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Bi the Way (2008)
An overly cheerful documentary about bisexuality that is more celebratory than informative.
An overly cheerful documentary about bisexuality that is more celebratory than informative. The documentary has you believe that there's a revolution going on, people are changing their minds about bisexuals and people are happy and comfortable with the fluidity of their sexuality. I don't know if that's the case, but if you ask many people, bisexuality is either an anomaly or non-existent. This doc doesn't touch on this issue except to say that times are changing and look at all the happy bisexuals out there! The overly manic joy of this doc signals something of an attempt from the participants and the documentary filmmakers to convince themselves and everyone else that bisexuality is great and accepted by a lot of people.
That's not to say there's aren't many happy bisexuals out there, and god knows there needs to be more positive attitudes of bisexuality beyond "the exotic slut who can't choose a side." But the glossing over of the negative aspects of bisexuality (the stereotypes, the suspicion, lack of support, invisibility etc) somehow decreases the film's credibility as an informed source of information on bisexuality. But I suppose every Queer segment of the population needs its cheerleaders in film, and if it makes bisexuals feel welcome and OK about their own sexuality, then it serves a purpose I can't fault it for. Just be aware that this doc isn't exactly the most thorough investigation of the subject matter.
Manufacturing Dissent (2007)
An interesting film that rises above the shrill political silliness around Michael Moore's politics and messages.
Though I'm aware of the various liberties Michael Moore takes with his films, I never really gave it much careful thought. Mainly because I like Michael Moore and I agree with many of the arguments he makes. The film portrays Moore as a manipulative performance filmmaker who is quite egoistical and doesn't allow for much dissent against his own views when ever he organizes an event or make a speech. The film portrays him as a man who doesn't practice what he preaches, particularly when Moore's various security guards and media handlers refuse to allow the filmmakers film Michael Moore events and speeches. It demostrates that by careful editing, Michael Moore can manipulate events to fit his version of what happens and is a master of pulling stunts on camera to prove his point.
The film isn't a shrill diatribe about how Moore's ideas will lead to America's ruin. Instead it's a thoughtful film that asks people to be more media savy by setting Moore as an example. The fact that it's a Canadian production probably removes the filmmaker from the distracting American liberal and republican "issues" concerning Moore. Instead, we focus on the veracity of what Moore presents to us and the ethics of the way he manipulates the documentary genre. How Moore's appeal is not based on what he says but the entertainment value of how he presents his point of view.
After watching this film, I'm more cautious about Michael Moore, to always be mindful about what he presents and not always accept it as is. But even at that, I still like Michael Moore. He's a talented man who seems to have his heart in the right place when he makes his films and I don't think he's as egoistical as the film suggests he is.
Fay Grim (2006)
Hit and miss
Perhaps I would have liked this film more if I wasn't so attached to the characters in Henry Fool. To those who've never seen Henry Fool, I wouldn't worry. As Hartley jokingly said in his introduction to the film at TIFF, the film has lots of exposition and explanations.
This film is very heavy in plot, which keeps the film moving. There are many humorous moments and the film certainly has Hartley's trademark humour and rhythm of dialogue. Over all, a technically well made film and sure to satisfy new fans of Hartley who are just beginning explore his work. As for the older fans who loved his earlier works like Trust and Amateur, this film could go either way. I have mixed feelings about the film and Hartley's later films in general. What Hartley does best is setting his stories in small situations, focusing on the intimate and idiosyncratic ways in which his characters interact with each other. Since his late 90s and onward, his films have widened in scope in terms of subject matter. Mass media in No Such Thing, Religion in the Book of Life and now Terrorism in Fay Grim. I don't know if Hartley's talents are suited to such big subject matter or if he's able to do it justice.
Strangely enough, the film can still be reduced to intimate relationships, a simple love story about a woman who goes to seek out the husband she loves. The only problem is, I've seen Henry Fool and everyone seems incredibly out of character in this film. You can tell this film was written long after Henry Fool was finished without any intention of a sequel. Somehow, the terrorist plot feels conveniently tacked on through the use of Henry's books of confessions as a macguffin (in the hitchcockian sense). Fay's motivations for finding Henry seemed motivated purely by the needs of the plot rather than what being faithful to who fay was as person in Henry Fool.
I guess I'm slightly disappointed in the film because it's not true to the characters in the Henry Fool and it doesn't exactly work as a straight ahead thriller. There's too much irony and wryness in Hartley's approach to such as big topic as terrorism. It somehow works and doesn't work at the same time. All I could say, you would either love or hate the film depending on your take on Hartley's work and how well you know Hartley's work. Fans of Henry Fool, be severely warned for a disappointment. For the rest, welcome to the world of Hal Hartley and enjoy the ride.
L'amour existe (1960)
poetic documentary about working class France
this film is a poetic essay-documentary about post-war France in the leate 1950s. it's poetic imagery and voice-over narration is similar to alain resnais' documentaries. the narrator expresses a deep sadneswere s about the state of post-war France, the growing gap between the poor and the rich, the new suburbs and increasing unhappiness. some of the memorable moments of the film was shots of the new apartments being built in France. these buildings have to be seen. they look modern and arty, but oppressive and depressing at the same time. the windows are narrow and horizontal, so that no one gets a good view outside their window. then there are shots of these urban communities that are made up of cardboard shacks that often go up in flames because the people who built them often use oil-based heating devices to cook their food, it's was the 1950s version of today's tent city. and shots of the ruins the bombing of World war II where there is a field of glass and run down buildings. this film shows both all facets of french society and is a beautifully filmed historical document of post war France we don't often see and we often forget.
a very good film about jealousy
i really enjoyed this film. it's beautifully shot and the performances are good. the film's first half hour is is pretty slow where the film sets the mood of the town. on the surface of the town, it's a very quiet, wonder bread type of America, wholesome looking neighbors who are pleasant and conservative. there's also a part of the town where it seems like everyone feels second best to someone else. for the women, it's about youth and beauty. the main character, madge, is in the prime of her beauty and youth. she's not yet married, not tied down by anything, and seemingly has everything. her mother is dead serious about her daughter using her looks to get ahead in the world through marriage. there's the school teacher, rosemary, who is pitiful and desperate to find evidence that she is still worthy and desirable, despite her age. what madge's mother and rosemary have in common is view that all women have an expiration date, after a certain point, if one is not married or well off, there is no turning back. meanwhile, a drifter named hal comes to town and has romantic feelings for madge, who is engaged to be married to hal's wealthy, but romantically insecure, college friend.
things come to a head when during the labour day picnic when hal and madge start dancing together, and everyone's insecurity and jealousy comes out and people reveal their true unhappiness. the people in the film seem to feel stuck in a rut, their lives are set and they are regretful. but unlike other films about jealous and unhappy people, these characters are not villains or wholly unlikeable. they're likable and pleasant, and they don't let their regrets and jealousy over take them, instead, their regrets become a footnote to their lives and they go on living it like they always do.
Being There (1979)
i don't know what to make of this film...
i was expecting a lot of ironic laughs when i watched this film, but i didn't really laugh. instead, it left me thoughtful about questions of media and society. at first, i was trying to understand chance as a character, how this sheltered man saw the world. then i realized there was no point to doing that, because chance is merely a metaphor. a metaphor for what? i'm not sure, but there's something oddly symbolic about him. he is a hollow shell and he is whatever people want him to be. the comedy and satire came from how people reacted to him, how they misconstrue what he says to suit thier own purposes. he's a simple man of habit who is only interested in tv and gardening, and through a series of mishaps, people and the nation mistaken him for a genius. when the truth is found out about him, he becomes the perfect political tool because people will want him to be whatever they want him to be. he looks the part of a wealthy wise man with his suit, hat and umbrella, he's likeable and polite enough, and simple minded enough to be manipulated. though he doesn't need to be manipulated, the people around him are stupid and brainwashed by the sound-bit culture of thier society. yet he is a man of the late twentieth century since he knows his life only through tv, he can't read or write or have thoughts of his own, but he can watch tv.
society in this film is absurd, cynical and stupid, and it's a miracle that this man is held in such high regard. i remember one critic said that this film was about the bankruptcy of the political arena, where it's soundbites and publicists that matter more than public policy. and at its heart, i think this film is a critique and satire of media and politics. there's a famous scene where he walks on water, which signifies something oddly magical about him. i think the people around him make him magical, they make him saint-like, at first out of ignorance and then as a moldable, political phemonon.
Prima della rivoluzione (1964)
not a bad art film (some spoilers)
competently made, good acting and interesting editing and camera movement. the film is the standard boy meets girl and loses girl and both are forever unhappy because of their stubbornness. though it's told in that art cinema way where the audience isn't quite sure what has happened in the relationship except that the nature of the relationship has changed. they become cold to each other and are conflicted about whether to stay or leave the relationship. the film feels episodic where scenes don't really fit in, but in each scene, the relationship changes a little.
then there's the political part of the film, where the male protagonist questions whether it's possible for a wealthy young man to be part of a communist party. he runs into some people he knows and talk about the revolution and intellectual ideas. it's in these scenes, the film feels decidedly fench. i dunno, i'd probably watch too many french new wave films (more so than Italian ones) where people sit around and talk about revolutions, cinema and communism that i've come to associate these scenes as being french. i wasn't amazed by this film, but i enjoyed it enough and it did not drag on like some art films do. it's worth a look if you're interested in European art cinema of the 60s.
Lo straniero (1967)
is existentialism this bleak? (spoilers!)
with my shaky understanding of existentialism, some of this film went over my head. the first half of the film moves along like your typical art film, episodic and ambiguous encounters of the everyday kind. we have Meursault swimming, talking with his bosses, talking to a street person about his missing scarred dog. but something isn't quite right about him. he's just very aloof and he's non-committal about everything. he tells his girlfriend that he doesn't care if he marries her or not, doesn't even care to ask himself if he loved her. she's loyal, pretty and typical and played by the lovely anna karina. he tells his boss that he rather not take a promotion that's been offered to him because he likes where he lives and hardly saw a promotion as step up from his current life. in fact, it seems that nothing is a step up for this guy, in his odd way of thinking, there's a brutal equality to everything. losing a job and getting a promotion would practically be the same thing to him, since life has no meaning for him, so such lofty goals are not his priority. nothing is his priority. he acts normal enough just to get by, he inquires about the homeless man and his lost dog and why he won't go to a pound to find him, but in reality, Meursault probably doesn't give a care about the dog. just asks to look normal and inquisitive, and he does a good enough of a job doing it. if there is one phrase to describe Meursault, it would be that the man is an island onto himself. complete outsider in every sense of the word. it's like apples and oranges with you compare him to the rest of society.
after he kills someone on a beach and is tried for murder, all his character witnesses basically don't know what to make of him. they interact with him, but they too sense something not quite right with him. they don't hate him, but they can't seem to defend his character because he perplexes them, only his girlfriend comes to his defense.
the first part of the film is about Meursault interacting in real life, observing how Meursault fits in society. after the murder, society confronts Meursault and his existentialist philosophy about life in a murder trial. only, it feels like a show trial for the religious gossip-seekers. the trial is about establishing character and religious beliefs as indicator of guilt, not evidence. this man is not given a fair trial. you can think of it this way, an existentialist outsider vs. the religious god-fearing public and judicial system that use his character and his fear of god as an indicator of his guilt.
he hardly bothers to defend himself, and when convicted and faced with death, his fear and uncertainty about death reveals our existentialist hero to be a psychopath has he carefully reasons how death works in his godless philosophy with a chaplain. through out the film, he has no sense of morality, but no real sense of evil either. what is left is a general fear, angst and hopelessness that morphs itself into a frightening declaration of abandonment and nihilism when faced with death. his last words are chilling: "let as many people see me die. let them have hate for me in their eyes."
good movie, could have been a masterpiece
there are two things that held this film back from being a truffaut masterpiece: the voice over and jean pierre leaud.
the voice over is overused in this film and is hardly effective in many cases. the voice over always sound rushed, hasty and monotonous, it hardly treats the story sensitively and it sounds like truffaut (the one doing the voice over) is trying to say it as fast as he can so he can move on to something else in the story. the problem is he uses the voice over to explain complex emotions of the characters and he could have used someone else to do the voice over with more expression and pace. this brings me to my second problem with the film. the voice over is often explaining the complex emotions of leaud's character, claude, while leaud wears the same expression of confusion and dismay throughout the film. he says his lines in that same quiet, shy voice for most of the film and looks uncomfortable and timid in the role. my suspicion is that truffaut used voice over to compensate for leaud's lack of acting ability. leaud is thoroughly miscast as claude, a complex character who is at the center of the love triangle.
but somehow, the film does pull together and is a very moving story about what happens when three people distrust their instincts and refuse to make decisions about their feelings for one another. anne and claude hide their intention of committing to each other behind this french idea of "free love" that neither really buys into. muriel is a very religious woman who treads very carefully with claude because of his ideas on love and sex and has some very strong guilty feelings about her sexual desire. claude...well according to the voice over, he prefers to love them from afar than to choose between them. he wants both women, but knows he can't so he subconsciously refuse to choose between them and just go back and forth between the two when the relationship with one becomes difficult.
anne and muriel are similar to other truffaut heroines. anne is more forgiving and nurturing and patient, very much like Julie from day for night. muriel is the unstable passionate one who could sacrifice her sanity for a man, very much like catherine from jules and jim or adele H. they're both well acted by kika markham and stacey tendeter, and they're the ones who carry this film. the photography wasn't as lush as i expected it to be, but it has enough eye candy for those who love costume dramas with nice houses and gardens. the voice over and the dialogue are very well written and is poetic without sounding trite most of the time.
the film could have been a masterpiece of truffaut if he'd got someone else to do the voice over and got a more competent actor for claude. the film compensates for these weaknesses with superb writing and good performances from the rest of the cast.
Le fils (2002)
slow but engaging. *slight spoilers*
i read reviews of this film expecting an angsty, tense film with a surprise ending of some sort. but instead, i got another one of those films that are slow and that lull you into a particular rhythm. the handheld camera work annoyed me as usual, but i eventually got used to it. the funny thing about the camera work is that we're always following the carpenter behind his back, and it makes us, as an audience, feel like we're following this man and everything he does. we've come to adopt his point of view and become an observer.
the majority of the film is just mundane everyday routines of this man's life. we watch him teach his apprentices with a gentle detachment, how he cares for each of the boys that work with him since they're all from broken families. he's a gruff sort of man who's chubby-roughness and affectionate detachement hides the deep compassion he has for the people he works with. as for the new apprentice who murdered the carpenter's son, he's very much like the other apprentices the carpenter trains. he's dutiful, quiet, still rough around the edges from five years of prison and speaks with the normal amount of inarticulation that teenagers usually speak in.
the film's tension is found in the everyday lives of the carpenter and the boy, when they interact. because we know that the carpenter knows that this teenager murdered his son, and the teenager isn't aware of who he is working with. the carpenter carefully ahd dutifully trains the teen but keeps a cold distance to the teen despite his attempts to be friendly with his trainer.
this is not a story of a revengeful father and a criminal teen with an attitude. it is a story of forgiveness and the willingness to let go of the past and move on. in observing the mundane routines of these two people, we get to know them and see how the carpenter's relationship developes with the teen. we see that the teen is making an honest effort to clean up his life and isn't inhereintly evil despite the fact he killed a boy at the age of 11. he made a mistake in his life and killed the boy in a moment of fear and aggression.
we don't really understand at first why the carpenter decides to take on this teenager. at first, it's out of curiousity about who this kid is, what he looked like etc and then we see it's to find out how much remorse this teen feels about the murder.
*spoiler* by the last shot of the film and after the father confesses to the teen, we realize that the carpenter's relationship to the boy has changed over the film. at first, the teenager is a curiousity and then we find the carpenter has developed a primitive kind of friendship. he has taken a liking to the teen and has intergrated him into his life that he is no longer a mythic presence of pain because he realises that everyone is a victim of an unfair world. and because of that, he is able to forgive this teenager and may even regard him as a son.