Reviews written by registered user
|127 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
No character isn't tinged with cliché. Maybe we don't like them, maybe
we do like this one or that, but so what? Even the film within a film
within, ultimately, a film-in-the-making is clichéd. Or maybe such
Chinese boxes have become their own genre. But if you're lucky enough
to own the disk, or to hang onto a rental long enough, watch it once
just for the edits, the cuts. Early on, in and around the country
house, they're so frequent and abrupt they should be dizzying, but they
aren't. They're always natural, true either psychologically or
mechanically. The camera skips indoors and out almost, though maybe not
quite, to the point where you could sketch the layout. An uncertain eye
becomes a firm hand. The target of a gaze suddenly becomes the new
point of view. Or someone walks into the inanimate focus of a gaze, so
cut to somewhere unexpected, this new person's gaze. Point of view
shifts so often, so seamlessly, it seems almost to justify me in an
argument I not sure I didn't lose once about the viability of film
against prose in conveying emotional detail. How difficult is it to
shift point of view half a dozen times on a page or even six without
degrading the game?
When the whole structure threatens to replay itself toward the finish, it doesn't quite because Julien's chosen a perhaps not very French but not so unlike recent Rohmer sound-stage version of the country house. The cuts still dance, but it's a broken, postmodern dance. The actors, all I think but Julien who's out to direct and Simon, who stumbles about hilariously humbled by the shadow of too calm, too mirror-image Michel Piccoli playing him, move like too-smooth marionettes.
In the end, the film is about the contrast between the opening mise en scène and the closing. It's a glorious suspense film, with no resolution to the question it asks. Can Julien pull it off? I can't recall a more completely realized Miller film.
I recall the name of neither, can't find them in my films-seen list or
IMDb. Maybe neither title includes the critical R word. Both must be at
least twenty years gone. But somewhere, both Japanese yet likely
unrelated, exist a short and a feature each about a man running.
In the short, which played at the Pacific Film Archive or San Francisco International Film Festival, he seems an exerciser barely holding to conversation pace. Apparently random individuals, just, if I recall, from curiosity, no other motive, run up along side, chat awhile, then drop away. Some just chat. Others ask mildly challenging "why" questions. Some seem defeated, whether physically or rhetorically. Some aren't defeated, but fall away, or behind, all the same. Within the frame of the film, we don't see the runner begin or finish. There's no before the run or after. He never pauses.
I'm hazier about the feature. It probably played San Francisco's Roxie. But watching it I remembered the short. The feature took place all or mostly at night. It was urban, streets not paths. The sun may have risen, but late. There may have been a crime or the red herring suggestion of one. Maybe a woman came or went. I don't think the key movement was a chase. He wasn't fleeing. His momentum seemed of and for itself, no from or toward. Only the runner knew why run and he never said. There's a slim chance I'm misremembering a drive or a cycle ride as a run, but it still brought to mind that short. In either case I may be scripting in memory works superior to the originals, but I still credit them.
In 17-sai no fûkei - shônen wa nani o mita no ka, translated for the US as Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw, an older teen travels by bicycle northward from near Tokyo, I think along the Sea of Japan since the surf is always to his left. In the film, unless I missed it, he has no name. He's nearly as anonymous as the runner in that short. His pace is frantic, but with no sense of going anywhere. His true-crime surfaces gradually -- he killed his mother brutally, bloodily -- but he seems not to be fleeing. He's just going, just moving, not Tokyo northward but moment to moment, one curve to the next. His exhilaration -- with the sounds of surf and wind, the peel of rubber, the ever changing ribbon of road -- is tangible and links him to us. All these things are to him pretty much what they'd be to you or me on the same road achieving the same forward momentum. Recently Clair Denis in L'Intrus sent her aging monster Trebor down a forested asphalt road on a racing bike to tie him by his sensations to us. But this boy is no monster. Encounters with a fisherman and WWII vet humanize him further, as he and we equally listen to their stories. The stories hardly matter, though in themselves they do matter. What's important is we and the murderer "rub shoulders" to sit and learn, just as we would have had there been no murder in the film or in fact. The final encounter, with a Korean woman after a broken bicycle chain in way too much snow has nearly doomed his goalless mission, tests and proves his humanity again.
I don't want to go too much farther in guessing Wakamatsu's intentions. The system here allows us too little of his output. Of the three available, only a dubbed mess, The Notorious Concubines, seems vaguely pinku. The other two, Go, Go, Second-Time Virgin and Ecstasy of Angels, are anything but. Go, Go is a claustrophobic masterpiece set on a black-and-white rooftop.
I can't empathize with murder, but easily imagine plowing through the air, not away from but after, whatever disaster. The boy is us. The death penalty's no issue, but the boy should not die. He is and is not the murderer, did and did not murder. He's new, because the moment and sensations are new. As Octavia Butler says in her pair of parables, "The only lasting truth is change."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Too many, on these pages and elsewhere, forget that film is visual. Too
many sit in darkened screening rooms to read rather than to see images.
Though inevitable, sound came late. Sound has never been absolutely
necessary to cinema. Too many fuss about what happens next, when, how
soon, or simply how. I'm far from avant-guard, dote on narrative, love
low and high comedy, morbidly distrust directors who brag, as I once
heard Alain Tanner at a screening of Dans la ville blanche, that
they've learned to hold static shots longer and longer. Interspersed in
my films-seen list is plenty of trash and genre, as well as the
sublimely wordy like Rohmer. But Rohmer's so skilled at recording
women, and men, in motion and in stasis, that his films are watchable,
even fascinating, with the sound removed. His intricate dialogs may
complete, but turning them off doesn't destroy the narrative thrust.
I can't quote scene or shot, but found Un Couple parfait almost unbearably suspenseful on the shot to shot level. Low lit, grainy images of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi's Marie whisper her emotional state more effectively than words could. Even when she's absolutely still, she isn't. A shallow breath. A blink. But when she moves! The film grows from electric light to carelessly dark daytime indoors to sunlight in the museum near the finish. The plot consists of Marie transforming, or not, advancing, or not, with the light. She is or isn't quite who, what, she was in the opening scenes.
I don't mean that all or even much is in the eye of the beholder, the audience. I'm sure it's not. It IS on the screen, to absorb, to decipher, not to overwrite, not to create on one's own. But give it a chance.
That opening scene, Marie's (Or was it Nicolas's?) announcement to disbelieving friends that they're separating, is suspenseful by any standard. The friends' disbelief colors every moment we spend with the two lovers thereafter. Maybe the friends' disbelief is also Nicolas's hurt. But it isn't Nicolas's film. Maybe it's Marie's self-doubt, guilt, or self-certainty. The friends pit Marie against herself or against herself as others perceive her. But either is too simple, simpler than what we see.
On two hours sleep after late night and early morning screenings, I caught, rapt, every frame of Un Couple parfait, then contently fell asleep during some Hong Kong dreck that screened after it.
I'm more than a little puzzled that Rohmer came to mind before Bresson. But it's probably valid. The use of light here, and color, is closer to Rohmer. Un Couple parfait is very much a color film. Rohmer has mastered color as Bresson never did.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"I had, outside the company, an existence far from empty or
insignificant. I decided not to speak of it here
eleven metro stations
from there, was a place where (Japanese) liked me, respected me, and
saw no rapport at all between a toilet brush and me" (my awkward
translation from p. 159-160, Stupeur et tremblements, Editions Albin
Michel S.A., 1999). The novel's barely 200 pages of largish print.
Nearly all of the movie's events have already gone down by the time
Nothomb pauses to excuse the world outside la compagnie Yumimoto. Two
years have passed since I saw the film, and two weeks since I read the
novel. I can't recall whether the admission made it into the film. If
so, it may been too easy to miss in the general downward rush.
My overwhelming reaction to the film, and somewhat less so to the novel, was a confusion of annoyance with and embarrassment for Amélie. Again and again, not so unlike a horror movie heroine stupidly wandering into dark places alone, she does what even we totally out of it in the audience can see is going to be the wrong thing. Again and again, I asked myself: Why can't she bide her time awhile, watch and learn? Of course she couldn't. They wouldn't let her. But still, as least as Sylvie Testud plays her, she might have gotten on even Westerners' nerves. I can imagine working with or around her in such an office, but might not always like it. Yet add a life outside as indicated that quote with which I began, and it's possible to see not just a saner host society but a saner Amélie/Nothomb as well. Fubuki too, comes across a bit more complexly in the novel where she's a genuinely tragic figure, too old (at an insanely young age) to marry wisely, but this is at the expense of pages of exposition that would have stopped the film cold. When the vice-president has a screaming fit at Fubuki, Amélie sees unconscious sexual tension, an excuse for the fat man to get close to the imposing beauty. An unlikely but apt touch point film might be Neil Labute's 1997 In the Company of Men.
An American-born but much older coworker of mine used to tweak us by saying about Japanese visiting the Bay Area, "Hey, they reeeally impress me. They're so regimented! I wish I could be like that!" I don't think he meant it. More likely he was reminding us that those otherworldly visitors were not him. Stupeur et tremblements has the form of a horror flick, or even of Larry David-style embarrassment comedy. To get more out of it, try to imagine for each character, even the obese vice-president, a 24-hour day.
Below is the first paragraph of my review of another genre-breaking
film, Robin Campillo's Les Revenants (2004):
My memory of the 1979 Australian film Thirst turns on a single misleading image: blood in milk cartons on supermarket shelves. Well-heeled shoppers push carts to and fro down spic-and-span aisles. Though the film's creators hadn't the nerve, or perhaps the imagination, to carry through -- their vampires are conventionally dangerous since the blood in the cartons is human -- that image broke genre. It suggested a maligned, maybe ghettoized yet worldwide minority not just making do but thriving. To analogize any of several possible real world minorities would be wrong, considering where the film goes. But if Thirst were newer, we'd wonder, is the blood in the cartons artificial, created humanely in a lab? Is it vampire "soy milk"? Are these vegan vampires? Whatever the answer, in that supermarket image Thirst's vampires are us. They're no more horrific than we are. The genre collapses.
My memory of the 1979 Australian film Thirst turns on a single
misleading image: blood in milk cartons on supermarket shelves.
Well-heeled shoppers push carts to and fro down spic-and-span aisles.
Though the film's creators hadn't the nerve, or perhaps the
imagination, to carry through -- their vampires are conventionally
dangerous since the blood in the cartons is human -- that image broke
genre. It suggested a maligned, maybe ghettoized yet worldwide minority
not just making do but thriving. To analogize any of several possible
real world minorities would be wrong, considering where the film goes.
But if Thirst were newer, we'd wonder, is the blood in the cartons
artificial, created humanely in a lab? Is it vampire "soy milk"? Are
these vegan vampires? Whatever the answer, in that supermarket image
Thirst's vampires are us. They're no more horrific than we are. The
Les Revenants alone isn't an especially good film. Its performances, its mise-en-scene, its pace, its use of language are adequate. Even its sublimely understated, and I think particularly French, satire of small-town politics and the bureaucracy of humane sociology won't make it last. But it will last, at least in compendiums of genre, because it collapses genre.
Mathieu's supervisor complains, "The new mains 55 feet below sea level Temporary access to reach the depths prepared by workers Tunnels access the different areas of the site This makes no sense!" Well, no. But to viewers struggling to make sense, snagging already on hints the implications of which escape the film's normal characters (sleep, body temperature, aphasia, absence of physical fear, etc.), Mathieu's report may deliver a different, nearly poetic logic. The film's map-able in a startlingly vertical way. The municipal meeting room, whether I imagined or took clue from some image out the windows, seems at a level above the town. From above that level, disturbingly prescient aerial photos tag and track both less warm and warm beings, both them and us. Like the frolicking child in Truffaut's Small Change, a boy falls tragically from a balcony but to no harm. An elderly woman, who's ever dressed in an elderly woman's limp print dress, obsessively scales a ladder she props against a ten-foot hedge. Eventually Mathieu's tunnels have plot-wise use. A claustrophobic leave-taking transpires in one. At a different point, workers lie bodies upon (above) their graves.
I assumed, but don't know why, the phenomenon to be worldwide, but there's no clue save that no one says otherwise. All we see is the town. The barrage of statistics -- everyone who died in the past 15 years, X% are this old, Y% that old, Z% have jobs to return to, W% walk nine miles each day, V% of their language is U% comprehensible often seems to apply just to the town, but more likely, given the level of the misguided science, is general. Why does (nearly) no one die in the film? In a town big enough to generate X corpses in 15 years, someone must die nearly every day. Probably the writers deemed more deaths inconvenient, or did the normal folk's lives freeze even to the suspension of accidental, deliberate, and health-related death until order returned?
If revenants emerge worldwide, then a key touch point film is Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo. Why are Kurosawa's revenants horrific while the French ones are only aloof or just distracted? Compare the scenes between father, mother, and son with those between "mother" and "son" in Spielberg's AI. Finally compare the struggles of Stanislaw Lem's various protagonists to comprehend things they perhaps were never meant to, whether statistical anomalies in The Investigation or possible aliens in His Master's Voice.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As narrative, Samaritan Girl makes little sense. Motivations defy logic
or escape mention.
Jae-Young's rationalization based on Vasumitra, especially in an impressionable girl, I nearly believed, but her obsessive smile throughout, from her brief career to her suicidal jump to, finally, her death "mask" renders her either saintly or insane. Or she's both at once. Historically and in fiction, short life spans seem a symptom of that particular duality.
Director Kim never explains Yeo-Jin's decision to "undo" Jae-Young's diary entries. She simply does it. Whatever thoughts I imagine for her, because she returns the money, she in turn gains a saintly aura. Not one of the two girls' "johns" seems quite villainous. Even the worst behaved, the musician who blackmails Yeo-Jin into what amounts to rape, pauses at Jae-Young's death and at Yeo-Jin's reaction to it. However he behaves in that present, Jae-Young's clinging wish to see him suggests special empathy in her recent past with him. The men we see best seem jealous guardians of some rarified gift they've received knowing their unworthiness. How gentle seem the chubby one or two I don't know how better to identify, who we see I think only in the room. How humble, though irrational given the faces, first supportive, then hurt, surrounding him, seems the man whose family we meet. How many times does Kim bring up Teresa, the layer on of hands? Read Teresa. How sane, by our standards, was she?
Suspense, excruciating suspense, in the film's final two-thirds derives from the father's increasingly irrational reaction to his discovery. Instead of confronting Yeo-Jin with what he can have no doubt about, he turns into a righteous voyeur, then a violent one. I waited, and waited, and waited for him to confront Yeo-Jin, and at the same time for her to catch on to and confront him. In a sometimes very literal sense -- he doesn't turn when the family man jumps -- we don't even know if he hears the impact Yeo-Jin's father doesn't look back, goes only forward. And so does she until (I think) the diary's exhausted.
Yeo-Jin's monochrome dream on the riverbed exhibits no less logic than the film that contains it. Rather than narrative, Samaritan girl's a poem with narrative elements, with three narrative threads or stanzas that follow on each other only vaguely, that overlap each other recklessly. Forget or only play with rationality. Look instead for juxtapositions, dream logic, miracles. If there's a saint here, a Samaritan girl to justify Kim's harping on Teresa, then I'm sure it's not the Vasumitra-obsessed Jae-Young, but the methodical, seemingly all-seeing Yeo-Jin. I'm not at all certain she doesn't know nearly as much Kim allows us to know about her father. Her saintliness seems nearly sane.
Touch points? Flannery O'Connor's fiction, Almodovar's Talk to Her, Kieslowski's Heaven.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I haven't seen all Fukasaku's work or even all those in English, and I'd been a little down on him since a read of Takami's novel cued me to a casting error that prevented Battle Royale from being even better than it is, but the minimalist Under the Flag of the Rising Sun may be his best. It's about war, and The War, and nationalism and bureaucracy, but also about memory. A hierarchical maze of live action, stills, and live again, color, black and white, and color again, captures layers we all experience in memory and perception. The corkscrew path the widow follows denies just long enough to unsettle no matter how one reacts to the resolution Fukasaku adds to the source novel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Dropped in this rental one lazy night, hardly remembering what I'd
ordered. Knew it was another Maiku hama. At least one of the "Mike
Hammers" had played the San Francisco Film Fest one year, and amused
mildly. Expecting farce, I watched the grainy nighttime opening segue
to a really seventies set up: father seeks daughter's rescue from cult.
Rockford. Cult members eschew names for numbers. The Prisoner. Finally
I grabbed the sleeve. How old? What? 2002? No! Yes. Not '72. And no I
hadn't mis-seen the director's name. Shinji Aoyama, two years after
Eureka, not, apparently, some freshman effort. Then came (small
spoiler) the tree. No, this one isn't lethal, but a line or two the
cult-mother doctor speaks to Maiku make the allusion plain enough. When
did Kurosawa release Charisma? 1999, not just before this but before
Not quite awful but, like a lot of seventies trash, dreamy, lazy, naive, lulling, simple, dark, something to fall asleep to and dream dreams more amusing.
I'm not sure there's a translation yet, so how available it may be to
other English speakers, but I've made a point of reading Péju's "La
Petite Chartreuse" before commenting the film based on it.
The read, two months and a half after seeing the film, was a bizarre experience. Despite myself, I entered the novel with expectations. I entered it anticipating its conclusion. It begins in what I think of as L'Etranger mode. Not just Camus' one, but three self-absorbed-yet-reacting-to-their-environs charactersEva, her mother, and memory-savant Vollardgravitate toward the accident that will irrevocably change each. This wasn't so different. Denis and his cinematographer had attempted something like it. I read on.
Pieces fell in: the mother's psychological and physical absence, her incompetence, prompting Vollard's reluctant yet ever-increasing movement toward Eva. The film's mother had been so much easier to forgive, even while blaming her. Is it harder to deny face, voice, and eyes than their more rational representation in prose? In prose as on screen, Vollard versus Eva and her ailment amounts to "mutisme contra mutisme" (p. 253, Gallimard, 2002). Other things challenged my memory. What's this 1968 strikes stuff? Who's this narrator who becomes an "I" for a single chapter, then recuses himself in favor of all too omniscient third-person? Did the film's bookshop burn? I don't think so, but Was there bungee jumping? Maybe. As the novel closed, I grew panicky. How can what-has-to-happen happen in the eighth an inch of pages left?! In a sixteeth?!!
The answer is that Péju's prose didn't allow to happen my film-born what-has-to-happen. The filmmakers, while keeping and using nearly all Péju's dark elements, wrested from them a better feeling, even a heroic finish. Maybe it's just that I'm a smalltime climber, so felt almost as if I knew the snowy col the film's Vollard crosses at last, but as I traversed the whole novel I felt I was climbing to a sort of redemption.
The novel closes darkly against the light of the film that succeeds it. I tend to hate bogus film endings, movie endings. Why not this time, this one? Am I weakening?
|Page 1 of 13:||          |