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May 22 2017

The Lifecycle of a Franchise: "Alien" and its Offspring

Alien: Convenant
The eight films that encompass the Alien series—including its succession of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs—make up a widely varying compendium of consistencies and contrasts. The latest entry, Alien: Covenant (2017), is no exception. As the critical reviews of this new installment are now sufficiently mingled with the predictably deviating audience reactions, one thing about the popular franchise remains clear: each title will forever be burdened and bolstered by the films that came before it. Of course, this isn’t all that surprising; sequels are usually judged by their precursors. But with the Alien anthology, it’s not just about the quality of one film as opposed to another, it’s about a deference to the fictional narrative construct (few movie cycles are as preoccupied with a generally coherent narrative thread) and the anticipation derived from an incorporation of familiar themes and visual motifs (there have likewise been few cycles so dependent on the implementation of archetypal iconography).  
The graphic cohesion that permeates this entire corpus has been formed by a decades-spanning assembly of creative minds, with its multifaceted origins descending from assorted artistic influence. In the beginning, for example, the first Alien (1979) picked up from a post-Star Wars sci-fi vogue but carried forth its own points of distinct intention, coming from writer Dan O’Bannon’s eagerness to take his Dark Star (1974) experience and amp up the terror in place of the comedy, and director Ridley Scott’s comparable desire to make the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre of science fiction.” And to enhance this mash-up of genre conventions, further stimulus was sought and found in the surreal vision of Swiss painter H.R. Giger, whose impression on the Alien series is likely its most pronounced aesthetic. The resulting conception has undergone considerable variance with an equal degree of allegiance. As the pioneering costume designs and model simulations of the first and second Alien films have yielded to more recent accomplishments in CGI proficiency, this series has routinely breached a high-water mark in special effect imagery. From the insect-sexual design of the extraterrestrial creatures—the so-called xenomorphs—which have since experienced subsequent evolutions, to the curved “croissant” ship, part of the appeal of the Alien series is the welcome return of familiar features. Upon the release of Prometheus in 2012, as debate raged regarding how much of an Alien film this really was (it very much was), the most persuasive arguments concerning its placement in the grand scheme came in its representative tell-tale imagery, taking shape in etched murals and recurrent displays of customary bloodshed (a creature face-hugging a human is itself one of the series’ enduring visions).  
This Alien universe is forged from the melding of mechanics and biological entities. The interiors of the various ships are a synthesis of high-tech architecture and organic processes, a composite often played for effective chills as the aliens blend with their industrial surroundings, merging with pipes and folding into concealed cervices; the “space jockey” figure first glimpsed in Alien is shown to have literally fused with his celestial station. Upon alien inhabitation, vessels fester further into squirming, steaming, liquefied habitats, alive in a Freudian mass of corporeal configurations. The seamless amalgam of automation and macrobiotic domination links a predominant narrative that likewise stresses the symbiosis of biological influence, as the routine incorporation of ecology and technology prove central to the nefarious Weyland Corporation’s “bio-weapons” division, so vital to sequels Aliens (1986) and Alien: Resurrection (1997).
If the qualities above define the Alien series in external terms, on a more personable level, its constancy also comes down to the characters, and more than that, the characterizations, the recurring types of people followed in these films, how well they fit certain tropes and how those tropes, in turn, correspond with prior incarnations. And there is no more integral figure than Ellen Louise Ripley. As the personified tie that binds the first four films of the series, the impact of Sigourney Weaver’s seminal character echoes even in her absence, from the take-charge Alexa Woods (Sanaa Lathan) of AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004), to the reticent-but-emerging heroines Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in Prometheus and Daniels Branson (Katherine Waterston) in Alien: Covenant. As one of two women in the original film, Ripley (curiously enough, not originally a female character) is first denied the eventual prowess she attains; her assertiveness is seen as a threat to prevailing masculine authority and force. But her final victory at the end of the first film (or so it would seem, anyway) seals her heroic fate, so that by Aliens, she has become the series’ permanent face of competence. Weaver had already turned in phenomenally dynamic performances in the first two films (Aliens garnered her an Oscar nomination, quite the rarity for the genre), but in Alien 3 (1992) and Alien: Resurrection, she adopts an increasingly vigorous physicality. She still faces inevitable resistance from her mainly male counterparts, but Ripley has developed into a strong, savvy, and valued individual. She became a screen heroine for the ages. 
Ripley may defy the clichéd gender norm when it comes to female action idols, but she is still the primary vehicle for the conventional, yet fascinating and fundamentally appropriate, themes of femininity and an analogous exploration of maternity. Taking place aboard ships with central drive computers identified as “Mother” and featuring characters like Shaw, whose stated inability to bare children receives explicit attention, the Alien series has persistently dealt with notions of both womanhood and motherhood. Aliens gives Ripley her most poignant association as far as this is concerned, with the revelation that she had a daughter, since deceased, and part of the developing satisfaction of that film is its establishment of a traditional family unit involving Ripley, the young shell-shocked Newt (Carrie Henn), and the injured Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn). There is in this a touching depiction of familial humanity amongst the otherworldly chaos. It’s certainly something that resonates with Ripley, and ultimately, it brings the entire film around in one maternal circle. Ripley’s nurturing instincts are additionally given parallels to the aliens themselves, as in this 1986 film when she is able to escape the queen by threatening its eggs, or in Alien 3, when her “pregnancy” essentially saves her life, or in Alien: Resurrection, when her motherly kinship with the alien is granted its most vivid fruition.
Aside from Ripley’s emblematic motherhood, the Alien series offers repeated variations on the nature of creation/birth, innocently evinced in the regular procedure of hypersleep wakening, deviously developed in hybrid formations, and later expanding to large-scale philosophical questions regarding the myths and realities of human origin. Meanwhile, narrative keynotes of terraforming and colonization form part of a repeated prospect for sustenance and survival, which has provided the impetuous for more than one mission, most recently that of the colony ship Covenant. These particular topics are subject to their most profound discourse in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, which are both rampant with weighty concerns of where humanity began, how the “engineers” propagate planets, and variations on the persisting questions of who made who, why, and how. As these characters attempt to delineate and rectify creation, the lofty existential inquiries are localized in the form of Rapace’s Shaw, as her admission to barrenness—“I can’t create life”—establishes a thematic component that builds to the stun of her miraculous, not exactly “traditional,” pregnancy.  
Alien 3
A modified correlation to the biological processes of life and life-giving so central to the Alien series can also be found in its population of artificial beings. Beginning with the shock-realization that Ash (Ian Holm) is an android in Alien, which prompts Ripley’s suspicion toward the good robot Bishop (Lance Henriksen) in Aliens, as the series evolves, so too do these perfunctory units. By the time of Alien: Resurrection, the appearance of Call (Winona Ryder) allows for a more ambiguous presentation of android existence, where the synthetic reacts to Ripley’s own artificial constitution and condemns the cloned heroine as something less than human herself, a variation on the fascination-repulsion that is, connecting thematic dots, rectified in a sort of outcast mother-daughter bond. Skepticism toward artificial intelligence returns in Prometheus, with Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) voicing his circumspect disdain for the robot David (Michael Fassbender), who does in fact have malicious motivations. In their hostile tête-à-tête, the two expose a refrain significant to the series as of late. Debating about why the engineers would make life, David asks Charlie why humans made androids. “Because we could,” comes the taciturn response. It’s a comment that spurs David’s already dubious infatuation with the enviable ability to create, something his kind cannot ostensibly do. Additionally, the Ripley/Call relationship has a complementary equivalent in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, as David is held in parental regard by his own creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), and it is their theoretical musing which starts the most recent feature that initiates the suggestion of David’s vicious treatise, eventually enacted, on the fine line between fatal infection and prosperous gestation.  
Alien: Resurrection
Though the robotic units in the Alien series are treated with a sense of foreignness, they are basically knowable (if unpredictable), as they did, after all, derive from human intelligence. The same cannot be said for the aliens, the xenomorphs and their variants. Their startling manifestation is necessary to the initial horror of Alien, whereas in Aliens, one expects their presence—just not their quantity—and through Ripley’s words of wisdom, even the crew is made aware and cautious of the aliens’ hostile nature (though they still downplay the danger). In Alien 3, only Ripley is in the know, while in Alien: Resurrection, the alien lifeform is part of a sweeping techno-science endeavor, something always insinuated in the prior films with an advance knowledge kept secret from those immediately involved. By comparison, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, as well as the AVP films, reintroduce a sense of the unknown, at least as far as the characters are concerned, while simultaneously playing off the viewer’s expectations, expectations that have been routinely renewed. To keep the alien interesting, the monsters have undergone continual revision in terms of their conception and their capabilities. There is an evolving sense that these are sentient beings, adaptive, with their own objectives and an endless potential for invention: incubating inside of a dog, killing one of their own and using its acid-blood to escape, gestating to form a “Pred-Alien” crossbreed in Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007). As is seen in Requiem and its offshoot forerunner, the alien stands in marked contrast to its extraterrestrial foe, for they have no extraneous weaponry (though they do share an affinity for camouflage) and they abide by no admirable code of conduct; they are carnal, impulsive creatures, and their capacity for carnage is innate and indeed necessary to their proliferation. As David so terrifyingly discovers, the aliens are a byproduct of a parasitic organism that must continually engage in a cyclical process of life, death, and rebirth, all hinging on the aforementioned biological emphasis and given brutal realization in a form of visceral body horror, most famously in the first film’s chestburster revelation and appearing in a variety of reworkings thereafter.
Just as the aliens are the obvious external threats, part of what distinguishes the Alien series are its subplots and its internal hazards. Save for Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, each film introduces at least one recognized order, with a clearly demarcated chain of command and a confirmed mission. From that comes camaraderie, teamwork, and solidity, but there can also be bitterness, rivalries, and ulterior or opposing motives. Tense differences in pragmatism and ethics can often lead to an antagonistic crew and peripheral conflicts that have little if anything to do with the alien drama. Certainly, the primary catalyst for this is the ominous “company,” the Weyland-Yutani Corporation that is in some way behind most everything that results these films.
AVP: Alien vs. Predator
As far as collaborative achievement goes in the real world, perhaps more than any other multi-director franchise, the Alien series is largely identified by its respective filmmakers. Bookended thus far by Ridley Scott, but encompassing six others in between, these directors generate their end products through individual triumph and concerted efforts of studio collaboration. They are also operating in accordance to paths previously laid forth by their predecessors in this series, subsequently integrating their own distinctive styles with an adherence to the established material. This takes the shape of fluctuating tones, visual disparities, and even generic concentrations. See the controlled severity of Scott’s Alien versus Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s wildly eccentric Alien: Resurrection, or the bleak nihilism of David Fincher’s Alien 3 versus James Cameron’s guns-a-blazing combat film Aliens. While Alien unfolds at a stately pace, building on the workaday “truck drivers in space” scenario, Aliens surges with balls-to-the-wall intensity; AVP consists of a select group of experts, while Requiem takes place in Anytown U.S.A. The sets can be cold and sterile, sleek and refined, or crude and grimy. Yet the films are also linked by a formal interplay of light and shadow, stasis and movement, languid pacing and rapid montage, and a sly execution of focus and misdirection, nearly all of which work toward enhancing the horror and the suspense that have come to define the franchise.   
Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem
This anticipated characterization is what partially led viewers to either embrace or deny Paul W.S. Anderson’s AVP: Alien vs. Predator and The Brothers Strause’s (Greg and Colin) Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem. For better or worse—I, for one, say better—these films bank on the inherent fan appeal of their two respective foundations, offering up no pretense but succeeding with just enough novelty and a healthy allotment of reference cues, from opening title fonts and iconic weaponry, to thematic consistencies like the implantation of pregnant women and a willful soldier-mom. They touch on the series’ appealing devotion to everyday people in extraordinary situations, and they teasingly introduce the Weyland-Yutani marriage of scientific and political influence. High-minded critical responses notwithstanding, Anderson and the Strauses ultimately get to what matters most with an Alien film. Yes, there has to be a degree of technical, artistic, and narrative competency, but the main thing, looking beyond knee-jerk platitudes, is that these movies just have to be entertaining. And as far as that goes, the franchise is as strong as ever, with a lot of life left in it.
Reposted bypsyentist psyentist

Cannes 2017. Michael Haneke's "Happy End"

What do you do when you near the end of your life and you have nothing left to live for? That's a question practically tailor-made for Michael Haneke, whose chilly austerity and bleak fatalism has and continues to be something of a trademark. This follow-up to Amour (which won the Palme d’Or in 2012) is imperfect and strange, and finds the Austrian director in an (unusually?) introspective mode, consciously working through images and fragments of his past films.
The subject of Haneke’s attention, here, is the wealthy, bourgeois Laurent family, headed by aging patriarch Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant). His daughter Anne (Isabelle Huppert) runs the thriving family business with the help of her somewhat incapable son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), while Georges' son Thomas (Mathieu Kassovitz) is a doctor who recently had a child with Anaïs (Laura Verlinden), his second wife. For a while, the film looks to be the equal (at least) of any film in Haneke’s body of work. Shades of Caché emerge in the opening credits sequence, as well as security camera footage of a construction site collapse that follows; sordid chats between Thomas and another woman, Claire, bring to mind the twisted ardor of The Piano Teacher; superficial similarities to Amour are, well, more than superficial. Aided by Haneke’s emphatic camera movements and ever-precise orchestrations of space, Happy End is quietly gripping, various threads and subplots emerging as the focus is split among the various members of the Laurent clan. The main one, however, concerns Ève (Fantine Harduin), Thomas's 13-year-old daughter by his first wife, who moves in with the family after her mother attempts suicide, which culminates in a hospital visit captured in a distant, fixed frame. And it's Ève, with her quiet, severe intensity, that gives us entry into the bourgeois milieu, Harduin's compelling presence suggesting the internal poisons of the Laurent family. (It's implied that after her mother's marriage to Thomas, ended, she was practically abandoned. “I forgot what it was like to have a daughter,” her father tells her.)
None of this is unfamiliar territory for Haneke, certainly, but despite its title, Happy End is willfully irresolute, its snaking threads suggesting festering grief, latent desire and buried contempt, only for them to hit dead ends or else get dropped entirely. It's a film constructed around unfulfilled desire, the “end” of the title suggesting a stifled, truncated existence. That's compelling in concept—not least because the film itself ends precisely when one expects it to really get going. But unlike the layered fragments of something like Code Unknown, which intersect and build as the film progresses, there's a flatness to the overall picture, here, that underwhelms. And divorced from the context of a more layered structure, the unrelenting worldview begins to feel cheap, the emotions that it wants to elicit somewhat unearned. Granted, it does create an impression that Haneke is explicitly engaging with 21st century mores (among other things, the film’s credits includes a YouTube supercut), attempting to capture our increasingly atomized modes of existence. (In this regard, Haneke fares far better than fellow Competition director Andrei Zvyagintsev.) And what's undeniable is the way Haneke is able to suggest so much with comparatively little, although that's also a testament to his superb ensemble cast.
Perhaps it's that Amour marked a breaking point, and that Happy End, in its studied introspection, marks the beginning of something else entirely. It may not immediately feel like a transitional work—even though the generational focus pushes it in that direction—but there's a sense of irresolute finality to the closing image, which simultaneously mixes borderline-farcical humor (suggesting a level of self-awareness) with serious gravitas. “Drop the act,” says the unusually perceptive Ève to her father. By the end, the only question seems to be: Where do we go from here?

Cannes 2017. Retro Futurist—Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Before We Vanish"

Before We Vanish
Leave it to Kiyoshi Kurosawa, our favorite director of B movies that look like art films (or are they the other way around?), to upturn the nostalgia for American blockbusters of the 1980s. Japan’s modern day Don Siegel or Robert Aldrich, who admires in equal parts Jean-Luc Godard and, based on his new film Before We Vanish, John Carpenter, does Super 8, Midnight Special and Stranger Things one better by jumping off from 30-year-old conventions and making a damn good film.
A bloody prologue of a massacred family and the dazzled schoolgirl culprit (Yuri Tsunematsu) suggests Kurosawa is squarely back in the horror-thriller genre, but the film’s tone and our expectations are suddenly taken an entirely other way by Yusuke Hayashi’s soundtrack shifting to a plucky comic theme. We learn that the girl is one of three aliens who have arrived on earth and inhabit human bodies, awkwardly learning how to move and talk properly, quietly reaping “conceptions” from people around them when they come across unknown human terms. This concept harvesting effect, like so much in the movie, is done simply and effectively: hypnotic words spoken (“what is ‘self’? Be specific”), the victim’s mind goes slack, a finger reaches out, “I'll take that,” and the concept is forever removed from the person, leaving them alive but strangely impaired. The three aliens select two “guides” whom they won't hurt, and who will escort them around: a cynical journalist (Hiroki Hasegawa) looking for a story accompanies the two more murderous aliens who inhabite the bodies of indifferent teenagers (Tsunematsu and Mahiro Takasugi), and a woman (Masami Nagasawa) whose cheating husband (Ryuhei Matsuda) is taken by the third alien, leaving her to feel out their broken relationship through this amnesiac empty vessel. The scope of the film begins to expand as these small scale relationships start interacting with others—the detective tasked with watching the young girl has his understanding of "self" removed, as does the woman's boss with "work"—yet the journalist and woman go through throes of doubt and belief on whether they're witnessing pranks, an epidemic illness, or something truly alien. As in an American movie, the government tries to step in, first innocuously—hinting of a mere health scare—and then taking more violent action.
Ghost story, goofy comedy, marital melodrama, rebel youth film, action movie and of course sci-fi: Kurosawa adroitly mines this eerie scenario, which he co-wrote from Tomohiro Maekawa’s novel, for all its weird tensions, terrors, jokes, cuteness and unease. Working with clearly a larger budget, a CinemaScope frame, creative dashes of CGI, and more conventional editing, Before We Vanish looks and feels like Kurosawa’s most mainstream film in ages, slick and satisfying if you can jump into the deep end of its elastic mood shifts.  Its dynamism and freedom to try things calls back to the pre-fame wacko genre films the director made in the mid-90s, like the Suit Yourself or Shoot Yourself series. Playful conceits of multiple genres are helpfully choreographed by the virtuoso and varied score, and Kurosawa’s off-kilter sense of artificiality masterfully flip-flops from comedy to existential seriousness in a film that pings Hitchcock and Starman to ask brutal questions about human nature. Immensely fun and impeccably made—Kurosawa being one of those filmmakers where each cut reveals an intriguing if not uncanny new spaces where anything may lurk—Before We Vanish showcases just how few filmmakers know the tools of expression and play at their disposal—as well as their film history—as thoroughly as Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Cannes 2017. Two Hongs Make It Right: Hong Sang-soo's "Claire's Camera" and "The Day After"

There's a running joke—at least, I think it's a joke—that if you shoot part of your film in the French city of Cannes, you will automatically be selected by its film festival. Sneaky Hong Sang-soo, then, who quietly and quickly shot the short feature Claire’s Camera last year with Kim Min-hee, who was at the festival for The Handmaiden, and Isabelle Huppert, who was there with Elle. And now, this year in Cannes, here is the film. A nimble and thrifty filmmaker often directly inspired by the places he goes and the people he meets, Hong's wry and plaintive short story satirizes the film industry—raging unseen and unheard offscreen—while ennobling the magic of happenstance meetings and chance’s circuitous ironies.
The film begins in a space possibly never seen in cinema: a temporary office in Cannes rented by a sales company to promote the film's they represent. (The poster for Hong’s great 2015 film, Yourself and Yours, which was not selected by Cannes last year, is pointedly place at the edge of the frame.) Kim plays Manhee, a sales agent who is taken out for a drink by her boss Yanghye (the excellent Chang Mihee) who abruptly fires her without details, saying only that while her heart may be good, she is dishonest—and refuses to say about what. Meanwhile (or earlier, as time and order of events is one of Hong’s elements of play), Huppert, as Claire, arrives in Cannes as the friend of a filmmaker, and while at a cafe befriends So (Jung Jinyoung), a Korean director whose film is produced by Manhee’s company. When So meets Yanghye on a beautiful beach in Cannes, the reason for the dismissal falls into place: So, currently dating his producer, drunkenly slept with Manhee the night before. The camera of the title is an instamatic that Claire awkwardly uses around the town, and she passionately explains to an incredulous So that her subjects are changed after having their photo taken. Soon she meets and befriends Manhee on a beach, too too—"I hate selling!" Manhee exclaims—and the circulation of Claire’s photos and the triangulation of her friendship tests the two Koreans, one whose job just evaporated and the other whose long-term relationship just imploded.
Far from a polished production, Claire’s Camera paradoxically pairs off two acting super stars across several charming awkward, seemingly spontaneously shot conversations. The two actresses are so charismatic—and Huppert in hat and trench dressed like an amateur detective!—that their stilted attempts to connect and communicate in the shared language of English comes off at once completely true to such random meetings in foreign countries, but is also something quite surreal, if not magical. “I agree,” Claire exclaims at Manhee’s disgust with selling films. “It’s great to agree,” she responds. “I agree 100%,” Claire eagerly affirms. Each struggles to hit their lines in good but not great English, drawing on the same humor of misunderstandings and emotional pleas as Huppert's other film with the director, In Another Country. Eating and getting honest with Yanghye, So gets drunk, and with Claire’s photos and Hong’s casual imbuing of normal locations with wry oddness and repetitions Manhee is able to exorcize her unhappiness and reclaim herself, while So faces the emptiness of his chauvinism. And clinching the surreal realism of this delightfully playful and most-unlikely film are the normally unseen back street cafes, rooftops used for parties, anonymous international restaurants, uncluttered beaches, and, of course, offices of film sales at the Cannes Film Festival.
The Day After
The day after Claire’s Camera premiered in Cannes, another movie by Hong premiered (for those counting, that's three films in 2017 so far), this time in the competition section and, in a coincidence very in keeping with the filmmaker, is called The Day After. A more robust drama than the on-the-fly sketch of the other film, this black and white beauty is in the same refreshingly serious, if not solemn, tone of Hong’s grave Best Actress winner in Berlin, On the Beach at Night Alone. Fidelity, time and choice are the subjects, introduced in the remarkably condensed opening, where small book publisher Bongwan (Kwon Haehyo) is accused over breakfast by his wife Haejoo (Cho Yunhee) of cheating. He responds with nothing more than defensive, derisive silent chuckles. When he leaves for work we see scenes of him flirting with this possible lover (Kim Saebyuk), but when he arrives at the office, he discovers another woman, Areum—Kim Minhee again, now consecrated as a figure of strong independence and sensibility in Hong’s world. She's the beautiful new hire starting on her first day and, we quickly find out, is filling the position left vacant by Bongwan’s lover.
The parallel timelines of The Day After efficiently introduces the idea of Bongwan toggling between reality, memories and desires, but then Hong leaves behind his frequent rhythmic shenanigans to let us piece together the nuances of each relationship. We see Bongwan with his lover; then we see him with his new employee; then Haejoo visits the office and mistakes Areum for her husband’s mistress; and so on—The Day After rotates its four players around to create the clever shape of two love triangles, one in the past, one in the possible future, with the seemingly passive but subtly caddish Bongwan at its meeting point. It makes for a rich and surprisingly melodramatic series of encounters, full of speculation, accusation and tension—none more so than us waiting precariously in every scene to see if Bongwan will try to fill the role of his lover with Areum. The man tethered to his relationships is contrasted quietly but powerfully with a woman free to evaluate her options as they come. The emotional distress of the characters and the spare narrative's various inroads (or exit points) to happiness deepens this sturdy structure, showcasing yet again that this director too often dismissed of making similar movies in fact contains in himself as many clever possibilities and proposals as his plots.

17. Nippon Connection Filmfestival in Frankfurt - Das Programm

 Das Programm des Japanischen Filmfestivals Nippon Connection steht fest! Und es ist wieder einmal eines, das an Höhepunkten nicht arm ist. Neben der Hauptschiene, den Filmen der Sektion Nippon Cinema mit den vielen Publikumsmagneten, besonders interessant - wie letztes Jahr - die paar kleineren Filme, von denen man noch nie gehört hat und die sich hauptsächlich in der Reihe Nippon Visions tummeln - eine Sektion eigens für Independentkino und Filmdebüts abseits des Mainstreams.

 Einige möchte ich hier direkt erwähnen: etwa die Komödie Dynamite Wolf von Kohei Taniguchi, in der ein Grundschüler seine Liebe zum Wrestling entdeckt; Eriko, Pretended von Akio Fujimura, in dem eine erfolglose Schauspielerin von Tokio nach Hause zurückkehrt und sich sowohl einer Familientragödie als auch ihrem glücklosen Lebensplan stellen muss; oder die von mir heiß erwartete Dokumentation Raise Your Arms and Twist über die Popgruppe NMB 48 (ein Klon der enorm erfolgreichen Mädchensupergruppe AKB 48), gefilmt von Atsushi Funahashi, der schon mit seinem Fukushima-Filmen Nuclear Nation (1 & 2) schwer beeindrucken konnte; Fukushima gibt es auch in Gilles Laurents Doku La Terre Abandonnée, die einen Mann portraitiert, der im evakuierten Städtchen Tomioka innerhalb der Sperrzone ausgeharrt hat. Regisseur Laurent selbst ist übrigens tragischerweise ein Opfer der Terroranschläge von 2016 in Brüssel geworden; außerdem natürlich völlig unverzichtbar: der japanische Film mit dem tollsten Titel seit Gedenken: The Tokyo Nightsky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue von Yuya Ishii, der schon für den tollen The Great Passage verantwortlich zeichnete, und den ich beim Festival in Hong Kong verpasst habe.

 Aber nochmal ganz von vorn: Vom 23. bis 28. Mai 2017 also verwandelt sich Frankfurt am Main zum 17. Mal "wieder in die heimliche Hauptstadt Japans", wie es so schön in der Ankündigung heißt. Für den asiatisch-japanophilen Kinogänger bedeutet das natürlich auch: Frankfurt wird für eine Woche lang zur wichtigsten Stadt Deutschlands (oder wie es bei Schöner Denken treffend formuliert wurde: diese Woche wird zum Kino-Weihnachten). Vom Kuratorenteam wurden über 100 neue Lang- und Kurzfilme zusammengestellt: vom Blockbuster- und Independentfilm bis hin zu Animations- und Fernsehfilm. Außerdem das enorm erlebens- und verköstigungswerte Rahmenprogramm: Musik, Konzert und Tanz, Karaoke und Bier, Pachinko-Lounge nebst Izakaya und Bentobox-craziness allenthalben. Die Veranstaltungen finden hauptsächlich in den beiden Festivalzentren "Künstlerhaus Mousonturm" und "Theater Willy Praml" in der Naxoshalle (sowie an sechs weiteren Orten in Frankfurt) statt. Eigentlich gilt immer noch, was ich bereits 2016 zum Festival geschrieben habe: Was ich nie vergessen werde: wie im Frühjahr 2013, an einem für die Jahreszeit viel zu heißen Tag, die ganzen Leute, mit denen man sich getroffen hat, dann gemeinsam ins Filmmuseum Frankfurt hinabgestiegen sind um sich im kühlen, dunklen Kino von einer Bikergang überfahren zu lassen. - für Allgemeines also bitte gerne hier entlang.

 Dieses Jahr wird - nach Kiyoshi Kurosawa letztes Jahr und Tadanobu Asano vorletztes - ein ganz besonderer Schauspieler erwartet: Koji Yakusho, einer der bekanntesten Darsteller Japans - und damit einer, der sich schon früh in meiner Leidenschaft fürs japanische Kino als markantes Gesicht eingeprägt hat: zum Beispiel in Kiyoshi Kurosawas düsteren, frühen Dystopien und übersinnlich grenzgängerischen Kriminalfilmen. Seinen Durchbruch erlang Koji Yakusho mit der kuriosen Darstellung des „Mannes im weißen Anzug“ in Juzo Itamis sagenhaft lowbrowigem Tampopo (1985), ein dramatischer Film auch über das Essen und gefilmt in den verstaubten Farben einer ausgeblichenen Wohnzimmertapete aus der Eifel. Es ist der Kontrast, der es spannend macht. Seinen internationalen Status erlangte er aber mit dem großartigen Shall We Dance? (1996) von Masayuki Suo, von dem es auch ein US-Remake gibt, das sich aber keiner anschaut, der das Kino liebt. Außerdem: Babel (2006) von Alejandro González Iñárritu und jetzt beim Festival das historische Drama The Emperor in August von Masato Harada (Bounce KO Gals, Kamikaze Taxi, Heartbreak Yakuza), vor dessen Vorführung am Sonntag Abend  die Preisverleihung stattfinden wird.
 Nun also noch Nippon Cinema: die Sektion, in der sich die Highlights die Hand geben. Bereits von mir gesehen und wärmstens empfohlen: Her Love Boils Bathwater von Ryota Nakano, bei dem ich so viel geflennt habe, wie schon lange nicht mehr; außerdem: die supertolle Zombie-Hommage I Am A Hero (Besprechung hier) von Routinier Shinsuke Sato, dann: Shin Godzilla natürlich, bei dem sich viele beschweren, dass sei kein richtiger Godzilla, weil ... Aber man sollte doch dabei bedenken: Fukushima. Und weil da die Politik wieder einmal versagt hat, deswegen wird eben viel geredet in diesem Film, weil die Menschen mit Katastrophen nicht umgehen können. Und auch darüber muss man eben mehr reden. Also: ansehen. Dann auch noch Altmeister Sabu (mit zwei Filmen: Mr. Long & Happiness) und Kiyoshi Kurosawa mit seinem Frankreich-Film Daguerrotype. Auch Nobuhiro Yamashita lässt sich nicht lumpen mit gleich zwei Filmen (Over the Fence & My Uncle). Yamashita wird einmal im Alleingang das japanische Kino retten, falls es nötig sein sollte (oder mit Eiji Uchida zusammen). Und freilich auch der Shunji Iwai mit seinem A Bride for Rip van Winkle (Besprechung hier). Survival Family von  Shinobu Yaguchi hört sich großartig an: er ist der Regisseur des stilbildenden Waterboys (2001) - Vorläufer von Swing Girls (Liebe!) - und des irre tollen Wood Job! (2012), der hier in unseren Gefilden leider etwas untergegangen ist. Erhältlich aber auf Blu-ray aus UK. Destruction Babies und Harmonium dann noch, eh klar.

 In der Reihe für Animationsfilme: In this Corner of the World (Sunao Katabuchi), ein Film, der auf sehr unaufgeregte Weise mit dem Atombombenabwurf von Hiroshima zu tun hat und der mir ganz ausgezeichnet gefallen hat. Tolle Animationen, superschöne Musik, gute Haltung zum Thema und zum Kino generell.

 In der Reihe Nippon Retro geht es dieses Jahr um Ekstase und Verlangen:  – In the Realm of Roman Porno. Es ist die Sache mit dem Schmuddel, die hier verhandelt wird, und über die Jasper Sharp ein tolles Buch geschreiben hat. Es ist vielleicht eines der tollsten Filmbücher überhaupt, wo gibt. Behind the Pink Curtain. Und nicht nur, weil viele Bilder darinnen sind. Tatsumi Kumashiro und Noboru Tanaka, zwei ganz umtriebige Meister der Triebtäterschaft, werden in Frankfurt ausfühlich vorgestellt in einem so renommierten Etablissement wie dem Filmmuseum. Und da muss man schon sagen: eigentlich sollte man sich das nicht entgehen lassen, und ausschließlich Retro schauen. So wie letztes Jahr mit den Geisterfilmen. Das ist Filmgeschichte von ihrer schlüpfrigsten und schönsten Seite zugleich. 1971 ging es los bei Nikkatsu mit den Erotikfilmen, meinem Geburtsjahr. Und heute gibt es wieder ein Revival mit dem Reboot-Projekt. Sion Sonos Antiporno gehört auch dazu. Der ist eine durchgedrehte Meta-Farbenexplosion, die ziemlich einzigartig ist, auch wenn sich die Freude des Zuschauers bisweilen etwas in Grenzen hält. Von Wet Woman in the Wind und Dawn of the Felines kann man sich aber jetzt schon auf dem Festival überzeugen.

 Und damit soll es erstmal genügen. Das komplette Programm gibt es hier auf der Webseite des Festivals. Alles Weitere später in Reviews und Berichten. Auf Schneeland, ab und an im Podcast bei Schöner Denken, kürzere Kommentare und wenig erhellende Blurbs wird es bei letterboxd geben, oder für's ganz aktuelle Geschäft: please follow @twitterどうもありがとうございます.
Michael Schleeh

P.S.: Hier noch ein Hinweis auf das Blog der Nippon Connection, in dem dieses Jahr auch verschiedene Gastbeiträge veröffentlicht werden sollen. Informative Beiträge rund ums Festival, sowie Interviews mit RegisseurInnen lassen sich hier finden.


May 21 2017

Glen Keane Delivers ‘Lux: Binding Light’ For League of Legends

Glen Keane and Riot Games collaborated on a new animated short, 'Lux: Binding Light.'

The post Glen Keane Delivers ‘Lux: Binding Light’ For League of Legends appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Cannes 2017. Thinking Outside the Box—Ruben Östlund's “The Square”

Art about art is often tricky to engage with, much less write about. Part of it is an awareness that arises at each moment, which then gets reflected in an endless hall of mirrors. There's a multivalence that can either be invigorating or tiresome, the boundaries of intention and response endlessly intertwined. That certainly describes Ruben Östlund’s The Square, which from its title alone suggests an empty space to be filled in with whatever the viewer desires.
The title actually refers to a piece of art, commissioned by the film's main subject, Christian (Claes Bang), the chief curator of Sweden's X-Royal Museum. It's a literal 4x4 square that per the artist's manifesto is: “a sanctuary of trust and caring. Within it, we all share equal rights and obligations.” For a while, however, it's unclear precisely how the Golden Rule-esque sentiment will factor into what starts to look like an acerbic character study of Christian, with his classically handsome features, masculine arrogance and influential position. There isn't so much an overall flow to the film as there is a precise orchestration of discrete blocks. Mixing the formal control of Östlund's Play (particularly that film's use of offscreen space) with the razor-sharp black humor of Force Majeure (also rooted in picking apart a strain of male privilege), The Square gripping from frame one, confident and audacious and thoroughly engrossing. Part of the interest is that it's hard to predict precisely where Östlund will take the film. This is only his fifth feature, and it wasn't until 2011 that he vaulted into the spotlight with Play, so unlike more established directors, there hasn't been enough time for his methods to calcify into schtick.
Even after Christian is robbed by a pickpocket scheme and the main threads and themes begin to emerge—art and performance, the bystander effect, the socioeconomic contexts in which these occur, among others—there’s still a thrilling sense of the unknown. Off-kilter details, casually deployed push the film into quasi-surrealist territory. (A, shall we say, visitor during a casual hookup is a highlight.) How far, exactly, is he going to push the conceit? That's a question that Östlund clearly enjoys playing with—fitting enough for a film that so explicitly deals with performance. The film's most intense scene occurs during the gala dinner for the new exhibit, where a performance artist takes his act to unexpectedly ugly territory. But where exactly does the performance end? Is the audience also complicit? By the end, there is perhaps only one definable certainty: the artist is in complete control.
With an artist as forceful and accomplished as Östlund, though, that's hardly a bad thing. When Christian decides to distribute threatening letters to the entire apartment building that his stolen phone is tracked to, Östlund adopts the language of horror: claustrophobic hallways and vertiginous stairwells, motion-activated lights rhythmically alternating along with geometric vertical and horizontal compositions. Striking shots abound (Christian standing atop an escalator in a crowded shopping mall), as do a host of memorable character interactions, the highlights of which are probably the post-coital and post-post-coital scenes with Anne (Elisabeth Moss, superb), an American reporter living in Sweden. Östlund’s penchant for provocation, too—which has drawn comparisons to Haneke—is fully evident.
Admittedly, there's a relentless cynicism to the film that can be off-putting. But if the film is too eager to spell out its various themes, even fashioning an labored redemptive coda that counteracts the acerbic humor, it's often too flat-out hilarious to dismiss. A late scene that basically lays out the entire thematic thrust in a video “apology” is didactic, to be sure, but is offset by the sheer entertainment value of watching sincerity—or what looks to be genuine sincerity—morph into a long-winded lecture on personal and societal responsibility in real time.
It's a film sure to divide viewers, in part because the film is never unaware of itself, so everything that could be lobbed at it as criticism could conceivably be twisted into praise and vice versa. (A top-down shot of Christian wading through a sea of garbage could hardly be more pointed.) The metaphor of “The Square” lends itself to so many possible interpretations, so much so that from the first scene, the film floats the question of what is and isn't art. What is an image, after all, but what is and isn't in the frame? But whether The Square is a masterpiece or complete garbage (or both?), at the very least, it's a pleasure to see a talented, confident filmmaker so committed to thinking outside the box.
superseven chiama cairo (umberto lenzi, italien/frankreich 1965)

Cannes 2017. Directors' Fortnight Q&A: Bruno Dumont

In partnership with the Directors' Fortnight, we are presenting the Q&A (in French and English) with Bruno Dumont after the world premiere of Let the Sunshine In at the festival.

Cannes 2017. Directors' Fortnight Q&A: Abel Ferrara

In partnership with the Directors' Fortnight, we are presenting the Q&A with Abel Ferrara after the world premiere of Alive in France at the festival.

Coffee Break

I Used To Be Darker.jpg
Hannah Gross and Ned Oldham in I Use to be Darker (Matt Porterfield - 2013)

Cannes 2017. Ecstatic Abandon—Robin Campillo's "120 Beats Per Minute"

Making his first appearance in competition as a director (after having previously written Laurent Cantet's Palme d’Or-winning The Class), Robin Campillo already has a triumph on his hands with 120 Beats Per Minute, which centers on the efforts of the activist group ACT UP in Paris, patterned after the New York group of the same name formed in 1989. Enriched by Campillo's own experiences with AIDS activism in the 1990s, the film—which runs close to two-and-a-half hours, one of the longer titles in competition—has a canvas both intimate and expansive, brimming with both specificity and bracing sincerity. It's the rare film that documents both a personal story and a larger movement with verve and grace, creating a compelling, often moving experience.
The opening alone, which sees four new members integrated into ACT UP’s weekly meetings, is impressive, laying out not just the group’s organization and rules (e.g. that all members must identify to the public as HIV positive) and various pressing issues (the outcome of a particular protest), but also individual characters and a whole host of (inevitably) competing agendas. Newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois) eventually emerges as a lead when he starts a relationship with Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), who is a “poz” (or HIV positive). But the film is an ensemble piece through and through, particularly in the scenes that don’t seem to do much more than place various individuals in a room and let them argue for minutes on end. The main point of contention is how to approach the pharmaceutical company withholding their initial test results of a new protease inhibitor. Members like Sophie (Adele Haenel) and ACT UP chairman Thibault (Antoine Reinartz) advocate a steady amount of pressure via meetings and the cooperation of other groups; while others like Sean, who are on a very literal countdown (the number of T4 cells they have left), feel that the group isn't doing enough.
What’s often striking is just how elongated these scenes are, not unlike those of Campillo's previous feature, Eastern Boys (2013), which featured two (impressive) twenty minute sequences. He has a keen grasp of textural detail—discussions on whether a lecture on protease inhibitors was too optimistic, or about the implications of handcuffing a speaker during an AIDS conference the group disrupts. (The comparison may be odd, but these scenes are riveting in the same way that the extended political debates of something like Ken Loach’s Land and Freedom [1995].) It’s a precisely drawn portrait of how lines form and groups splinter, of negotiating agendas and tenuous compromise, lent even more urgency by the fact that most of the group are literally fighting for their lives, or for those of their loved ones.
The film’s first hour, which weaves together this riveting portrait of a movement and the nascent romance between Nathan and Sean, is uniformly fantastic. There's a keen balance of precise detail and emotional heft, aided by Campillo’s sensual, rhythmic touch. In the film’s most intoxicating moments, anything and everything becomes caught up in the beat of the dance floor, emotions and tensions sublimated into ecstatic abandon. (As in Eastern Boys, the club scenes, with their pulsating beats and strobing lights are difficult to resist.) Campillo’s frankness, too, is in full display during Nathan and Sean’s first sexual encounter—a tangle of limbs shot in gorgeous, shadowy blues; it's erotic, tender and bracing in its specificity. Eventually, though, their relationship—particularly its progression as Sean’s health deteriorates—begins to take center stage, pushing the specifics of the ACT UP group to the margins (still present, but diminished). It’s a shift from a galvanizing energy to mournful quietude. (Although a late visual choice to turn the Seine red with the blood of those perished is as loud and bombastic a symbol as they come.) And while Campillo’s choices in these scenes are often beguiling, the trajectory does limit the film’s most compelling elements for superbly drawn, if more conventional beats. By the end, sadness and death become sublimated once more into the euphoria of the dance floor. Strobing lights and pulsing images—the simple fact of existence, one beat at a time.
mister dynamit – morgen küsst euch der tod (franz josef gottlieb, deutschland/österreich/italien/spanien 1967)

A Common Fabric: Nikolaus Geyrhalter's "Over the Years"

Nikoclaus Geyrhalter's Over the Years (2015), which is receiving an exclusive global online premiere on MUBI, is showing from May 26 - June 25, 2017 as a Special Discovery.
In the modern cinema, one cliché that has developed is the notion that “everyone is connected.” A kind of bastardized version of Marxist or Weberian social theory, this is a film structure that often observes a host of seemingly disparate individuals across the majority of the movie’s running time, only to bring them together at the end, supposedly at random, with some sort of cataclysmic event. It could be a car crash, a sinking ship, a bank robbery, or some natural disaster, but the point is clear: no one in the film was put there by chance. The “random” end was preordained, and everything before it has been working up unavoidably to that conclusive moment. The less said about these sorts of films, the better.
Much more rare in cinema are dispersive films. These are films that actually start out with everyone already assembled, and then events or circumstances pull them apart. Instead of figures fusing centrifugally, they shoot out into the larger world centripetally. In this instance, the job of the film is to follow the various subjects along their individual trajectory, seeing how they differ, but how something may remain the same for them since they all have at least one shared experience. One fiction film that operates this way is Michael Haneke’s 2000 film Code Unknown. The film begins with an incident that directly involves nearly all the major characters—a young man’s perceived humiliation of a homeless beggar—whose futures are followed from that point onward. As Haneke shows, the fact that each character experiences a quite different future from that point speaks to the privileges of race, class, and nationality.
Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s remarkable 2015 documentary Over the Years also exhibits a centripetal structure. But the fact that it is being deployed here for nonfiction purposes obviously changes the stakes somewhat. Rather than being just a mode of thought regarding the abstract categories (race, gender, class, etc.) that produce concrete affects in our lives, here Geyrhalter is anchoring the centripetal mode to a particular time and place—a starting point, if you will. Like a mark made with pencil and measuring tape, the common starting place in Over the Years allows Geyrhalter to take stock not only of the individual lives he’d documenting—and one can detect a slight hint of Michael Apted’s Up series here—but the broader longitude of cultural and economic life in southern Austria. This is a group portrait, in every sense of the word.
So who are Geyrhalter’s subjects?
They are the last remaining employees of the Anderl Company, a medium-sized textile producer that is rapidly sliding toward bankruptcy. The first thirty minutes of Over the Years slowly introduces us to both the workers (along with company president Dr. Richard Hein) and the company’s resolutely old-school production methods. From the weaving and cutting to the dyeing and stain-proofing, Anderl clearly makes a quality product for an exclusive clientele. But with increasing demand for cheaper fabrics, their production model became untenable. And – fair or not, I cannot say – one worker complains about the influx of cheaper labor from the former Eastern Bloc. In any case, as we watch men and women painstakingly tending to outdated equipment and feeding fresh muslin through the rollers, we know we are observing a residual practice from the industrial age.
In most of Geyrhalter’s documentaries, the camera adopts a distant, symmetrical position and simply watches in silence, letting the viewer fill in his or her own internal commentary. However, Over the Years is unique in that Geyrhalter takes on an active role as an offscreen interviewer. While the majority of the film displays labor without comment, Geyrhalter also seems to borrow a few techniques from his countryman Ulrich Seidl (Jesus, You Know; Safari). The camera stares the workers down while the director asks them to describe their workday. For most of them, speaking about their jobs is like pulling teeth. One woman in the Anderl plant is packing up cloth diapers while describing their inferiority to Pampers; another talks about his rehab after losing several fingers in a machine. But many more just wait for the interrogation to stop.
This is not entirely surprising. For one thing, they are being asked to speak about jobs they know they will soon be losing. One can hardly blame them for a lack of enthusiasm. But perhaps more than this, Geyrhalter is asking the workers to verbally articulate processes which have by now most likely become rote. As we will see, all of these men and women will have a bit more to say later on, when the next phase of their lives begins.
The film begins in winter of 2004, and indeed, this is precisely where the centripetal force of Over the Years kicks in. From this point forward to its conclusion in 2015, Over the Years finds Geyrhalter continuing to check in with seven different Anderl employees to see where life has taken them following the loss of their jobs. Have they found new work? Made their peace with unemployment? Taken up hobbies? Reconnected with family? Experienced feelings of depression? Moved or stayed put?
Naturally, the answers vary from person to person. Former company president Hein and his wife are shown arguing (albeit very politely) about the legal status of their bankruptcy. Mrs. Maria Hein explains that she has experienced the failure of Anderl as a personal financial loss, whereas Richard insists that it is not he that is ruined. Anderl Company, “a juristic person,” is. Later on, we see the Heins and other former Anderl employees at the old factory, where an avant-garde music group called Sewteeth have created a composition using the old machines. Afterward, Dr. Hein sternly tells the group that he prefers Mozart, but thanks for coming.
One man, Johann Semper, is using his time to compile alphabetical listings of all the songs he has on record and cassette. Elizabeth Bauer has started a moderately successful Tupperware business. Frantz Koppensteiner went through state-mandated job training, only to discover that no one would hire him due to his advanced age. Now he’s making doll furniture for his granddaughter. Some folks got jobs as good or better than the ones they has at Anderl. Others tried to keep their hopes up but nothing panned out. One couple’s decade was marked by unspeakable personal tragedy.
So what exactly does Geyrhalter want us to take away from Over the Years? Perhaps this: every failed business, every closed brick-and-mortar store, every industry that can no longer be accommodated by neoliberal capitalism, is not exactly the kind of event that economists would have us believe. It is more than a “market correction.” Within the logic of the MBAs, old industries and uncompetitive businesses die, new, leaner and meaner ones are born, and those associated with the lumbering behemoths will simply adapt. But every single end is also a beginning, and not in the market-optimist way that business school preaches. It is the beginning of anxieties, lost identities, fragmentation of long-term friendships, daily rituals, guiding principles, and for many, the beginning of obsolescence. It is a scattering, a casting-out, and not an “opportunity.” But usually no one is very interested in those beginnings. As Geyrhalter shows us in Over the Years, it is possible to trace the ripples of these disruptive beginnings across time, to take the full measure of capitalism’s existential cost.

May 20 2017

Cannes 2017. A Parisian Triangle—Philippe Garrel's "Lover for a Day"

Lover for a Day
French director Philippe Garrel has always only needed the barest means to make movie magic: a beautiful, tragic face, a sad wall to put behind it, a mournful, pensive walk alone on the street. He is back in Cannes at the Directors’ Fortnight, having first come in 1969 with Le lit de la vierge, and once again proves he is nearly alone is continuing the French New Wave’s revolution of creating celluloid myths from mere bedrooms and cafes. Lover for a Day, his newest, one of his most simple, is a lithe, splendid picture, dazzling in its clarity, direct emotional resonance and condensed storytelling. The set-up, co-written with Garrel’s partner Caroline Deruas-Garrel and his usual writer Arlette Langmann, along with Jean-Claude Carrière, is inspired: A young woman, Jeanne (Garrel’s daughter, Esther) breaks up with her boyfriend and must stay at the flat of his father, Gilles (Éric Caravaca), who, she discovers, is living with a new girlfriend Ariane (Louise Chevillotte), a student of his and nearly his daughter’s age. It is a spare situation and one which the film thoroughly, effortlessly explores with delicate freshness. The pain of Jeanne’s loss—"it's like being flayed alive"—is layered on top of the strange betrayal by her father. Arielle, meanwhile, tries to befriend her lover’s daughter at once as a mother and a peer, while still navigating her own youthful sense of fidelity to her relationship and desires. The older man, sensitively cast, is touchingly rendered but in the background to the fleet pleasures and quiet turmoil of the two conflicted young women and housemates.
This is the first film where Esther fully stars in a movie by her father, and Lover for a Day is in part dedicated to the young woman’s indolent eyes and, with a fittingly perverse twist, her small, calculated and unexpected manipulations. It sees her with the eyes of a father growing awake to the inner contradictions and yearning of his adult daughter. But the movie equally belongs to theater actress Louise Chevillotte, who receives the luminous close-ups of a director who knows better than anyhow to expose the vulnerable inner spirit of his characters. As she lays asleep in Renato Berta’s chiaroscuro, the harmony in which Ariane and Gilles profess to live together is instantly consecrated in black and white—the ideal instantly realized in a mere moment, and a mere images.
Jeanne flirts with the morose, with phantasms (the voiceover states, as she flies out a cafe, "She thought she glimpsed the face of the man she loved"), even, in the film’s most sudden apparition, with death. But Ariane helps: in scene of marvelous simplicity and pleasure the two go out dancing, each looking for a partner other than the one she loves. “What do you talk about with your friends?” asks her father. “The war.” “What war?” “The next one,” she says, and we wonder whether she worries over someone else’s attacks or whether Garrel sees or hopes that his daughter’s generation may pick up the fight lost by students and strikers in May, 1968. First, though, solace, home—love—must be possible. Someone predicts that “soon all you want to do is go home to your man. It keeps you from thinking,” and that may speak towards the fierce pull all three in this triangle feel at various times in the film. But as the ages and wants of Jeanne and Ariane change, and the older man remains the same, the two women both feel, think, and take action—and forge their own paths.

Right and True: An Interview with Philippe Garrel

After premiering Philippe Garrel's Lover for a Day at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, we had a chance to sit down and discuss the new film with its director.

Juliette, is that you Giving Kisses?: An Interview with Claire Denis

After premiering Claire Denis' Let the Sunshine In as the opening night film at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, we had a chance to sit down and discuss the new film with its director.

Life as it Happens: An Interview with Arnaud Desplechin

After premiering Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael’s Ghosts as the opening night film at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, we had a chance to sit down and discuss the new film with its director.
Reposted by02mysoup-aa 02mysoup-aa

May 19 2017

Cannes 2017. Just Business—Bong Joon-Ho's "Okja"

The worst of the Cannes slate is often characterized by self-importance mixed with complete wrong-headedness. That’s certainly true of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Loveless and reportedly even truer of Kornél Mundruczó’s Jupiter’s Moon, both of which are competing for the Palme d’Or this year. But that goes a long way to explaining why unpretentious genre fare can be such a refreshing prospect amidst the arthouse torpor. That’s a slot that, in the competition slate at least, Bong Joon-ho’s Okja should have filled—and for a while, it looks like it may fulfill that promise.
Opening ca. 2007 New York with a garish infomercial for the Miranda Corporation, headed by CEO Lucy Mirando (a blonde-wigged Tilda Swinton with bright silver braces), the sequence is a fluid mix of exposition and sprightly satire. World hunger is the problem and Lucy Miranda has the solution: a 10-year competition where 26 “super pigs” (a newly discovered breed of animal that looks like a Guinea pig crossed with a hippopotamus) are sent to different parts of the globe to see how to best raise the new food source. It's an interesting enough start, as is the tender, if over-familiar section that comes after—set ten years later—which follows a young orphaned girl, Mija (An Seo Hyun), playing with her “super-pig” Okja around her remote mountain home. But once Dr. Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal, in by far the hammiest, most excruciating performance of the year), the face of the Miranda Corporation, shows up to take Okja to New York and the gears of the plot start to turn, the film begins to lose its way, until it eventually becomes a mélange of ill-considered humor and hefty subject matter.
Initially, Bong seems to be attempting an Alexander Payne / Citizen Ruth-style satire in the sense that no side of the “debate” is left unspared: not the vapid cronies atop Miranda Corporation who care only about making money; not the naive Animal Liberation Front (ALF), first introduced flinging cherry blossoms at the truck they want to board; not the mindless mass of uninformed consumers. But—and this seems crucial—instead of a self-destructive whirlwind personality at the center being pulled in every direction, as in Payne's biting satire, we have two pitiable innocents: a young girl and her enormous, cuddly pet. And when it comes to sentimentality, not everyone is, say, Steven Spielberg. (E.T. comparisons are probably inevitable.) The greater issue, though, is that its sociopolitical heft is so flat and toothless. As expected the balance inevitably shifts towards an anti-capitalist tract, a takedown of Big Business, but the commentary is so perfunctory and tired, the brash energy of individual scenes notwithstanding.
Bong’s previous film, Snowpiercer, managed an impressive balance of broad caricature, outlandish action and incisive socio-political commentary. But here, his control of tone—one of his greatest strengths—somehow fails him. The most memorable moments—such as Okja lumbering through the Seoul subway system to the tune of “Annie's Song” by John Denver—still manage to find a precise mix of contrapuntal tones. But the shift from broad satire to grim brutality, especially towards the end, feels queasy, almost manipulative, threatening to collapse the film's already-fragile framework. That’s not to say that Okja is completely wrongheaded; it's clearly impassioned in its convictions, and for good reason. But flat observations earnestly told do not a good film make. Earnestness gives way to cynicism, depth of feeling to rote observation. “It's just business,” says a character (whose identity is probably left unspoilt) towards the end. Sometimes, it just is.
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