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.
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
Bad Arabs: How
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
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 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
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. “
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
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
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
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
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
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
Bright Lights Film Journal Gary Morris (capsule)
New York Times (registration req'd) Stephen Holden
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
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
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.
The most forceful scenes in Bobby
Fischer Against the World come towards the end, long after the
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Bobby Fischer Defense by Garry Kasparov | The New York ... Garry Kasparov from The
the king of chess lost his crown
Garry Kasparov from The Daily
Fischer: Black and white magic
Stephen Moss from The Guardian,
Filmcritic.com Chris Cabin
Bobby Fischer Against the World Review - Pajiba Seth Freilich
Screenjabber.com Tom Mimnagh
BOBBY FISCHER AGAINST THE WORLD Facets Multi Media
"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
Fischer Against the World Review. Movie Reviews ... - Time Ou Tom Huddleston from Time Out
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
Los Angeles Times Gary Goldstein
Searching for Bobby Fischer review Roger Ebert’s review of the Steven Zailland film, 1993
New York Times
Fischer, Chess Master, Dies at 64 - New York Times Bruce Webber from The New York Times,
Bobby Fischer Is Dead at 64 Dylan
Loeb McClain from The New York Times,
Lede: Reacting to Bobby Fischer’s Death
The New York Times,
Bobby Fischer Leonard Barden from The Guardian,
of a madman driven sane by chess
Stephen Moss from The Guardian,
champion Bobby Fischer dies"
David Batty from The Guardian,
young pretender who dethroned Soviet kings Daniel Johnson from The Guardian,
exile Bobby Fischer dies Sarah
Phillips from The Guardian,
"– Chess News –
Bobby Fischer dies in Iceland" Chess News,
"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
legend Fischer dies at 64 BBC News,
Demise of a chess legend BBC News,
genius Bobby Fischer, from American hero to paranoid fugitive Google
Appraisal: Fischer vs. the World: A Chess Giant’s Endgame Edward Rothstein from The New York Times,
for Fischer's Legacy Mike Klein from
and tragedy: how America lost a true genius
Ronan Bennett from The Observer,
approach of Fischer's mother Graham
Taylor from The Guardian,
Chessman Garry Kasparov from Time magazine,
It Only a Game?", Dick Cavett
Dick Cavett from The New York Times,
The end game of
Bobby Fischer The Observer,
Telegraph – Calcutta (Kolkata) | Sports | Fischer is greatest ever, says
Anand" The Calcutta Telegraph,
the king of chess" Peter
Nicholas from The Los Angeles Times,
Fischer: Chess's beguiling, eccentric genius David Edmonds from The BBC News,
Video: Fischer and Spassky MSNBC.com
Bobby Fischer player profile from Chessgames
"Bobby Fischer Trivia" Bill Wall from Chessville
Bobby Fischer website
Robert (Bobby) Fischer Chess Corner
"1992 Fischer – Spassky Rematch Highlights" Mark Weeks
genius of chess returns - or is it just a case of fool's mate? Steven Morris from The Guardian,
Chess Ashley Davies from The Guardian,
chess match of the century Dave
Edmonds from The BBC News,
of Deep Blue challenges chess champion
Mark Tran from The Guardian,
champion humbles computer Nick Paton
Walsh from The Guardian,
kill a king Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine, movie review by Geoffrey
Macnab from The Guardian,
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
mercy on Fischer, says rival Justin
McCurry from The Guardian,
Bobby Fischer may face deportation to US The Guardian, August 24, 2004
ace may soon be free Justin McCurry
from The Guardian,
Fischer 'must be deported to US'"
grandmaster Fischer may move to Iceland
Justin McCurry from The Guardian,
Japan to snub US and send Fischer to Iceland Justin McCurry from The Guardian, March 24, 2005
moves The Guardian,
was kidnapped,' says chess genius as he rails against Japan and US Stephen Moss and Justin McCurry from The Guardian,
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
Chess Player of All Time – Part I"
Jeff Sonas from Chess Base,
II of the series Jeff Sonas from Chess Base,
III of the series Jeff Sonas from Chess Base,
king and I Nigel Short from The Guardian,
Chess Leonard Barden from The Guardian,
Chess Leonard Barden from The Guardian,
Speelman on chess Jon Speelman from The Observer, January 26, 2008
Fischer gets a Brit-flick biopic
Francesca Martin from The
Chess Leonard Barden from The Guardian,
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
Fischer's widow 'is legal heir' The Daily Telegraph,
with Bobby Fischer shows no sign of reaching its endgame Leonard Barden from The Guardian,
Who wants to argue with Bobby Fischer?
Ronan Bennett and Daniel King from The
the archive, 12 July 1972: Fischer's late opening gambit in Reykjavik
the genius of Bobby Fischer Ronan Bennett
and Daniel King from The Guardian,
a tremendous attack by Bobby Fischer Ronan Bennett and Daniel King from The Guardian,
in search of zugzwang Ronan Bennett
and Daniel King from The Guardian,
Bobby Fischer's clears up Ronan
Bennett and Daniel King from The
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
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.
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
Film-Forward.com Parisa Vaziri
Nine Lives (Rodrigo García, 2005) Eric Henderson from When Canses Were Classeled
eFilmCritic Reviews Jay Seaver
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
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.
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.
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
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
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
"Consciousness Awakening" Enil Seth from New Scientist, January 21, 2015
'Ex Machina' Review: Artfully Programmed for Pleasure - WSJ Joe Morgenstern
Review: Alex Garland's Gripping, Brilliant, And Sensation ... Oliver Lyttelton from The Playlist
Ex Machina Review: This Is What Sci-Fi-- What ALL Movies ... Vivian Kane from Pajiba
Next Projection Adrian Charlie
Ex Machina Review - Vanity Fair Joanna Robinson
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
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
'Ex Machina' Review: Oscar Isaac Stars in Alex Garland's ... Guy Lodge from Variety
Ex Machina - Roger Ebert Matt Zoller Seitz
"‘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
Biography from Reel Classics
was born to a family of vaudeville performers in
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
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
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
BAM : Brooklyn Academy of Music Retrospective commentary
Garrel is the proverbial underrated genius. He’s the closest thing to a poet
functioning today in French cinema." —Olivier
"The greatest filmmaker you've almost certainly never heard of." —The
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
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
French Maverick, Rebel Auteur: Four Films of Philippe Garrel Jameson West from the Austin Film Society
Philippe Garrel was the only member of the
Perhaps Garrel's most significant
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
Zanzibar Cycle CINE-FILE
Read the Program Notes Jameson West from the Austin Film Society
His is not a pious cinema, although it is a cinema of
--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
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
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
aka: Secret Child
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
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
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
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
Senses of Cinema (Fergus Daly) Spirits In The Night – A reply to Adrian Martin on Garrel's L'Enfant secret
aka: She Spent So Many Hours Under Sun Lamps
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.
aka: I Don’t Hear the Guitar Anymore
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.
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.
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.
Philippe Garrel is a French director of cult status whose
work has not been much seen in the
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
Masterpiece or not, this film (which won the Silver Lion in
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
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.
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
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
Read the Program Notes Jameson West from the Austin Film Society
Nico was born Christa Päffgen on
Distancing herself from Warhol to focus on her solo career in the late 60s, she began traveling throughout
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
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
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
The Auteurs' Notebook Daniel Kasman
Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir] (excerpt)
The House Next Door [Keith Uhlich] (excerpt, about halfway down the article)
J'ENTENDS PLUS LA GUITARE Andréa Picard from Cinematheque Ontario
Chicago Tribune Sid Smith
New York Times (registration req'd) A.O. Scott
Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum (capsule review)
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 "
New York Times (registration req'd) Stephen Holden
Strictly Film School Acquarello
aka: The Wind of the Night
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.
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
WILD INNOCENCE (Sauvage Innocence)
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
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
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.
A Tale of Two Conferences: For Ever Godard and Garrel Éternel Maximilian Le Cain from Senses of Cinema
Strictly Film School Acquarello
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.
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
Austere, underlit, uncompromisingly lackadaisical at three hours, and
anachronistic in a half dozen ways, Regular Lovers is the first
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
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 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.
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
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
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 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
european-films.net Boyd van Hoeij
Klinger on Garrel Gabe Klinger’s observations from Fipresci magazine
DVD Outsider Slarek
Salon.com [Andrew O'Hehir] Page 3
Offoffoff.com Leslie (Hoban) Blake
Strictly Film School Acquarello
New York Times (registration req'd) Manohla Dargis
Mysteries of Cannes, #2 Glenn Kenny
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.
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.
Of Dawn (La Frontiere De L'Aube) Lisa
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
Photographer Francois (Garrel) arrives at the spacious
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.
The French title of Philippe Garrel’s film in
competition here is La Frontière de
l’aube; the English translation in the
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
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
[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
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Review: 'A Burning Hot Summer' Is A Thundering Bore That Verges ... Oliver Lyttelton
Village Voice Nick Schager
A BURNING HOT SUMMER Facets Multi Media
'A Burning Hot Summer' review: luckwarm - SFGate Walter Addiego
New York Times Manohla Dargis
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
Jealousy The 51st
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
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 , 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.
The New Yorker: Richard Brody Bohemia and Its Discontents, October 3, 2013
Reverse Shot: Max Nelson October 3, 2013
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
Jealousy / The Dissolve Mike D’Angelo
Review: Philippe Garrel's 'Jealousy' Starring Louis Garre ... Kimber Myers from the Playlist
Sound On Sight Trish Ferris
Boho Parisians Face the End of a Lifestyle in Jealousy ... Alan Scherstuhl from The Village Voice
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
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
THE EMBALMER (L'imbalsamatore) B+ 91
aka: THE TAXIDERMIST
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
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.
“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
screening of "
the Past to Set the Record Straight
A.O. Scott at
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.
CANNES '08 NOTEBOOK | Auteur
Fatigue, "Gomorra" Pops and Wayward Youths Anthony Kaufman at
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
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.
By its very title and subject,
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.
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),
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
from Cannes - May 18/19: Gomorra (Gomorrah) Boyd van Hoeij at
(Gomorra) Lee Marshall at
Competition: "La Mujer Sin Cabeza," "Gomorra"" Glenn Kenny at
[Andrew O'Hehir] at
Dispatch: Part Three: Patrick
The Hollywood Reporter review Natasha Senjanovic
feud that began with a row over a firework leaves six dead Kate Connolly and Tom Kington from The Guardian,
"Gomorra" author dead by Christmas - Yahoo! News Stephen Brown,
Roberto Saviano - Book Review - New York Times Rachel Donadio,
Gomorrah: Italy's Other Mafia by Roberto Saviano | Books ... John Dickie from The Guardian,
mafia boss caught after 20 years on run James Orr from The Guardian,
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
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 ’.
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.
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 Azaria–After 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
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 House Next Door [Budd Wilkins] at Cannes, May 19, 2012
PopMatters [Elena Razlogova] also reviewing IN THE FOG
Reality Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily
Combustible Celluloid Review - Reality (2013), Ugo Chiti, Maurizio ... Jeffrey M. Anderson
Screenjabber.com Ian Ford
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
David Fear at Cannes from Time Out New York, May 18, 2012
Steven Zeitchik at
Tony Gatlif an interview by Gerald Peary from the Boston Phoenix, August 1998
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
aka: Safe Journey
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
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.
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
(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
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
MOVIES Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Reader
hybridmagazine.com Quin Arbeitman
GADJO DILO B+ 92
aka: The Crazy Stranger
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 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.
Allan Hunter in
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
As the couple head down through
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
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
Three girls stop with their car in a
seemingly deserted town in the heart of
This is the opening of Tony Gatlif’s
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.
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
EyeForFilm.co.uk Amber Wilkinson
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.
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
Sound On Sight Christopher Clemente
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
'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
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 local time, with 18 films
entered in the category. The only other full-length film to represent
“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).
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
New York Post Lou Lumenick
Director interview Sally Pryor interview from The Sydney Morning Herald, February 18, 2012
Japan Times Kaori Shoji
Late Bloomers - Movies - The New York Times Stephen Holden
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.
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.
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.
[Review] Nothing Bad Can Happen - The Film Stage Jared Mobarak
Nothing Bad Can Happen - Film School Rejects Shaun Munro
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
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
Israel France (78 mi) 2007 Etgar Keret’s official site
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 people—irony 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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Screen International Dan Fainaru at
New York Times (registration req'd) A.O. Scott
STRAIGHT TO THE HEART (En Plein Coeur) B- 82
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
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
"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.
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
Review: Fred Camper ‘Signal-Germany on the Air’ Chicago Reader, September 10, 1987