With his 2005 film Caché Michael Haneke established himself as the most viciously insightful critic of the liberal educated class and he identified the demons that lurk beneath the surface of even the most enlightened and attractive among them. Seeing as his movies play to a pretty discerning worldwide audience it seems that the kind of people who love Haneke might also be guilty of having a serious masochistic streak. He does not soften the blow. Instead, he refuses, almost sadistically so, to cater to the expectations of the audience by following conventional genre ideas about how to construct a psychological thriller. Haneke is more interested in the deconstruction of why we feel it so necessary to have our impulses for “entertainment” rewarded. With the disorienting glitches that he throws into his film throughout —such as scenes that improbably begin to rewind out of nowhere—it’s as if he’s surgically removing the audience’s comfort zone one layer at a time until you are left with what he considers to be the truth of the matter. His films have a dry, suffocating, almost clinical feel that can give them the ambience of an extended lecture. He is a provocateur but he has his reasons.
Caché is a politically charged thriller but it might make sense to forget about what “politically charged thriller” typically means. This is not the Manchurian Candidate. Caché is about a well-to-do Parisian couple with seemingly perfect lives. The husband Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) are the toast of the Parisian literati. They live in a townhouse. They have a teenage son on the swim team.Continue Reading
While there are about a hundred reasons why this is one of my top five favorite films, it is one of those underground gems that might never be discovered. For this reason alone, it is difficult to choose which aspects of it to praise. So instead of simply stating why you should hunt down this particular movie, I’d like to cross-reference other Brazilian films from the same time. Hopefully this will inspire others to get a glimpse of a few rarities that are amazing, but unfortunately only on VHS or very hard to come by. Surely the most popular films from Brazil, made with much better technology, are Elite Squad and City of God. While these still attract a lot of attention, their popularity has not unearthed any sort of general fascination with the cinema of Brazil’s past.
Brazilian films, in general, have always fascinated me. Many of them deal with poverty, violence, political exposure and, oddly enough, satires. Bye Bye Brazil is another from the ‘80s that is definitely worth seeing. When I think of these two films, the style of them can be compared to a blend of Jordorowsky (particularly Santa Sangre), Fellini (La Strada) and David Lynch, more so in the line of haunting characters and the use of color. The early cinema of Brazil suffered from financial setbacks and were made on the lowest of budgets. Yet, the aforementioned films were made in the peak of Brazil’s cinematic exploration. The financial crisis of the nation explains the lack of archives and preservation of films done decades earlier. Brazil also imports a large amount of films from America and other countries, which blows most of the low budget ones out of the water—assuming they even make it into the theater.Continue Reading
Playing with sound and image, image without sound and sound without image. White text over black. Questions answered by the opposite sex in the form of questions. French New Wave icons. Gunshots and the symbolic separation of fifteen acts. In classic Godard narrative form, the film searches for the line between the male and female and proposes a parallel of these relationships to social problems in contemporary times.
Godard has the ability to make a conversation half a film. That’s not exactly the case here, but I’m not far off. Sometimes scenes like that may seem long and tedious but here, somehow, it’s never dull and never without style. Meet Paul and Madeleine. Hardly ever in contemporary film can we observe and study characters in such casualty. Yet even in casualness their interaction bridges on the topic of more tangible matters – Bob Dylan, her reaction to his approach, a play on words... Later, Paul’s interrogation towards other women explore heavy topics – from sex to birth control, to views towards Capitalist America, to the concerns of Vietnam War. We may not agree with Paul’s views or the female’s answers, but Godard’s antics do leave something to be desired. Society is reviewed in a brutally honest form in this modern time and still to this day I can relate.Continue Reading
Merci Pour le Chocolat (a.k.a. Nightcap)
I must admit this is the first Chabrol film that I have seen, and what a delight it is! Browsing the racks of the Foreign DVDs I couldn’t help but notice how many of his films star the charming Isabelle Huppert (8 to be exact), whose performance as the Yin to Dustin Hoffman’s Yang in I Heart Huckabees took me aback. Coupled with Mark Wahlberg’s role, this was the most enjoyable factor of said film. Back to Merci...
I’m not going to delve too deeply into the plot logistics, so I’ll try and make a good assessment of the main themes. Primarily this film’s story is about trust, deceit, and the malleability of the family unit. It doesn’t tackle these topics with too much severity and, in conjunction with its beautiful locations, soft colors, and hazy look, the whole thing goes down very smoothly, like a warm cup of hot chocolate. I need to hand it to Chabrol for portraying such heavy topics in a light manner, which is a rare feat to pull off.Continue Reading
The 4th Man
Castration, murder, bisexuality, a man posed suggestively on a crucifix, and the line of dialogue, "Through Mary to Jesus," during an orgasm are just a few highlights from what I think might be one of the most devoutly Catholic films I have ever seen: Paul Verhoeven's The 4th Man. Actually, the film might just be trying to make some sort of statement about the "artist as Christ." I can't be too sure. Either way, and more importantly, it's a richly atmospheric thriller that's as unforgettably funny as it is horrific.
Jeroen Krabbe stars as Gerard Reve, an alcoholic, Catholic novelist from Holland who has risen to considerable fame for being an artist who "lies the truth." After an egotistical Q&A celebrating his work in Vlissingen, he is seduced by Christine Halsslag (Renee Soutendijk) who insists that he spend the night at her hotel/hair salon before returning home. While drawn to Christine ("You have the body of a young boy"), Gerard immediately receives both symbolic and blatantly grotesque warnings of danger through his dreams and encounters with some of the town's people. He chooses to ignore them; however, when he finds out that Christine is also involved with a man named Herman (Thom Hoffman), the writer decides he must have Herman even if it kills him. While sort of playing Christine to get closer to Herman, Gerard stumbles onto some information about the woman's past that might unveil a more terrifying reality than any of his fantasies.Continue Reading
Few directors choose to take risks within cinema, and when they do, they reveal ideas in the most intriguing and significant ways. Michael Haneke, in his film Code Unknown, definitely gives his viewers something to take home, long after they’ve watched it. Like a string of Venn-diagrams, the film is a series of segments loosely tied by the intersection of characters in Paris, France, and the subtext goes far beyond just that. The scenes allude to the missed communication within a society blinded by tension caused by differences in race, age, class, and backgrounds in a disheveled European nation. Here is the rare portrayal of Paris as an intellectual discourse, and while less violent compared to Funny Games or CachÃ©, the film is still pointedly bold, high-minded, and socially aware.
What does “code unknown” really mean? We find out a glimpse of this answer in the beginning scene, set in a school of deaf children. A girl is acting out a scene in front of her classmates. They guess what she is attempting to convey: “Alone?” “Hiding in place?” She shakes her head at each conjecture. The simplicity combined with mystery of this scene is an appropriate overture for the rest of the film.Continue Reading
Blood of a Poet
Jean Cocteau, one of the great multi-talented artists of the 20th century is given free reign in his first film. His approach is whimsical and free improvisational; a childlike freedom hangs in the air of this film, even as it addresses rather dark subject matter. The result is a series of powerful images that still seem fresh nearly 80 years later.
Experimental and surrealistic in nature, Blood of a Poet is not a film for individuals who seek clear and definite story lines, to say the least. Rather this is a film that should be considered as a work of art, and not as a traditional movie. That is not to say that these are a series of meaningless images - this is essentially a poem in the form of a film. A series of Cocteau's own reflections...as Cocteau puts it ,"a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body."Continue Reading
The Mirror is absolutely the most poetic film I’ve seen. Andrei Tarkovsky, Russia’s famous director, sewed the film together like fragments, creating a loose, non-linear, autobiographical tale full of childhood memories. The film contains newsreel footage and poems by Tarkovsy’s father, Arseny Tarkovsky. It is a personal, unique film, now highly regarded as one of Tarkovsky’s best works and masterpieces. His work, often a struggle with the Soviet authorities, is well-realized and committed – he has only made seven feature films out of his 27 years as a filmmaker, and each one of them is finely crafted and boldly uncompromised. Here is one of my favorites.
The film begins with Alexei’s son Ignat. The film revolves around his thoughts and his world, and the narrator reads poems reminiscent of a man’s relationships with his mother, ex-wife, and son. The mother, Maria, is a proofreader in a printing press. She is first shown in the countryside during pre-World War II. The rural countryside is one of Tarkovsky’s landscapes – the homes and the land featured in the film are gorgeously drenched in nature, yet also contain an element of isolation. Tarkovsky’s use of nature refers to his childhood memory of war that caused many to evacuate Moscow to the countryside.Continue Reading
Cries and Whispers
"In the screenplay, it says that red represents for me the interior of the soul. When I was a child, I imagined the soul to be a dragon, a shadow floating in the air like blue smoke....But inside the dragon, everything was red." -- Ingmar Bergman
For most of Ingmar Bergman’s career, the decision to shoot in black and white, both before and after Cries and Whispers, has been one of choice and trust. The delight of seeing his vision in color is not simply based on color itself but of his use of it in the film. Like a poet, Bergman decided to look past what color can mean for the eyes alone, to its purpose to help us understand and appreciate life, death, and the soul.Continue Reading
Doctor: " What are you doing here, honey? You’re not even old enough to know how bad life gets." Cecilia: "Obviously, doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year-old girl." -- Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides Rarely can one witness the gift of a film that has the gut and the power to deliver a story of the complex and trying "coming of age" which we all had to endure. Even more scarce is work surrounding the female perspectives of such experience. To shy away from female sexuality and experimental thought is an exercise used to the point of exhaustion in modern cinema. Catherine Breillat, on the other hand, has made a point of idolizing masters in the art of capturing the human condition and therefore has made many films doing just the opposite of her counterparts. Out of these, which include A Real Young Girl and 36 Fillette, Fat Girl dominates as a bold and provocative juxtaposition between two sisters, spiraling through two very different types of disgrace.
Anaïs Pingot and her sister, Elena, are on holiday with their mother. Typical of any vacation-town, spouts of ennui and a lack of familiarity cause these two sisters to roam aimlessly through the town in search of some kind of amusement. While dining at a local restaurant they meet Fernando, an Italian college-age man who is automatically drawn to the beauty and flirtatiousness of the 16-year old Elena, while the overweight 12-year old, Anaïs, simply stands by and allows her sister to soak up his affection. But as the vacation proceeds so does their sibling rivalry and the hastened and inappropriate relationship between Elena and Fernando. Here we gaze and experience, through the point-of-view of Anaïs, the desire to be wanted and the helplessness of seeing the innocence of a loved one shattered.Continue Reading