while Keren discovers a hauntingly beautiful poem about a ship inside a bottle that is floating on the sea, drifting, suggesting this idea that we appear and disappear so randomly in each other’s lives, seemingly adrift ourselves, yet we each have a strange and lasting impact in ways we never intended or could have ever comprehended. 

 

This strange choreography of missed intentions is the rhythm of the film, perhaps best represented by Joy’s missing boat sequence that moves from agonizing tears to ecstatic joy simply by changing the entire subtext of the moment, or that absurdly bizarre stage presentation of Hamlet, perhaps the most hilarious Hamlet on record, where words are not spoken but shouted endlessly in repeated chants by Hamlet in a space suit with Ophelia lying dead on the floor throughout half the play, making eye contact with her joyous mother in the audience who is so proud of her despite hating the ridiculous avant garde antics expressed onstage.  By the next day, when her mother’s faint praises are discounted altogether as not enough interest, Galia refuses to ever see her mother again.  In a clever movie like this understanding can feel overwhelmingly lost in the ambiguity of real life, where people’s lives are continually absorbed with having to deal with obstacles or unexpected circumstances that continually appear and then disappear from their lives, much like the jellyfish motif, swept by forces beyond one’s control.   For a mere 78 minutes, there’s a lifetime packed into this film, which won best screenplay and the Camera d'Or at Cannes 2007 for best first feature.    

 

Seattle Post-Intelligencer [Sean Axmaker]

The directorial debut of the husband/wife team of Israeli author Etgar Keret and dramatist Shira Geffen is a trio of tales of lonely people and disconnected souls in Tel Aviv. There's a glum newlywed (Noa Knoller) whose dream honeymoon is sabotaged by a broken foot; a Filipina caregiver (Ma-nenita De Latorre) who doesn't speak the same language of her cranky elderly charge, and a miserable young waitress (Sarah Adler) whose missing childhood floats in from the sea in the form an unspeaking little girl. Tangentially linked by location and briefly crossed paths, what really connects them is an inability to reach out to loved ones, a frustration they transform into a compassion granted strangers. It has the modest scope of a short-story collection, with simply but vividly sketched characters that briefly glow within their tales. It's all quite sad and lovely, but never mawkish, thanks to a sprinkling of magic realism and the light touch and somber whimsy of its direction.

VIFF 2007: Jellyfish   Zandro Salvo from Schema magazine

The first film offering from acclaimed Israeli authors Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, “Jellyfish” is a well-constructed original work. The poetic tale takes full advantage of the ensemble cast as their interwoven stories provide just the right amount of dramatic sting and comedic current. Keret and Geffen masterfully connect the lives of a down-and-out waitress, a rebellious photographer, a Filipina care-giver, the surly mother of a struggling actress, a suicidal author, and a honeymooning couple. In each of their individual struggles we find the over arching need to connect. While at times dreamy and euphoric, the simplicity of the message is never lost.

“Jellyfish” provides a refreshing take on how we deal with isolation and how we are sometimes forced to forge the relationships that we truly need to feel complete. Keret and Geffen personify their love for story telling in the suicidal author who refuses to kill herself until she perfects her suicide note. Her death comes when she finds the writing of a jealous new bride. The poem, character, and film as a whole playfully but accurately define how we use our relationships to both cause and cure the pains of isolation.

User reviews  from imdb Author: Nozz from Israel

Ilan Shaul of the Hebrew weekly ANASHIM has a good take on the title, which means "jellyfish." Like jellyfish, the film's characters do not control their direction but are pushed here and there by chance; and like jellyfish, they mindlessly sting.

Dostoevsky-- at least according to one of the characters-- could get his writing done anywhere; nothing distracted him. In MEDUZOT, it sometimes seems impossible that anyone could ever get anything done, so strong are the buffetings of happenstance. MEDUZOT tells a zigzag story in which human frailty and persistent mischance raise a new obstacle every moment as the characters carom about in Tel Aviv losing their sleep, their jobs, their lovers. The movie is propelled by its characters' Keatonesque dauntlessness as they bumble through one unpredictable absurdity after another, sometimes involving a failed attempt at good will and sometimes involving obtuse representatives of the established order such as the uncaring landlord, the glittering philanthropist, and the moronic avant-garde theater. The humor of exaggeration and absurdity that characterizes Etgar Keret's short stories is evident here, though he takes credit only as director. Water-- the sea, the rain, the ceiling leak-- is a nemesis, but it also holds the promise of rebirth.

Flirting with kitsch but arriving at poetry | Jerusalem Post  Hannah Brown

 

There can be a fine line between poetry and kitsch, and the film Meduzot constantly walks that line. Most of the time, its first-time directors, Shira Geffen and Etgar Keret, manage to stay on the poetic side of the divide.

 

The film, which won the prestigious Camera d'Or prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival, is ultimately saved from its occasional forays into kitsch and banality in two ways: the directors' gift for storytelling and vivid dialogue, and the film's stunning photography, which is especially remarkable given that Geffen and Keret are filmmaking novices. Nearly every scene presents stunning and beautifully composed images, but they are not empty exercises in painterly composition. Instead, they enhance the plot and highlight aspects of the characters' personalities.

 

Written by Geffen, who in the past was best known as the daughter of writer Yonatan Geffen and the sister of pop star Aviv Geffen, and Keret, an internationally famous short-story writer (The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God is among his collections translated into English), this married couple have crafted an entertaining, moving, highly stylized and often funny film that captures life in contemporary Tel Aviv and paints a memorable portrait of one depressed young woman.

 

The film focuses on Batya (Sarah Adler), a waitress for a catering company whose boyfriend leaves her in the first scene. She may live near the beach, but she's no beach bunny. This pale, mournful young woman usually sits on the beach fully clothed, staring out to sea. She can barely handle her job and looks especially miserable at weddings, surrounded by well-dressed, well-heeled partygoers.

 

But although she works at a menial job, she is from a well-off but dysfunctional family. Her cold mother runs a high-profile foundation to fight poverty (some of the film's funniest moments come from a parody of earnest television ads for good causes). Her father - played by Assi Dayan, who seems to be making a career of playing fathers in screwed-up families these days - is an intellectual preoccupied with his much younger bulimic girlfriend. Her landlord is raising the rent and she doesn't have the energy to get him to fix the leak in her ceiling, which floods the apartment while the taps go dry (a situation that may be meant to show that she is being drowned by life, but could also simply be a realistic look at the condition of a lot of Israeli apartments).

 

When a little girl walks out of the water and up to her at the beach, Batya ends up taking responsibility for this strange and silent child.

 

The film tells two other main stories. One is about a luckless newlywed couple (Noa Knoller and Gera Sandler). At their wedding, she gets locked in a bathroom stall, tries to climb out and breaks her ankle. In her condition, the couple can't fly to the Caribbean, so they compromise and spend their honeymoon at a Tel Aviv hotel on the beach, where the bride is disturbed by the surrounding smells and noises. The elevator isn't working, and on some of the husband's trips down eight flights of stairs he meets a beautiful, mysterious, slightly older woman writer who is staying in the hotel's only suite, a suite his wife desperately wants to move to.

 

But this couple, who represent the kind of supposedly idyllic life Batya might have if she were not so isolated, are unlucky not because of the wife's broken ankle or the problems at the hotel, but because the wife is so discontented and spoiled, in ways that seem all too realistic.

 

The other storyline concerns Joy (Ma-nenita De Latorre), a Filipina caregiver who works with the prickly elderly of Tel Aviv. While their own children have no time for them or prefer not to deal with their cantankerous parents, Joy tends to them but longs for her own son in the Philippines, whom she misses terribly and who doesn't understand why she has gone to Israel.

 

For most of the film, Joy works for Malka (Zaharira Harifai), an angry elderly woman full of complaints, whose daughter is too busy starring as Ophelia in an avant-garde production of Hamlet to visit her. The ludicrous production is one of the film's comic high points. And yet it is touching that the discontented mother can actually feel pride as she sees her daughter on stage, no matter how absurd the ramblings of the space-suit clad Hamlet.

 

The film founders in some of the scenes with the lost girl, who is clearly meant to represent Batya as a child, before she was beaten down by her parents' conflicts and self-absorption. Nikol Leidman, the child actress, is extremely pretty and animated, but is not given the chance to act like a real kid at all. Her scrubbed good looks make her look like a child in a commercial, while at every moment it's clear she is a symbol rather than a character. Batya's fixation on a photo the girl finds in an old album at the beach is also one of the filmmakers' less original and compelling ideas. Still, in much of the film, the fairly weighty symbolism works well, in the context of the stylized direction and performances.

 

The acting is uniformly strong, with Sarah Adler (who starred in the Israeli film Year Zero and also in Jean-Luc Godard's Notre Musique) and Ma-nenita De Latorre as the standouts. Tzahi Grad, the actor/director who just made Foul Gesture, is brilliantly deadpan in his scenes as an indifferent policeman.

 

Usually, I intensely dislike the type of film I've come to call a TAMP movie (the acronym stands for Tel Aviv's Miserable People) and when I read descriptions of Meduzot, I wrongly assumed it was another TAMP flick. But the intensity of the directors' vision, lively writing, careful pacing, restrained acting and beauty of the cinematography make it a movie that is both a telling snapshot of a particular time and place and a universal story of sadness, disconnection and renewal.

The Village Voice [J. Hoberman]

PopMatters [Cynthia Fuchs]

The House Next Door [Dan Jardine]

The Onion A.V. Club [Noel Murray]

Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir]

Screen International   Dan Fainaru at Cannes from Screendaily

Filmcritic.com  Chris Barsanti, also seen here:  Reel.com [Chris Barsanti]

Slant Magazine [Paul Schrodt]
 
Monsters and Critics  Ron Wilkinson
 
FilmJerk.com Review [Brian Orndorf] also seen here:  DVD Talk
 
» JELLYFISH: Q&A with Etgar Keret - Alternative Film Guide  Andre Soares
 
Etgar Keret: "Reality is Overrated" | GreenCine  interview with the director by David D’Arcy from GreenCine
 
Filmmaker Magazine: The Director Interviews  Nick Dawson interview from Filmmaker magazine, April 4, 2008
 
Jellyfish's Etgar Keret: The Wizard of Id  Ella Taylor feature and interview from The LA Weekly
 
seven short stories — and other articles — by Etgar Keret    from The LA Weekly
 
Variety.com [Alissa Simon]
 
Los Angeles Times [Kenneth Turan]
 
In 'Jellyfish,' Etgar Keret sees life as slightly surreal and gently melancholic  Charles Taylor interviews the director from the LA Times
 
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

 

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

 

Jellyfish Script - transcript from the screenplay and/or the movie ...

 

Géhami, Stéphane

 

STRAIGHT TO THE  HEART (En Plein Coeur)           B-                    82

Canada  (109 mi)  2008

Once more, if you can’t find a film that no one’s seen, what’s the point of having a film festival?  This film was actually released in Montréal, Canada in the summer of 2008, so it’s taken over a year to be discovered and still has no distributor.  While there are a few moments in this film, in particular the two female leads, both of whom do extensive, highly naturalistic nude scenes, this appears to be a case of a first time filmmaker trying to do too much, and in doing so ends up having less to offer.  This is basically a simple, bare bones story, a habitual car thief and his young apprentice in crime make an odd couple, Pierre Rivard as Benoît, somewhat in the Kevin Bacon mold but not nearly as intense, and a young adolescent non-professional who happened to live in the neighborhood where they were shooting, Kevin Nöel as Jimi, steal cars for a thousand bucks a crack, something they can do in their sleep, yet they always find little things to bicker and argue about.  For Jimi, it’s Benoît’s womanizing which cuts into business, as he’s always interrupting a job to go see about a girl.  At first it’s Bénédicte Décary as Anne-Marie, a fiery perfume salesperson who dumps him early on, but shows up at his house later on for some rollicking sex, only to dump him again.  On a job stealing a jeep, Benoît neglects to discover the driver still in it, an attractive young girl that he is immediately drawn to, where he has to break into the car later just to discover her name, Sylvie (Julie Deslauriers, in the young Mary Louise Parker mold).  She’s drawn to his animal magnetism, the way he acts on impulses, knowing he’s a guy that tried to steal her car and fascinated to be in his company.  Benoît is surprised to discover this girl has the capacity to love.  “That’s rare,” he indicates.  But like the fuck up that he is, he soon runs into Anne-Marie again and can’t help but get into her pants, only to dump her this time, then is stupid enough to tell Sylvie about it, basically losing two gorgeous girls in one fell swoop.  The moral of the story—find something better to do than fuck up your life.  

 

While filled with an air of naturalism, especially in the gritty realism of the performances, Géhami typically undermines his own movie, as he won’t allow a street criminal to succeed in anything other than criminality, which is pretty much the commonplace stereotypical depiction.  Though it’s evident he’s supposed to be, Benoît is not much of a father figure for Jimi, except in shared criminality.  Hell, he doesn’t even teach him how to drink or pick up girls.  Most of the film is shot on the streets of Montréal using a hand held HD video camera where the audience gets treated to first hand lessons on the art of stealing cars, where robbing and then riding in cars are the activities which comprise the majority of the film.  But halfway into the film, he finds something that clicks between Benoît and Sylvie, which makes no sense, but it works due to the randomness of it happening.  What are the odds?  Where there had been no music at all in the first half of the film, a musical slide guitar plays over their initial sex scene together which absolutely works.  Sylvie is really into this guy and for a moment, the film is actually about personal relationships, one disintegrating while another blossoms. And Sylvie has a flair for the unexpected, so she’s excellent material to work with.  But Géhami doesn’t trust his instincts enough to allow this to succeed.  Instead he follows the conventional moral view that a criminal can’t succeed in that line of work and must pay for his crimes.  Both the under-utilized women in this film are impressive onscreen, and took risks that provided great emotional depth, but the filmmaker refuses an array of possibilities and instead remains mired within his own limitations and can’t shake the mediocrity of the character he created in Benoît.  All of this ends up feeling so morally correct, it’s as if the Catholic church itself intervened in the script writing.     

 

Special note – supporting actress, both Bénédicte Décary and Julie Deslauriers

 

Gehr, Ernie

 

Ernie Gehr's Marvelous Cinema - Harvard Film Archive

"If Giotto had been an action painter his name would be Ernie Gehr." – J. Hoberman

Ernie Gehr (1943–) arrived on the experimental film scene during the remarkable efflorescence of the 1970s, as a new generation of ambitious young filmmakers began to mine and, quite often, challenge the territory previously staked out by postwar artists led by Brakhage, Anger, et al. An entirely self-taught filmmaker, Gehr's meticulous attention to the material and formal qualities of cinema closely aligned with the Structuralist film movement and contemporary minimalist art. Like minimalist painters or sculptors, Gehr's cinema draws its energy from the carefully defined limits that structure his every film, a controlled restriction of the cinematic apparatus that, in a seeming paradox, results in incredibly exhilarating and even liberating films. Indeed, in Gehr's hands the camera seems to take on magical properties, able to transform the most quotidian object or environment – the pattern of sunlight on a wall, a busy street – into marvelous and unexpected phenomena. The magical qualities conjured by Gehr's cinema are especially powerful within those works dealing with the urban environment. In films such as Side/ Walk/ Shuttle, Shift and Greene Street, Gehr leads the viewer through a looking glass of sorts and into a gravityfree zone where buildings, cars and shadows seem to float and where the time and space between things become as concrete as the objects themselves.

In recent years, Gehr has discovered and embraced digital video, a shift which has only increased his prolific output and resulted in wonderful new works. We are thrilled that Ernie Gehr will join us to discuss his films and career for the two evenings of this program, which draws from both old and new works.

Flicker Profile  (excerpt)

 

In representational films sometimes the image affirms its own presence as image, graphic entity, but most often it serves as vehicle to a photo-recorded event. Traditional and established avant garde film teaches film to be an image, a representing. But film is a real thing and as a real thing it is not imitation. It does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind. It is not a vehicle for ideas or portrayals of emotion outside of its own existence as emoted idea. Film is a variable intensity of light, an internal balance of time, a movement within a given space. —Ernie Gehr, January 1971

Ernie Gehr began making films in the regular 8mm format in the 1960s and has worked steadily since then, completing more than 24 films. A self-taught artist, Gehr has established himself as one of the true masters of film form, and his graceful sense of style and subtle, poetic sensibility have deeply affected the cinematic avant-garde. His films have screened internationally, including retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Musee du Cinema in Brussels and at the San Francisco Cinematheque, and he has received awards and grants from numerous institutions, including the National Endowment for the Arts, a John Simon Guggenheim fellowship and the Maya Deren Award from the American Film Institute. Currently a faculty member at the San Francisco Art Institute, Gehr has also taught and lectured at the University of California at Berkeley, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Deutcher Akademischer Austauschdienst in Berlin. In March 1995 he received the 1995 Adaline Kent Award Exhibition, an award presented annually to a California artist. Ernie Gehr and Bruce Conner are the only two filmmakers to have received this prestigious award, which includes an honorarium and a solo exhibition entitled Brother Can You Spare Some Time? in the San Francisco Art Institute's Walter/McBean Gallery.

Ernie Gehr's Complete Filmography
Ernie Gehr's current installation, Brother Can You Spare Some Time?

Profile (w/ various film descriptions) by Brain Frye

 

Fred Camper’s Gehr Page

 

Ernie Gehr Filmography

 

Chicago Reader Movie Review of Ernie Gehr's Films "Still," "Table ...  Fred Camper

 

Tom Gunning on the films of Ernie Gehr

 

Finding A Place ] The Films of Ernie Gehr ] s m o c .net  Tom Gunning

 

Review: Fred Camper ‘Signal-Germany on the Air’    Chicago Reader, September 10, 1987

 

JSTOR: Ernie Gehr: Camera Obscura/Lens/Filmstrip  Scott MacDonald from Film Quarterly, Summer 1990

 

"Edge City": review of Side/Walk/Shuttle  Fred Camper from The Chicago Reader, February, 1995

 

Obsessed by Place, and Finding One on a Frontier  Gilberto Perez from The New York Times, March 21, 1999

 

Review: Tony Pipolo ‘For Daniel’    Tony Pipolo from Millennium Film Journal, Fall, 1999

 

"View Master": review of three films by Ernie Gehr, Still, Table, and Untitled (1977)  Fred Camper from The Chicago Reader, March 3, 2000

 

Informal comments Fred Camper on Gehr's two video installations, MoMA on Wheels and Modern Navigation, originally posted to FrameWorks, July 22, 2002

 

Review: Yoel Meranda   Ways of Seeing, December 11, 2002

 

Comments on three Gehr works: The Collector, Passage, and Glider Andy Rector from a_film_by, April 13, 2004

 

Review: New York Times 'Precarious Garden'    Manohla Dargis from The New York Times, October 16, 2004

 

Review: Strictly Film School    Acquarello, October 17, 2004

 

Gehr in ‘A Line of Sight: American avant-garde film since 1965’ by Paul Arthur   January 1, 2005  (pdf format)

 

Metro Pictures: J. Hoberman on Ernie Gehr   Artforum magazine, February 1, 2005

 

Review: Film Radar    Karie from Film Radar, March 10, 2005

 

Part One  Kevin Lee from Shooting Down Pictures, March 8, 2007

 

Part Two   Kevin Lee from Shooting Down Pictures, March 9, 2007

 

Shooting Down Pictures on ‘Still’   Kevin Lee, March 10, 2007

 

Review: SIDE/WALK/SHUTTLE    Timoth Allen, November 9, 2007

 

J. Hoberman’s top 10 of 2007 (on ‘Panoramas of the Moving Image')   The Village Voice, December 25, 2007

 

MoMA | Ernie Gehr: Moving Image Minimalist  September 17, 2007 to March 9, 2008, also seen here:  MoMA retrospective; Ernie Gehr: Moving Image Minimalist 

 

Gehr in ‘Eyes Upside Down’ by P. Adams Sitney  Eyes Upside Down : Visionary Filmmakers and the Heritage of Emerson, (432 pages), March 19, 2008  (pdf format)