Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lamont Johnson, 1922-2010

I tend to avoid commemorative pieces: anything sorrowful one writes about a death seems pale. But Lamont Johnson, one of America's best directors, died a few weeks ago with little fanfare, and I wanted to talk him up a bit.

Johnson started as an actor, and had a large supporting role in Joseph H. Lewis's very good 1952 Korean War film Retreat, Hell!. As a director, he put in a decade or so of hard work on television series and specials before getting a few no-prestige theatrical features in the late 60s. If memory serves, Johnson's theatrical debut, 1967's A Covenant With Death, a cheap-looking suspense film with George Maharis and Red Line 7000's Laura Devon, was surprisingly good against all odds, taking its characters more seriously than the genre required. 1968's Kona Coast wasn't nearly as successful, but 1969 saw Johnson acquit himself well in the emerging TV-movie format with Deadlock, a Leslie Nielsen cop drama. By this point Johnson had arrived at something like his mature style, combining dramatic intensity with fast and informal performances that discharged rather than built up the drama.

1970 was an important year for Johnson, on both the TV and theatrical fronts. The TV movie was carving out its own audience, which gravitated to topical subject matter with prestige actors; and Johnson caught the wave with My Sweet Charlie, a strikingly good drama with a racially charged plot reminiscent of The Defiant Ones, and a star turn from Patty Duke. Emmys went to Duke and to writers Richard Levinson and William Link, who were to become the Aurenche and Bost of 70s TV drama; and Johnson was permanently established as an A-list TV director. A string of successes in that medium followed, including 1972's That Certain Summer and 1974's The Execution of Private Slovik, both written by Levinson/Link. Though Johnson's prestige TV dramas of the 70s are probably his best-known work, most of these efforts are handicapped by the form's ostentatious social relevance.

Like other prestige TV directors, Johnson couldn't get arrested in theatrical features. But, a few months after his TV score with Charlie, Johnson released the POW drama The McKenzie Break, a tense, memorable acting duel between Irish officer Brian Keith and German prisoner Helmut Griem. Cultivating an interest in extreme characters that suited his explosive yet swallowed-up style, Johnson churned out a number of strong films over the next few years: 1971's A Gunfight, with Kirk Douglas and Johnny Cash; 1972's The Groundstar Conspiracy, with George Peppard as a charismatic American fascist; and 1973's The Last American Hero, a car-racing film with a potent Jeff Bridges performance. Few paid much attention, but Andrew Sarris put McKenzie, Groundstar, and American Hero on his runners-up lists, and a small, largely auteurist cult coalesced.

Johnson, and other filmmakers of the time who lacked clout, were clearly the beneficiary of the looseness of American film before the Tax Shelter Law of 1976, and as far as I know, he never made another theatrical film to equal McKenzie and American Hero. 1977's One on One with Robby Benson is the best of his later efforts; after 1983, he never tried his hand at theatrical again. TV movies were a different story, and Johnson continued to rack up Emmys and nominations into the 90s. Given an opening, Johnson never lost his ability to find unexpected excitement at the nexus of character and drama: for my money, the unheralded 1982 Dangerous Company with Beau Bridges stands with Charlie as Johnson's best work in the medium.

I lost track of Johnson's career after the effective, award-winning biopic Lincoln in 1988. He isn't the only good filmmaker whose reputation was written on the wind of the TV movie: perhaps someday we'll have the access and the interest to go back to the important TV work of John Korty, Joseph Sargent, Daniel Petrie, William Hale. I'm thinking Johnson may have been at the top of the pile, though.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Frivolous Lists: Latin America, 2000-2009

Cinema Tropical recently polled 35 experts to create a list of the ten best Latin American films of the decade, and the IFC Center screened the ten winners last week. No one asked me for my list, but:

1. Ana y los otros (Ana and the Others) (Celina Murga, Argentina, 2003)
2. Sangre (Amat Escalante, Mexico, 2005)
3. Japón (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2002)
4. Stellet licht (Silent Light) (Carlos Reygadas, Mexico, 2007)
5. Una semana solos (A Week Alone) (Celina Murga, Argentina, 2008)
6. Cinema, aspirinas e urubus (Cinema, Aspirin and Vultures) (Marcelo Gomes, Brazil, 2005)
7. Mutum (Sandra Kogut, Brazil, 2007)
8. Huacho (Alejandro Fernández Almendras, Chile, 2009)
9. Os Inquilinos (The Tenants) (Sergio Bianchi, Brazil, 2009)
10. 40 dias (40 Days) (Juan Carlos Martín, Mexico, 2008)

Runners-up (in alphabetical order): Amorosa Soledad (Victoria Galardi and Martín Carranza, Argentina, 2008); Aniceto (Leonardo Favio, Argentina, 2008); Cochochi (Israel Cárdenas and Laura Amelia Guzmán, Mexico, 2007); El custodio (Rodrigo Moreno, Mexico, 2006); Drama/Mex (Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico, 2006); Los guantes mágicos (The Magic Gloves) (Martin Rejtman, Argentina, 2003); Hamaca Paraguaya (Paraguayan Hammock) (Paz Encina, Paraguay, 2006); Jogo de cena (Playing) (Eduardo Coutinho, Brazil, 2007); Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina, 2008); O céu de Suely (Suely in the Sky) (Karim Aïnouz, Brazil, 2006); Parentésis (Time Off) (Pablo Solís and Francisca Schweitzer, Chile, 2005); Voy a explotar (I'm Gonna Explode) (Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico, 2008); Y tu mamá también (Alfonso Cuarón, Mexico, 2001).

Of course there are a great many contenders that I haven't seen. Of those, I especially wish I had caught Los bastardos (Amat Escalante, Mexico, 2008) and Madame Satã (Karim Aïnouz, Brazil, 2002).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Two scenes from Eric Rohmer

A short piece I wrote on two favorite scenes from Eric Rohmer's Four Seasons cycle is up at the MUBI Notebook.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hwioribaram (Eighteen): MoMA, September 30, 2010; BAM, October 2, 2010

Jang Kun-jae's debut feature, which took the Dragons and Tigers award at Vancouver 2009, wastes no time announcing its filmmaker's authority: its first image, a city vista that eventually transforms into a vehicular tracking shot, establishes Jang's visual ambition; and the cut that starts the movie proper ("Three months earlier...") is both disorienting and faintly absurdist. As we watch a pair of young lovers, Tae-Hoon (Seo Jun-yeong) and Mi-Jeong (Lee Min-ji), painfully making their way back to Seoul from an ill-considered, unauthorized weekend escapade, Jang lays out his stylistic cards: the passion that motivates the underage couple is concealed behind a convincing behavioral surface of passivity, exhaustion and denial; once established, the dramatic hook of impending confrontation is deferred in favor of a compelling and detailed documentation of each phase of the journey home; when the drama is finally fulfilled, it is filtered through deadpan absurdist humor that highlights the casual ineptitude intrinsic to the childrearing process. In Jang's hands, young love gives us little opportunity for pleasurable identification: the lovers are forced into a continuous stream of lies and petty swindles, and we neither get the emotional cues that would tell us how to interpret their often irresponsible behavior, nor are given reason to regard the couple as anything but normal, red-blooded Korean kids. Jang paints a portrait of late childhood as an extreme and unsustainable condition that nonetheless must be sustained indefinitely: under the pressure of this unbearable contradiction, the film's naturalism gives way at around the two-thirds point, and Jang audaciously allows the narrative to fragment and reconstitute along more abstract, subjective lines. Naturally a difficult object for audiences in search of the bittersweet pleasure that the young-love genre promises, Hwioribaram (Eighteen) is the most exciting debut I've run across in some time. It plays twice more in the New York Korean Film Festival: at MoMA on Thursday, September 30 at 4:30 pm; and at BAM on Saturday, October 2 at 4:30 pm.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Rule of Escalating Action

While watching John Flynn's 1980 Defiance recently, I noted a storytelling pattern that has been honored almost without exception by commercial action films since the dawn of cinema. The duration and intensity of action scenes are generally allowed to vary somewhat over the course of a story, but filmmakers are expected to fashion a big action climax according to certain specifications:

1. The duration of the final scene is expected to be substantial. In most genres, a simple confrontation is not enough: the battle generally is segmented into multiple parts, if for no other reason than to achieve great length without tedium.

2. Whether or not any other action scene in the film has contained much suspense, the final scene generally should drag out a few moments in which the hero is on the brink of extinction, even though the audience usually cannot be expected to doubt a favorable outcome.

3. If at all possible, the final confrontation should come down to a hand-to-hand battle between the chief hero and the chief villain, no matter how military or large-scale the offensive.

A week prior to watching the Flynn film, I noted the same three elements in the climax of Hugo Fregonese's 1953 Blowing Wild, a considerably better film than Defiance. I also recall mentioning this pattern in a review of William Friedkin's 2003 The Hunted, a strong film made from an unambitious script. I name these few examples off the top of my head; I trust that the reader will acknowledge the dominance of this template, which I will call "the rule of escalating action."

The problems with the rule of escalating action are obvious. One can perhaps argue that it enforces a modicum of good dramatic practice; but too often the items on this laundry list are in conflict with the needs of the movie or with common sense. And, of course, any narrative structure that becomes a rule, however sound, is an obstacle to surprise and invention. Nonetheless, the pattern is going strong after a century, and probably precedes cinema in some form. I don't believe that it is merely a habit that has been retained out of commercial superstition: it's too old and too powerful to be an unmotivated sign.

There's an underlying principle that sheds light on this phenomenon. Fiction can always be considered on two levels: internally, according to the needs of the world being depicted and of the people who inhabit it; and externally, in terms of the audience's reactions, which are crafted according to laws of drama. With many issues of fiction - not just the rule of escalating action - we can observe that the prevailing approach, followed slavishly by conventional works and substantially even by most adventurous works, involves harmonizing the internal level of the fiction, by force if necessary, with a known and desired pattern on external level.

The implication of this convention is that a well-made film would be designed so that internal and external logic are worked out at the same time with the same gestures to generate the standard action climax in an organic fashion: no mean feat, but a valid goal. And the rule of escalating action, which becomes bothersome when this perfect structure cannot be achieved, is the result of a kind of automatism, a need to impose a default dramatic shape regardless of where the internal needs of the film universe might take the story.

(For another issue of fiction that involves subordinating the internal level to the external, look in the middle of this 1984 article I wrote for the L.A. Reader, where I discuss the rules governing audience mourning for the death of characters with different levels of billing.)

Obviously the rule of escalating action is a matter of statistics: some people are irked when a well-known, conventionally fleshed-out dramatic shape trumps internal logic; but the paradigm has enough support to flourish over the long haul. It's not surprising that hand-to-hand conflict should have an appealing symbolic clarity, nor that we should enjoy the same dramatic flow in a movie that we like in a sports event. And it would be too hasty to conclude that the internal existence of the film universe carries little weight: audiences are notorious for docking films when they perceive internal conflicts, even minor ones. It's easy to imagine many viewers finding the climactic Tommy Lee Jones-Benicio del Toro knife fight in The Hunted silly, and at the same time not really wishing for a more plausible but unconventional ending.

I'm willing to speculate only that there seems to be great comfort for many viewers in this kind of canonical dramatic structure - a comfort that is increased by, but is not entirely due to, its historical repetition and familiarity.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Hawks fans have always been divided on Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: some rate it high, others have trouble seeing much of Hawks' personality in it. It's difficult to find a similar film for purposes of comparison, which is the first hint that Hawks didn't simply fill out a genre form. The closest I can come is the Mansfield-Tashlin collaborations The Girl Can't Help It (1956) and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957): films in which a new-to-market sex symbol plays a sex symbol, presumably a studio strategy to enhance the value of a brand name. All three films share an awareness that they are not only deriving comedy from the subject of the women's extreme effect on those around them, but also presenting the women for the audience's delectation.

Tastefulness is hardly an option here, but Hawks manages to combine audacity with analytical intelligence. The film's amazing opening shot sets the bar high: with no opening credits, Lorelei Lee (Marilyn Monroe) and Dorothy Shaw (Jane Russell), in bright red sequined gowns, emerge from behind a blue curtain and begin their first song before a second of screen time has elapsed. Any story that follows must be subordinated to this startling abstract manifestation of hypertrophied femininity and clashing primary colors. As the women maneuver their way through a world of staring, wolf-whistling men, Hawks and screenwriter Charles Lederer (who apparently inherited little plot from the revue-like 1949 Fields/Loos Broadway play) take advantage of the project's parodistic tone to dodge or deflect the moral issue of gold digging, and preserve an amoral perspective right up to the outrageous ending, which scores Lorelei and Dorothy's double wedding with the gold-digging anthem "Two Girls from Little Rock."

The intrinsic exaggeration of Monroe's acting style makes it difficult to perceive that Hawks has engineered yet another of his comedies in which a powerful solipsist (Lorelei) is juxtaposed with an exasperated representative of the reality principle (Dorothy). This time the pair are allies instead of opponents (as opposed to, for instance, the teamings in Bringing Up Baby and His Girl Friday), but Dorothy's function is primarily to establish a realistic baseline from which Lorelei's departures from normality can be measured. Not that nearly everyone else in the film doesn't help build this baseline by butting his or her head against Lorelei's serene obliviousness - but Hawks likes to keep a character around the set that he would enjoy hanging out with.

Monroe's girly persona, which we enjoy associating with stupidity, is here inflected to accommodate Lorelei's mastery of every situation. As splashlessly competent as a Hawks action hero, she is only the more effective for being ignorant of, or unconcerned with, society's moral codes. From the early scene in which she uses Sherlock Holmes-like logic to suss out the gift she is about to receive from her beau Gus (Tommy Noonan), Lorelei is on top of every situation, whether exploiting a maître d's exploitation of her shipboard popularity, or planning a multi-pronged assault on the detective Malone (Elliott Reid) who is hired to get the goods on her. In the end she bests Gus's disapproving father (Taylor Holmes) in an old-fashioned intellectual debate on the gold-digging ethic, after laying out the case in admirably extreme terms: "I don't want to marry him for his money - I want to marry him for your money." Playing up the usual style gap between Monroe's acting and everyone else's, and playing down her often-cited vulnerability, Hawks oversees a remarkable comic performance, with terrific line readings like beat poetry ("Sometimes Mr. Esmond finds it very difficult to say no to me") and bits of business that hint at a bizarre inner life (confronted for the first time with a diamond tiara, Lorelei can barely restrain her hands from pouncing inappropriately; after the tiara's departure, she happily improvises a scenario of future possession, using a napkin ring encircled by a necklace as a stand-in).

Hawks claimed to have had no interest in directing the film's two big musical numbers, "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?" and "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend," and apparently was not even on the set when Jack Cole shot them. (Presumably he had something to do with conceiving the numbers; and "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?" was written for the movie by Hawks' friend Hoagy Carmichael, along with Harold Adamson.) But all the smaller numbers - "Two Girls from Little Rock," "Bye Bye Baby," "When Love Goes Wrong," and the courtroom reprise of "Diamonds" - are executed on the pleasingly intimate scale that Hawks uses for any group recreation. All four of these songs feature spectators clapping to lay down a back beat for the performer; the players provide verbal cues and gesture to each other to signal musical transitions, creating a mood of real-time collaboration, much as in the "Drum Boogie" number from Ball of Fire or the Bacall-Carmichael piano rehearsals from To Have and Have Not. In "Bye Bye Baby," Hawks uses an economical fast pan to pass from the Olympic girlfriends' four-part harmony verse to Russell's solo verse; when Lorelei and Gus sneak away to another room and take the tempo down to romantic ballad, Dorothy and the athletes spot her from the doorway, signal each other to prepare an intervention, then pound out a beat on the door frame to swing the song again. The film's musical highlight, "When Love Goes Wrong" (another Carmichael/Adamson composition), is a digressive mini-story in itself, with the women's dejected mood dissipating gradually during the song and dance, and a circle of friendly Parisians bonding so effectively with Lorelei and Dorothy that the last verse slows and quiets down for a melancholy farewell as the women's taxi pulls away.

A few unexciting scenes crop up as the film marks time between the big "Diamonds" number and the finale. Still, Gentlemen is too good to be relegated to the margins of Hawks' career. Our difficulty in coming to terms with Monroe's distinctive comic talent (odd that we are tempted to regard such a stylized performer as an authentic sexpot struggling with the rudiments of craft) impedes us from regarding Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as we do other Hawks films, where genre material and performances are purified, pushed to extremes, and mixed liberally with the director's distinctive ideas about what should and shouldn't be called entertainment. Coming as early in her starring career as it does, Gentlemen is generally regarded as a defining film for Monroe; if it is less rarely recognized as her finest moment - well, that's more or less par for the course for Hawks-directed performances.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Was a Male War Bride

Many have noted that Howard Hawks' comedies are often based on the disorientation and humiliation of the protagonist. It's less frequently noted that, having created this unhappy state of affairs, Hawks and his writers add to the films an equal and opposite character-based reaction: the stymied male protagonist becomes single-mindedly concerned with restoring his lost dignity, and at least intermittently attains a certain stature by his reactions to the disintegrating situation.

The earliest instance of this self-rectifying comic behavior is probably found in Twentieth Century: not in the matching solipsism of the protagonists, but in Oscar Jaffe's hapless sidekick Oliver (Walter Connolly), who rises from his submissive position and grabs Jaffe by the lapels (while stuttering in fear the whole time) in a last doomed attempt to restore the rule of sanity. David Huxley (Cary Grant) in Bringing Up Baby, and his close relative Roger Willoughby (Rock Hudson) in Man's Favorite Sport, are prime examples of this Hawksian comic paradigm: increasingly victimized and disempowered by the "screwball" genre and by solipsistic female forces of nature, they respond with an angry but self-aware appraisal of their plight that slips easily into sarcastic humor. The sex change of His Girl Friday modifies the formula - Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) is not as humiliated as her male counterparts, and therefore does not have to reclaim as much lost dignity - but Hildy too feels the need to restore some of her power with a continual scathing commentary on the Walter Burns-inspired chaos that has overtaken her life. The key aspect of this paradigm is that the comic perspective attained by the disempowered characters results in them grabbing many of the funniest lines in the films, and the audience is invited to laugh with their perspective and not merely at their disempowerment.

Hawks seems to be gratifying different levels of his psyche at the same time with this model. Part of him obviously gravitates toward extremes of humiliation and disempowerment that are unusual even by the regressed standards of comedy; and yet he also gets considerable pleasure from allowing his beleaguered characters to battle back with all the dignity of one of his action heroes. On reflection, the unusual thing about this bifurcation is not that Hawks contains opposing internal psychological forces - which amounts to a basic observation about human nature in general - but that he can so easily express his psychology on multiple levels without departing from tested commercial filmmaking practice.

I Was a Male War Bride is the purest incarnation of this Hawksian dichotomy. Unlike all the films cited above, it largely eschews "screwball" comedy and familiar conventions of farce: most of its humor stems from the characters' distinctively Hawksian reactions to the most disempowering scenario that Hawks and his writers (Charles Lederer and Hagar Wilde, working from a script by Leonard Spigelgass that was based on the autobiographical magazine serial of Dr. Roger R. Charlier) could concoct. A hit at the time of its release (Todd McCarthy reports that it tied with The Snake Pit as the third biggest film of 1949, after Jolson Sings Again and Pinky), its dialogue often drowned out by audience laughter even today, War Bride is nonetheless as weirdly and sublimely personal a film as anything the art houses can offer.

Largely shot in postwar Germany ("No other comedy, surely, has looked so drab," wrote Robin Wood) and partaking slightly of the pseudo-documentary vibe in vogue at Fox at the time, War Bride divides into two sections: the first a vision of love fueled by conflict and hostility; the second about the individual at the mercy of wartime bureaucracy. Both struggles create terrible problems for French officer Henri Rochard (Cary Grant), but, despite the continuity that his reactions impose, the movie's two halves do not integrate seamlessly from a thematic point of view. Hawks, always smart about people, instinctively compensates by keeping the focus in the second half on the now-united but still volatile couple, who could be forgiven for collapsing under the strain imposed on them by Public Law 271. Sometimes Rochard and Lt. Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan, wonderful) exhibit a convincing enmity that transforms into love as smoothly as a gear change - as when Catherine learns that her Army pal Jack (William Neff) has intentionally held up her marriage paperwork, and slams him on the head with a metal tray without the slightest recollection that she had talking breakup five seconds earlier. Other times the couple take turns breaking down under the ordeal, with one able to provide comfort and humor for the other until the next crisis switches their roles. From a real-life perspective, one can legitimately wonder whether a love so deeply rooted in sex warfare can last for long without blowing up; but Hawks is no more interested in the sociology of a good marriage than he is in condemning the Army bureaucracy for the prolonged torture it inflicts on his heroes.

Rochard immediately projects a self-possession that is identifiably Hawksian, and that runs somewhat counter to comedy conventions. His early triumphs over confusion - such as his repeated demonstrations of perfect colloquial English in the face of American assumptions to the contrary ("See you in church," he replies to Jack's stilted French farewell) - are pulled off with a deadpan aplomb that doesn't desert Rochard in moments of embarrassment. Confronted by a curious WAC as he lingers mistakenly by the ladies' room door, he keeps a straight face and beats a leisurely retreat; later, when Catherine catches him eyeing a passing woman, he holds his ground without a beat of apology. Catherine's description of Rochard as a wolf is borne out by his behavior throughout the film's first half: no matter how hostile his relations with Catherine, he declines no opportunity for physical contact with her, feigning nonchalance effectively, yet advancing with grim resolve. (I can't think of many other comedies that have depicted sexual desire devoid of romance or the pretense thereof.) Hawks prefers not to disturb Rochard's poise by undermining his authority, even when loss of authority is the default comic reaction. Near the end of the first half, Hawks brokers an interesting power negotiation: Catherine's refusal to free Rochard from the clutches of the German police is the cruelest prank in the film; unwilling to let the offense vanish into the flow of comic incident, Hawks and the writers require an overt, unprecedented demonstration of submission from Catherine to balance the scales and allow the romantic sparring to continue.

But the most extraordinary depiction of the Hawksian instinct for self-rectification is saved for the film's second half. Each of Rochard's angry outbursts against the bureaucracy that neuters his marriage and leaves him homeless quickly yields to a controlled sarcasm that is a form of mastery. Left speechless by the marching orders that make specific provisions to destroy his wedding night ("This would never happen in the French army!"), Rochard recovers sufficiently to console his tearful bride before shuffling off to sleep in the bathtub, his automatic assurances gradually turning sarcastic as Catherine slips out of earshot: "It's all right…I'll be quite comfortable…I'll just turn on the cold water." Appalled to learn that Public Law 271 requires him to assume female status, he still manages a smooth exit at scene's end: "Brides first, please." After a while, he is no longer fazed by confused functionaries telling him that the paperwork he had filled out is intended for his wife - "According to the US Army I am my wife" - or even by being rousted from the only bed he has successfully negotiated for - "You will note that I have not taken off my clothes in anticipation of that." In the end his ritualized emasculation becomes a game to be played well: "It's a very natural mistake, you're not the first to have made it."

I Was a Male War Bride can be seen as Hawks' first solo flight, a move away from the genre formats that were always central to his art, and a venture into a looser realm where the projection of the filmmaker's personality takes center stage. Something in the air in the 1945-1950 period was encouraging established Hollywood filmmakers to step out in front of their films and assume the mantle of authorship; unlike some of them, Hawks did not sacrifice his grip on the box office with his self-assertion, at least not until the 50s. Still, the confident foregrounding of the Hawksian ethos in Male War Bride is in some ways closer to the ambient pleasures of late films like Hatari! and Man's Favorite Sport than to Hawks' earlier comedies and action films.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Audrey the Trainwreck: reRun Theater, through July 29, 2010

Wow, here's an interesting twist on the (admittedly loosely defined) mumblecore concept: lightly guided, improvisatory performances, encased in an almost transparent but carefully engineered formal structure. Frank V. Ross, whose four earlier features I haven't seen, tells a story that is dramatically charged but fragmented by elisions: a young man with a dead-end job (Anthony Baker), in some kind of intense relationship with his male roommate (Danny Rhodes), arranges meetings with a series of women, one of whom (Alexi Wasser) gradually emerges as a potential partner. Story connections are not underlined: it's possible that a second viewing would unearth more clues to the workings of this mysterious triangle. What is underlined is a system of stylistic coups that create emotional harmonics outside the story. Ross's formal ideas are almost direct address to the audience, asking us to reformulate our feelings or to assume a commentative position on events. Example: the protagonist opens the refrigerator door, and an egg rolls to the edge of the shelf and stops; much later in the film, his roommate opens the same door, and the egg breaks on the floor. Or: in one of a series of scenes in which the protagonist meets different women in restaurants, Ross surprisingly switches his attention to another couple in the room, who take over the movie with their conversation until the end of the scene, when they are never seen again. Or: on her rounds as a delivery person for a FedEx-like company, the woman is mysteriously menaced by a passing car whose close approach to her is heighted with editing and soundtrack manipulation, though the incident has no consequences. The suggestion of incipient violence in this last example is not isolated: unsettling incidents rend the fabric of mundane life from the first scene to the odd ending, which both makes urgent demands on our empathy and enforces a comic distance. I'm still not sure about how to respond to that ending, but, like so many other moods that the film engenders, the overtones of violence are largely perpendicular to story and character, existing in a philosophical fourth dimension that Ross creates purely through style. Audrey's mumbly surfaces conceal, at the least, a director of great ambition and unusual virtues. The film screens at the new reRun Theater in DUMBO through Thursday, July 29.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

She, a Chinese: Asian American International Film Festival, July 19, 2010

One of the best films on the 2009 festival circuit, Guo Xiaolu's She, a Chinese, will have its New York premiere at the Asian American International Film Festival. In my Senses of Cinema wrapup for Toronto 2009, I wrote:

"The Golden Leopard at Locarno went to She, a Chinese, the second feature from the expatriate Chinese novelist Guo Xiaolu. Advance word skewed toward the negative, and a flashy trailer increased my pessimism. But the film dazzled me. It becomes clear almost immediately that its organizing principle is not story or even style, but the force of Guo's personality, which whips together diverse materials into a fluent commentary that transcends form. As the sullen, deadpan young protagonist Mei (Huang Lu) rides over assorted trials in rural China with a combination of strength and obliviousness, and then bolts from a guided tour to try her survival skills in the UK, Guo narrates her passage with funny chapter-heading intertitles, bursts of loud rock music (John Parish's score is excellent), and comically rushed transitions. The emotional gap between the story upheavals and Mei's inner life reminded me of several major filmmakers: Godard for the playful exploitation of the audience's distance from the fiction; Sternberg for the loving fascination with surfaces that reveal nothing; and Renoir for the way that philosophical perspective is used to lighten a dark story's mood. I have no idea why Guo's considerable talent is lost on so many critics."

She, a Chinese screens on Monday, July 19 at 6 pm at the Clearview Chelsea Cinema.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tsuchi (Earth)

A piece I wrote on Tsuchi (Earth), a celebrated 1939 film by Japanese director Tomu Uchida, has been published at the Mubi Notebook.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Keeping Up with Naruse

A great many previously unavailable films by the great Japanese director Mikio Naruse are being subtitled in English by dedicated fans. I continue to post reviews of all the Naruse films I see at the Google group NaruseRetro; here's a list of Naruse films that I've reviewed recently.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Le père de mes enfants: IFC Center, starts May 28, 2010

I hesitate to proclaim Mia Hansen-Løve's Le père de mes enfants (The Father of My Children) the best film of the year so far, or Hansen-Løve as the strongest French director to emerge in the last decade: not because I have doubts, but because her films creep up gradually, and might be harmed by excessive fanfare. Still, publicity first.

Like Hansen-Løve's equally good first feature, 2007's Tout est pardonné (All Is Forgiven), Le père de mes enfants devotes its entire first half to a development that only in retrospect can be perceived as prologue. French film producer Grégoire Canvel (Louis de Lancquesaing), modeled after the late Humbert Balsam, is introduced via a comic device - as he wanders the streets of Paris and drives to his provincial home, Hansen-Løve cuts between his mobile phone conversations with a myriad of professional contacts - that synopsizes his character, creates expectations of forward narrative motion, and, along with soundtrack music, sets a light-hearted tone. Charming, intelligent, reasonably sincere, and seemingly impervious to chaos, Grégoire oversees three simultaneous productions while trying to stave off a financial crisis, the dimensions of which are only gradually revealed. His wife Sylvia (Chiari Caselli) and his three daughters inevitably must make do with the leftover scraps of his time. But Hansen-Løve characteristically mixes her signals here, sometimes showing Grégoire's bond to his family in a pleasing light, other times emphasizing the strain that his consuming work life places on Sylvia.

If you haven't seen the film, stop reading, as I'm about to spoil the entire plot. (Spoiler space follows.)

The flow of the story in the first half almost suggests a relaxed American comedy marking time before its second act breaks into hijinks or plunges us into drama. When it arrives, the story break is not a plot escalation, but a startling game-changer. In retrospect, we can see that we had been amply prepared. But the foreshadowing does not feel like prophecy, due to Hansen-Løve's taste for letting contradictory information pile up without authorial comment. Because she does not like to organize information about people into thematic shapes, she subtly undercuts the fiction's predictive power.

Facing bankruptcy, Grégoire shoots and kills himself on the street, right on the splice of one of Hansen-Løve's disarmingly casual cuts. Hansen-Løve's elisions deny us access to his deliberation or hesitation. Before the act, he burned some personal papers; we will never learn what they were.

Grégoire has been in every scene thus far: where does the film go now? As it happens, the film truly begins here. Deprived of its motive force, the unbound story line expands and diversifies until the keynote of Grégoire's struggle merges into the background noise of life. Sorrow and anguish dominate at first (one of Grégoire's young daughters is especially unnerving to watch, in that her raw pain is not aestheticized to match the grade of audience reaction); but Grégoire has left behind a raft of practical matters that must be attended to in haste. Sylvia steps into the breach, with the aid of Grégoire's friend Serge (Eric Elmosnino), to assess the dire financial situation and to decide the fate of the stranded productions, which Sylvia sees as Grégoire's legacy. All the pieces cannot be put back together again; but the family's effort to process its loss produces some good results as well.

Hansen-Løve's observational skills were apparent in the film's first half, but they are on center stage in its second half. She is a brilliant director of actors, specializing, not in big emotions that drive the fiction, but in coaxing out detail and ambience across large casts, and in selecting key moments that provide convincing randomness. A single example: Sylvia mentions to Serge, in front of her two youngest children, her desire to move back to her native Italy, observing that her middle daughter is dead set against the idea, but that the youngest might want to go. Asked for confirmation by Serge, the youngest wrinkles her face and says, "No, not really," with just enough diffidence to confirm the mother's judgment.

Unsurpassed as a director of children, Hansen-Løve takes a particular, and optimistic, interest in teenage female characters. In Tout est pardonné, the burden of carrying on in the face of loss fell lightly on the shoulders of a 17-year-old, played wonderfully by the non-professional Constance Rousseau; here, the focus of the family's renewal is Grégoire's oldest daughter Clémence (Alice de Lencquesaing). Working through an understandable anger at the problems that Grégoire has left behind, Clémence begins to sneak away from her family to pick up the scent of her father's passage through the world. Discovering a half-brother from one of Grégoire's prior affairs, she visits his home, without agenda; she starts watching her father's films in Paris theaters, showing signs of budding cinephilia; and she forms a possibly fleeting relationship with a young filmmaker (Igor Hansen-Løve) whom Grégoire had wanted to produce. None of these physical and mental peregrinations affects the story: Clémence is set in motion because she is of the age to be set in motion, and to transform her pain into self-discovery. The heart of the film is the plotless scene in which Clémence, having left a note and crept away from her first night with the still-sleeping filmmaker, sits alone by a window in a café, stumbling over her coffee order, then waiting and reflecting in the light of dawn.

It's a sign of Hansen-Løve's stature as an artist that she is as intrigued by the intricacies of Grégoire's film business as by the dynamics of his family. In a quiet but superb scene near film's end, Grégoire's heroic accountant (Antoine Mathieu) recounts for Sylvia and the stakeholders of the company the details of the financial apocalypse, with a rundown of what can and cannot be salvaged. As usual, the imperatives of fiction do not seem to have any bearing on the outcome: some of the projects that Sylvia and Hansen-Løve have devoted the most time to are unceremoniously pronounced dead; a few small achievements stand out among the general wreckage. Grègoire's children, having recovering their capacity for happiness, joke with the liquidator as they pay a final visit to the doomed production office on Faubourg-Saint-Denis, before a taxi whisks them away from the city that we have seen Grégoire pace out. On the taxi radio, we hear the first famous song used in the movie: Doris Day singing "Que Sera Sera."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Barking Water: MoMA, May 12 through 17, 2010

Sterlin Harjo's films might be a tough sell to hardcore cinephiles: they tell emotionally direct stories that verge on sentimentalism, and their visuals aren't especially formally ambitious. Still, Harjo is one of the most appealing American directors to come along in recent years, and Barking Water, which premiered at Sundance 2009, is even better than his 2007 debut Four Sheets to the Wind. The personal story, of a dying Native American man (Richard Ray Whitman) who enlists his estranged lover (Casey Camp-Horinek) to help him cross Oklahoma to pay a last visit to family and friends, dovetails beautifully both with the conventions of the road movie and with Harjo's understated vision of a community scattered across space and struggling against its inevitable unraveling. Harjo has a rare knack for weaving fictional and documentary elements together so that the seams are hard to spot: presumably the cast is a mixture of professional and amateur performers, but the fine, effortless lead performances blend so perfectly into the ensemble that it's hard to be sure where acting takes over from existence. Barking Water screens at MoMA six times this week: Wednesday, May 12 at 6:30 pm; Thursday, May 13 at 4:30 pm; Friday, May 14 at 7:00 pm; Saturday, May 15 at 2:00 pm; Sunday, May 16 at 2:30 pm; and Monday, May 17 at 4:30 pm.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Norrtullsligan (The Norrtull Gang)

My big discovery of the Walter Reade's Northern Exposures series was the remarkable 1923 silent film Norrtullsligan (The Norrtull Gang), directed by Per Lindberg. In addition to the usual risk of film history losing track of excellent films, this one may have faced the disadvantage of not quite fitting in with the internationally acclaimed Swedish cinema of the time, which was nearing the end of its golden period. (1923 and 1924 were the years that Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller made their last silent films in Sweden before going to Hollywood.)

Lindberg, a shadowy figure in film history, was well known in Sweden as a theater director. He made Norrtullsligan and one other film in 1923, took a long break from the cinema, then shot seven features between 1939 and 1941, dying a few years later. Thanks to the participation of Ingrid Bergman, Lindberg's 1940 Juninatten (June Night) is by far his most widely seen film today, though there seems to be a consensus that the 1941 Det sägs på stan (Talk of the Town) is his best work. In Richard Roud's Cinema: A Critical Dictionary, Edgardo Cozarinsky made a case for Lindberg as a major director, prompting a puzzled Roud to observe that Lindberg was the most obscure filmmaker covered in the book.

Norrtullsligan was adapted by Hjalmar Bergman, Sjöström's frequent writer, from Elin Wägner's 1908 novel about the lives of four working women who room together in Stockholm and confront often harsh economic and social conditions. Wägner was a feminist and ecological activist, and synopses of the novel's plot (which was titled Men and Other Misfortunes in English) make it sound like more of a social critique than the movie, which uses ellipsis and psychology to blunt the story's pathos.

Whether Wägner's book was faithfully or freely adapted, it is incorporated into the movie in an unusual way. To see Norrtullsligan is to realize how rarely silent movie intertitles served a literary function. Certainly a portion of the artistic ambition of silent filmmakers went into title writing. Still, whether that ambition resulted in witty and informative text, or in overwrought prose (often the case with great filmmakers), titles were generally subordinated to images, providing commentary and narrative connection only. This is not so surprising, given that the moving image is the cinema's selling point, and that prevailing critical thought of the time saw titles as an impurity that would ideally be dispensed with. Not until Bazin would the idea of cinema embracing its impure status gain any traction with film thinkers. In retrospect, all that screen time devoted to titling in silent movies seems like an undefended beach vulnerable to a literary invasion.

Norrtullsligan is as close as silent films came to a hybrid of literature and cinema. This is not just a result of the quality of the writing (unfortunately, I can't find copies of the book or the intertitles to quote), though I admired the gentleness and reflective tone of the prose. It's more due to the text of the titles having a certain independence from the story. The film is narrated in the first person by Pegg (Tora Teje), and the lengthy titles convey, in addition to story, her feelings and reactions to events, and background information to help us share her opinions, so that the film takes on a diaristic quality. (In the custom of silent movies, the main actors are credited at the bottom of the title cards when their characters are introduced - but Pegg's credit reads, "Me...Tora Teje.")

The length of the intertitles does not diminish as the film progresses, and the story is told differently because of the literary context they provide. The dramatic force of plot developments is generally muted; loose ends are frequently not tied up. One of the biggest difficulties that silent film makers faced is that they had to devote so many of their stylistic resources to pantomiming a narrative. (The arrival of sound had the effect of offloading the burden of storytelling onto the soundtrack, which I consider a great liberation.) Here, Lindberg and Bergman take a distinctive approach to the problem of being expressive while performing their narrative chores. Rather than restage Wägner's meditative descriptions of the women's lives, they give these descriptions a verbal life of their own in the title cards, and then essentially create a parallel work of art with images, selecting details or moods to stage for the camera with no worries about orienting the viewer.

Despite the originality of its concept, Norrtullsligan would not be as noteworthy if Lindberg did not display such delicacy in his direction of actors and his staging. All the actors refrain from signposting their crises - and there are actually more and bigger crises in the film than we might tote up, because Lindberg's evenness of tone sacrifices incident for a slightly nostalgic tone of a remembered past. Devoid of the exterior long-shot beauty that silent Swedish cinema was known for, Norrtullsligan unfolds in a network of apartments and offices, observing the reactions of characters who are neither saintly nor detached, but who transcend their limitations via a grace and quiet humor that the filmmakers impart.

The final scene will do as well as any to convey the psychological detail of the performances. Sitting in a parlor with a group that includes her sometimes supportive, sometimes severe aunt, Pegg coyly lets show the wedding ring that she has just received. As her aunt leans forward to get a better look, Pegg folds and withdraws her hand to make the view more difficult. At the end of the charade, Pegg smiles and accepts her aunt's embrace. The scene is not unusual in itself, but it feels fresh for two reasons. First, Pegg has up until now been direct and without dissimulation, so the act registers, not as mere playfulness, but as a mild expression of anger. Second, Lindberg scales down Pegg's expression and draws out the charade with daring languor. The little game plays out with an odd sense of theater, and Pegg's embrace of her aunt at the end does not dispel our sense that an edge of antagonism motivated her gloating display.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Should the Tradition of Quality Be Rehabilitated?

It's been years since American film buffs backlashed against Andrew Sarris's quarantine of a number of celebrated English-language filmmakers in the"Less Than Meets the Eye" category in his book The American Cinema. Now I sense a growing rebellion in the blogosphere against the Cahiers critics' earlier but similar dismissal of the French "Tradition of Quality." That Sarris and Truffaut both publicly retracted many of their excommunications in later years (as alluded to in my last blog entry) gives ammunition to the rehabilitation movement.

(For those playing without a scorecard: the phrase "Tradition of Quality" originally referred to the post-World War II "psychological realism" associated with the screenwriters Aurenche & Bost and directors like Claude Autant-Lara, Jean Delannoy, René Clément, Yves Allégret, and Marcel Pagliero. Popularly, it is often used today to refer to all prestige French filmmaking that the Cahiers critics did not uphold, including prewar filmmakers like Marcel Carné, Julien Duvivier, and Jacques Feyder who had little in common with the Aurenche & Bost crowd.)

I am basically an antirehabilitationist, and would even like to roll back the rehabilitation of the "Less Than Meets the Eye" directors. But I want to step carefully around the issue, to avoid slipping into conformism or reaction. In fact, I am required to step carefully, because I have a few revisionist causes of my own. Even I would like to reclaim two directors from "Less Than Meets the Eye": Lewis Milestone (who I don't think ever fit there) and Elia Kazan (who had a "Less Than Meets the Eye" half of his personality, definitely). On the French side, I'd defend Jean Grémillon and Henri-Georges Clouzot, at least, among the filmmakers who were not in favor at Cahiers.

So I really have only one small point to make about canon revision, which is that revision means taking a side, not correcting an injustice. Auteurism is, more than anything, a historically established set of preferences. The Cahiers critics, and Sarris after them, set out to trash an existing canon and raise another in its place. The various auteurist movements have had good luck imposing their old canons on the cinephile culture at large, but that's all they imposed. They certainly were unable to promulgate the philosophical and aesthetic and political assumptions that underlay those canons - if for no other reason than that those assumptions were quickly lost or customized as auteurism went large. So auteurism has made no substantial change in the movie-watching world, except that most filmgoers now take Sirk and Fuller seriously instead of dismissing them. There is no reason to believe that undiscovered Sirks and Fullers, past or present, would fare as well, unless they landed in a category that we've already learned how to deal with.

Auteurist choices were controversial: most people didn't agree with them then, and everyone shouldn't be expected to agree with them now. In his 1968 essay "Toward a Theory of Film History," Sarris observed the unbridgeable gap that had opened up in the 50s and 60s between different camps of film lovers: "Again, these propositions cannot be seriously debated. One kind of critic refuses to cope with a world in which a movie called Baby Face Nelson could possibly be superior to The Bridge on the River Kwai. The other kind of critic refuses to believe that a movie called Baby Face Nelson could possibly be less interesting than The Bridge on the River Kwai." The mere fact that Baby Face Nelson is now an easier sell cannot have eliminated all those old differences in what filmgoers choose to value in films.

Of course it's a good thing for every filmmaker to be reevaluated. But when I decide that Milestone or Clouzot is a good director, I shouldn't necessarily assume that the old-time auteurist canon makers got it wrong. I should at least assess the possibility that I have aesthetic preferences that are different than those of the canon makers. And, if I decide that lots of filmmakers in "Less Than Meets the Eye" and the Tradition of Quality are good, then I should really assess that possibility.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Auteurist backsliding

Those of us who wear our auteurism on our sleeves are occasionally informed, sometimes in a unkind tone, that many of the folk who formulated auteurism renounced their folly as they became older and wiser. This is not an argument that auteurists have to deal with - it's not an argument at all - but there's some truth to the charge, and I do occasionally wonder whether the auteurist stance is intrinsically unstable.

Here's a thought on the subject. There are as many variations on the auteurist aesthetic as there are auteurists, but they all cluster around the idea that the value of movies derives largely from the quality of their direction. Of course, one can engage in director analysis without any valuation; but auteurism as a movement has always been an array of likes and dislikes on the directorial level.

As such, the auteurist stance implies a critique of a prevailing industrial system of filmmaking. If the industrial system were functioning well for auteurists, if it were an effective generator of the value that we look for in movies, then the director's importance would be greatly minimized. A strong auteurist position is necessarily based on the conviction that the system, though it has money to buy craft and talent and the freedom to deploy them to best effect, is highly likely to produce a mediocre product unless a good director intervenes.

So, in theory, auteurism is at odds with a general, all-purpose love of movies. The auteurist, mild-mannered though he or she may be, walks around with a reserve of negative energy directed at the system. Without this negative energy, the auteurist will be absorbed back into the fascination of the silver screen, which inhibits revolution if we receive enough pleasure from it.

And therein lies a procedural problem. Because all areas of film studies draft their soldiers from among the ranks of congenitally compulsive filmgoers. People who are turned off by routine cinema product usually take up a different profession. Furthermore, auteurism has traditionally placed a special emphasis on mass consumption, on sifting through piles of neglected films of the past in search of glimmers of personal directorial expression. Where does the auteurist find the drive to undertake this sort of cultural research project if he or she doesn't get a contact high off of the dream factory?

In practice, the auteurist often has a split personality. Part of that personality simply loves watching moving images in a dark room, gets low-level indiscriminate pleasure from industrial film forms; another part judges more harshly and constructs aesthetic criteria that exclude some of the pleasure that he or she is capable of receiving.

A split personality can, with proper care and maintenance, remain in working order for a lifetime; but it's also not uncommon for the auteurist to wake up one middle-aged morning, overcome with guilt that he or she has been writing horrible things for years about films that he or she secretly loves.

But that doesn't mean that those films are actually good...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Assorted Screenings in NYC: April 2010

Just a few quick recommendations for end-of-the-month action on the NYC film circuit:
  • South Korean filmmaker Park Chan-ok made her debut in 2002 with Jiltuneun naui him (Jealousy is My Middle Name), a droll, intelligent movie with fascinating characterizations, which struck me at the time as the best Korean film not made by Hong Sang-soo. Paju, Park's second feature, premiered earlier this year at Rotterdam, and advance word has been good. It will screen four times at the Tribeca Film Festival: Thursday, April 23 at 6:30 pm; Saturday, April 25 at 1:30 pm; Sunday, April 26 at 6:45 pm; and Thursday, April 30 at 1 pm. The first three screenings are at the Village East; the last is at the Clearview Chelsea.
  • My very favorite Swedish films were made, not by Bergman, Stiller or Sjöström (though those guys did some pretty fair work too), but by Alf Sjöberg, a once-celebrated director whose reputation waned after his disciple Bergman ascended to art-film superstardom. One of Sjöberg's greatest works, 1949's Bara en mor (Only a Mother), screens in the Walter Reade's valuable Northern Exposures series on Saturday, April 24 at 9:15 pm and Monday, April 26 at 1 pm. Built around a powerful lead performance by Eva Dahlbeck (Smiles of a Summer Night), Bara en mor strikes an exciting balance between pictorial and social realism (the story is set in the world of migrant farm peasants) and a theatricality that spotlights the emotional struggles of its beset but formidable protagonist.
  • In The American Cinema, Andrew Sarris wrote that "nothing much happens" in Phil Karlson's career until 1953's 99 River St.. But research reveals several distinctive works in Karlson's early filmography, with at least one - 1952's Scandal Sheet - that ranks for me with Karlson's best. The film is based on Samuel Fuller's novel The Dark Page, but Fuller's personality is somewhat diluted in the adaptation, whereas Karlson's abrasive but humanist brand of urgency is in full flower. Scandal Sheet plays in Film Forum's series "The Newspaper Picture" on Friday, April 30 at 1, 4:35 and 8:10 pm.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Barbe Bleue (Blue Beard): IFC Center, until Thursday, April 15, 2010

Catherine Breillat now has a solid international reputation, but I wish she was regarded less as a sexual provocatrice and more as an artist whose powerful personality filters and interprets all aspects of experience. Barbe Bleue (Blue Beard), her most recent work, helps the cause, in that it is based on a Perrault fairy tale, and shows Breillat imposing her world view through a story written for children.

Here is a checklist of moments I noted in Barbe Bleue that are strongly inflected by Breillat's sensibility, that other filmmakers would be unlikely to write or direct the same way. My impulse here is analytic rather than synthetic, but patterns will no doubt emerge: identifying them is left as an exercise for the reader.

There will be plot spoilers below.

1. The heartless Mother Superior (Farida Khelfa) who dominates the film's first scenes is cast against type as a young, beautiful woman.

2. The sisters in the fairy tale, Anne (Daphné Baiwir) and Marie-Catherine (Lola Créton), shed tears upon being given unceremonious notice of their father's death. They are then expelled from their convent school and sent home in a carriage. Showing the process of departure would for many filmmakers provide an excuse to ramp down the film's level of sadness, so that the sisters' grief will be nearly as moderate as the audience's when we next encounter them. But Breillat prefers to resume the story in the carriage with the sisters weeping, showing the audience the mourning that it has already gotten over. Only then does Breillat ramp down the grief, by letting the sisters veer into a discussion of marriage and the future. By placing the transition from mourning to the mundane in mid-conversation, Breillat makes the sisters own the mood change, which now seems slightly unfeeling. Acknowledging the dissonance that she has created, Breillat lets the sisters name it: "We shouldn't laugh. Papa just died." "It's nerves."

3. At home, the differing reactions of Anne and Marie-Catherine to their father's death are emphasized by Breillat and given equal weight, even though Anne is not a structurally important character. It is unusual for a supporting character not to have a supporting opinion. Breillat is making a small break with narrativity, digressing into a mode she likes, in which sisterly conflict resembles warring aspects of the same mind.

4. And both these opinions are uncomfortable, expressing forbidden aspects of the parent-child relationship. Anne violates the spirit of mourning with her fury at her father, who died saving a stranger's life. Whereas Marie-Catherine fetishizes her dead father, clearly enjoying the power she now has over him: "You aren't intimidating now. I love you." Breillat maintains sympathy for both characters; neither emotion seems to alienate her.

5. Even while she reproaches Anne, Marie-Catherine understands her, and explains to both her mother (Isabelle Lapouge) and her dead father that Anne's insults are the result of her pain.

6. Barbe Bleue's emissary (Adrien Ledoux), who informs the family that the rich noble wishes to choose a wife from among the young women of the area, is a handsome, arrogant young man, an attractive predator who will have no occasion to cross swords with any woman in this story. As in the case of the Mother Superior, Breillat invests with sexuality even the most functional representatives of power.

7. The sisters in the modern story, Catherine (Marilou Lopes-Benites) and Marie-Anne (Lola Giovannetti), while quarreling over the fairy tale that they are reading, have a brief but digressive discussion of free will versus determinism, in which Marie-Anne blames her squeamishness on her head ("cerveau"). "Your head is you," says the younger Catherine. "No, I was born with it," protests Marie-Anne. As usual, Breillat does not seem to want us to take sides, or to characterize the sisters via their opinions: the dispute merely shows that the sisters encompass both sides of the issue.

8. Slipping away from Barbe Bleue's reception, Marie-Catherine whiles away the time in the fields surrounding the castle, playing with a praying mantis, then watching the beheading of a chicken. The camera lingers upon the death agony of the unfortunate chicken: the gaze of the camera is presumably Marie-Catherine's gaze. Breillat, and by extension Marie-Catherine, seem interested in and accepting of the horror.

9. Meanwhile the youth of the area take part in a group dance outside the castle. I can't vouch for the authenticity of the music and the dancing, but the film at least suggests that the instruments and the choreography are of the period. Breillat focuses on the saucy dance moves of the young women, who smile and wag their fingers ceremonially at their male partners. She seems to enjoy emphasizing that the old ways look modern, that these people acknowledge and play with sexuality much as we do today.

10. The massive and scary-looking Barbe Bleue first talks to Marie-Catherine while resting under a tree. He is surprisingly unthreatening in his demeanor, suggesting a tame bear. His voice is soft and gentle.

11. Discussing the fairy tale in the modern story, precocious Catherine insists that, in the old days, women could get married even at age 5. "It's not like adult marriage," she says in qualification. Pressed for details by Marie-Anne, Catherine demonstrates that she's vague on the whole subject. Like much of the modern story, this scene exists only to show the children's imagination reaching out boldly into the world of sex.

12. Marie-Catherine's engagement to Barbe Bleue is simultaneously a weapon against her older sister Anne and the sad occasion of their separation. Breillat likes to compress the two feelings. After a harsh outburst against Anne, Marie-Catherine suddenly hugs her tenderly.

13. Similarly, as Marie-Catherine is leaving her home with her new husband, Anne says to her, "Now we needn't fight anymore." Marie-Catherine replies, "But I liked that." Hatred and love between the sisters are repeatedly depicted as compatible emotions, not requiring resolution.

14. At the sisters' post-wedding goodbye, Barbe Bleue sits silently on his horse in the background, waiting for his new bride like a liveryman. In the spirit of counterpoint, Breillat will depict the fairy-tale monster as gentle and domesticated throughout the film.

15. In the modern story, Catherine shows off her incorrect understanding of the word "homosexuality." Her exasperated older sister gives her the correct meaning, but Catherine is obstinate. Again, the subject connects to the narrative only in that it shows the young girls' interest in sex.

16. As she is installed in Barbe Bleue's castle, Marie-Catherine suddenly becomes imperious and demanding about her living arrangement, trying to assert her power over her husband. Marie-Catherine is not generally characterized as imperious, and does not test her power in this fashion again. Breillat seems to assume that a war for power lies just under the surface of love relationships. The filmmaker shows no sign of disapproval, and our identification with Marie-Catherine is not affected.

17. Sneaking around the castle at night, Marie-Catherine peeks in her husband's room and spies on him removing his tunic and sitting on his bed bare-chested. The gigantic Barbe Bleue does not provide the sort of nudity that movie audiences are likely to welcome. Both Marie-Catherine (who is not yet sleeping with her husband) and Breillat have no reaction to the naked man other than fascination with the spectacle; Marie-Catherine's feelings toward him do not seem to be altered.

18. In the modern story, young Catherine insists that she is more intelligent than her older sister Marie-Anne, and mercilessly exploits Marie-Anne's having stayed back a grade because of illness. Marie-Anne has no good defense, and seems beaten. The conflict will have no obvious repercussions.

19. Marie-Catherine confides to her husband, "I miss my sister, but I'm glad to be rid of her." The contradiction does not require resolution.

20. Breillat repeatedly puts visual emphasis on the absurd difference in size between the gigantic Barbe Bleue and his tiny wife Marie-Catherine: for instance, by framing them side by side at the dinner table. Though the couple will have no sexual contact in the film, that outrageous, unspoken fantasy is the motor of the story. Never one to avert her gaze, Breillat forces us to imagine such an act.

21. After a time in the castle, Marie-Catherine tells Barbe Bleue that she is now accustomed to luxury. The statement does not signal a problem with Marie-Catherine's values; Breillat seems accepting, as she so often is.

22. After a solar eclipse gives Barbe Bleue the opportunity to display his knowledge of history and science, an impressed Marie-Catherine says to him avidly, "Teach me everything you know." Marie-Catherine shows no other interest in learning: she seems to regard knowledge as a form of male power that she wishes to acquire for herself.

23. After Marie-Catherine discovers the bodies of Barbe Bleue's other wives, she must hide the discovery from him and eat dinner with him upon his return from a trip. The tone of this scene is difficult to fix. Barbe Bleue has become threatening to us; and Marie-Catherine begins to lie to him in self-protection. However, Breillat declines to give us images of Marie-Catherine's presumed fear and repulsion. Further, Marie-Catherine participates willingly in the communal aspect of dinner, taking bites out of the huge leg of lamb that her husband shares with her. Though the story mandates that Marie-Catherine now fear Barbe Bleue and regard him as an enemy, Breillat manages through Marie-Catherine's behavior to create the interesting impression that the horrible murders have not destroyed the marital bond.

24. Breillat gives us a bare indication that the accidental death of Marie-Anne at the end of the modern story is the fantasy of the traumatized Catherine: surely Catherine's mother would have spotted Marie-Anne's body on the floor below if the fall had actually occurred? False alarm, all is well, except that Catherine's desire to kill her older sister has been made manifest.

25. Breillat ends the film with an image of Marie-Catherine caressing the severed head of her husband. She is victorious, and simultaneously she is sad.

26. The sad music accompanying this gruesome ending yields, as in other Breillat films, to happy dance music under the end credits. Like her characters, Breillat will not pretend that contemplating her atavistic impulses is gloomy business.

Barbe Bleue is scheduled at the IFC Center only until tomorrow, Thursday, April 15.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

La maman et la putain (The Mother and the Whore): NYU, Monday, March 22, 2010

If any of you have three and a half hours to spare on the evening of Monday, March 22, I'll be giving a ten or fifteen-minute introductory talk at a ciné-club DVD screening of Jean Eustache's monumental 1973 film La maman et la putain (The Mother and the Whore). The show starts at 6:30 pm at NYU's 20 Cooper Square building (at Bowery and E. 5th St.), in Room 471. The notice for the screening says, "ALL WELCOME. Refreshments - stiff, copious - provided."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Xunzhao zhimei gengdeng (The Search): Maysles Cinema, Saturday, March 20, 2010

I didn't find out about the Tibet in Harlem series until today, its opening day. One of the titles in the program, Pema Tsaden's Xunzhao zhimei gengdeng (The Search), made an impression on me at last year's Toronto Film Festival. In my Toronto 2009 wrap-up for Senses of Cinema, I wrote:

"Screened at Locarno after winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Shanghai Film Festival, Pema Tseden's Xunzhao zhimei gengdeng (The Search) is allegedly the first Tibetan film made openly in China. Structured around a film crew's search for rural performers for an adaptation of a traditional Tibetan opera, Xunzhao zhimei gengdeng is actually an elaborate riff on the theme of performance, stringing together stories within the story and impromptu auditions, and exploring various dryly comic ways to interrupt, contextualize, or serialize them. Tseden's remote visual plan, keyed to the expansive terrain and hanging back at important moments, is gradually revealed as a important component of his mission to restore the uncanny aspect of performance by subtracting its direct appeal to the audience. (In the film's climactic scene, we see that the film crew's cameraman has a more conventional dramatic sense than Tseden, slowly zooming in on the singer that the film crew has been pursuing, while Tseden's camera remains stubbornly locked-down.) By the time the search reaches its conclusion, song and theater seem to be springing unbidden from the Tibetan landscape. The print of Xunzhao zhimei gengdeng that screened in Toronto contained awkwardly translated English subtitles that improved after fifteen minutes or so, but made it difficult to perceive the film's formal and verbal intelligence."

Xunzhao zhimei gengdeng shows at Maysles Cinema (at 343 Lenox Ave., two blocks away from the 125th St. stop on the 2/3 trains) on Saturday, March 20 at 7:30 pm. I haven't seen the other films in the series, but two other Tseden films are included: his 2005 feature Lhing vjags kyi ma ni rdo vbum (The Silent Holy Stones) on Wednesday, March 17 at 7:30 pm; and his 2004 short The Grassland, as part of a program on Friday, March 19 at 7:30 pm. Kevin Lee (who will be doing a Q&A with Tseden after the Wednesday screening) compares Tseden to Abbas Kiarostami, and I can see the connection: both filmmakers hide a droll, cerebral formalism behind naturalistic surfaces.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Le Roi de l'évasion (The King of Escape): Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, March 15-16, 2009

Little by little, the international film community is catching on that French director Alain Guiraudie is one of the most distinctive and confident voices in today's cinema. His latest film, 2009's Le Roi de l'évasion (The King of Escape), can look like either a bold surrealist gesture or the last gasp of classical widescreen filmmaking, depending on where one focuses. A plot description - a gay, plump, 40-year-old tractor salesman (Ludovic Berthillot) in the south of France yields enthusiastically to the overtures of the beautiful 16-year-old daughter (Hafsia Herzi) of his boss - doesn't begin to convey Guiraudie's wild, rapid storytelling style, nor the extraordinary ease with which the filmmaker depicts a set of social groups that even adventurous filmgoers are unlikely to encounter on screen often. There is an amazing opposition, almost a contradiction, in Guiraudie's approach: he stylizes the social landscape into an idealized vision of sexuality freely expressed and tolerated; and yet the comic compression of the plot suggests a paranoid dream of punishment and persecution for the slightest and most concealed sexual impulse. That Guiraudie is aware of this bizarre split, and presents it to us simply and lucidly without resolving it, marks him as a major artist. Le Roi de l'évasion (The King of Escape) plays twice more in the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema program: on Monday, March 15 at 3:45 pm at the Walter Reade, and on Tuesday, March 16 at 9:30 pm at the IFC Center.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Assorted Screenings in NYC: February-March 2010

1. I've gotten in the habit of looking at online trailers for upcoming screenings in NYC - admittedly an iffy way of deciding whether to see a film, but better for me than all the other iffy ways. In case you're interested in sharing the iffiness, here are trailers or clips that piqued my interest:

2. I caught the Larrieu Brothers' Les derniers jours du monde (Happy End) at Toronto 2009, and it seems even more audacious and appealing upon reflection than it did at the time. It's one of the lower-profile entries in this year's edition of Film Comment Selects at the Walter Reade: screenings are at Monday, March 1 at 3:30 pm and Tuesday, March 2 at 6:15 pm. Here's what I wrote in my Toronto 2009 wrap-up for Senses of Cinema:

"Presented in Locarno's Piazza Grande ten days before its French theatrical premiere, Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu's Les derniers jours du monde, which witnesses the destruction of Europe via virus, nuclear attack, and assorted other implements of destruction, was sensibly programmed on TIFF's last night. As usual in this genre, we are allocated an identification figure (Mathieu Amalric) - but this audience surrogate is not quite standard issue, in that he has lost an arm as a result of his adulterous sexual fixation on an androgynous sex worker (Omayrah Mota), who cannot be dislodged from the top of his priority list even as death rains down around him. The end of the world according the Larrieus is light on exciting violent spectacle, but full of beanballs thrown at our delicate psyches: sometimes via the wholesale abrogation of sexual barriers, sometimes by confronting us with unsettling evidence of the fragility of the body. For the characters as well as the filmmakers, the apocalypse is about freedom, about the falling away of social and psychological constraints - and if the Larrieus sometimes treat the apocalypse rather casually, they take sex very seriously. Among the film's many pleasures is the best role in years for the admirable Karin Viard, as the protagonist's abandoned but not forgotten wife."

3. Catherine Breillat's excellent Barbe Bleue (Blue Beard) has a preview screening on Wednesday, March 3 at 7:30 pm at Anthology Film Archives (as part of their Bluebeard on Film series) before its March 26 opening at the IFC Center. Once again Breillat dissolves the gap between a literary property (this time Perrault's fairy tale) and her own sensibility, effortlessly finding a paradoxical emotional angle on every primal event. A modern-day framing story, featuring two sisters reading the tale in their attic, provides a running comic commentary while simultaneously delving into life-and-death conflicts of its own. One can perhaps argue that the fairy tale's focus on the anxiety of disobedience, which requires creating a monster, is somewhat at odds with the sympathy that Breillat characteristically extends to all her sexual combatants. Still, it's fascinating to watch her erase distinctions between mundane and mythic subject matter.

4. Hilary Brougher's distinctly underappreciated 2006 drama Stephanie Daley returns for a one-off screening at 92Y Tribeca on Friday, March 5 at 7 pm, with the filmmaker in attendance. There is a faintly metaphorical aura to the film's story - a teenage girl (Amber Tamblyn), in denial about her belatedly terminated pregnancy, perplexes a forensic psychologist (Tilda Swinton), herself pregnant - that probably led to it being pigeonholed as a topical work. Easier to miss is the unusual density of Brougher's filmmaking: she seems determined to cut out all the ordinary moments in life and move briskly from one insight to another. And she seems to have a lot of detailed observations up her sleeve about both teenage anguish and pregnancy. It's rare to see an American film that adopts a familiar investigation/mystery format and yet comes across as a continuous stream of personal expression.

5. The surprise of last year's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, Sylvie Verheyde's Stella, is screening at Symphony Space on Saturday, March 6 at 7 pm and Saturday, March 13 at 8:45 pm at as part of the New York International Children's Film Festival. The story of a tentative but self-sufficient young girl (Léora Barbara) trying to transcend the restrictions of her déclassé upbringing, Stella has few formal chops, doesn't look so great, overuses its effects - and I loved it anyway. Verheyde is a wizard at not letting fictional forms get in the way of facts about people, and she effortlessly generates compelling complexity while dodging every bullet of the coming-of-age genre. The film's scale is so modest and human-centered that one doesn't tote up its achievements immediately: nearly every scene is a standout, nearly every performance is incisive.

6. Just in case you need recommendations for Film Forum's Victor Fleming series: 1935's The Farmer Takes a Wife (on Tuesday, March 9 at 1, 4:45 and 8:30 pm) and 1938's rather Hawksian Test Pilot (on Wednesday, March 10 at 1, 5:30 and 10 pm and Thursday, March 11 at 1 pm) are both pretty good. Also Red Dust (on Friday, March 5 at 1, 4:30 and 8 pm, and Saturday, March 6 at 2:50 and 8 pm), but you probably know that one already. (Too bad Film Forum couldn't get 1935's Reckless, which is probably my favorite.) Fleming isn't always able to show his talents, but he's a smart director, with distinctive visual habits: he likes short lenses, slightly depressed angles, and characters approaching and leaving the foreground on diagonals. He favors exaggerated acting and action, has an interesting taste for violence and iconoclasm, and likes visual overcrowding and excess.

7. I haven't seen anything in this year's Rendez-Vous series, but I'm very much looking forward to Alain Guiraudie's Le roi de l'évasion (The King of Escape): playing Saturday, March 13 at 9 pm at the Walter Reade; Monday, March 15 at 3:45 pm at the Walter Reade; and Tuesday, March 16 at 9:30 pm at the IFC Center. On the basis of 2001's Ce vieux rêve qui bouge (That Old Dream That Moves) and 2003's Pas de repos pour les braves (No Rest for the Brave), Guiraudie seems one of the most inspired filmmakers on today's scene. He's not exactly unknown, but none of his films have gotten US theatrical distribution as far as I know. The new film sounds like light comedy (a gay middle-aged salesman has an opportunity with Hafsia Herzi, and decides to go for it), but Guiraudie can blend light and heavy tones in the oddest ways. I'm also interested in Philippe Lioret's Welcome, which got some attention on the festival circuit: Lioret's Je vais bien, ne t'en fais pas (Don't Worry, I'm Fine) marked him as a talent to watch. It plays Friday, March 12 at 1:15 pm at the Walter Reade; Saturday, March 13 at 6:30 pm at the IFC Center; and Sunday, March 14 at 3:30 pm at the Walter Reade.

8. Gianni Di Gregorio's wonderful Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid-August Lunch), which I wrote about when it played New Directors/New Films last year, gets a theatrical premiere at Film Forum on March 17. The film presents itself as one of those life-affirming films with lovable eccentrics and lots of cooking scenes, and I guess that's true enough. But it's also pure personal filmmaking.

9. MoMA's Canadian Front series is looking pretty hotsy-totsy this year. The most exciting title is Bernard Émond's sublime La Donation (The Legacy), which plays Thursday, March 18 at 4 pm and Saturday, March 20 at 8 pm. Here's what I said in my Senses of Cinema Toronto 2009 wrap-up:

"Though a notch lower in prestige than Venice, Cannes and Berlin, the Locarno Film Festival, which takes place a month before TIFF, provided a disproportionate number of my favourite films this year. At the top of the list is La Donation, the high point to date of Quebecois filmmaker Bernard Émond’s career. Set in the small town of Normétal in the Abitibi-Ouest region of Quebec, and haunted by the clear gray skies and dark wooded areas that seem ready to reclaim the settlement at a moment’s notice, La Donation is the continuing story of Jeanne Dion (Elise Guilbault), the embattled doctor of Émond’s La Neuvaine, whose search for meaning leads her to a trial period as the impoverished region’s only physician. Casting a number of residents of the area, and directing his professional actors to match the quiet stoicism of the amateurs, Émond arrives at an uncanny evocation of the mood of Bresson’s Journal d’un curé de campagne (Diary of a Country Priest, 1950), in which the performers are less documented for their reality than enlisted as principles of existence. As a follower of Émond since his first feature La femme qui boit (2001, also starring Guilbault), I had begun to fear in recent years that he was settling into a reflex solemnity that was yielding diminishing returns. To my delight, La Donation recasts Émond’s art in new terms, not so much dispelling his heaviness as offering it to us, contextualising it with brisk pacing and a strong narrative hook, exposing it to the skies and cold winds. Now would be the perfect time for programmers worldwide to give Émond greater exposure."

A tougher sell is Sherry White's Crackie, about which I wrote in the same article:

"Labrador-based director Sherry White premiered her film Crackie at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in July before bringing it home to TIFF and a subsequent Canadian theatrical run. Set in a rural part of Newfoundland that seems dominated by scrap yards and garbage dumps, Crackie is the story of 17-year-old Mitzy (Meagan Greeley), suspended between her tough, practical grandmother/caretaker (Mary Walsh) and the worthless mother she idealises (Cheryl Wells). The film is a bit broad and schematic around the edges, but subtle and affecting at its centre: Greeley’s wonderfully simple performance scales the girl’s reactions down so that both her vulnerability and her inner strength seem in harmony with her hardscrabble environment. White portrays Mitzy’s first sexual experiments frankly and without sentiment, and gets emotional mileage out of her turbulent relationship with the eponymous dog who figures in her transition to adulthood."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Youth of Chopin: Walter Reade, Sunday, January 10, 2009

Polish director Aleksander Ford is one of those names who pop up in film history books, but rarely appear on American screens to take the test of time. His 1952 The Youth of Chopin, which screens once more on Sunday, January 10 at 3 pm in the Walter Reade's brief celebration of Chopin's bicentenary, has everything going against it: not only the unrewarding conventions of the biopic, but also an apparent governmental mandate to cast Chopin as a people's revolutionary. And it's a knockout anyway, a film that only gradually reveals how unorthodox and experimental it is. The project's central problems are confronted by writer-director Ford with unusual intelligence and formal transparency. The historical narrative is not so much blended with great-man mythology as juxtaposed with it, with self-aware cuts and tracking shots shifting Chopin and the class struggle from foreground to background and back again. Even more strikingly, Ford embraces the episodic aspect of biography, and the film often takes the form of a series of dazzling, disconnected set-pieces, with supporting characters bearing much emotional weight, then vanishing like comets. In some ways, Ford calls to mind the great French director Jacques Becker, in that his visual skill and sensitivity to ambiance is in the service of sharp but unbiased social observation. I could easily have been persuaded that Becker was responsible for the beautiful scene where Chopin attends a Paganini concert, or for an orgiastic party scene in which a political assassination is counterpointed with frenzied dancers ripping off their shoes. Still, Ford is somewhat more inclined to symbolism than Becker, more likely to turn the flow of reality into coolly observed friezes. I've never seen anything else by Ford, but it's hard to believe that a director who is at once so analytical and so instinctive could not have made many other worthwhile films.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Manhattan One-Week Theatrical Premieres

Here are my favorite films that received their first one-week theatrical run in Manhattan during 2009. (I exclude films that were made too long ago to feel contemporary.)

1. Night and Day (Hong Sang-soo)
2. Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley)
3. C.R.A.Z.Y. (Jean-Marc Vallée)
4. Desert Dream (Zhang Lu)
5. Gomorrah (Matteo Garrone)
6. Broken Embraces (Pedro Almodovar)
7. Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater)
8. Chelsea on the Rocks (Abel Ferrara)
9. Paradise (Michael Almereyda)
10. Medicine for Melancholy (Barry Jenkins)

More than half of these films received no national distribution, barely squeaking out one-week runs at NYC specialty venues. Which underlines the arbitrariness of a Manhattan premiere list...but whatever. (I keep a running list of my favorite films by date of international release.)

Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): Beeswax (Andrew Bujalski); I'm Gonna Explode (Gerardo Naranjo); Liverpool (Lisandro Alonso); Lorna's Silence (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne); Tokyo: "Merde" (Leos Carax); Two Lovers (James Gray); The Vanished Empire (Karen Shakhnazarov).

Films with a lot going for them: California Dreamin' (Cristian Nemescu); Extract (Mike Judge); Frontier of Dawn (Philippe Garrel); The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow); Il Divo (Paolo Sorrentino); Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino); The International (Tom Tykwer); The Merry Gentleman (Michael Keaton); Perestroika (Slava Tsukerman); Pontypool (Bruce McDonald); Revanche (Gotz Spielmann); A Single Man (Tom Ford); Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa); Treeless Mountain (So Yong Kim); Tulpan (Sergey Dvortsevoy); The White Ribbon (Michael Haneke); You, the Living (Roy Andersson).

Films with something going for them: Adoration (Atom Egoyan); The Brothers Bloom (Rian Johnson); Cargo 200 (Alexei Balabanov); Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson); Flower in the Pocket (Liew Seng Tat); Goodbye Solo (Ramin Bahrani); The Headless Woman (Lucrecia Martel); Serbis (Brilliante Mendoza); A Serious Man (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen); Somers Town (Shane Meadows); Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas); The Sun (Alexander Sokurov); 24 City (Jia Zhang-ke); Up in the Air (Jason Reitman); Ward No. 6 (Karen Shakhnazarov & Aleksandr Gornovsky).

Among the films I couldn't get into: Adventureland (Greg Mottola); Afterschool (Antonio Campos); Avatar (James Cameron); Birdsong (Albert Serra); The Box (Richard Kelly); Cheri (Stephen Frears); Duplicity (Tony Gilroy); The Girlfriend Experience (Steven Soderbergh); Home (Ursula Meier); Hunger (Steve McQueen); Import Export (Ulrich Seidl); Jerichow (Christian Petzold); Lake Tahoe (Fernando Eimbcke); The Limits of Control (Jim Jarmusch); Loren Cass (Chris Fuller); Megane (Naoko Ogigami); Moon (Duncan Jones); Munyurangabo (Lee Isaac Chung); My Dear Enemy (Lee Yoon-ki); My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (Werner Herzog); Paris (Cedric Klapisch); The Pope's Toilet (Cesar Charlone & Enrique Fernandez); Public Enemies (Michael Mann); Shall We Kiss? (Emmanuel Mouret); Taxidermia (Gyorgy Palfi); 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis); Tony Manero (Pablo Larrain); Tyson (James Toback); Unmade Beds (Alexis Dos Santos); The Young Victoria (Jean-Marc Vallée).