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Tideland is harsh and stripped-down compared to Terry Gilliam's earlier movies, that's for sure. I'm glad that Gilliam's magician cape has been lifted, though, because what stands revealed is a muscular Scorsesean torso underneath. His direction in Tideland is purposeful, sure-handed, as precise as a brain surgeon's scalpel, yet with the same sense of whelming confusion and malicious paranoia that he accomplished in the much less focused Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I've never understood what Heidegger was going on about with his phrase "Thrownness in the World" until I saw Tideland -- we are literally THROWN into young Jodelle Ferland's unsavory situation, having to puzzle it out right alongside her, with her own limited cognizance and hazy epistemological borderlines.
Tideland is composed of two three-person fugues -- Jeliza-Rose and her parents, then Jeliza-Rose, Dell and Dickens -- that has the singular distinction of not having one sane character. The most novel aspect of Tideland may be how Jeliza-Rose, Ferland's nine-year-old lead character, is portrayed not as an innocent, but as equal to the adults in her depravity and refusal to confront life outside her own head. In a way, she may be the least innocent of all -- when she seduces the adult, brain-damaged Dickens, you feel like he's the one being violated -- and it's not hard to imagine her being washed down the toilet bowl of the San Fernando Valley in a less whimsical sequel.
The film's lack of a point seems to be its point -- we're meant to experience a delusional state, not to judge it. Yet Gilliam suggests that this delusion is either about to become universal or has already set in without our knowing it. I've always said that what makes Kubrick or Polanski great horror directors are their atheism, and the same holds true in Tideland. Gilliam seems to be a humanist who considers us to be living on the unstable terra of religious zealots, like the witch Dell who sings about Jesus and the Second Coming. Yet she has learnt taxidermy so as to embalm everyone she's ever known in case they can be restored in the future -- which shows more faith in science than in Jesus.
I would say the Jewish people of today are a lot like Dell, as are the Christians who have been tricked into believing that Jesus is going to come back to the earthly Jerusalem -- the same one whose kingship he already rejected once -- sitting on the cannon of a tank. Gilliam may not be religious, and he may not believe in Jesus, God, or the devil and his unfunny jests, but he has an artist's instincts and clearly feels what's happening deep in his bones. Tideland may go down as the film that best captures the desperate souls of our time trapped in yet another farcical, manufactured apocalypse, where the promised millennium of peace becomes a millennium of torture, spiritual death and unfruitful, senseless madness -- not the kind of madness that you come out of with deeper understanding, but a madness that frays you like an old doll until there's nothing left inside or out.
The shot that has really stayed with me is one where Dickens and Jeliza-Rose climb to the top of a crater and see a construction crew building what looks an awful lot like pyramids. This ties in with Mel Gibson's comparison of America to a new Mayan civilization in Apocalypto -- a quiver is going through the world as people gradually realize that the age of reason has shown its true face: a new, all-powerful technological paganism that will make the ancient world and its sacrifices feel like pleasant childhood memories. There's also a running motif where Dickens obsessively lies in wait for a train that comes hurtling through the prarie, thinking in his addled mind that it's a shark.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
At the end, when he blows it up with a clump of dynamite, you feel sorry for the passengers but also have to admire his conviction. After all, what was the invention that ushered in the Industrial Revolution and the Faustian technological web we live in today, where scientists are actually on the verge of completing an invisibility cloak ( which Plato would say truly marks the end of civilization )? You got it -- the steam locomotive. A good film to watch along with this one would be Jacques Tourneur's cult horror film Night of the Demon, one of the first films to show the intersecting point of black magic and technology. The demon of the title, who is always seen on railroad tracks, spraying sparks from its wooly head, looks, I suspect, a lot like what the black nightmare train looks like to Dickens.
Marie Antoinette (2006)
Marie Antoinette is probably the first film about this subject to START with the Revolution, as we see a voyeuristic shot of Kirsten Dunst bathing to Gang of Four's "Natural is Not In It," a song with some very pointed lyrics: "The problem of leisure / What to do for pleasure / I do love a new purchase / A market of the senses." It's as if we are in the mind of a peasant who, his fantasies inflamed by the gutter press, the rumors of wantonness and high living at Versailles, looks at his own life and, boiling over with sexual and economic jealousy, picks up an electric guitar and invents punk just to show his hatred for the rich bi--h who ruined his life. How did Coppola resist using "God Save The Queen?"
That burst of staged anger having passed, the rest of Marie Antoinette devotes itself to showing how the lower classes' hostility was or was not warranted. In a film full of Kubrick references, Marie herself is perhaps most like the corpulent recruit with the aristocratic name of "Leonard Lawrence" in Full Metal Jacket, chewing a jelly donut mechanistically while his fellow soldiers do push-ups. "They're paying for it it -- YOU eat it!" screams the drill sergeant. Marie Antoinette is a two-hour slo-mo of that jelly donut scene. She "enjoys" herself because that's what a queen is expected to do; and then she pays with her life for fulfilling those expectations, just for playing her part. The point: Enjoyment, la jouissance, doesn't exist.
Marie Antoinette seems like a poor little rich girl story. But that wouldn't explain the most touching scene in the film, when Rip Torn's Louis XV calls for his mistress on his deathbed, and we see his face crumple into pure grief when reminded that he'd already sent her away. Coppola's sign of maturity is that she extends her sympathy to everyone else in the story -- everyone except the peasants, that is, whose appearance in the final minutes is demonic enough to make you wonder how anyone could have ever thought a murderous mob was a triumphant expression of human liberty. Besides, Coppola tacitly suggests, if they had imagination, they could have wormed their way inside Versailles too ( Coppola's court is stocked with pop-culture royalty, after all, people who, like Asia Argento, may have been born into famous families but still had to prove their mettle. )
Jason Schwartzman as King Louis XVI and Marie have a strange relationship. They never fall in love, but there is something exhilarating about the way, in each others' presence, they can let the masks drop and be the kids they are. Schwartzman subtly gains confidence and there are some moments towards the end, calling on Marie at Le Petit Trianon, where you get a brief glimpse of something special, something truly royal, waiting to emerge. Heartbreakingly, it never does; the mob arrives. But when at the end they go to prison, you flash back to the cardinals and priests at their wedding and think, maybe there is something to all this "ridiculous" ceremony; maybe it was a heavenly and not an earthly marriage that was being arranged. And then you flash to the other scene where Marie and her friends are playing a guessing game with papers attached to their heads, each paper bearing a name -- one of the ladies-in-waiting has the name "Jesus Christ" on her head and asks, "Am I at this table?" and someone replies, "You're always with us." And then you realize just how many dimensions this film is working on.
If this review seems scattershot and impressionistic, well, so is the film. I could probably write a little experimental essay for each individual scene. I'll spare you that, but Sophia ( and Roman, her brother, who I feel had a large hand in this production ) has proved that she has a soul after all. With soul, you can raise other souls from the dead, restore them to their original truth, to their innermost dreams and longings... And that's exactly what she's done here. Despite my utter hatred for Sophia's two previous films, I'll admit I think this is the best period piece ever, and that includes Barry Lyndon. Marie Antoinette is literally to die for, a glorious, melancholy poem about unborn angels on the edge of an endless dawn.
Those Endearing Young Charms (1945)
Subversive and sour little romance.
If you're looking for the antidote to Since You Went Away-style hankiefests, or musicals about squeaky-clean GIs and their even squeakier cleaner girls, Those Endearing Young Charms fits the bill. Imagine a World War II romance with a lunchtime on-set rewrite by Louis-Ferdinand Celine ( "Women love war; it goes straight to their ovaries" ) and you might come up with something like this film, which lays on the syrupy romance and the goggle eyes while secretly brimming with misanthropy that would make Kubrick proud.
Lower middle-class Laraine Day is seduced by the wealthy officer played by Robert Young, while being chased by idealistic cadet Bill Williams. Young makes no bones about being a skirt-chaser with a heart of purest copper. The spectacle of the film is in Day's self-mutilating puppy dog devotion to a lost cause, and what it says about female masochism and love itself in a world of organized murder. The director plays it totally straight so that the sentimental target audience would be satisfied, while transmitting his message in code, as it were, to future generations who can read between the lines.
The film has many touches to make the concept plausible, such as when Day is taken to Young's base and immediately begins cooing over a phallic B-12. Soon afterwards, the waitress comes over to the table and the jests of the soldiers suggest that she has been a lazy Susan that all of them fed off of at least once, and then -- judging by her bitter hardness -- discarded. The idea of these being "good soldiers fighting a just war" doesn't seem very plausible in this instance. It seems all wars bring with them certain personal motivations.
The script locates the epicenter of innocence and true romance not in the woman but in Bill Williams, a kind of fetal Parsifal. He reminds you of the guy in The Canterbury Tales whose dream girl, who he unknowingly catches in bed with another man, tells him to close his eyes before sticking her butt out the window for him to kiss, followed by the raucous laughter of her and her real boyfriend -- Chaucer then says succinctly of the young man "For woman's love he cared no more." Williams goes through a similarly elaborate process of inoculation with Laraine Day. He proceeds through all the stages of devotion and its aftermath: puppy love, courtly wooing, brotherly support, then noble renunciation, none of which she notices.
But at the end, after giving up what he never had, he says, looking visibly exalted "Why do I feel so good?" That's the question that stays with you from this film.
P.S. The title seems to be sarcastic not only about the allure of youth but about its lead actor!
The Black Dahlia (2006)
Could be saved by a re-edit or director's cut.
The major problem with the script is that we are kept in the dark with Hartnett's character for virtually the entire running time, and then DePalma throws in two rapid, blink-and-you-missed-them monologues, both of them revolving around characters we never see, that are the key to the whole plot. Scarlett Johansson gives the first one when Bucky discovers Lee's money stash, and Fiona Shaw gives the other before her suicide. In DePalma's original three-hour cut there must be flashback scenes where we see George interacting with Emmett Linscott as well as recreations of Lee's bank robbery. Without these the movie itself is a truncated corpse.
MAJOR SPOILERS -- INTERPRETATION OF THE ENDING -- READ AFTER YOU SEE THE MOVIE
Nevertheless, there is much more to The Black Dahlia than people are saying. It's psychologically ambitious at least, a failed attempt at a Hitchcockian peek into the void, which is better than just a failed cop drama.
You could read the entire plot as a set of twin castration fantasies that intertwine fatally -- Hartnett's, after he has his teeth knocked out in the early boxing sequence, and Fiona Shaw's, the matriarch of the Linscott clan, who is being cuckolded by her husband Emmett. Emmett is "virtually" sleeping with his deformed army friend George by sending him lesbian prostitutes like Elizabeth Short. These lesbians are actually metaphors for gay males throughout the film, penis substitutes -- the great insight of the film -- and this is why Josh Hartnett's emasculated character, who plays the eternal third wheel in Lee and Kay's marriage, is drawn to the semi-manly Hilary Swank, who he then must finally eliminate to rid himself of his womanly role and to be able to "fill" Kay. Likewise, when Ramona Linscott kills Elizabeth Short she is taking symbolic revenge on a secretive gay male power structure ( notice that Emmett and George met in the army, and are depicted in a painting together ) that has turned her into a sexually dissatisfied raving hysteric. Hartnett and Aaron Eckhart, even after the latter's death, are a repeat of the Emmett-George dynamic, with Scarlett Johansson as the replacement for Fiona Shaw, doomed to stand in as the "hole" into whom one male whispers his love for the ghost of another. And then there is a bigger gap at the heart of all this, the gap of existence itself, where the social structure is maintained by destruction, by building things up and pulling them down, the "firetraps" that Emmett builds under the Hollywoodland sign -- wars, manmade disasters, the psychotic money and power-mad elite.
What makes this especially troubling is that DePalma doesn't blame these elite, or imply that we could remove them and everything would get better. His whole point is that we CAN'T remove them, anymore than you can remove the springs of a watch and expect it to keep running. Evil is the engine of the whole show. Recall the scene where Josh Hartnett is shooting the Linscott's prized vases and chandeliers, and Ramona says something like "Please stop shooting the art; we rich don't own it, we merely pass it along." Corruption breeds the beautiful itself; they can't exist apart from each other; everything is tainted.
George, the Man Who Laughs, stalking the rundown housing project under the moon, thus becomes the unreal, undead component of our reality, such as third-world peasants or mutilated soldiers, the "casualties of war," that allows the whole demonic circus to keep going, so that the failed actresses of the world ( all of us ) can keep dreaming about the future and the artistic splendors that it holds -- until we end up in the meat grinder. The repressed will have their revenge, but they will take it on the other repressed ( third-world Muslims and American boys from the ghetto kill each other off, while the real manipulators buy new Picassos. ) The ultimate message is: YOU are the Black Dahlia, and you've already been marked for death -- and poverty -- by the elite. You just don't know it yet.
If all this were fleshed out a little, and we saw more of the bond between George and Emmett in flashbacks, then this could be the ultra-disturbing Chinatown/Big Sleep for the nightmarish Zionist-Bush era that DePalma wants it to be -- and then some. Or maybe it will grow on me the way it is now... After all, film noir thrives on omissions and blackouts.
Big Love (2006)
When's the second season?
If Six Feet Under was a bit too New Agey for me -- "There is no death"? spare me -- and The Sopranos too New Jersey, Big Love is just right. HBO can always be trusted to take what seems like a gimcrack concept and turn it into an epic. Big Love is both about the American need for more of everything, all the time, but there is something else here too, something almost... Christian. This extends from the nosy neighbors always lurking around the Henrickson compound right to the choice of theme song ( "God Only Knows" by The Beach Boys. ) The writers suggest that Bill and his wives are living not just in confusion, not just in sin, but in full-blown damnation. And the inner sanctum of the Mormon faith as represented by Harry Dean Stanton's iconic Roman is nothing less than Satanic. As the sages of De La Soul once said, Stakes Iz High. The creators of this show have pulled no punches when it comes to cheesing off that all-important Utah polygamist demographic.
Over the course of twelve or thirteen hours, we get to know these characters so well that the drama produces an incredible two-pronged tension -- you want everyone to stay together so that there will still be a show, yet at the same time you're pulling for their implosion, for each member to find the individual truth which the atrocious fraud of their domestic situation is smothering. The three wives all offer something different to Bill ( Barb is the emotional stability, Nicki the sex, Margie the youth ) and these roles either are or aren't in tune with the womens' natural tendencies. Barb mostly has the life she wants except for the small inconvenience of sharing Bill, because, as the show suggests, the sexually-overdriven owner of Henrickson's Home Plus cannot handle her having lost a breast to cancer. Nicki, the daughter of the aforementioned Roman, is more of a daddy's girl than she'd like to admit. Her smoldering abilities in the bedroom hide a cold, calculating heart. Whereas Margie, despite her goofy demeanor, has a sad little life, having been robbed of natural first love to be the accessory of an aging tycoon. Her backstory so far has been intriguingly left missing; what made her sell out so fast? Is she just too dumb to take care of herself? You expect her at any moment to dart out the door like a rabbit.
Acting fireworks are provided by Harry Dean Stanton, the characterful Grace Zabriskie and Bruce Dern as Bill's murderously feuding parents, and especially Chloe Sevigny as Nicki, who has the role of a lifetime. One of the best scenes in the series has her attempting to use her discount card at her husband's Home Plus, and being rejected because the clerk doesn't recognize her as his wife ( only Barb is acknowledged in public as Bill's spouse. ) As this petty incident unfolds, she tries to maintain her arrogance and presumption, but there is no way out of the situation. The way Sevigny plays it, Nicki simply melts down, and her whole life flashes in front of her eyes -- buried innocence and pain come through and shock us into realizing the humanity of this once monstrous character. Suddenly, in a flash, we see deep wounds that over eight or nine episodes were never even HINTED at. That's great acting. Her character is the most intriguing because she is the most clearly riven between good and evil, the most isolated... And has the most uncertain fate.
The other cast members are steadier, more slowly evolving presences, or slowly rotting, in the case of Bill Paxton. This is a caliber of acting that goes well beyond most of what you see in movies currently, and the only thing that can ruin this show would be overstaying its welcome. Three wives -- three seasons -- keep it in check HBO.
Just My Luck (2006)
A poo-smeared stepping stone in the Lohan mythology.
There is a story that God is trying to tell through Lindsay Lohan, a marginally more positive one, I think, than he's telling through Tom Cruise ( well, God's opposite might be the narrator there. )
Let us see: Here we have a girl named Ashley Albright -- note the alliteration and number of syllables -- who is striding through life on winged pumps, with a cushy job that requires no talent except for ingratiation ( "I think they're not paying you enough," she says with a tone of complete sincerity to a rap mogul who has reckoned a moment of his time to be worth $9,000-odd dollars. ) Then, while exchanging a kiss at a masquerade ball, her luck deserts her and she ends up repeatedly doused, slathered, or otherwise confronted with messy dollops of the old ess haitch eye tee. Eventually, when she learns that she only has to kiss the same luck-stealing man to get hers back, like in a Tweety and Sylvester cartoon, she also learns that the man in question is the one she happens to be in love with. Should she kiss him or not? Attached to that question is the concept of sacrifice, as well as the nonexistence of luck where love is concerned. A nice story that Hans Christian Andersen wouldn't have disowned. I'm not being sarcastic -- compared to the work of her peers like the Olsen twins or Amanda Bynes, Just My Luck leaves you feeling pretty good.
But there are darker undercurrents here that, in the fashion of many recent movies, blur the line between an actor's tabloid personas and the characters they're playing. It's not hard to see that the world has hoisted Lohan, just like Ashley, aloft on its capricious shoulders only to eventually dump her into some serious fecal matter. It's a foregone conclusion that she is going to fall and fall hard. The tabloids and blogs like Defamer are a virtual Lohan deathwatch. It's as if she's the subject of some sick experiment whereby an average teen girl is dropped into a Cretan labyrinth with not one but a dozen hairy, leering minotaurs, while everyone sits around and watches and pretends that they're not implicated and that it's all her own doing ( too many parties, we all tut, as if we would have handled a vast fortune and crazy family at age 14 any better. )
So there is a certain intensity for me in watching a bit of teen fluff like Just My Luck in that I am rooting for Lohan, who seems to have a kernel of goodness and, as one other reviewer said, soul, to shake these vultures off and come to grips with her averageness, that she isn't really a movie star but simply one of God's children, and to humbly start her life anew. Again, just like Ashley has to do in this movie when she's fired from her job and has to start at the bottom cleaning the men's bathroom in a bowling alley. She, like all of us, will have to plow through the s--t to reach the stars. That's a very truthful message that Lohan should take to heart, but probably won't, because her fate is being written for her in heartless tabloid ink.
Just My Luck will therefore most likely go from innocuous, forgettable time-waster to a disturbing premonition, like the teen version of Marilyn Monroe's Don't Bother to Knock. Are Lohan and her hopeless generation cursed by karma ( sins of the ancestors ) or just plain bad luck? There's no answer, but cursed they most definitely are.
Ace of Aces (1933)
Weird and unpleasant -- cool!
Check this one out. This is a film that uses the truncated running times of the early 30's to its advantage. While it's a rule of thumb in film-making to slowly develop characters, Ace of Aces, perhaps because it's a programmer and simply doesn't have the time, skips the usual intermediate stages -- you know, like introspection. Characters here go from pacifism to bloodthirsty insanity in the time it takes to cut from one scene to the next.
Richard Dix is a sculptor who is accosted in his studio one day by "girlfriend" Elizabeth Allen, who, in the space of about three seconds, threatens to break up with him if he doesn't give up his fancies about art and get his head blown off in WWI ( and there is the tantalizing suggestion that she is sexually unsatisfied with him and is using the war as an opportunity to slake her lust. ) Three more seconds go by, and suddenly Dix has metamorphosed into the Red Baron, gunning down his hapless victims from his elevated perch in the sky. Meanwhile we get lots of superimposed heraldic animal heads, dragons, lions, falcons and such layered on top of the soldiers in their bunker, leering, grimacing beasts of war that give the film a haunting medieval flavor. When the soldiers talk to each other, the tone is unlike any other war film -- we aren't meant to reflect poignantly on their impending deaths or get to know them as individuals so that we're caught up in their fates. Instead their conversation is fairly eloquent-sounding ( a lot of these guys are swanky Brits ) yet subtly drained of meaning so that we hear their witty, boastful words almost as the squawks, barks and roars of barnyard animals. Not one character is sympathetic.
This is a film whose transitions are so abrupt that the end result comes close to something like Kleist's play The Prince of Homburg, a jagged, neurotic ride through an insanely arbitrary world. Collective behavior, individual psychology, love relationships, religious impulses all seem to waver and bend like phantom images in the sun. When Dix and Allen get together at the end and fall in each other's arms again, you feel sick.
Held Up (1999)
The Citizen Kane of movies you'd buy at a car wash in Flagstaff, Arizona.
There are a couple of these movies you catch on cable that manage to sneak some real wit and sympathy into a no-man's-land of stylistic boredom that doesn't even earn the name B-movie ( where this kind of movie is concerned, it's always 1986. )
There are rules to watching a movie like this. You never call them by their real name, because you can't remember their real name, but are to be referred to instead by embarrassed asides to your girlfriend that go entirely ignored while she flips through a Zagat guide, such as "I saw this piece of s--t with Burt Reynolds and Sinbad that was actually kind of funny." Also, you never watch them from beginning to end, but catch them in the middle. Failure to obey this law could result in a meteoric drop in self-esteem and feeling of productivity. That feeling like "the day's being wasted."
The art of a car-wash movie consists of brushing against cliché then pulling back at the last moment. The trick isn't to get you to laugh, but to keep you smiling internally. It's all in the delivery. When Jamie Foxx first encounters a vaguely hostile Little League team and says "Children of the corn," it could very easily come off like a hokey black pop-culture reference to get the Magic Johnson Cineplex crowd roaring. But in this movie, he says it quietly, as if to himself, with a girlishly shocked tinge to his voice. The result is that you find yourself chuckling about the line a half-hour later or after the movie has ended, instead of while it's happening. Most of the jokes here work like that.
And Jamie Foxx is so charming in this film. He looks "street" enough but acts the ninnyhammer as well as Woody Allen, and there's a refreshing lack of explanation about why he's such a nerd. Who else can play the badass, the geek, the samaritan, the tormented artist, the preening genius, and every shade in between, and never coast on the support and shared background of a presumed black audience? There is no pandering in Foxx's performances, no trace of the veiled minstrel show that otherwise plagues most black performers who fall back on those tricks for easy laughs.
A prescription: If you don't believe me that there's a finesse to making even a good bland film, then watch Legally Blonde 2 back-to-back with this one and learn the error of your ways.
Drawing Restraint 9 (2005)
Bjork's influence has been a very good thing for Matthew Barney.
To hear Matthew Barney interviewed, saying things like "I will continue to manipulate space in film," you would think that he has nothing on his mind but process. Yet the evolution of Drawing Restraint 9 is spiritual, not formal. DR9, in fact, is a complete repudiation of the noxious Ayn Rand-stinking cosmology of the Cremaster films. Freud has been replaced by Jung, and Hegel by Kierkegaard. This is a Barney film that could bring you to tears. Any doubts about whether he's an artist or fraud are laid to rest by this film -- frauds do not grow, they just keep along the same path.
I had my doubts about the Cremaster films ( except for Cremaster 2, still the most uncanny piece on Barney's resume ) The first hour and a half of Drawing Restraint 9 had me squirming, sure that Barney was unmasking himself as a joke once and for all. All of Barney's faults are on display -- the crude appropriation and dim understanding of other cultures and myths, the glossy yet flat cinematography that would only look stylish to a reader of Vogue, the hunch that the only movie he's ever seen is The Shining, and a generally unfocused feeling, as if he's casting around for meaning that isn't there. And then, of course, there are those endless shots of men doing their work, building a better future, creating that obelisk to the sky! Except here the bumbleheaded Hegelian philosophy of history-in-action was even more boring because of the documentary trappings. Instead of showing a legless woman strap on a blade and chop potatoes, a metaphor for a half-completed action, we see real men doing real jobs. Only occasionally Barney has them producing one of his symbols, or sticks a blue feathered afro on top of a tanker, so that we know these seemingly mundane tasks will eventually have vaguely triumphant, Wagnerian results.
Then, suddenly -- if you can speak of suddenness in a film like this, and I think you can -- the Japanese men start loading a harpoon gun and firing nasty spikes at nasty speeds into the sea. And you realize that what you took to be another Barney paean to progress has crumbled. We are now sailing in deep hippie waters, my friend. And the sailing is good. Barney and Bjork retire to a tatami-matted cabin and the film begins to go places the Cremaster films would never dare. The cinematographer suddenly discovers shadow and grain-texture. Bjork's uninspired score becomes hypnotic. A feeling of death, doubt, and failure creeps into the film, as a Japanese sage tells a story of a primal scar made by the collision of two ships, while Barney and Bjork are posed with the edge of a whale statue separating them. The personal, the political, the spiritual and the mythical start to engage in supercollision.
The film seems to have been conceived as an exercise in humility, repentance for the colossal egotism of the Cremaster films. Barney takes pains to highlight his new bald spot, making him look like a tonsured monk, there is a nude scene which proves he is no Vincent Gallo, and -- most memorably -- Barney speaks! As a studly silent mannequin in the Cremaster films, he had mystery, but here he lets you in on the dirty little secret: He has the geekiest voice in history, almost like how a castrato would talk in daily conversation. Listen closer, however, and he sounds almost angelic...
This new humility, which may have roots in marriage troubles or encroaching baldness -- the root of insight is often just this shallow -- justifies the Asiatic trappings. But Barney is hiding his real light under a bushel. It is a Western religion that truly moves him these days. There are a "trinity" ( hint hint ) of symbols consisting of whale ambergris, pomegranate seeds and shrimp whose meaning I won't spoil for you. Except to say that Barney is calling you a shrimp. And asking you to be a whale. The "restraint" of the title starts to feel a whole lot more like renunciation, and the inner joys it brings.
Life is fair after all: It costs ten dollars for a ticket to DR9, and unless you're a zombie, you will get more pleasure and consolation from this film than any billionaire computer-peddler could get out of one of Barney's vaseline tubs.
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
10 years later and we're still here?
I thought that, after so much time had passed, I could go to the theater with an easy mind and an open heart, unburdened by fears of another Tarantino knockoff. Back in the day, I sat through more than a few. And I'm not just talking about that one with Charlize Theron. Anyone remember Bulletproof Heart or Love and a .45?
Needless to say, my hard-won innocence was betrayed. To the writer Paul Porizkovich, or whatever your name is, wheedle as many lunch offers at the Ivy as you can, because you'll be back in whatever bilgewater you crawled out of soon. I'd have more respect for someone who went around spray-painting babies than I do for you. Are there really still people walking around Hollywood thinking, "I have a great idea! I'll make a gangster movie like The Usual Suspects or Pulp Fiction, but in this one the wallpaper'll be really funny!" When are those Iranians going to enrich their uranium already? Oh, they just did.
The only member of cast and crew who comes out of this one unscathed is, shockingly, Josh Hartnett. He's also the only one who is still building a career and can be forgiven for appearing in such roadkill. The one smart move the director makes is to have his character's nose broken so that Hartnett's resemblance to Jean-Paul Belmondo becomes unmistakable. My girlfriend says he's the only male actor that she has a crush on, resulting in much scoffing from me -- too bad she refused to see this movie where she was unexpectedly vindicated. He gets the full star treatment here and pulls it off as well as anyone could under the circumstances. Despite his reputation as a grunting caveman with a unibrow, even Woody Allen couldn't have recited this verbal diarrhea any better. And I'm talking lines like, "It's a condition I have called ataraxia" and "Did anyone tell you should never put the word you're defining in a definition?" and "On your face, there's a nose, and underneath that nose, there's a mouth."
Everyone else looks like a waxwork in a museum about to be burned down for the real estate. Ben Kingsley and Morgan Freeman do their overrated shtick which basically amounts to rolling vowels around and being poised and boring to show their almighty experience before the camera; both of them need to either take a huge risk or go away fast. A facelifted Bruce Willis brings back horrifying memories of Billy Bob Thornton's uncreased new visage in The Ice Harvest ( their faces now resemble children's hindquarters. ) And Lucy Liu goes for Young Shirley MacLaine but, flitting around the decade-younger Hartnett, comes off more Old Asian M.I.L.F.
Without breaking a sweat, Hartnett wipes the floor with all of them -- and if that isn't more tragicomic than anything else going on in the story, then I'm Paris Hilton's latest conquest.
The Naked and the Dead (1958)
A Walsh jewel from his most confusing decade.
Raoul Walsh's films of the 1950's are uncharted territory, much like the South Pacific island where most of the action in Naked and the Dead unfolds. Many of the films aren't available or are rarely seen. Of those that are, I'm only familiar with a series of Clark Gable films serving mostly as an excuse for Walsh, through Gable, to flaunt his reactionary values, missing body parts, and old-sea-salt virility. In none of these films was there any indication that Walsh could deliver something of the scale and complexity of Naked and the Dead, which more than equals mid-period lulus like The Roaring Twenties.
Walsh was an arbitrary choice to film Norman Mailer's novel. Mailer wrote the book as a young man with a name to make and awards to win. In 1958 Walsh had nothing left to prove to anyone -- even when he was Mailer's age, I can't imagine him going for Mailer's bludgeoning tactics. Though I'm no Mailer acolyte, you do miss his chutzpah at first, as the movie has a laid-back feel more appropriate for a beach volleyball film. An amphibious landing that brings echoes of D-Day is carried out near the beginning of the film, during which we're told that 130 men have died, but we don't see a single limb get blown off. We just get a couple shots of smoke rising out of the forest as the ships land. You start to worry that Walsh, like in those Errol Flynn war films of the 1940's, has brought his crew down to Pasadena to film in a state park with three potted palm trees.
However, the interplay between the actors -- Walsh favors long-takes with eight or nine guys just shooting the s--t, stirring hooch and whining about their superiors -- is enough to keep you watching. Eventually it dawns on you that Walsh has seen much more of life than Mailer. He is long past the need to sadistically linger on the more dramatic moments of war. You can feel Walsh feeding off his group of actors, basking in their youth while lovingly depicting their trials of life, the same ones he underwent half a century ago. The approach is very much like Scorsese's in The Aviator in its tendency to concentrate on hope and promise, a refusal to wallow in the ugly. Right to the end Walsh resists the impulse to ratchet up the tension -- like a conductor guiding his music with a steady pulse, the movie just keeps plodding along, and a horrific death is given no more emphasis than a running joke about Raymond Massey's character getting a daily bunch of flowers.
In the final hour, his method pays off. The landscapes open up in spectacular fashion, just as each character moves inexorably towards an action that will define them within time like a pin in a map. An authenticity grips the movie and won't let go. The way Walsh has of letting major events happen offscreen begins to feel ominous and evocative of unseen forces, worthy of Jacques Tourneur, and the underpopulated battles take on massive grandeur in the imagination. A culminating sequence featuring rows upon rows of tanks and mortars battering an invisible enemy is what all directors want to achieve -- a moment that goes beyond words into an expression of pure cosmic power, millenia of sorrow and rage blending into a firework display for the gods.
Think of this as The Naked and the Dead, and you'll be disappointed. Think of it as what Terence Malick wanted to do with The Thin Red Line, and you will see exactly where he went wrong, and where Walsh succeeds. Walsh blows the world up good, but unlike the lords of war, he does it for love, not personal gain. And he takes us all out equally.
Raw Deal (1948)
No-dice noir from Anthony Mann.
Hobbled from the jump by the first uninspiring sight of Dennis O'Keefe's flabby medicine ball of a face, Raw Deal is a film that will only please those who giggle automatically at noir tropes and who think of the 1940's as some kitschy wonderland of slang and fedoras instead of real people backed, as they are in every era and every country, into existential corners.
Let's take the scene where Raymond Burr shoves a hotpot of cherries jubilee in a groupie's face. This scene comes between Cagney's '32 grapefruit smash in Public Enemy and Lee Marvin's 1950 coffee fling in Gloria Grahame's face in The Big Heat. Why does it make me roll my eyes instead of gasp at the sadistic audacity of it all? Well, a grapefruit is benign and yet to shove it in a woman's face is humorously degrading, while a cup of coffee is something that is often at hand and which could easily be seized upon as a weapon in a moment of pique. But with the cherries jubilee, all you can think of is the effort the screenwriter had to make to get them on the table in the first place, explain via dialogue why they're on fire, and then come up with a plausible excuse for an underwritten character to brandish them. And having a faceless extra spill some water on his back is not that excuse, no matter how psychotic Raymond Burr's character is supposed to be. He might as well brain his dog with a curling iron, or wrap his henchman in wallpaper and then headbutt him with a Viking helmet. I get more chills from Groucho Marx's attacks on Margaret Dumont.
I also have a hard time believing anyone can be impressed by a dialogue exchange like this: "Pat --" "Pat? Patsy, that's what I am! A lost little lamb who waited for you ten years and'll wait another fifteen if need be... Twenty!" Sounds like something Brittany Murphy might deliver in Sin City II. Nothing is really convincing here, from Claire Trevor's hard-luck moll to Mann's attempts at jacking up some Kafkaesque absurdity with the sudden intrusion of a wife-killer. There is no personal approach and it all remains a master's thesis on noir rather than noir itself. It's appropriate that TCM showed this along with Lindsay Anderson's This Sporting Life -- my respects to Bob Osbourne, but both films are made by directors who try to be "dark" for the sake of their careers rather than out of any coherent philosophy, and as usual, film buffs and critics lap this mechanistic nonsense up.
Another Face (1935)
30's enemble acting at its best.
Another Face offers no shattering truths, and was just one of hundreds of time-fillers of its day. But the deeper you go into these sausage-factory productions the more you want of them. Whereas nowadays I can pretty much tell from a director's CV what will be good and what won't, and can immediately cross a director off my list if, for instance, he had a winning film at Sundance or is the protégé of Robert Evans, everything in the frenzied early days of the talkies was much more random and had nothing to do with the strivings of an ambitious individual. The actors and writers were either juiced that day or they weren't, and the director pointed the camera.
The plot: Brian Donlevy is a gangster named "Broken Nose" Dawson who has plastic surgery to elude police and then goes to Hollywood to try his luck as an actor. Wallace Ford, a fantastic character actor whose looks and mannerisms will remind modern viewers of Steve Zahn, steps into the Lee Tracy role of a muckraking press agent who is just itching for a story like this. His girlfriend, played by the hot -- and I mean HOT, like the way you think Jean Harlow will look before you actually see her and realize she looks like Miss Piggy -- Phyllis Brooks, is a conceited actress who doesn't appreciate being asked to play opposite a no-talent thug. And Alan Hale and even Hattie McDaniel are on hand to make you think you're at MGM, an impression that the slick cinematography does nothing to belie.
This is one of those movies that make you wonder why acting is considered more "naturalistic" today. I guess if you consider people being sprayed down with water before each take to look sweaty and scrunching their forehead to show how hard they're working at existing on camera, yes, modern actors are more naturalistic. This cast, however, is not a collection of egomaniacal studs trying to out-emote each other but a well-oiled team that Christopher Guest would have been proud of, the linchpin being the underrated and versatile Wallace Ford. Brian Donlevy really inhabits his role to the point of being unsympathetic and crass, and despite the comedic trappings of the film, may be up there with Joe Pesci in his lived-in portrayal of a sociopath. Try not to be shocked when, cornered by the police, he drops his facade and instantly fires a round at a woman and then shoots the lighting guy!
Before that happens, there are numerous funny moments, like when Donlevy thinks he hears someone spying on him in a closet. As it turns out, someone really is, but her life is spared when Donlevy, remembering he's an actor now, suddenly becomes self-conscious about his profile and starts trying to make his chin jut out in the perfect way. Lots of the movie even feels like old-pro improv, with lines that are written to sound artfully flubbed, like when Alan Hale, not believing that a famous gangster like Broken Nose Dawson is on his set, says, "That's fine, that's fine... Get me Jesse James, too, and Dr. Jekyll, and then we'll have a male... quartet." He only mentions three men, but even if there were four, that wouldn't make the phrase "male quartet" any less awkward. Yet they left it in, and its lack of Hawksian polish makes it feel very fresh. Really cool.
The ending is even action-packed and intense. Check this movie out if they play it on TCM.
Asia's book of revelations.
Though I am a fan of Asia Argento, in both of her phases as an ingenue and as a grotesque, I put off seeing this film when it was playing at a festival last year. I was expecting a meaningless atrocity exhibition in the "look at me" school of Darren Aronofky, a sort of Julien Brown-Bunny Boy compilation of indie film clichés of the last five years. And yes, the photography has the same bleached-out sunny look Gallo favors ( think Beth Orton album covers ) and Argento cribs the pixellated ice skater as figure of grace from Korine.
Those are her only mistakes. Furious, intense, dizzyingly expressionistic like Dario hasn't been since Inferno, yet always tender and almost serenely observant within the madness -- and nowhere near as explicit as it makes you think it is -- The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things is a sincere Catholic vision where the possibility for salvation is near invisible. Argento may not seem like the greatest choice to play a Southern trollop, but when you think about it, there's a very short distance between Faulkner's Southern Gothic and the Argento family's brand of grand guignol. Which is not to say that Asia is in any way imitating her father. His tradition is the disreputable horror film; Asia's language, which has evolved miraculously since Scarlet Diva, is more mainstream and even manages Scorsese's hopped-up rhythms, but there are many subtle moments where Dario's absurd floating terror suddenly occurs, perfectly integrated into a style that is in the current preferred mode of realism. What father and daughter have in common is a philosophy that might be summed up: "In the midst of life we are in death."
I shouldn't even bring up Faulkner, because this movie is far from a regional wallow, an outsider's attempt at a Southern freak show. Asia's great achievement is to make it impossible to separate yourself from the desperation on screen, to say it belongs to a certain place, to hillbillies, freaks and drug addicts in Tennessee ( or wherever. ) This is a movie about a time, not a place -- and that time is the end of time. When Argento runs through the street naked raving about doomsday, there is no comforting suggestion that we're watching a character who is crazy; what we're seeing is Argento running naked through the street raving about doomsday. Judging by her appearance, and the fact that her once creamy voice now sounds like a 68-year old woman with throat cancer, Argento is killing herself for her art. But unlike Courtney Love, her degeneration has a purpose, an exaltation, a passion behind it. A passion to, as Jeremiah says while nearly pulling the skin off his face, "dig myself out."
There is no escape from the lovelessness of what we see on screen, or what you, my brilliant secular reader with the nice new Prius and the aspiring-actress girlfriend ( oh wait, is that me? ) are currently living through, whether you know it or not. Without God, as Argento suggests with her abrupt ending, the nightmare will perpetuate itself endlessly. Luckily, there are moments of grace that equal Gena Rowland's impromptu truck stop dance in Minnie and Moskowitz, that go by almost too quick to take in, like a street minstrel who flips his guitar around and joyfully whacks it on the back, or Jeremiah stumbling around in a cautious dawn rippling with the faraway strains of Debussy. And the girl on the white horse, who, though we only see her for a second, makes us want to be her, to know what she knows.
Oh, and the J.T. LeRoy thing? Argento's movie is such an outcry of her own soul, so personal in its identification with the child Jeremiah, that you will quickly forget that anyone else but her ever had a hand in this particular story -- fiction or non.
The First Hundred Years (1938)
As the Germans would say, "the fat years are over."
Just wanted to put a good word in for this movie, since the other posters seem to have been taken in by its perfunctory happy ending. What we have here is an unspectacular but fascinating curio, an end-of-an-era film made by Richard Thorpe around the same time he made Night Must Fall, which would be the culmination of Robert Montgomery's progression from charming bounder to seedy, syphilitic cad ( Jude Law is currently on the same path. ) This is where the elegant swells of MGM's 1930's stable, sensing that youth has passed them by, begin to show their true malevolent, selfish being -- and indeed, Montgomery like James Stewart, the most ingratiating stars of their era, would later become wizened arch-conservatives.
The First 100 Years would have had more weight if it had starred Joan Crawford instead of Virginia Bruce, but then again, Bruce brings a vulnerability to the role that makes up for her less than iconic stature. Bruce's character is a woman who is imprisoned in her time, and it's only a short step from the end of this film to La Notte or Diary of a Mad Housewife. Happy ending? Yeah, and Preminger's endings are giddy! Sad that the broad Jon Stewart kind of irony has replaced people's appreciation of a quieter, more insinuating kind that you'll find in Henry James and which movies necessarily thrive on, as directors and writers have to slip the truth through the back door. You have to pay more attention to the tonality of the thing, rather than the events depicted.
Richard Thorpe, a journeyman director who suddenly flared up in the late 1930's with a series of incredibly bleak and, yes, even Jamesian films -- such as Man-Proof and, though I haven't seen it, "Love is a Headache" must surely deal with the same themes -- before settling down once again into routine swashbucklers, provides many interesting touches, such as an organ installed in Montgomery's living room, replacing the usual cocktail-party piano with soupy dirges. Except for this organ, Thorpe constructs the whole movie almost entirely without music, and many scenes start with a bubbly chip-chip-cheeree kind of mood only to disintegrate into awkward neurosis and recrimination. He is obviously not working with material as strong as he had for Night Must Fall, but this is a must-see pendant for fans of that unsurpassed existential masterpiece.
Angel, Angel, Down We Go (1969)
This will still be making people gasp after Gone With the Wind is forgotten.
Of all the films I know from the period, by no means all of them, Angel, Angel Down We Go is surpassed in the annals of 60's camp only be Joseph Losey's Boom! and Modesty Blaise ( I have high hopes for The Angry Breed. ) Robert Thom's visual style is occasionally inspired but no match for Losey's tailgunning assaults on the retina. But he compensates with his words -- he is the Shakespeare of AIP. "Fat girls are the remembrance of things past." Can we not admit, in the age of the skeleton girls and bobbleheads, that this is at least as prophetic as the words of Elijah?
Casual viewers may mistake this kind of movie as the work of indulgent, drugged-out weirdos but, sad to say, the real Hollywood reptilians make stuff like Love Story and Mission: Impossible III. Let's not forget that Bob Crane once starred in Disney films. It pains me to disappoint connoisseurs of what was once called trash, but there is always a moral component to the most outrageous camp classic. Beauty is truth and truth beauty. Valley of the Dolls ends with a parody of Ingrid Bergman in Stromboli, where Neely O'Hara is reduced to nothing and screaming for God, until she rebels and begins howling her own name! Showgirls of course is devoted to the most microscopic investigation of modern man's nostalgie de la boue. The remake of The Stepford Wives outdoes Von Trier by telling of women who perpetuate their own slavery by creating robot husbands to keep them in an idle luxury they never really wanted to give up. Almost every film by Takashi Miike is an illustration of my theory -- mocking the people who believe in a sort of "extreme cinema" divorced from spiritual context.
Likewise, Thom tells it like it is -- the world he sees is a slaughterhouse draped in the latest fashions. But he is also on an apostolic mission. Out of this muck, one soul is restored to its original innocence: Jennifer Jones. Those who know anything about her tortured history will understand that this film is less a paycheck for her than a bizarre form of penance. This is a woman who, after leaving Robert Walker for David Selznick, and becoming Hollywood's most classic example of bartering her soul for fame, seems to have been a walking magnet for extreme wealth, almost as if she were being taunted. Can you imagine what it meant for her, in a fictional context at least, to trade in all her jewelry for cotton candy? Which she throws away without eating? This scene proves to the cosmos that her heart was always shielded from the lie of existence.
And you can't fail to notice that this aging star, who has always attracted mystical projects, looks about nine years old in her orange jumpsuit, shortly before leaping to her death -- this scene would be the last of her career. Now you know who the angel of the title is. If you still want to see something sick and "extreme" with the same actress, leave Angel, Angel on the shelf -- for I fear it is actually boring and saintly -- and check out Selznick's wartime propaganda film Since You Went Away. There the resourceful Selznick actually cast Jones opposite Walker and made them reenact their youthful love affair under his merry, twinkling eye.
Kôhî jikô (2003)
Arghgghghgh! Hulk smash!
It's official, folks -- Hou Hsiao-Hsien doesn't have a thought in his pretty little head. Are you wondering why he chose Shu Qi as his muse?
Shu ( or is that Qi? ) doesn't appear in this one. Instead we get a snaggletoothed Yo Hitoto, apparently a pop star in Japan -- judging by her song at the end, she's a pop star just like the girl who serves you at Rockin' Curry is "a actriss" -- and a wasted Tadanobu Asano, typically an indicator of quality, who is required to do nothing here but stand around and look like a mumbling Asian hipster and is too old to manage even that.
Hou's philosophy? Life is limbo, a big nothing, feel it and move on. I'd like to do that but Hou gives us nothing to feel in Cafe Lumiere beyond a bland photo essay of Life in Tokyo Circa 2003 and the flabbergasting observation that people are ships that pass in the night, no, make that trains that pass in the day, never connecting, each hurtling to its own destination, usually some variant of a dark tunnel or maybe a bridge if they're lucky. Yikes. Flowers of Shanghai is one of the most rarefied, technically accomplished and mesmerizing films of all time. How could the same director who created the opening shot of that film, which features about twelve actors conversing at machine-gun speed for about ten straight minutes -- an impossible directorial feat -- get trapped making this laconic sub-Jarmusch reality porn for two films in a row now? Millennium Mambo may be dead weight, but at least it has two great shots, shots that hint at Hou's true calling as the film equivalent of Odilon Redon: Those shots are the sex scene with the arrhythmically blinking lights and the opening shot of Shu Qi floating down a blue corridor. His M.O. while making Cafe Lumiere seems to have been to remove the two great shots from Millennium Mambo to make it more consistent. You be the judge if that sounds appealing.
Hou does not need to refine -- you cannot refine the limbo idea further than Flowers of Shanghai. He needs to expand, to bloat outwards, to release the inner expressionist and genre-revitalizer that is being squandered so senselessly on clichéd minimalism. It's time for him to do a live-action remake of Akira or something. This kind of art film where the actors are supposed to be authentic because they are held facelessly in long-shot and speak in monosyllables is now every last bit as safe, ghettoized and stagnant as the Hollywood action blockbuster. ( What is the connection between "reality" and people who can't talk? It seems to me that people "in real life" never stop jabbering. ) Then again, considering that 2005 alone brought big-budget movies as diverse and rich in ideas as Aeon Flux, The Island, and King Kong, it's now safe to say that even Michael Bay has surpassed Hou, and that's really sad.
The good news is that, though Hou is in his 50s, it frankly feels to me as if he hasn't even begun. There are a couple moments in this film that show the promise is still there, such as a moody bit early on in the bookstore when the room dims to a bloody sunset-red while Hitoto talks about babies with the faces of goblins. But whatever fear is holding him back, however comfortable it is to make the same film over and over and be hailed by the gullible and pretentious as the savior of cinema, Hou, your time as the darling of the Rotterdam, Venice, Toronto, Berlin and whatever else film festivals is almost up and people are catching onto your ruse double-quick. Two words for you: Atom Egoyan. Two more words, or maybe three: Tsai Ming-Liang. You are now cribbing from both of these tedious frauds who are about to go up their own dark tunnels forever. Risk your shirt on a sci-fi epic, sell out, be reviled -- but leave the social critiques to people that have no eye and no heart. Let your painterly talent express itself to the full. You're not going to ever get out of limbo otherwise.
The Passion of the Jones.
Never mind George Bush and his cowboy diplomacy. Never mind that Tommy Lee Jones roomed with Al Gore at an Ivy League school. In The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrade, staged, fictional as it may be, you will see, in a most unlikely era, perhaps the most authentic cowboy-concept the screen has ever produced.
The cowboy as portrayed by Jones is once again, as he used to be, the Western paragon of honor and authenticity, knowing what's right and unfazed by man's law. The twist is that the world has become so debased that this sense of honor now looks like google-eyed lunacy. It is literally one man against the world; not one man against a group, or against a microcosm, with a good woman waiting at the end of the line and children who will restore order and civilization ( the only time we hear a child speak in this film, he yelps "Go--amn bastard a--hole!" ) This cowboy is as alone as God. He may, in fact, be just that, and his outwardly vile actions -- such as his queasily comical attempts to preserve Melquiades's body -- may or may not prove to have some larger point, or even a prima causa.
Pete Perkins and Melquiades Estrada are in love, but this isn't Brokeback Mountain -- it is a brotherly love that they share. Melquiades refuses all possessions like a Tibetan monk, giving Pete his best horse on a whim, living in a shack with a bare lightbulb, and dying with a buck and change in his pocket. When he's killed by Barry Pepper's Border Patrol officer, Perkins will undergo what apparently seems a mission of revenge, dragging Pepper and the body of Melquiades across half of Mexico in order to return the body to his wife in his hometown of Jimenez. But does Jimenez exist? Did Melquiades even have a wife? The mission becomes a quixotic -- I use the term advisedly -- search for a city that doesn't exist to honor a love that isn't sexual, satisfies no needs and therefore cannot be seen. When Perkins and his prisoner reach a scrubby area with a few rock formations that might have once been houses, Perkins pretends to recognize Melquiades' description of Jimenez, a place between two hills "so beautiful that once you see it, you'll never forget it." Pepper thinks he's crazy. This place is not pleasing to the eye. But in the end, he will be left weeping and begging Melquiades's forgiveness with the fervor of Dreyer's Joan of Arc. And the last line from his mouth, the last line we hear from a man who is stranded in the middle of nowhere with a mutilated foot and scars up and down his face, and the last line in the movie is "Are you going to be all right?"
There's no other way to say it -- this is not only a film that reclaims the cowboy from those who use the image unwisely and inauthentically, but more crucially, takes back Christianity as well, the kind of Christianity that isn't bruited about to win votes, power and money but reveals itself through actions like a chain that connects past, present and future to an unknown source. The cowboy is the samurai is the monk is the knight of infinite faith. Recasting the events of the film back in your mind, you realize that the movie was about the salvation of Barry Pepper's soul, here idealized as the average American -- a product of his sterile, telegenic environment, one hand down his pants and the other on the trigger of a gun, unable to satisfy his wife because he is closed off from his potential, but with a kernel of goodness that can only be brought out through a sort of limit-experience, which is where "crazy" Pete Perkins comes in.
It is telling that Pepper nearly dies of a rattlesnake bite before having the poison sucked out by a Mexican woman he'd previously clobbered in the face when she attempted to cross the border. The next shot shows a brief glimpse of the reconciliation of all opposites, as everyone sits together and shucks corn, reminding me of the moment in The Little Foxes when all the patient, suffering characters gather on the patio for one brief moment before Bette Davis's mercenary shrew breaks them up again. There's a couple dozen more shots that deserve mention but space is limited. Suffice to say that Jones is not just a solid actor's director, like Eastwood, but an inspired visionary who can achieve exotic Baudelairean effects.
If it's really true that Tommy Lee Jones is gearing up to direct Blood Meridian, for which the times are more than ripe, and for which he is indeed the man required, this macabre yet blissful vision is the ideal primer. It gives us a little something to hope for, illusory as it may seem, before dropping us into hell -- which, like Martin Scorsese, Jones unmistakably believes in and fears.
Chapter 1: Wherein a frustrated viewer mispronounces "allegorical" and "didacticism."
Manderlay, a whomping setback for The Lars von Trier Project, is the first film from the man that doesn't feel like an event. A feeling of weakening and slippage is present in every shot, like this were a homework project that Von Trier could barely stay awake to finish. To quote the greatest of his fellow Scandinavians, ABBA, the king has lost his crown.
A lot of Dogville and Manderlay is a trickster joke. What often seems to be aimed against U.S. policy is actually directed against Von Trier himself, as if he's trying to rid himself ( and indirectly us ) of egotistical illusions, so that nothing is left but the invisible mountains beyond the border. The crux of Dogville's dramatic turnabout was not Grace but Tom, played by Paul Bettany, a sort of cross between Hamlet and Clifford Odets who is caught in the absurd position of wanting to achieve fame through posing moral conundrums, yet has to give up the possibility of fame in order to live up to his own standard. His failure is Von Trier's rebuke to himself for fancying that he, as an artist, was superior to a simple good person like Nicole Kidman's Grace.
In Manderlay, Grace and Tom are grafted onto each other to create Bryce Dallas Howard, who, though without an iota of Kidman's presence, is very convincing as a certain type -- the self-righteous college girl who concerns herself loudly with the well-being of a vaguely defined "other" while railing against institutions put into place long before she was born and which there might well be a reason for. Von Trier is back covering the well-trod ground of The Idiots -- the inevitable failure of all political systems. The difference is that he's taking on democracy instead of communism, but it still feels tired.
The problem is that Von Trier works and strains every muscle to shock without earning the dialectical right to do so -- again, unlike in the surprisingly subtle Dogville -- and leaves no cornball pseudo-avant-garde device unturned, from blackface to interracial sex and crotch shots of Ron Howard's daughter ( okay, that last one is pretty shocking. ) This could have been directed by a UC San Diego sophomore who was just blown away when his teacher showed him Marat/Sade. Yes, most of this is a noisy red herring, but those noisy red herrings used to make up about 75% of his movies; now they're the whole show. There's nothing left except the gadfly. "Provocateur" is too strong a word for the faintly humorous suggestion that Abraham Lincoln is Satan. The only emotion in this film is carefully hidden in the two or three scenes given over to the dying black girl, her riveting image stolen from Gondry's video for Bjork's "Hyperballad," and the line: "The sand got in everywhere, except in the stars above Claire's bed."
Another thing. Von Trier has long been given almost automatic recognition for being a great visual stylist, but this is usually because he always comes up with a gimmick that blinds you at first to how poorly it's carried out, or how the actors in his film seem to have no clue what they're doing. When that gimmick is removed and he repeats himself, as here, he is cruelly exposed for the lazy, haphazard director that he is ( at least his writing took a huge jump forward with Dogville. ) First of all -- this business of chalk lines and Brechtian sets. To make the contrast really effective between these unadorned surroundings and Hollywood films, shouldn't they be filmed with Hollywood lighting and static set-ups such as you'd see in a Joel Schumacher production? What is the point of shooting verite-style with hand-held cameras? That completely cancels the paradox. The only reason to shoot it this way is because it's the same way he's been shooting for fifteen years and isn't inclined to change.
Dear Wendy from last year proved to me that Von Trier's protégé Thomas Vinterberg will soon take over as the king of Danish filmmakers, with a style that combines Spielbergian fluency -- he is a far greater stylist than his master -- with a sort of innocence that obviously inflames and fascinates Von Trier, who must see him as a real-life version of his "Golden Heart" heroines. Dear Wendy was a ridiculous project set up to destroy the idiot savant Vinterberg, who somehow turned out a cult classic and came out unscathed; and this too, you suspect was part of Von Trier's plan, expert on "psychology" that he is. He should just give all his scripts to Vinterberg, who has the fire that is quickly dwindling from Von Trier. Maybe because these days, like the original Grace, Von Trier would rather be a good person than an artist. I wonder if he would find THAT suggestion provocative.
Bombs onstage and off.
Coming off a decade of soppy but enjoyably nuance-rich films, each of which was noticeably filmed under the impression that THIS one might be the elusive big hit to propel him into the mainstream, Albert Brooks has given up... And the results are astonishing. Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World strikes a queasy balance between Brooks' reassuringly familiar neurotic persona and a brittle jigsaw-puzzle formalism that sits very well next to several films of the moment, such as Soderbergh's Bubble and Haneke's Cache. But LFCITMW is more discomfiting than either of those movies because comedians, in a functioning society, are shock-absorbing teddy bears, neutralizers of chaos. Nothing in life is too bad as long as we can laugh at it, or recognize another's plight in our own. Brooks does something very daring in this movie, though -- he castrates himself as the voice of reason.
It's not comedy Brooks is going for here so much as a symphony in the key of failure. Almost everyone in this film is nasty in a way that hasn't been seen in a Brooks feature before. Penny Marshall's treatment of Brooks goes beyond the comical taunts of Josh Lucas's agent in The Muse into the realm of virulent anti-Semitism mingled with a complete indifference to his fellow humanity inasmuch as he's no longer commercially viable. The few interactions Brooks has with his Ebay-obsessed wife are devoid of empathy or even the WILL to empathy ( she wants him to work more, even if it's in a Muslim sitcom ); and all his daughter does is ask him for presents. The two agents assigned to assist Brooks in his fact-finding mission in India continually jeopardize his life while posing as infallible tough guys. Even the charming Indian girl that he hires as his secretary contributes to the feeling of instability by threatening to tell her hostile Iranian boyfriend she's in love with him. No one in the movie has any time to understand anyone else. The irredeemably baffling relations between Westerners and the Middle East is just a metaphor for a greater malaise; everyone in this film is trapped in their own joylessly selfish, ever-shrinking headspace.
In light of all this, you'd expect Brooks to be an oasis of sanity, but what predominates is the feeling that Brooks might as well be dead, that the world no longer has room for him, which is to say, that it no longer has room for intelligent commentary or relatable despair. LFCITMW culminates in the middle, in a setpiece that is more intense than anything DePalma or Hitchock could dream up -- Brooks bombs onstage in front of his Muslim/Hindi audience so badly that it seems to leave a permanent stain on him, to brand him as an undesirable in this life and the next. What makes this worse is that he's dusting off some of the routines that made him famous in the 70's. The effect is like seeing Lazarus rise, only to be instantly cut down by Herod's soldiers ( "Burn me," Brooks says to his assistant during an entr'acte. ) It is an awesomely brave display of ego-obliteration. Brooks leaves himself completely naked here, not only bombing in the present but desecrating the glories of his past and erasing his future in the bargain. Surprisingly, the scene is not played for laughs at all but is done so realistically -- look how the camera seems to HIDE by focusing on his hand scribbling frantically on the chalkboard -- that I could feel the blood freezing in my veins, that I wanted to die along with him.
"It's not the end of the world when you bomb," Brooks will say later, and is overheard by a Pakistani agent who thinks he's disclosing the USA's secret plans and ramps up nuclear security accordingly. This is the kind of stuff that made Brooks so beloved of Stanley Kubrick. Unfortunately, it is the end of the world when you bomb, and the end of Brooks's world, the failure of his comedy to soothe the savage breast, seems to foreshadow the end of everything. After all, wasn't classic, humane Hollywood entertainment our last link to the rest of the world even when our politics infuriated and inflamed? Isn't any civilization's culture its sole claim to permanence, as this film suggests constantly through its shots of stunning palaces and mosques?
The final shot of the film is strange enough to make you shiver: We see a tacky souvenir of the Taj Mahal trapped in a snow globe, while on the soundtrack we hear a canned version of God Bless America. This is followed by the whistle of a falling bomb - or is it just a catcall?
A Cock and Bull Story (2005)
Is it possible to have a hot streak with a Winterbottom?
A film so post-post-postmodern that Steve Coogan steps out of the screen and hits on your girlfriend in the theater lobby -- I won't say if this is true or not -- Tristram Shandy is a meticulously controlled work that, despite the film-within-a-film conceit, is very faithful to its impenetrable source. Just like Sterne's book, the engine of Winterbottom's film is bittersweet melancholy, but the engine noise, drowning out what some might consider to be a nihilistic message, is bawdy, music-hall, veddy veddy English humor.
For Americans to get anything out of this movie, you will need to understand a bit about both Tristram Shandy -- at least enough to know that Coogan is playing Shandy's FATHER and that Shandy himself is only the narrator -- and about Steve Coogan's mythology. For those who are too lazy, all you need to know is that Coogan doesn't have a reputation for being led around by his brain. I have briefly met him in person and found the experience uncanny. He is so fully what he is that he seems to have a force-field around him that separates him from the more amorphous mass of humanity. In the future, when you say the word "Coogan," it will instantly paint a picture of a certain type of male. A type that women are drawn to irresistibly, because he is both a child in need of mothering, a grown Linus Van Pelt perpetually clutching a security blanket, and aggressively sexual and dirty. He's the bad boy and the baby all rolled into one. And yet, far from being a jerk or a cad, he is intensely likable.
All of which goes to show that rarely has any actor been more perfect for a role than Coogan is here. Posing this hapless man-child next to a bull with a huge bazoing pretty much says it all. You see, Sterne is not a fan of the procreative arts ( and judging by his last few movies, neither is Winterbottom; "Everyone's kid is so special," says Samantha Morton in Code 46, "Makes you wonder where all the ordinary adults come from." ) The title character of Tristram Shandy remains famously unborn, and the only characters that Sterne truly loves, and who truly love each other, are a eunuch and a widow, all of which goes to show that Sterne considers death to be a blessing and human existence to be largely unnecessary, nothing but the byproduct of mindless sexual flare-ups that would be quickly forgotten except for the babies they produce, who in turn have more sexual flare-ups, and so on. In the film these flare-ups come courtesy of Steve Coogan, playing both himself as a father -- and constantly attempting to cheat on his wife, as he is famous for doing in real life; you may even recall the false alarm that he'd knocked up Courtney Love! -- and also the reluctant Shandy's paterfamilias. Between these two Johnny Appleseeds, both of whom look like Steve Coogan, entire planetary systems could be populated and repopulated.
The film is short, but dense -- every scene has so many dimensions that the end result fans out like a peacock's tail. There are infinite details to sift through in its 90 minute running time, and there is a very beautifully done telescoping of time periods to match Tristram Shandy's 18th-century milieu with that of Steve Coogan's and our own modern day. When Coogan haggles over a script in the lobby of a trendily underlit London hotel, you feel somehow transported back to Shandy's father's palatial home and its elegant candlelight. The central scene of the film comes when Coogan, escaping from a costume party where the 21st century briefly crashes into the 18th, tells his wife: "I just had a nightmare." That nightmare is called our world, reality, human as opposed to divine love, the world controlled by time yet where nothing really changes except the clothes and the hairstyles, and that, despite its obvious wretchedness and pain, people are too afraid to give up; yes, the very same "cock and bull story" of the title. It is not every comedian who has something to say about the human comedy. But Coogan certainly does, under Michael Winterbottom's expert and disillusioned hand.
The New World (2005)
To those who don't buy the Malick-as-reclusive-genius patter...
See The New World anyway. To establish my low place on the Malick-worshipping spectrum, I thought Badlands was serviceable, that Days of Heaven went for Old Testament and settled for coffee-table book, and that The Thin Red Line was feebly improvised on set by someone who didn't seem to have the character, style, depth or experience to shoot good footage on the fly and so constantly resorted to uninspiring nature shots to cover up for the fact that the actors had no clue what they were doing ( although I did appreciate the magic trick of making Adrien Brody disappear. ) So as you can see, I wasn't exactly about to hoist Malick up to the Rivette-Kubrick-Cassavetes level.
As it turns out, there are more cutaway nature shots than in Days of Heaven and Thin Red Line combined, Malick is still riding his Paradise Lost hobbyhorse, the classical music samples are as cheesily tasteful as ever, and all around, this is just like his other movies, or the difference is so small as to be infinitesimal -- AND it stars Colin "Will Arch His Eyebrows For Food" Farrell, maybe the only actor on earth more annoying and vain than Adrien Brody, a man who seems to destroy historical epics the way the locusts in Days of Heaven destroyed Malick's exasperating wheat.... Yet despite this morass of handicaps no movie should be able to recover from, The New World left me in a state of absolute rapture ( like so many other movies in this fiscally but not artistically cursed year, including the Brody-starring King Kong. ) Why? I can't quite figure it out. Malick's brand of National Geographic tone poem should be more pallid and generic than ever considering so many amazing latter-day examples of cinematic impressionism like Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Flowers of Shanghai, Michael Winterbottom's Code 46, Arnaud Desplechin's Esther Kahn, Xu Wei's Purple Butterfly or Claire Denis's Beau Travail -- the last of which this film actually resembles quite a bit in the way it refuses to privilege, in fact glosses over, the usual dramatic highlights.
But there are subtle changes to the formula, the kind of tweaks performed by a skilled mechanic on a recalcitrant Jaguar to make it good as new. The detested voiceovers, for example, mostly stay far from the cornpone "My heart was heavy like a thundercloud" Carson McCullersisms that Malick usually favors, and that his amanuensis David Gordon Green has, over a regrettable series of films, rendered unuseable for at least the next two hundred years. Here they are fragmentary, shadows of thoughts more than coherent statements, and instead of stopping the action dead they're superimposed over the dialogue, which they interrupt, contradict, obscure and deepen. Fascinating stuff. For instance, there's a motif of Pocahontas saying "Mother" in voice-over whenever she's in a prayerful mood, and this happens not only when she's staring out at the ( mother ) ocean but also when she's nibbling on Colin Farrell's ear. For her, everything is illuminated. Colin Farrell's voiceovers, in contrast, are self-doubting and waffling, to show how the shock of his experience with Pocahontas has betrayed his linear macho ambition. Malick is thinking symphonically to place us in the heads and hearts of personages long dead; he is using words paradoxically against themselves to destroy the equivocal and deceptive power that they have to betray the soul.
Malick, like Michael Haneke with Cache, also seems to be advancing beyond that goofy liberal habit of "implicating the audience." Those who say that this movie is about nature's superiority to civilization -- and in their favor, there is a voice-over monologue by Colin Farrell as he rows upstream towards a native encampment that is very pagan-communist, "Any man who labors honestly will be free from the stranglehold of landlords," etc. -- may not have noticed that, later on, Pocahontas is sold out by her own people for a copper pot, or that Malick is anything but condescending towards her first exposure to Catholicism, that it in fact frames her experience and brings meaning to her private suffering in a way that epileptic tribal dances can't.
Histoire de Marie et Julien (2003)
Stop the clocks; game time is over.
While The Story of Marie and Julien seemed to be a minor Rivette film to me when I bought the DVD, it's taken on whole new meanings in the context of his entire oeuvre, which I've been following at a local festival. What's immediately noticeable -- and Rivette movies need at least 10 years to age before really coming into their own, the moment in which they were filmed needs to have passed from concrete reality into vague memory -- is that Marie et Julien has the feel of a concluding statement. But unlike most concluding statements of great authors, such as Eyes Wide Shut, where Kubrick essentially undoes the arrogant moral and intellectual certainty of 2001 and admits he's going into the great beyond with the innocence and confusion of a baby ( or starchild ), this isn't about what Rivette has learned or unlearned during his 70-odd years on earth. What gives Marie et Julien its particular character is that its relative simplicity is not something arrived at but something that has been DELIBERATELY REPRESSED during the entire half-century of Rivette's career. Though it takes place in the modern day, one feels that Rivette is referring to a central personal experience that happened before he ever began making films, way back in the mists of time, something so primal that he's had to dance around it for fifty years, in a kind of monastic flirtation with death, sensually delaying the moment of his final consummation by immersing himself in the unknown. But all along, this was an act, a masquerade, just as he considers this life itself to be. All this time, he wanted us to be seduced by his reflections of life's mystery, in order to feel the vicarious joy of not-knowing, of fear and uncertainty, the only real pleasures of being human. But in truth Rivette, like Meister Eckhart, or like the goddesses from his own Duelle who beg to be made mortal in order to be divested of the burden of total awareness, has always been one of those from whom "God hides nothing." This greatest poet of conspiracy and mystery here admits the truth he's been puckishly concealing all along -- mystery, fear, terror are illusions. There is only love.
The result of this unveiling, this outwardly old man's return to purity, hope and youth, for those ready to receive it, is a movie that accomplishes what so many charlatans through history have promised -- it defeats death. If you don't shudder at Emmanuelle Beart's final line, if you don't get a frisson at the opening sound collage of car motors and pedestrian noise being swallowed up by a ghostly drone, that's fine, it just means you are being kept in the dark temporarily while you complete your mission, whatever that may be. It's not for me to blurt out in a review what Rivette knows must not be said directly. Well, not in a FREE Internet review, anyway.
P.S. See if, during one of the numerous sex scenes in this film, you can spot the oblique reference to Heinrich von Kleist's strangely cinematic play Penthesilea ( it dates from the early 19th century yet was considered unstageable then, being written like a modern film script with tons of brief scenes. ) I thought I was hallucinating this reference until I saw a Rivette documentary from 1990 where he talks about Kleist. The play, as everyone who has read it knows, is the greatest ever written about the damage that men and women do to each other on earth. That is half of what this film is about, too. The other half isn't about earth at all.
L'amour par terre (1984)
One of Rivette's best from the 80's.
I think the reason that Rivette is the least popular -- yet by far the most secret, profound and precious -- of the New Wave directors is that he can't be pinned down to a belief. He isn't political, though corporate conspiracies are a factor in many of his films; he isn't an occultist, though his films are filled with Zodiacal symbols, the tarot, magicians; he isn't interested in putting humans under the microscope like Rohmer, though he is minutely attentive to what breaks people apart and brings them together. No; rather, politics, the occult, and humanity are like the vines tying together the raft through which he floats in the void. They are methods to generate material, curiosity and, as lit students would say, a narrative where none necessarily exists. I hope I'm making this clear -- Rivette actually LONGS FOR a worldwide political conspiracy, preferably controlled by a dark magus operating from some deceptively plain apartment in Paris, with the whole human comedy under his spell, because he knows that the alternative, what most people call "reality," would be soul death. He wants more mystery, more confusion, more action. Unlike Godard, he isn't looking for utopias, certainly not those that can be brought about by politics; he wants the world to be as it is, in all its unfathomable, malevolent, messy beauty.
As Jean-Pierre Kalfon says in L'Amour Par Terre one of Rivette's most insidious and fascinating films, by the way -- "I don't want to make life better than it is; I want life." Rivette, like many filmmakers who have disavowed their faith, has really only sublimated his religious quest. His obsession with the creative process, its false starts, abrupt detours and unknown destinations, is unmistakably of a spiritual nature. As it turns out, he is obsessed with stories because the world as we know it exists in order to contain them. For Rivette, God is not an obscure savior ( what are we being saved from? ) but a generator of fictional material, the ultimate creative artist. If the other world is defined by its permanence, its frozen perfection, this one must contain everything that can possibly exist, and the human artist, such as Rivette, then becomes like a sort of middleman between heaven and earth -- he gives form to the transitory, thus translating it for eternity.
Rivette's "strangeness" can be boiled down to his attempt to mirror God's mind by disavowing any ultimate truth. God requires stories in order not to be bored; stories require a world ruled by space and time where they can play out in a bounded setting, with a beginning and end; the world requires life in order to act out these stories. Stories, in short, require that we die. The two words that best describe Rivette's movies, "dark" and "childlike," come from the fact that, to accept that we are in a virtual, fictional realm, you must become as naive as a child for whom death is not real, yet who is subconsciously haunted by what it might mean. We die, but only because we're in a play. We die as children, but the curtain eventually rises ( he finally gives us a peek at what's behind it in his presumably final film, Marie et Julien. ) All this and more is part of why Rivette is so successful at blending the occult and the everyday there is nothing more occult than the fact that we're here at all, pretending we know what we're doing.
Haut bas fragile (1995)
Worlds in precarious balance.
Haut Bas Fragile is the loosely intertwined, loosely musical tale of three girls: Louise, Ninon and Ida, as well as their flirtations with Roland, a set designer -- it would be useful here to recall Vincente Minnelli's original profession.
Haut Bas Fragile is as elusive as anything Rivette has made, that is to say, as elusive as any movie ever made, and as always one must be vigilant. For instance, we are told that Louise ( Mariane Denicourt, looking like Audrey Tautou crossed with a supermodel ) has just emerged from a five-year coma. But how could someone who just woke out of a coma know jujitsu? Those familiar with Rivette know that actors and roleplaying are his big theme. And in Haut Bas Fragile, whenever people start to sing, that's when they're lying to each other... Only Ninon's dance, a metaphor for Rivette's directing style, is fully in the moment and liberated from the fictions of both an imagined past ( Ida, an orphan searching for her birth parents ) and an imagined future ( Louise, who only cares about money. ) Keeping that in mind, couldn't Louise be an actress HIRED by the crooked tycoon in order to retrieve the incriminating papers, rather than his daughter like she says? The story they concoct together would be perfect, because the man who has removed the papers from the aunt's house is the classic Rivettean artist and resurrected Round Table knight -- he's even called Roland -- who not only buys Louise's improbable story but helps her EMBELLISH it in order to, as he thinks, protect her. But Louise is one of the most monstrous characters in Rivette's films, more so even than Walser from Secret Defense. Imagine Jean Seberg as Karl Rove's hit-man and you'll get the idea of how treacherous this character is -- poetic Nouvelle Vague muse on the outside, hollow servant of capitalism on the inside.
Haut Bas Fragile must be Rivette's most despairing film. It establishes the present moment as emotionally and aesthetically dead and seems to swoon over the beauty of the past ( Louise's aunt's house, the sets that Roland builds, Anna Karina ) before telling us that that's a lie too. As Karina says at one point, when she catches Ida looking at pictures of her in all her nubile glory, "Don't look at those old things." Karina, by the way, is only the most blatant among a labyrinthine amount of cross-connections and references to other French films, characters and real-life people. For instance, the voice of Louise's father is played by Laszlo Szabo, who not only was the Wizard of Oz-like Virgil from Rivette's L'Amour Par Terre, but was the man who stole Karina away from Belmondo-as-Godard in Pierrot Le Fou! Along with the pointed subplot about stolen papers and cutthroat business practices in the 60's -- gilded age of the New Wave -- this can't help but make a fan of the era wonder... Does Rivette think that Godard has undeservedly eclipsed his reputation, and has he been holding a torch for Karina all these years? ( As Marie et Julien proves, he definitely has a lost love deep in his past. )
For all its devious brilliance, I must say that this film is weaker than its equally dark follow-up and sister film, Secret Defense. The pacing is surprisingly choppy, there are dips in tension and involvement, and the musical numbers are indifferently staged. Rivette must have thought that using amateur dancers and generic songs would give the movie a raw vitality missing from the more wedding-cake MGM films of the 50's, but that was a condescending mistake. Rivette may not realize that there is as much cynical social commentary in Gigi or The Band Wagon as there is in Haut Bas Fragile, and that it is precisely the big-budgets and elaborate routines that make those movies so subversive. Minnelli's resolutely fake backlots are taking on a sur-reality with time that may one day make Rivette's more studied "real reality," to quote Pola X, seem... kind of unreal. Considering Rivette's ambiguous relation with the past, though, along with his persistent suggestion that it doesn't even exist, maybe this was exactly the point.