Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat May 14, 2011 3:26 am 
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Paris, May 11, 2011. I'm experiencing Cannes vicariously being in Paris as it goes on. Some Cannes films may come here while I'm still in town, and meanwhile it is in all the papers and magazines. Lynne Ramsey's new film We Need to Talk About Kevin, years after her successes at the festival with Ratcatcher and Morvern Caller, had drawn attention and was one of the first films shown. Young talent Ezra Miller as their homocidal son sounds interesting, at least Mike d'Angelo of Onnion AV Club makes the film sound worth taking a look at if only for its phantasmagoric, shocking openng sequence. Midnight in Paris, by Woody Allen, opened the festival and has been very well received in France, where they never stop loving Woody. I will give short reviews of films seen in Paris cinemas as I see them or as the fine weather, good food, and flaneur life allow. It looks like I will not see 17 films in Paris as I reported in April 2010. But there will be some coming from Cannes, including Woody Allen's Minuit à Paris, the Cannes opener, simultaneously in Paris cinemas; Terrence Malick's Tree of Life, Luc and Jean-Pierre Dadennes' Le gamin au vélo/The Boy with the Bike, and (not from Cannes but last September's Venice Festival), Monte Hellman's Road to Nowhere.




ESSENTIAL KILLLING (Jerzy Skolimowski 2010) A change from the mysterous Pole's most recent film, his 2008 Four Nights with Anna with its very claustrophobic setting, this vehicle for a very committed Vincent Gallo creates its claustrophobia extermally. The protagonist is a member of the Taliban escaped from a Guantanamo gulag shipped to eastern Euopre. The van he's in crashes and he's the only one who gets away. It continues in that vein, Gallo never speakng a word, but the action so visceral you don't look away even when, as most reviewers plausibly insist, the escapee's continuing escapes become almost too magical, even giving his incredible determination to survive, on insects or breast milk if necessary. At Guantanamo the protagonist seems not to speak because of temorary deafness from an explosion; later he had no one to taok to. Because there is virtually no talking and much dogged repetitive action, the film becomes like a meditation. With his "hawklike face," as one English writer calls it, Gallo plays a strangely compelling mime. If some of his character's escapes seem far-fetched, perhaps Skolimowski doesn't really mean any of this to be taken literally; it's simply a a parable of man's struggle to survive. The politics and even the contrasting locations -- hot Afghan desert actually shot in Israel contrasting with Slavic snows -- are just the outward trappings of an inward struggle punctuated by muted, faded glimpses of mosques and imams giving Islamic extremist blessings. Emmanuelle Seigner has a minor role, also mute.


TOMBOY (Céline Sciamma 2011) Sciamma's 2007 debut Water Lilies/Naissance de pieuvres) was a sensitive study of issues of competition and sexuality faced by adolescent girls; it may look even stronger in contrast with the more ambitious but less suble similar film She Monkeys (Lisa Aschan 2011), from Sweden, the dramatic feature top prizewinner at this year's Tribeca. TOMBOY focuses on a younger girl, Laure (Zoé Héran), who wants to be a boy. When her family is in a new place she tells the kids her name is Mikaël and she fashions a penis of modeling clay to make a bikini bathing suit realisticly male. She loves rough play, looks good in boy's clothes, and is good at games. She gets on fine with her kindly dad and pregnant mom and very feminine younger sister Jeanne (a charming, hilarious Malonn Lévana) but she is cruising for trouble with her pretense, especially when Lisa (Jeanne Disson) befriends her and thinks she's a potential beau. Sciamma excels at filming the neighborhood kids at play and the interchanges with Jeanne; the parents are poorly developed. It's all in the casting: Zoé Héran is wonderful in the lead role. You have only to look at her: she's a girl, but she could be a boy, and you love her even as you are troubled with her gender issues. Despite weaknesses, this is a brilliant movie that, like its predecessor, is deceptively low-keyed but actually bold, perceptive, and original.

French release date was April 20, 2011. The US release of Tomboy has been scheduled for November 16, 2012.

Who's prettier?

LA BALLADE DE L'IMPOSSIBLE (NORWEGIAN WOOD), 2010. Vietnamese director Anh Hung Tran's Japanese language film, from a novel by Haruki Morikami, is long, swoony, sad, beautiful, and occasionally highly erotic tale of desperate young love. On hearing the song "Norwegian Wood," Watanabe, played in the film by pouty heatthrob Kenichi Matsuyama, begins to remember a time in his life when he was not yet twenty, beginning with the worldwide student unrest of 1968 -- and thus the main body of the film begins. Young Watanabe sleepwalks through the demos because his friend Kizuki has killed himself and he's falling hopelessly for Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi), Kizuki's girlfriend. Naoko is poison, and crazy, but that develops later, only when Watanabe has relieved her of her virginity on her 20th birthday. Eventually Wataname connects with a more cheerful young woman, Midori (Kiko Mizuhara). Everything is slowly, delicatedly staged in Ballade and that deflowering and all the kisses are amazingly real and memorable and sexy. But the adolescent misguidedness, however stoical and heroic, is also overblown and annoying: you want to shake Watanabe and tell him to drop this nutty girl and get with Midori. Anh Hung Tran's staging of the story is so Japanese you also wonder if a Japanese person might find it self-consciously overdone and off-key. But there are moments, thanks to very focused, delicate acting by Matsuyama, Kikuchi, and Miuhara, who are all three touching and pretty to look at. Some jumpy narrative links seem okay because it's so mesmerizing and slow you need a jolt.

A US release is scheduled for January 2012.


DETECTIVE DEE (Tsui Hark 2010) The English title is Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame Hark has done some snappy Hong Kong crime movies, but here he moves into the territory of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and other such wonders of costume and CGI, to film an old folkloric tale. The originality of this work, which eventualy collapses under the weight of its epic scenes and incredible visual effects, lies in its focus on an exiled detective who winds up solving a series of mysterious and spectacular internal combustion deaths that threaten to delay the inauguration of Empress Wu, the first and only female ruler in Chinese history. I was longing for a gritty modern crime movie. Devotees of this genre will doubtless admire the giant statue of the Buddha towering over the imperial palace and eventually crumling toward it, not to mention the sight of various dignitaries bursting into flame and slowly imploding or exploding. Tony Leong Ka Fai is the detective. Detective Dee : Le mystère de la flamme fantôme (2010) Showing at Gaumont and UGC theaters in France.

This was subsequently released in the US September 2, 2011 and received a wide range of Metacritic review ratings from 50 to 100. It did respectable box office, $459,836 ( 0.9% of the total). In 2010 it received 13 nominations and 6 of the 30th Hong Kong Film Awards.


VOIR LA MER (Patrice Leconte 2011). Leconte is admired in the US for The Man on the Train and Intimate Strangers; others may remember The Widow of Saint Pierre and Ridicule. All creditable effots, if somewhat lacking a distinctive style. This is a below-par effort about a ménage-à-trois that develops when two good-looking 20-something brothers head out to see their mother in the country with a pretty girl in tow. Voir la mer: "Mer" (sea) sounds the same as "mère" or mother, and the girl wants to see (voir) the sea, while the two brothers want to see their mom. She's never been to the water. Even road movies need a plot. This hasn't got one, just a pretty girl and a couple of hunky guys who agree to share her. What was Leconte thinking? The two guys are Nicolas (Nicolas Giraud) and Clément Sibony (Clément Sibony), and the pretty girl, ironically named Prudence, is played by Pauline Lefèvre. Utterly forgettable and mediocre.


UNE FOLLE ENVIE (Bernard Jeanjean 2011). The title means "A Mad Urge." Clovis Cornillac is thinned down but lacks his former spark as Yann and Olivia Bonamy is fresh-faced and charming but no comic wonder in this fairly routine romantic comedy about a couple who are dying to have a baby but can't quite seem to manage. If this comes to America, skip it and rent the also somewhat routine but far more interesting and richly reimagined Potiche, which has a lot more going for it as a French comedy. Cornillac is very talented. He deserves better than this dorky would-be father role. The script tries hard (but not hard enough maybe) to provide laughs as the couple attempts tantric love positions and resorting to various supersitions and an insemination program for non-starter parents, but it just jerks its couple around. They have no chance to emerge as people.


Revolución (2010) is the Mexican anthology of short films that I missed more than half of due to a projection problem during the first press screening. It is reviewed, with help from Leslie Felperin's coverage, in the NYFF 2010 section of Filmleaf here. [/URL] It is an interesting collection to see, since it includes Mexican directors to a larger audience. Since it opened in limited theatrical release in Paris May 11, I got to see it in toto and add my comments on the parts I missed in October 2010.

The Reygadas segment is a shocker, sort of an alegory of indulgence, violence, and chaos. It's just a very unruly, tacky party, with drinking and smoking, some chatter, destruction of a derelict car. The car is later set on fire. Reygadas' aim seems to be to create a sense of danger and disorder and ugliness. It's not pleasant to watch and isn't meant to be. I thought of Trash Humpers, though it lacks the fantasy.

I was not very impressed by "The Estate Store," though it is significant in being by a woman director and presenting a woman's point of view. The main relationships don't seem quite credible, and the story-line isn't entirely clear. Maybe Mariana Chenillo is just trying to cram too much information into ten minutes. It's a basic principle that short films work better when they are simple (not that exceptions to this rule aren't possible in the right hands).

In contrast in "R-100" Gerardo Naranjo creates a story that's vivid, visceral, and simple. There is no dialogue, no attempt to explain how the two men became covered with blood and one of the unable to walk. It's truly a slice of life.

I would have to re-watch "30/30" by Rodrigo Plà to understand the irony Felperin refers to in its story of an exploited grandson of Pancho Villa brought in by politicians to attend revolutionary commemorative evennt. It took me the whole time to see what was being got at. I give the film credit for a convincing feel of authenticity.

Diggo Luna's "Abel" seems very fragmentary. I missed something. I'm not so sure its tech credits are below par as Felperin says, but I'm not convinced either Luna or Garcia Bernal are going to be notable as directors. What they are notable for is encouraging cinema in Mexico and helping it to be recognized internationally through their own international recognition as actors, particularly Garcia Bernal's. [IY tu mama tambien ]I[/I] seems like some kind of classic to me, along with Amores Perros, a signal of something coming alive in Mexican filmmaking, at least for the foreign audience. Both put contemporary Mexican filmmaking on the map for American moviegoers.

Rodrigo Garcia's "7th Street and Alvarado" indeed is a standout. Its images are haunting and beautiful and profoundly thought-provoking. It's quite amazing how the men or horseback costumed so realistically as Mexican revolutionaries of a hundred years ago seem etched in stone against the sunny sky, while the pedestrians wander below, seeming unreal, though unaware of the horseman. I'd have to see more by Rodrigo Garcia to know what he's like; apparently he has moved to the Anglo world, and his new feature for 2011, Albert Nobbs , is set in Ireland and features Jane Eyre star Mia Wasikowska -- so we may forget about his contributing to a new Mexican cinema.

I would like to see more by Amat Escalante ("The Hanging Priest"), and of course by Reygadas and Naranjo. I know I like anything by Fernando Eimbcke, whose wistful, ironic black and white fim of the welcoming party whose guests (for a celebration of the revolution?) never show up at the tiny town, begins this anthology. Fernando Eimbcke's film, by the way, on the real film stock, is the best looking, along with Rodrigo Garcia's slo-mo color film at the end.

Revolución dubet on Mexican TV last November Paris May 11, 2011 seems to be its first theatrical release anywhere. I'd expect to see it in a little West Village theater. Allociné gives this film a good critical rating, 3.2, with 10 reviews consulted. "Diversity" and "richness" were noted.

In the 7the arrondissement, a local newsstand has the new Cahiers du Cinéma prominently displayed (below Première) in this snapshot I took yesterday (week of May 9, 2011).


And the Cannes poster is displayed -- very large -- in the Paris subway stations.


©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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