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April 21 2017

HKIFF 2017: What a Wonderful Family! 2 (Yoji Yamada, Japan 2017)

 

 Yoji Yamada hat eigentlich schon längst das Rentenalter erreicht, aber er scheint nicht aufhören zu können. Zu unserem Glück muss man sagen, denn seine letzten Filme waren allesamt Höhepunkte eines routinierten Filmschaffens, wie es sich erst nach langen Jahren der Könnerschaft zeigt. Seine Ozu-Hommage TOKYO KAZOKU: fantastisch, THE LITTLE HOUSE: berührend leichtfüßig und zärtlich traurig zugleich, seine etwas ins Alberne driftende Komödie WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY!, wie schon der Titel als verzweifelter Ausruf und ironischer Kommentar suggeriert, eine ferne Neuauflage von Sogo Ishiis Klassiker der FAMILIE MIT DEM DÜSENANTRIEB. Man kennt also diese ganz normale Vorstadt-Familie bereits aus Teil 1, dieser – wie es scheint – sich zu einer Reihe auszuwachsenden Darstellung des ganz normalen Wahnsinns des Alltags.

 Diesmal geht es um die mittlerweile eingeschränkten Fähigkeiten des Großvaters, ein Auto lenken zu können. Ständig kommt er mit irgendwelchen Dellen in der Karosse zurück. Nur: wie ihm das beibringen, diesem herrischen Patriarchen, diesem zärtlichen Familiendrachen, der sich stets seiner Autorität als Familienvorstand versichern muss? Das kann keiner so richtig, das traut sich niemand. Also sucht man sich jemand, der zwar nah dran ist, aber der dennoch nicht zu sehr in der Schusslinie steht. Das ist wieder einmal die einsichtige Schwiegertochter, hinreißend gespielt von Yu Aoi, die mit dem Enkel verheiratet ist und als Krankenschwester sowieso über ein wie natürliches Einfühlungsvermögen verfügt.

 Hier ist also einiges an skurril witziger Situationskomödie geboten – und doch geht es im Kern um etwas ganz anderes. Nämlich um das Altwerden. Wie ist das mit der Würde, mit den eigenen Träumen und Sehnsüchten, wenn man realisiert, dass langsam die Zeit abläuft? Wenn der Körper nicht mehr so kann, wie man will? Die Großmutter jedenfalls lässt sich von dem Grummel nicht mehr an der Realisierung der eigenen Träume hindern und reist mit einer Seniorengruppe – ebenfalls alles Frauen, deren Männer grummelig sind – nach Norwegen, um das Polarlicht mit eigenen Augen zu sehen. Er bleibt freilich zu Hause, dazu hat er gar keine Lust. Nun zeigt sich auch, wofür er den Führerschein noch braucht: er hat sich nämlich auf seine alten Tage in die Wirtin seiner Lieblingskneipe verguckt, die er zum Essen ausführen möchte. Und wie es so kommt, trifft er auch noch auf einen alten Schulfreund, der allerdings in ganz anderen Familienverhältnissen steckt, als er selbst. Diese Figur fungiert als Spiegel der Lebenssituation des alten Mannes, und wirkt wie ein Katalysator. Und so nehmen die Dinge ihren Lauf.

 Mit einem Hauch von Wehmut durchzogen, ganz so wie Yamadas legendäre Tora-san-Reihe über den herumziehenden Taugenichts Torajiro, kann man sich auch noch weitere Filme mit und über diese Familie gut vorstellen; denn weitermachen kann man hier eigentlich endlos. Das wirkliche Leben gibt genug Geschichten vor, die sich umsetzen ließen. Und man kann dem Regisseur nur alles erdenklich Gute wünschen, dass er noch lange so weitermachen möge, wie es die Gesundheit zulässt. Auch dieser Film fühlt sich wieder so an, wie ein kleines Meisterwerk.

Michael Schleeh

***
 

Movie Poster of the Week: What Ever Happened to Bette and Joan?

Say what you will about Ryan Murphy’s Feud: Bette and Joan, which concludes its 8-episode run this Sunday, but for cinephiles it has been extraordinary to have had a major television series so steeped in the lore of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Dramatizing the production of Robert Aldrich’s 1962 Warner Brothers hit What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the animosity of its rival stars, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, and the aftermath of both, Feud requires a measure of familiarity with all the major players and their past lives in order to truly appreciate the poignancy of its moment.
Despite its potential for high camp—and if nothing else Feud is a masterpiece of fabulous production and costume design—the show has proved to be remarkably alert to the predicament of women in Hollywood and the paranoia and regret that accompanies the back nine of the life of a Hollywood star. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? revived the fading careers of Davis and Crawford—former Tinseltown goddesses both—who were respectively 54 and 57(-ish) at the time (the actresses who play them so superbly, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, are, astonishingly, 70 and 67). It also ghettoized them in a new sub-genre which, according to Feud, studio head Jack Warner dubbed “hagsploitation.”
Baby Jane was such a hit that studios and actresses alike jumped on the bandwagon, releasing a string of gothic thrillers in which former Hollywood stars submitted themselves to the indignities of the horror genre. By the early 60s many of the great divas of the Golden Age had either retired or were working in television, but the post-Baby Jane craze for what has also been indecorously called “Psycho-biddy” or “Grande Dame Guignol” gave a number of actresses what they most craved: a chance to shine again on the silver screen.
Many of the films featured below are referenced, and even recreated, in Feud, which adds to the fun. The posters for these films are as wonderfully lurid and sensational as you could possibly hope for, full of exhortations and warnings to the audience and more often than not picturing formerly demure movie stars caught in open-mouthed terror or leering over their victims.
Olivia de Havilland, Joan Fontaine, Barbara Stanwyck, Deborah Kerr, Tallulah Bankhead and Shelley Winters all submitted themselves to at least one outing in what the New York Times—in a review of The Anniversary—called “the Terrifying Older Actress Filicidal Mummy genre” but Bette and Joan were the undeniable scream queens of the 60s. The genre petered out in the early 70s, though Davis continued to milk her scary grand dame routine until the late 80s in Disney films and comedies. While Feud indirectly celebrates the glory days of Hollywood it also resurrects, as do these marvelously unrestrained posters, one of its least finest hours.
Posters courtesy of Heritage Auctions and CineMaterial. If you haven’t watched Feud, at least check out Kyle Cooper’s exquisite Saul Bass-esque title sequence.

April 20 2017

Depression Lessons #12

Sterling Holloway
He possessed the sexual allure of a vegetable grown in poor light. 
A cartoon version of Dust-Bowl produce, prematurely uprooted from the parched earth... Was this etiolated radish a batty answer to audiences in need—some unhinged nostrum for a nation suffering under otherwise incurable blues? Depression Lesson #12 argues Sterling Holloway (oh, yes!) delivered. 
And he did so mainly by playing a miracle of employability. 
No character actor embraced his inner schlump with such acquiescent sideways momentum, flung at a framed, highly realistic world of earnings by an invisible hand. His ample red pate and prodigious honker had more mass than his entire body, which resembled a crimped and wavering line, unsettled by the slightest vibration. The free enterprise system—holographic beyond the movie palace, tantalizingly real within it—gave Holloway's bellhops and cabbies the chance to mock our glimmering vision.
He handed it back to us with a smile seesawing between sly and dopey. 
Holloway's side-kick roles usually meant shrugging through life. And yet, he could also muster glowering fatalism with the best of them. In 1933's Wild Boys of the Road, the odd example where he's utterly destitute, his face curdles as he ejects a profound "Phooey!" Played for laughs, it echoes in the baffling malignity of the universe.
***
Part of our on-going series Depression Lessons.

Review: Arthouse Pratfalls—Bruno Dumont's "Slack Bay"

Slack Bay
Bruno Dumont pushed himself as a filmmaker with his comic detective miniseries P’tit Quinquin (2014), and now he seems to have confirmed this new direction for the cinema with Slack Bay, a pratfall-filled coastal tale of crime and love set in the 1910s. The crime is missing tourists in a poor seaside village on Côte d'Opale; the investigators a blimp-sized local detective and his pint-sized sidekick; and the love is between a local boy and a cross-dressing young beauty of a rich family whose gratuitously Egyptian-style mansion sits sentinel over the titular marshy bay.
In this far-flung location the French director ambitiously expands his experiment begun with his first period film, Camille Claudel 1915 (2013), where his preferred cast of non-professional locals—including, in that film, those with mental disabilities—acted alongside mega-star Juliette Binoche. In Slack Bay, Binoche returns as a rich flit and mother of the romantic youth of ambiguous gender, alongside Valeria Bruni Tedeschi and Fabrice Luchini as aesthete husband and wife. In other words, Dumont has cast his rich family on the hill predominantly from big-name actors. Downhill, in the low-tide mud of the bay, the poor population and their bumbling police force are cast entirely by regional non-professionals, this filmmaker always gifting his audiences with the kinds of faces, bodies and accents almost completely absent from cinema in multiplexes and arthouses alike. This side of the filmmaker is very precious indeed, making inextricable from his dramas of spirit and degradation a local character accentuated and presented as true presence before the camera. What makes Slack Bay somewhat radical is that the kind of human presence before the camera this director elicits from regional casting he tries to re-create grotesquely in the performances of his stars—perhaps, ultimately, as class criticism.
Unlike P’tit Quiquin, the crime in Slack Bay is no mystery: we soon see a young man, Ma Loute (a slangy, affectionate sexual nickname that is the French title of the film), and his brothers eating from a pot of human remains. Mere minutes after we learn that Ma Loute, who works as a mussel gatherer, also assists his father ferrying visiting bourgeoisie across the bay, we see him kill a pair of tourists with his oar. The corpulent detective, quite daft and prone to tipping or rolling over, can’t figure out what’s going on, but since we know all too well—Dumont keeping the horror vivid but played superficially for laughs—the drama of Slack Bay becomes the interaction between the posh holidaying family and the locals.
Taking even further the unexpected comedy of P’tit Quinquin, this filmmaker of normally grave, spiritual and profoundly rigorous arthouse films pushes his recognizable actors into extreme farcical caricature, grossly exaggerating their facial tics and physical contortions (none more absurd nor sublime than Luchini’s hunchbacked patriarch who seems to lightly dance everywhere instead of walk) and finding plenteous opportunities for slips, falls, broken chairs, and other silent cinema gags. Dumont’s appreciative distain for this rich family, with its intimations of inbreeding and blasé cluelessness, nevertheless comes off sympathetic, indeed perhaps too tolerable, even when we can see Binoche or Luchini being pushed to the edge of the manic. Meanwhile, the poor, outside of the local law, are treated far more respectfully, and thus the attraction between Ma Loute and the beautiful boy-girl from the city—a romance that has a cuteness in keeping with the director’s bizarre move towards, let’s say, a more approachable style—suggests a union metaphoric and metaphysical. Together, the couple is a possible meeting point between the horror that, in Dumont’s cinema, can lurk in the isolation of a rural countryside whose base values can be downright primordial, and the indifferent inanity of an upper-class entirely superfluous, but for tourism, to the locality.
Despite a wonderful use of location—for the bracing, almost confrontative character of Dumont’s best films lay not only in filming the local population but in bringing out the rash beauty and bleak spareness of his countryside—the film’s range of humor is limited and the laughs wane as the same jokes are repeated. At the same time, the relaxed and episodic televisual pacing of P’tit Quinquin is also found here, which makes the film’s first third—in which we are still learning the lay of the land, the customs of the area, and are charmed and horrified by both sides of the class divide—surprising and winning, but, as with its humor, the film wears out over time. With a young Joan of Arc musical set to premiere this year in Cannes and a continuation of Quinquin in the works, it seems that this newly flourishing side of one of the most important contemporary filmmakers is here to stay. After a terrific first start followed by this strangely awkward evolution, perhaps Jeannette, l'enfance de Jeanne d'Arc's ridiculously promising vision will finally find Bruno Dumont fully hitting his new stride.

F. Gary Gray's Furious Tendencies

A Man Apart
In October 2016, Vin Diesel revealed that the director of The Fate of the Furious, the eighth installment in the multi-billion dollar series of films, would be none other than F. Gary Gray. To those familiar with his work, it seemed like a natural fit. Gray has worked in Hollywood for over twenty years and is one of the most financially successful black directors in history. Coming off of the massive success of Straight Outta Compton (his second film to gross over $100 million dollars at the domestic box office, after 2003’s The Italian Job), Gray seemed like the ideal choice for the latest Fast and Furious installment, where he could return to his cinematic trademarks: guns, heists, fast cars and racially diverse ensembles.  
These elements were staples of Gray’s work even before his first feature in 1995. Gray, a South Central Los Angeles native, began as a cameraman for BET and Fox, and made short films on the side. He parlayed his connections from television into a job directing music videos, a position which quickly garnered him significant acclaim. Gray’s music video résumé includes Ice Cube’s classic “It Was A Good Day,” early OutKast track “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” and the multi-VMA-winning mega-hit “Waterfalls” by TLC. Gray belongs to a generation of filmmakers (David Fincher, Michael Bay, Antoine Fuqua, Gore Verbinski and Brett Ratner among them) who cut their teeth directing early 90s music videos before transitioning to Hollywood features, and becoming some of the largest names in studio filmmaking.  
But unlike many of his contemporaries, Gray and his films are not studied as a complete body of work. Gray generally doesn’t control different levels of production such as writing or editing, unlike many directors now who earn the title of “auteur.” He better fits the label of a “hired hand,” ready to step in and take the wheel of a production at any time (for The Fate of the Furious, Gray was reported to be the third choice for the position, behind past series helmers James Wan and Justin Lin). Gray has never had a writing credit, has been a producer on less than half of the films he’s directed, and none of his projects share a common screenwriter.
Despite this lack of control of varying levels of production, Gray’s work does unite under a specific vision. Almost every one of his films is deeply preoccupied with the themes of karma and justice, establishing a perceived imbalance between an archetypal good and bad, where evil has the upper hand. This imbalance is then rectified, usually through furious punishment. The films go to great lengths to accommodate this righteous fury, often incorporating large tonal shifts to steer the narrative in the desired direction.
Friday
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Gray’s first feature, the mostly languorous comedy Friday (1995); Ice Cube (star, co-writer and producer of the film) chose Gray based on their previous music video collaborations. Gray generally keeps the project loose: the film’s events, unfolding over the course of one day on a southern L.A. block, seem to just hang in the air like smoke. Any dramatic incidents occur lackadaisically; the film drifts from social interaction to social interaction without raising either of our unemployed protagonists Craig and Smokey (Cube and Chris Tucker, the latter in his leading first role) from their general malaise. The subplot of a bully, Deebo (Tiny 'Zeus' Lister Jr.), tormenting residents on the block constantly threatens to escalate the level of drama in the film. But in the final ten minutes this plotline completely overwhelms the film, which turns deadly serious as Craig’s fears (instilled in him by his father) about protecting his homefront take over. Friday now goes full paranoiac; the block, photographed in canted camera angles, is suddenly shrouded in darkest night. Craig defeats Deebo in the climactic standoff, bashing his face with a brick and beating him unconscious. Gray’s pattern of enforcing justice through punishment begins here.  
In 1998, Gray directed the TNT network mainstay The Negotiator, starring Samuel L. Jackson as a police negotiator who creates a hostage situation that requires the assistance of another police negotiator, played by Kevin Spacey. Danny Roman (Jackson) has been set-up as a patsy for the embezzlement and the murder of his own partner, who was investigating said embezzlement. Renounced by all around him and unable to prove his innocence, Roman sees no option but to seize control in a situation he understands better than anyone. According to the screenplay’s logic and structure, Roman’s innocence isn’t enough of a prize; the real culprits of the murder and embezzlement must be exposed. Roman and fellow negotiator Chris Sabian (Spacey) team up and negotiate obstacle after obstacle until they are able to trick the real perpetrator into a verbal confession in front of the entire police force. According to The Negotiator, guiltlessness isn’t enough—only an indictment provides salvation.
2003’s A Man Apart, Vin Diesel and Gray’s little-known first pairing, is heavy on punishment. A cartel drama, Apart stars Diesel as DEA agent Sean Vetter. After Vetter arrests a cartel leader, a hit is taken out on his home, injuring him and unintentionally killing his wife. This causes Vetter to go outside the bounds of the law and track down the men responsible. The final third devolves into an amalgam of carnage and wrath as Vetter tracks down and murders almost every member of the cartel, usually in vicious, violent fashion. Apart is largely forgettable except for the bone-crunching, flesh-mangling extent to which Vetter’s vengeance is permitted.
Even what appears to be popcorn fare ends up as vengeance-driven entertainment in F. Gary Gray’s hands. His first real foray into blockbuster filmmaking was the remake of the classic 1969 British heist flick The Italian Job. The Mark Wahlberg-led film feels more like a playground for Gray, working here with a $60 million dollar budget. The skeletal feature is comprised of Mini Coopers, eye-rolling one-liners and action set-piece upon action set-piece, its plot set in motion after Steve (a very contractually obligated Ed Norton) betrays Charlie’s (Wahlberg) gang of bandits, robs them of their loot and murders their leader (Donald Sutherland). Norton plays the role as petulantly as possible so the audience can cheer his inevitable fate, tortured to death (off-screen) by Russian mobsters.  An uncomfortable aura of vengeance takes over, and the sense of self-satisfied righteousness weighs down an otherwise breezy affair.  
After The Italian Job, Gray would move onto the Elmore Leonard adaptation and Get Shorty sequel, Be Cool. Released in 2005, Cool is to date the only film in the F. Gary Gray canon which doesn’t contain an outwardly vengeful narrative. But only four years later, he would double down, returning in full force to his usual style.
Law Abiding Citizen
Gray’s most righteously portentous work is 2009’s Law Abiding Citizen, which plays like a decade-too-late rip-off of Se7en. The movie pits Jamie Foxx’s state prosecutor Nick Rice against Gerard Butler’s supervillain, Clyde Shelton. Shelton is set on exposing the flaws within the legal system because the man who murdered his wife and daughter is ultimately set free on a plea deal negotiated by Rice. Shelton is foregrounded as a victim in the opening sequence: a home invasion, during which the attacker says “You can’t fight fate” just before raping Shelton’s wife and stabbing her to death. However, Shelton follows this by intentionally getting arrested and, while behind bars, killing no less than a dozen people via methods that range from car bombs to phone bombs to oxygen deprivation to murder by Porterhouse steak bone. Each killing is supposed to shed light on a different problem within the justice system, but any actual poignancy is lost due to the generally risible nature of either the murder itself or Shelton’s outlandish explanation of the crime. The film ultimately gives us a double dose of vengeance: Shelton acts in chaotic retribution for the wrong done to his family, while Rice tries to stop Shelton from taking his schemes even further. For the ludicrous “happy” ending, Rice re-appropriates one of Shelton’s Rube Goldberg-esque traps and the audience watches as the man who started the film as a victim is burned alive, done in by his own sense of twisted revenge.  
Even Gray’s N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton has an undercurrent of retribution. Compton opens with Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), in the midst of a drug deal gone bad, escaping a federal DEA bust. Compare this with Dr. Dre’s (Corey Hawkins) introduction: lying on his bedroom floor, listening to Roy Ayers, with records by Parliament, James Brown and Marvin Gaye underneath him. The camera slowly pans over him, a delicate lens flare forming above his head, creating a messianic image of Dre. Despite the N.W.A. members’ consistent level of partying and debauchery throughout the first half of the film, Eazy-E is the only one who receives any kind of admonishment. Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), N.W.A.’s manager, ominously cautions Eazy, “You just gotta slow down. You can’t fuck every broad on the planet.” The story’s final third chronicles Eazy-E’s diagnosis and death due to HIV, during which the finger-wagging turns to lionization. The film becomes high melodrama, attempting to retroactively deify Eazy-E. With his death, the group’s wild times are atoned for, and the other members live on, scot-free and tremendously wealthy.   
Straight Outta Compton’s blockbuster earnings paved the way for Gray to take hold of an even bigger Hollywood product, the quarter-of-a-billion dollar budgeted The Fate of the Furious. Fate contains many Gray hallmarks, from (for a PG-13 film, surprisingly) graphic violence to vague speechifying about “fate” and “choice.” Fate’s villain is Cipher (Charlize Theron, mostly yelling at computer screens), a hacker so feared that “even Anonymous won’t mess with her,” who has kidnapped people dear to series protagonist Dominic Toretto (Diesel) in an effort to extort him into helping with her vague and unclear evil plans. Cipher delivers many lectures over the course of the 136 minute runtime, including a monologue to a very cornered Dom where she says “That’s the thing about fate: it’s cunning. It’s beautiful and then it’ll bring you moments like this.” But, as with all Fast and Furious films, hope is only a few face beatings and cartoonish action set-pieces away. Dom’s “family” (now consisting of government officials, hackers and vehicular daredevils) saves a hostage, murders hordes of faceless henchmen and progressively disassembles Cipher’s plans until Dom and his previous contributions to evil are exonerated. At the end of the film, almost every member of Cipher’s crew is left captured or murdered, with the only person escaping justice being Cipher herself (surely to fulfill supervillian duties in the next entry).
There is, however, one film in the F. Gary Gray oeuvre that subverts this consistently repeated mold. In 1996, as his follow-up to Friday, Gray counteracted the hyper-masculinity of his debut with a female-centric picture. Set It Off is an action-thriller starring the quartet of Jada Pinkett, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise, made on triple the budget of Friday, yet still firmly landing, at $9 million, within the range of the era’s mid-budget genre fare. Coming five years after Thelma and Louise, the plot of Set It Off doesn’t immediately strike one as too novel: Four women, unable to sustain themselves on their current wages, change their careers to bank robbers. But rather than playing into Thelma and Louise’s self-destructive streak or into the story’s natural pulpiness, Set It Off is, in earnest, one of Hollywood’s finest exercises in empathy. Each of the four leads (importantly, all black women) has a unique experience of systemic oppression that leads them down a path where robbing banks seems like the only reasonable option. Each of these women’s relationship with economic oppression is very specific: governmental discrimination, wrongful termination in the workplace, harassment, and violence perpetrated by the police are all dominating forces in their day-to-day lives.  The very idea of the robbery starts as only a seed, but as each of the women’s situations worsen, the heist seems to be the only way out. When asked whose money is being stolen, Frankie (Fox) replies, “We just taking away from the system that’s fuckin’ us all anyway.”
Set It Off
Another integral part of Set It Off’s success is that each woman brings a fleshed-out and exclusive identity to the film and to the group dynamic. Stony (Pinkett), who is recently orphaned and trying to get her brother into UCLA, is the cautious member, shrewd, but never timid. Cleo (a mirthful Latifah) is the loudmouth of the group, a boisterous queer woman with a ferocious impulse to protect her crew at all costs. Frankie, the professional woman and schemer of the clique, and T.T. (Elise), a mother who only wants the best for her child, round out the cadre. Screenwriters Takashi Bufford and Kate Lanier take the time to define these characters, letting them speak for themselves and giving them the space to just exist, often joyously. A scene in which the four protagonists goof around on a roof, smoking a blunt and ragging on each other, offers a brief respite away from the suffocation of daily life, observing as the women revel in their love for one another.
By itself, Set It Off feels miraculous. Yet when viewed through the lens of F. Gary Gray’s career, the film becomes even more tremendous. Like every other Gray work, Set It Off revolves around justice; those who have “done wrong” end up having to pay for their actions. As the film progresses and the law closes further in on the transgressive quartet, the tone shifts from joyous to tragic. This isn’t very structurally different from most of Gray’s movies, but the fundamental distinction here is the overarching sense of empathy. Where almost every other Gray film sides itself with the character or higher power doing the punishing, Set It Off makes it abundantly clear these women have needlessly suffered. This is the only Gray film that accepts that in this world, punishment doesn’t just lead to justice, but often yields injustice instead. Set It Off shows that only by letting go of vengeful wrath could F. Gary Gray provide the film world with an all too rare gift: an act of true filmic empathy. 

Review: Witching and Bitching (Spain 2013)

Man, I wanted to like this – I generally enjoy Alex de la Iglesia movies, and I like what he’s doing for genre – but this black comedy about a bunch of idiot criminals who wander into a town full of witches was an unpleasant chore. Rampantly misogynistic in a way that never gets tweaked, full of tedious and unpleasant characters and irredeemable ugliness.

Hugo Silva is an utter dud as the lead – the notion that the lovely Carolina Bang would fall for him is so unsupported as to break the suspension of disbelief. While Santiago Segura is typically entertaining in a supporting role and the opening scene is pretty gripping, this is overall a disappointment, especially coming from the man who gave us Accion Mutante, The Day of the Beast, The Ferpect Crime, and 800 Bullets.

1 1/2 stars out of 4 (Mediocre).

Emancipated Cinema: A Conversation with Lav Diaz

MUBI's retrospective devoted to Filipino auteur Lav Diaz, It's About Time: The Cinema of Lav Diaz , is exclusively playing worldwide October 8, 2016 - July 27, 2017.
The wonderful Lav Diaz had a spectacular 2016—winning separate prizes for different new films at the Berlin (A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery), Oberhausen (The day before the end) and Venice (The Woman Who Left) film festivals—and in-between shooting a new film has traveled to the United Kingdom to participate in a symposium at the University of Westminster. While in London, Lav dropped by MUBI's office to talk with us about his filmmaking process, celluloid vs. digital, future projects, and much more.
Reposted by02mysoup-aa 02mysoup-aa

Filme der Fünfziger XXXII: Du mein stilles Tal (1955)

Der dramatische Konflikt vieler Familien-, Heimat- und Gesellschaftsfilme der 50er entsteht mit der Entdeckung einer Verfehlung, einer Sünde oder Erblast. Rechnet man nach, wie lange das schuldbringende Ereignis zurückliegt, landet man meistens in der NS-Zeit und kann spekulieren, ob mit der Schuld auch verklausuliert Politisches verbunden und gemeint sein soll. Gerade das soll nicht sein; die Schuld ist eine persönliche, private und nahezu intime Verfehlung, die ganz zufällig in der NS-Zeit lokalisiert ist, mit der sie ansonsten aber auch rein gar nichts zu tun hat. Schuld soll immer nur persönlich gesehen werden.
Je länger sie zurückliegt, desto mehr relativiert sich die Schuld; ihre konkrete Thematisierung in der Gegenwart kann gefährlich werden, hat destruktives Potential und bedroht das Glück. Lohnt sich also moralische Rigidität oder ist es nicht besser, die Schuld – ist ja schon so lange her – auszuschweigen, zu verdrängen und zu leugnen? „Du mein stilles Tal“ hieß zunächst „Schweigepflicht“ und hat mit diesem Titel auch die Antwort parat; die rechtliche Verpflichtung von Geistlichen, Anwälten und Ärzten weitet der Film aus zu einem moralischen Anspruch an Jedermann. Nicht nur kann es besser sein zu schweigen, es kann sogar Deine Pflicht sein, weil sonst das System – hier die Familie – zusammenbricht. Im Umkehrschluss ist es dann pflichtvergessen und charakterlos, über die Schuld der Vergangenheit zu reden.

Hochzeit auf Gut Breithagen, Tochter Nicky (Ingeborg Schöner) heiratet mit großem Aufgebot– eine Prozession der Hochzeitsgesellschaft aus der Kirche mit Glockengeläut und Top-Shots der Kamera, eine Parade geschmückter Mercedes-Karossen mit Hurrah und Hoje, ein rasanter Aufgalopp des Reitervereins im Park des Gutes und Voltigier-Vorführungen der Jüngsten. Alle sind reich und glücklich, nur die Gutsherrin Elisabeth Breithagen liegt mit dem Schicksal überkreuz. „Es war“, so bekennt sie dem Hausarzt und Regisseur Leonard Steckel, „ein qualvoller innerer Kampf über 20 Jahre.“ Elisabeth („Ich möchte, dass Sie mich verstehen“) erzählt ihrem Arzt auf der Gartenbank ihre Geschichte. Vor 20 Jahren zeigte Rittmeister Breithagen (Curd Jürgens) ihr das Gut, den Hof, den Park, die Stallungen und das Land. Der Rittmeister mit gewienerten Reitstiefeln und Schal im offenem Hemdkragen zeigt und zeigt bis er es nicht mehr aushält und Elisabeth an sich reißt. Sie soll seine Frau werden, aber Elisabeth fremdelt.
Der Pianist Erik Linden (Bernhard Wicki) gibt zur selben Zeit in dem Städtchen ein Konzert; Linden ist sensibel, tiefsinnig, ein Mann von Welt mit einem Blick, dass es einem heiß den Rücken runtergeht. Er sagt: „Jetzt reise ich viel; Rom, Paris, Chicago, New York.“ Und in das Städtchen der Elisabeth, die ihm beim Klavierspiel für eine Nacht verfällt. Am nächsten Tag reist Linden ohne wirklichen Abschied weiter; enttäuscht und ohne Hoffnung gibt Elisabeth dem Rittmeister das Jawort, fällt bei der Hochzeit kurz in Ohnmacht und entdeckt mit dem Hausarzt, dass sie schwanger ist. Nein, der Rittmeister weiß nichts, bis heute nicht.
Auf der Parkbank der Gegenwart dann die bange Frage: „Muss ich schweigen?“ Der Hausarzt steht auf, schaut in die Ferne und liest im Horizont die Antwort: „Ich glaube ja, Sie würden sonst das Lebensglück der beiden Neuvermählten auf furchtbare Weise zerstören.“ Elisabeth erhebt sich tapfer: “Ich muss mit meiner Schuld alleine fertig werden.“
Acht Jahre nach der Hochzeit mit Gert Breithagen trifft sie Linden wieder in Berlin; er fährt ihr nach, will mit ihr, seiner späterkannten großen Liebe, nach Lateinamerika. Elisabeth zögert; sie will ja glücklich werden, aber was sagt denn die Kirche dazu? Hans Leibelt spricht als Pfarrer: „Das Leben Ihres Kindes ist hier auf dem Gut des Rittmeisters und Sie, die Mutter, gehören zu ihrem Kind.“ So gönnt sich Elisabeth nur einen dramatischen nächtlichen Abschiedskuss im Scheinwerferlicht, am Kreuzweg ihres Lebens. Curd Jürgens ahnte schon Betrug, betrank sich und verfiel mit stierem Blick – große Szene – einem Tobsuchtsanfall; seit Emil Jannings ist das im deutschen Film der finale Ausweg betrogener Männer.

Nun aber wieder Gegenwart, mit Hochzeitstrubel und Gästeschar. Unter den Gästen das „fremdartige, dunkle Mädchen“ Rita Borell (Nadja Regin), und auch Elisabeth ahnt Betrug, ist eifersüchtig und macht ihrem Gert ein spätes Liebesgeständnis. Zu spät, mit Bittermiene wird sie zurückgewiesen. „Ich lebte seit 20 Jahren mit einem Eisblock.“ Der Anwalt (Ernst Schröder), zum Schweigen verpflichtet, besorgt für Gert und Rita ein Haus auf Capri. Aber wird Rita Gert in 20 Jahren noch treu sein? Gert kommt blitzschnell zu sich, nein, das wird nichts. Tochter Nicky will mit ihrem Mann in die Flitterwochen, aber, an die Eltern gewandt: „Ich gehe nicht eher, als bis ihr mir sagt, was los ist.“ Das möchten jetzt auch alle Kinobesucher wissen. Curd Jürgens spricht, an Winnie Markus gewandt, die erlösenden Worte: “Nichts auf der Welt wird uns trennen.“ So hat sich die Verschwiegenheit doch gelohnt, zum Glück für alle und zum Extra-Glück für Nicky. Das Haus auf Capri geht jetzt an sie. Hoffen wir, dass sie dort nicht einem Typen so fremdartig und dunkel wie Bernhard Wicki verfällt.

Handlung, Posen und Dialoge könnten direkt Groschenromanserien wie „Die Truhe“ oder „Erika“ entnommen sein. Der Handlungsentwurf sah ursprünglich wohl anders aus. Pfarrer, Rechtsanwalt und Arzt wissen, dass die Tochter unehelich ist, dass das Gut vor dem Konkurs steht und der Gutsherr in die Hände einer Salonschlange gefallen ist. Davon blieben nur Rudimente. Auch die Besetzung ist wie auf dem Reißbrett entworfen. Jürgens hatte es schon in „Man nennt es Liebe“ mit der eher unkonventionellen Ehefrau Winnie Markus zu tun und war in „Gefangene der Liebe“ mit einem unehelichen Kind konfrontiert, dessen Vater wiederum Bernhard Wicki darstellte. Die drei Schauspieler waren in der Wahl ihrer Engagements nicht unbedingt wählerisch. Winnie Markus und Bernhard Wicki spielten 1955/56 jeder in 7 Spielfilmen, Curd Jürgens brachte es auf ein glattes Dutzend. 1955 hatte Jürgens für seine Darstellung in „Des Teufels General“ (R: Helmut Käuntner) in Venedig den Volpi Pokal bekommen; als er hörte, dass der Gloria Verleih den Titel des Films „Schweigepflicht“ in „Du mein stilles Tal“ ändern wollte, verklagte Jürgens die Produktionsfirma CCC auf Beibehaltung des ursprünglichen Titels. Er befürchtete, dass sein Marktwert durch die Mitwirkung an einem Heimatfilm sinken könnte. Offiziell ging es ihm und allen anderen Beteiligten um künstlerische Integrität. Ihre Namen sollten aus dem Vorspann entfernt werden, falls der Film unter dem Titel „Du mein stilles Tal“ laufen würde. Kurzzeitig erwog man den Titel „Erbe der Väter“, der mit dem Film aber noch weniger zu tun hatte als „Du mein stilles Tal“, das im Titellied „Im schönsten Wiesengrunde“ wenigstens angesprochen wird. Der Prozess machte viel Aufsehen, hatte aber so gut wie keinen Effekt. Die Künstler wurden weiterhin im Vorspann genannt, die Parteien (Gloria/CCC und Jürgens) einigten sich im Juli 1958 darauf, den Prozess einzustellen und sich die Prozesskosten zu teilen. „Du mein stilles Tal“ landete in der Liste der bestbesuchten Filme der Saison 1955/ 56 auf Platz 35.

 

 

 

 

 

April 19 2017

Artist of the Day: Bernharda Xilko

Discover the art of Bernharda Xilko, Cartoon Brew's Artist of the Day.

The post Artist of the Day: Bernharda Xilko appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Moonbot Studios Is Relaunching In Shreveport

Bill Joyce, one of the co-founders of Moonbot Studios, is re-establishing the company in its original city, Shreveport, Louisiana.

The post Moonbot Studios Is Relaunching In Shreveport appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Rushes. Jonathan Demme, Cannes Jury, Reactionary French Comedy, Academy Museum

Get in touch to send in cinephile news and discoveries
NEWS
Jonathan Demme with Anthony Hopkins on the set of The Silence of the Lambs
  • We are very saddened to learn that the American director Jonathan Demme has died at 73. Demme won a Best Director Academy Award for The Silence of the Lambs, but that hardly summarizes or rewards the remarkable extent of his beautiful filmmaking. Just last year he released one of his very best works, the concert film Justin Timberlake + the Tennessee Kids. Below is his 1985 music video for New Order's "The Perfect Kiss":
  • Last year's jury for the Cannes Film Festival was lambasted as misguided after awarding the Palme d'Or not to Maren Ade's Toni Erdmann but to Ken Loach's I, Blake. The 2017 jury, headed by Pedro Almodóvar, has been announced and seems an attempt to make up for last year's kerfuffle: directors Maren Ade, Agnès Jaoui, Park Chan-wook, and Paolo Sorrentino, actors Jessica Chastain, Fan Bingbing, and Will Smith, and composer Gabriel Yared.
RECOMMENDED VIEWING
  • Sofia Coppola's remake of Don Siegel's The Beguiled will soon premiere in Competition in the Cannes Film Festival, and the new trailer for it looks appropriately lush and lurid.
  • It seems like new trailer for restored classics keep on coming, and we can't get enough of 'em. StudioCanal has a new one for Federico Fellini's whimsical extension of Neo-Realism, La strada (1954).
  • You may have seen Camilo Restrepo's fabulous Cilaos last autumn when we showed it on MUBI in partnership with the New York Film Festival. Now the director has a trailer for a new short, La bouche, which is headed to the Directors' Fortnight in Cannes.
RECOMMENDED READING
À bras ouverts (With Open Arms)
The central question of French cinema’s role in conveying political ideas surely must focus on popular comedies, and in particular on a vein of bigotry that aligns them with far right ideology.
It’s not odd for the industry to protect its financial interests. What is odd, however, is the deference of critics and editors to those interests. I’ve had the pleasure and honor of contributing to several print and online publications’ year-end polls, and they all follow the Academy’s lead in determining eligibility in terms of theatrical release (with separate categories for “unreleased” or “undistributed” films); I confess that, when I put my year-end lists together, I generally follow the same guidelines, in order to maintain a clear basis of comparison with the choices of other critics and the state of the industry at large. But it’s clear that the industry is drastically changing, and that those changes have certain major advantages for some filmmakers.
  • The latest issue of online feminist film journal cléo is out, themed around "soft": "In some contexts, softness is a good thing; we think of soft skin, emotional intelligence, a safe space. In others, softness is code for weakness: easily swayed opinions, a lack of rigour or virility. We’re looking for submissions that ask questions about what it means to show softness onscreen." Included are articles on 9 to 5, nunsploitation, Jane Campion, and "soft cock."
Academy Museum
If the Academy Museum is shaping up as a “Heaven’s Gate”-style fiasco, then the role of Michael Cimino belongs to Piano. The Italian Pritzker-winner is one of the world’s most renowned architects. His hiring in 2012 was seen as a powerful signal of the Academy’s grand ambitions for the project.
Piano’s concept for the museum revolved around the theater — a massive 130-foot sphere that he likened to a “soap bubble” or a “spaceship.” When it was unveiled, it was tagged by critics as looking more akin to the Death Star.
One example I can give you of Lubitsch’s thinking was in Ninotchka, a romantic comedy that Brackett and I wrote for him. Ninotchka was to be a really straight Leninist, a strong and immovable Russian commissar, and we were wondering how we could dramatize that she, without wanting to, was falling in love. How could we do it? Charles Brackett and I wrote twenty pages, thirty pages, forty pages! All very laboriously.
Lubitsch didn’t like what we’d done, didn’t like it at all. So he called us in to have another conference at his house. We talked about it, but of course we were still, well . . . blocked. In any case, Lubitsch excused himself to go to the bathroom, and when he came back into the living room he announced, Boys, I’ve got it.
It’s funny, but we noticed that whenever he came up with an idea, I mean a really great idea, it was after he came out of the can. I started to suspect that he had a little ghostwriter in the bowl of the toilet there.
RECOMMENDED LISTENING
EXTRAS
  • Two young directors: Orson Welles and Agnès Varda.

Milagros Mumenthaler Introduces Her Film "The Idea of a Lake"

MUBI is showing Milagros Mumenthaler's film The Idea of a Lake (2016) in most countries around the world from April 23 - May 23, 2017 in partnership with Locarno Festival in Los Angeles.
The Idea of a Lake
The Idea of a Lake comes from the book by Guadalupe Gaona, Pozo de aire ("Air Pocket"), an autobiographical work that focuses on the absence of her father, who disappeared in March 1976, during the civilian-military dictatorship in Argentina.
In order to respect the book—because of the author, for its subject and due to the effect that it had on me—I knew from the very beginning that the film had to be based in two axes: one, the documented material; and the other one, the memory, where imagination and remembrance mingle and break into the present.
This was the basis of the film and throughout all the process of making it, I tried not to betray that spirit. I figured out a protagonist, Inés, who is trying to finish a photo book of her father during the pregnancy of her first child. What's going on through her mind? The need of giving answers to her future baby moves her to try to find them herself. In that process, her own relationship falters and a strong conflict between mother and daughter about the father's disappearance arises.
I tried not to tell the historical-political facts in order to focus on what the father figure leaves behind and how to live with that absence.

ART DECADES Issue 11 Featuring Ian Preston Cinnamon of aTelecine is Now Available


Issue 11 of ART DECADES is now available on Amazon! Our feature piece is a 26 page spread of unreleased photos by aTelecine founder Ian Preston Cinnamon, who is also responsible for our beautiful cover photo of Belladonna. The issue also contains several tributes to William Peter Blatty, including a moving piece by Bryce WilsonKelley Avery-Richey interviews the hip-hop trio Loyal-TMarcelline Block interviews photographer  Miles Ladin  and Tara Hanks interviews author Michelle Morgan. Original photospreads are also included along with some additional surprises. Thanks so much to our contributors for their great work and readers for the continued support!

Copies are available at Amazon , Createspace and eBay.

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Video Essay. Performing Adulthood: Mike Nichols' "Carnal Knowledge" and "The Graduate"

MUBI is showing Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge (1971) from May 5 - June 4 and The Graduate (1967) from May 6 - June 5, 2017 in the United States.
In the first scene of Carnal Knowledge (1972), Sandy (Art Garfunkel) summarizes his opinion of Amherst college with a question: “Why shouldn’t I like it? My parents worked very hard to send me here.” A yielding smile punctuates the first and last interaction about the generation that raised Sandy, his friend Jonathan (Jack Nicholson), and the two men’s love interest, Susan (Candice Bergen), until they grow into adulthood and parenthood.
Unlike that group, Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) is rarely by himself—or even is just himself. When he is alone, more often than not, he stares vacantly ahead, paralyzed. When he isn’t, his elders always surround him, crowding his every move.
The starkest difference between The Graduate (1967) and Carnal Knowledge doesn’t lay in the two films’ vastly different tones, but in the gap between two generations: in the absence of parents in Carnal Knowledge and the surplus in The Graduate.
Chronologically, the twenty-year-olds of Carnal Knowledge grow to be the age of Benjamin’s parents by the 1960s. Just old enough to see Second World War play out, but young enough to escape its challenges, their trials are in the discovery of their true selves with no guidance but society’s predicaments. The lack of direction morphed into the need for control, one that resonates in The Graduate, via the Braddocks and the Robinsons.
For Benjamin, the presence of his parents defines him as much as the previous generation was defined by their absence, control being the currency of the older generations and rebellion the response available to Benjamin’s generation. In this video essay, I focused on that generational gap, reading the two Mike Nichols’ movies as a single study on two generations.
When faced with the efforts of his parents, Sandy asks why shouldn’t he like them. At about the same age, Benjamin faces a similar predicament. He asks instead why should he like it. The responses are different, but in this video essay I argue that the results might not be.

Best Colleges to Prepare for a Career in Astronomy

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