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chaos-rampant

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Choreographed study, 23 July 2016
5/10

The night as blank canvas where people trace bodily paths with impulse. Chantal has twice before captivated me with something like this. She is a gentle soul, gentle in the distance from which she views, alert to the hum of transience. Once more she gives us yearning in faint orbits.

It's pure listless summer night this one, one of the most atmospheric works I've found. Life for her is woven from breath and space, the moment that fleets before we can hold onto. She captures marvelous moments here; my favorites show a little girl rushing down the stairs and out the house as lovers embrace in the street, a young couple eloping in the night from a veranda door.

She begins to lose me when it's about no life in particular. Jeanne Dielman and Anna's Meetings were embodied in a woman who wonders and waits as she makes her way. Here we follow a dozen people through a hot summer night in the city. They come and go from places, wait for someone, pursue or leave each other in the street. Utterances are few, we infer from glances and bodies. Embrace or the urge to escape from embrace that has grown tired is the recurring pattern.

It's even more abstract and sensory than before. Purely on a moment- by-moment basis it's marvelous work. But sprawling as we do, not knowing these people as more than figures going to and from, it becomes choreographed performance, a study of form rather than journey that cuts through it. Most likely this was the specific intention. It brought to mind Pina Bausch and her dances of impulse painting itself with bodies. I see that she would make a film on Pina soon after.

It's a very tender balance anyway. You want - as Ozu did early on - to sift through the clamor of life to find those moments that lay bare the heart that minds, the body that is kept awake at nights, but I would rather have it reflected back in a way that tethers me to sleepless nights I've known, as a consciousness that inhabits a world that surrounds, which is how we know the world. It always comes back to having this one body, and to land in brief moments of different lives, the tethers grow lax and it moves to an omniscient view, a formal visit.

But this is Chantal choreographing sketches on life as all this merry-go-round, viewers who are interested in form will have a ball.

Synthetic notes, 17 July 2016
5/10

I saw this for a night of kicking back with spy movie machinations where a narrator finds himself hapless in the face of secret agencies, the overlap of manipulable stories controlled from afar. It's exactly this; a narrator has just unveiled a story of intrigue, a newspaper story that is expected to shake the system to its core, inspire self- examination. She's willing to go to prison to uphold principles of revealing truth, jeopardize family.

Those were the Bush years. The film disguises Iraq for Venezuela and 9/11 for an assassination attempt on the president as pretext for invasion, but the gist is the same; higher-ups lied to people, fabricated a story to odious ends abroad, willing to suppress freedom for security at home.

We're meant to see how the system isn't shook and blithely goes on, how every tool is used to break her in the name of security. She comes out on the other end having protected her source, upheld principle, but at huge personal cost to no change. It's meant to be a bleak look.

But it's all marred for my taste by the fact that it never rises above obvious movie-isms like having her husband strike an affair so we'll have added micro drama about choices. This isn't about what might happen of course, but what you decide did in the course of creating persons and giving rise to world. A marriage can be frayed without having it come down to he found someone else. It's the difference between plucking clean synthetic sounds on a computer and going out to to find them.

Con Air (1997)
Bruckheimer meets the Coens, 12 July 2016
7/10

Yes, far-fetched, loose, bonkers, ridiculous and knows it for the most part. It's the usual Bruckheimer exploding stuff colored by someone who has known the Coens as quirky guys. Malkovich threatens to kill a bunny. A body falls from the sky, smack dab on normalcy.

But just about its best quality is how pliant.

Just as you might settle for an elaborate hostage situation, we're already wandering about where to land. Just as you might expect a protracted anxiety about the death toll of landing in Vegas, we're already blithely plowing through casinos. It always moves faster through its sets than the equivalent Die Hard movie would, which was the established staple of this type then.

Cage stops just short of channeling his Sailor/HI persona and goes the Bruckheimer route of action hero. But it's still Cage at the time when he was the best possible version of himself, feeling the most comfortable in his skin, cockiness that moves through the whole body.

Ten (2002)
Sutra on impermanence, 12 July 2016
8/10

I saw this in memory of Abbas Kiarostami who passed away the other day, this Sufi seer of transient, evanescent life that circles back and goes out again like fireflies in the night. I have felt him so close in spirit; it was one of the saddest losses in recent years.

My relationship with him is rather simple and uncluttered, much like the films he makes. Shucks about form and whether the camera moves or not as far as I'm concerned. It's a tool to create stillness so that simple gestures will ring wide; but you can't still the mind of a viewer who has a million thoughts running in his head while watching, and you can't prevent a viewer who wants to remain still by moving the camera.

And I urge you as always to not settle for receiving films, his or anyone else's, as only cultural items that were made for us to intellectualize and keep up to date with norms of life in faraway places. It can make for interesting post-viewing discussion, but most of all, make sure to know things privately in your own self, allow them to have their cosmic import that speaks about the fact that here you are, living a life that will last a little while more.

A woman drives around Tehran, having conversations with people on the passenger's seat during a day and a night, this is the whole story here. We never leave the car. The camera simply flits between shots of the driver and passenger.

By way of insights, you will glean several here, about the place of women in Iran, expectations of being a housewife and how hard it is to obtain a divorce. Religion as focal point. You might consider that her unruly son who constantly berates her is promulgating larger social attitudes at play; a far more eyeopening way than showing us an angry mullah. You will get to decide how much of all this echoes your own society.

But now, how about we allow it to simply be about a woman who drives around life that wells up around her with anxieties?

A life that breaks down around the edges, as all lives do. A marriage that didn't work out and a son that pushes himself away from her. A man and woman who wanted different things from life and parted ways. You might appreciate here that the man allowed himself to be painted as drug user before the court as the only way for her to get the divorce.

Parallel, possible lives materialize in the seat next to her. A sister who is going through a breakup she has already gone through; how hopeless it is to cling to love that isn't there. Another woman whose marriage was broken off at the last moment. A prostitute who scoffs at the conventions of marriage. An old woman on her way to the mosque.

It ends with a son who is growing up to be a man and she has to softly let go into life. It isn't just a social film, but you'll have to allow yourself to watch from a softer distance. Kiarostami does it here. In the right ears, it will be a sutra teaching us impermanence and non-attachment.

Dheepan (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Going hard for her takes you on, 9 July 2016
7/10

How to begin to say anything? It's no small matter, provided you have decided to not waste the time that has been given you, which is a great gift, being there. And how to speak words that get to the crux without reducing? This is all there is to it, though we cloud and clutter it with all sorts of obligatory hierarchies and narratives, in both life and film.

There are several things I move past here. The camera is a bit more garish than I'm drawn to, the strands of plot also. I am not instantly bowled over by any predilections of 'showing life' or confronting 'issues', life is a vast surge to set before you any aim of 'capturing'. The language is Bresson's essentially, punctured by loud interludes, neon bunny ears and disheveled shawls that belie sex that was just had.

But it gets to the crux in two important ways. The filmmaker could have plainly chosen to show us - like Spielberg would - a loving ordinary family forced to flee horrors. He makes it a point instead to show us a woman picking up an orphan girl among many in a camp and being paired with a stranger to create the needed family, given fake passports to be on their way to Europe. It's not because he thinks refugees are 'phony' that he does this, it seems rather out of desire to portray a reality that can be this complex and demands our response. We are better off facing a story like Dheepan's rather than lulling ourselves to sleep with platitudes that airbrush humanity for salon discussions.

Once in France, it becomes strangely watchable as we navigate the difficulties of having to make sense but any other film on the subject could trot out much the same 'fish out of water' scenario. We do see how, one warzone left behind, another greets them on their doorstep. We do see how the war surges up again in the man as response, life having that quality of conjuring itself up again. Dheepan's Buddhist neighbors would know this as karma.

But the other thing I like is that we have these people, engaged as characters in a fiction of husband and wife, pushing against limits to know truth. He gives us undecided people with urges, which is an accomplishment. Indeed the larger consciousness that moves the story is after Cassavetes, made more apparent with the shift ahead to London that finally plucks waking truth from the murk of roles and anxieties. Truth after all is something that you go out there and make happen , by going hard for her in this case.

Delving to know the feel, 6 July 2016
7/10

This isn't a d/s film really as some say (more routinely known as bdsm but I shorten it to essentials). To my mind, that would be about someone who sheds control and truly gives herself over to another person. What we have instead is someone controlling a fantasy around her. This doesn't preclude it from being good of course but it's worth making the distinction between fetish as piece of theater and vital baring of soul.

But this reveals what the film is actually about and only disguised with erotica. It's about obsessive self, the self that tries to control life, that stands in the way of knowing intimacy. A petulant ego, as we go on to see, that only expects to be pleased and smothers the other, and the rituals, games, fictions it weaves that keep it from being there for the genuine exchange with another person that sex and love are both ways to manifest. In this way she explores neither herself nor her partner.

And I would go a step further. The big question in both loving intimacy with another person and making a film about it, or really any film that wants to probe the deepest recesses of self, is by what degrees to know and maintain distance, the distance as ambiguity that you honor by refusing to reduce. By what degrees to anticipate and remain open to spontaneity, lead or allow yourself to be led.

Here there are two reversals of control (over the viewing experience). One in who controls the exchange, and a second about the fictional nature of the exchange. Their effect however is that they leave me with a rather thin reality of petulant abuser and her exasperated enabler. So what I do know and have revealed, in the portion that is the film anyway, simply doesn't make me feel that it's worth staying for more.

But knowing his previous work, this is a filmmaker who wants to see with an eye that delves into space to know the feel and cares primarily for what creates visual fabrics. I have him on a short list of talent with the potential to be commanding our attention in the near future.

A very remarkable flow here delves between the woman's thighs, delves through her sex to the box that contains the skeletal remains of what used to be love, and through it to a forlorn walk in the woods that culminates with another box that is the girl swallowing her with suffocating desire.

So he has good intuitions, an eye that reminds me of Europe in the 70s. I hope he grows and takes the leap from being a Juraj Herz or more intelligent Franco into transcendent dreamworlds (as opposed to symbolic). But if he rests here, part of me will be happy all the same, the part of me that favors ethereal wandering. We don't get much of it anymore.

Palmetto (1998)
Karmic seeds, potted plant, 3 July 2016
6/10

A schmuck lured by desire, desire codified in the femme fatale, sultry moods in the small seaside town, all the straightforward elements of noir are present here. A duplicitous plot that backfires late in the night, a body turns up dead in his bungalow and he stands to get the rap.

Peering beneath appearances in a film noir we find no simple duplicity of course but the storytelling that creates a whole illusory life; how the mind traps us in narratives and mental constructs of all kinds and the karmic cycles spun from these narratives. We have it here.

A writer who was upstanding in a previous life, wanted to write about corruption in his town but the world conspired against him, trapping him with a false story. Now he has been sprung from prison, given an unexpected new lease of life. Life could be anything once more but that false story (the story as prisontime) has turned him into a bitter and cynical man. He now helps author a duplicitous plot for a quick buck, having succumbed to the greed and ignorance he used to write about. But an illusory plot, spun from ignorance, where people may not be the characters he thinks. This is all of course his own bitter cynicism, nurtured in that wrongful prison cell, that creates it all in the first place. None of it would have happened if he simply hadn't taken the money from a purse she left behind (to test if he's the dope for her story).

It's a matter of no small significance that hides in a noir plot like this for me; namely that we're all smart-aleck narrators in life who waste all this energy hatcheting plans, believing ourselves to be in control, without ever so much as an inkling of how it's the grievances of previous life that spin our cravings that spin the world. Ignorance in film noir is a specific kind, ignorance of the processes that create suffering.

That's all fine here but noir for me is a living genre that evolves as we do, our ways of making sense. I miss here the hand of a filmmaker who will go beyond reworking to wake up something vital from the ground. How much viewers will take to a film like this I expect will boil down to their preference for the old tropes, sex and intrigue in an amoral world. I will take The Hot Spot instead.

Noir Meter: 4/4 | Neo-noir or post noir? Neo

Green Room (2015)
8 out of 15 people found the following review useful:
Minor thread, 29 June 2016
4/10

The blueprint for this one is laid out early in the scene with the interview; not the form, but the energy of shared experience that pumps blood on the inside, or so it goes. So let me chuck away the form. Plotwise it's about a band who witnessed what they shouldn't have, holed up in a club. No matter, good things can be made from anything. The form is a bit more polished than most horror films but hardly anything worth noting.

It's the energy of shared experience that is a complete waste. Angst, inescapability, punctured by gorings here and there. This is my least favorite type on the horror rack; 'realistic' violence heaped on people to elicit winces. It's all this and that here. Go here, run from there, close that door before. Who cares? You have to be able to transcend with the camera. They're stuck with having these characters and moving them around.

Palpitations, 22 June 2016
7/10

Told through flickering cameras, jump cuts, fluorescent lights, visual fragments and burnt colors, this is a romance within a romance, a narrator within a narrator searching for a girl he lost. He's a cameraman, someone tasked with seeing; he watches her every day as she comes along the bridge to an apartment they share. As he waits he imagines a story she told him about a man who spent his life searching for a girl he lost. Imagines her in the girl within the story's place, until that girl disappeared in the river. His own girl emerged from water the first time he saw her, mermaid in the club aquarium.

It's about his girl who never came back one day, vanished into air. The whole is narrated from the end, with the nested story about heartbreak as wondering about love, how people can truly do it. The river standing in for transient life that carries away the past.

It's not quite Kar Wai, albeit in the same vein of languorous longing that stirs electrifying poetry out of streets. It's a bit loose in shape, pieces of daydream that float, and very much influenced by French notions of layered narrative.

Noir Meter: not a noir

Plaintive memory from the ground, 18 June 2016
9/10

Okay, so Egoyan has faded from view it seems, but for a while as he really was something. Exotica was powerful in exemplifying his paradigm. A narrator trapped in hurt that he constantly relives as performance, the entrapment as memory, the narrative of vaguely dreamlike connections as self. More than just some drama out there, it was a coda penetrating into something of the very process that gives rise to the ruminating mind; self. He extends it here.

Once more a narrator who remains trapped in impotent hurt - a lawyer whose daughter has strayed in drugs - who is now approaching people much like him, heartbroken by childloss, to convince them of the need to find someone to punish and hold responsible. A larger view through this man. About us, unable to come to terms with the fact that life is transient and will sometimes break down for no reason. And how this freezes love, makes rigid our ability to remain supple in the face of mishap - and I may have just stumbled on a great definition of love - and turns it into incessant ego.

Egoyan is an intelligent mind in sketching his paradigm and again in how he pursues resolutions. Parents having been convinced by this bitter man (who is a storyteller working to construct a legal story that justifies) to throw their hurt outwards, turn it into recrimination, it's the surviving daughter who breaks the cycle of suffering for all involved. How she does it, again referencing narratives, is by fabricating a memory, fiction that requires a performance. It's not the truth of course, but it's what needs to be done so that fictions can be chucked away and simple acceptance can begin the work of mending.

Yes, he can be obvious in spots and parallels, more so here than Exotica. He can be as simply lyrical as Kieslowski, as complexly layered as Medem. But seen overall, it's the larger awareness of life as flow that goes through many veils that makes this worthwhile. On these veils are seen the shapes of bygone life, mind itself as it wonders. He pursues this mind with an eye that is marvelously freed from the here and now to surge forward and back in search. This effort in film is far from novel, it goes back to Tarkovsky at least, but it's tuned to the same purpose; how to see with an eye that remains supple in the face of reality.

And we can venture even further out to offer this view about the world that gives rise to this work. Egoyan can trace a past life for himself in a corner of that bygone world that centuries ago was overran by invaders from the steppe. He must be acutely aware of a past that is shrouded in ruin, the need to placate ghosts of memory. This is a world I happen to share with him, first Armenia, then Constantinople and all the way up to the Danube, that was wrecked in its physical reality, severed from it in so many ways, and a deep part of it has taken flight in dreams and memory, which is the subject of both this and his previous film.

So is it any wonder that he draws fresh water from Tarkovsky's spring? It's a spring that both Parajanov, another Armenian, and Kusturica later would draw from, and it goes back in time in a deep way. Something to keep in mind while viewing him.


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