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
Murmur of the Heart
Some of Louis Malle’s most daring films capture the bewilderment that comes with entering young adulthood. Features such as Au Revoir Les Enfants and Pretty Baby not only guide the audience through the tender and turbulent times of their leading youth, but also deliver a glimpse of the social environment and conditions in which they live. Murmur of the Heart is, in few words, a nuance of intimacy and perhaps a re-working of the Oedipus complex. It follows Laurent—a fifteen-year-old boy whose aristocratic identity and layered personality result in a constantly altered state of mind and lavish exercises in rebellion. Due to his social standing and education Laurent is not your average fifteen-year old, and thanks to the privileges of a lax society and the perspective of older, rambunctious brothers, he has come to think of himself as a young man. The current leading lady in his life is his mother; a beautiful Italian who, like a girl of a much younger age, is constantly impressed and smitten with Laurent’s charm and innocence. Known to his older brothers and surrounding family as "sensitive" and intellectual, Laurent also shares a certain vulnerability to jazz, theft, and women. All of this is put to a halt, however, when Laurent develops a heart murmur and is sent on vacation with his mother to receive treatment. With plenty of free time and leisurely activities, Laurent and his mother grow even closer than before, ultimately leading to displays of affection that must later become secrets, and yet are still handled, by Malle, with delicacy.
For a first-time feature-length actor, young BenoÃ®t Ferreux is full of surprises. Laurent’s character is like a balanced mesh of puppy dog and tyrant, which somehow blends to make an odd and highly entertaining finished product. Portraying the unmasked desire by boys of this age and social class to become men is a refreshing alternative to the rough-edged machismo upbringings we often see presented in film. For Ferreux to be able to grasp that concept early and portray it correctly is in itself a promise of the fruitful career that was to come.Continue Reading
The City Of Lost Children (La Cité Des Enfants Perdus)
ONCE UPON A VERY STRANGE TIME… Dark, damp, and dreary, tucked away in a twisted dream somewhere between Oliver Twist and The Brothers Grimm is The City Of Lost Children. A ginger-headed sideshow strong man of Russian origin named "One" (Ron Perlman) has had a very bad day indeed. His sideshow barker has been knifed during their last chain busting performance and later that evening his adopted little brother, Denree, is abducted by a band of Jean-Paul Gaultier clad "Cyclopes" and taken away to an oil rig-looking platform of a mad scientist’s lair! Not only is the scientist mad, but he’s quite frail and cranky and even named Krank (Daniel Emilfork).
NOTE: Krank is something akin to Robert Helpmann’s Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang but with a shaved head.Continue Reading
When you come from a culture that has accepted a standard of taste, how do you produce something radical? Irma Vep is the story of RenÃ© Vidal (Jean-Pierre LÃ©aud), a director who has fallen out of favor in French cinema. The film juxtaposes two stances of French cinematic taste: those who see old-fashioned and beautiful cinema to be superior, and those who detest the old and want to make room for the new. In attempts to revitalize his career, RenÃ© decides to direct a silent re-make of Louis Feuillade’s silent film, Les Vampires (1915). In choosing a woman to play the film’s heroine, Irma Vep (an anagram for vampire), he wants to find someone with the grace of a feline and the edge of a thief, ultimately deciding not to use a French actress.Continue Reading
Nénette et Boni
Sublime and well-stylized, NÃ©nette et Boni is like being trapped in the mind and lucid dreams of a French teenage boy in present day. Obviously one cannot think of male youth in France as one exact personality, so to help get a better understanding of Boni, let’s just say that he meets the equivalent of a "bro" here in the States. Boni (GrÃ©goire Colin) is obsessed with the macho lifestyle that has been heavily influenced by current American hip-hop. He shares the general ode to womanizing, nice things, rough sex, and especially the overall "I do as I please" sort of moral. He lives in his deceased mother's house and is out of contact with his father, who moved away with his younger sister NÃ©nette after their parents’ divorce. During the day he operates a pizza truck and spends every moment of his free time fantasizing about a married woman (Valeria Bruni Tedeschi) who runs local bakery with her husband (Vincent Gallo).
NÃ©nette (Alice Houri) is his estranged sister who has recently run away from her boarding school. As a minor with nowhere to go, she returns to her childhood home only to greet her disgruntled and immature brother with disdain. He agrees to let her hide out in the home only because she confesses that she is carrying a child, but he consistently bullies her and threatens to send her back to their father, comically nicknamed "Mr. Light Bright" for owning a decorative lighting store, which Boni vandalizes on occasion. But throughout their re-acquaintance, new tensions are added by their father who wants NÃ©nette to return home when he discovers that Boni is hiding her in his ex-wife’s home. So here an odd allegiance takes place between them, fueled both by their mutual hatred for their father and the new marriage-like domestic roles that they've taken on.Continue Reading
I Can No Longer Hear the Guitar (J'entends plus la guitare)
Criterion released a DVD titled Philippe Garrel X 2, in which a restored copy of this film is officially released. Zeitgeist Films and The Film Desk have worked to present this collection simply because they, and others among certain film circles in France, think that Garrel's work has been widely overlooked, with the exception of Regular Lovers, which stars his son, Louis Garrel (The Dreamers)—an actor whose popularity reaches well beyond France. As a post-New Wave director, I think Garrel was trying to produce a film that cannot and will not function as entertainment, but rather a crippling and sensational piece of art. I'd say that he succeeded, but the poetic and lyrical dialogue of his characters speaks for itself.
The film is, in fact, an ode to Garrel's destructive ten-year relationship with the highly celebrated German singer, Nico. Gerard (Benoît Régent), in a sense, is Garrel and Marianne (Johanna ter Steege) is his girlfriend. Their relationship is indescribable, though they attempt, along with their close friend Martin (Yann Collette), to both define it in terms of love and happiness. Gerard defines love as something to live for, and thus something you can die of when it runs out. It is his "love conquers all" rational that irritates his girlfriend the most. Marianne believes that love is everything you can't say, and a million other things—that happiness is simply the fear of being unhappy again. And Martin, their unsocial and awkward friend who is a painter, thinks that sometimes you can be too close to a person to actually see them in their entirely. For him, one cannot reason out or prove love. Like religion, you either believe in it or you don't, but in the end, the issue is merely subjective.Continue Reading
Nói (Nói albínói)
He can solve a Rubik's cube in less than two minutes. He sleeps like the dead, especially in class. He bobs his head to reggae and can break into just about anything, or even beat you at a complex board game in the first move. His name is NÃ³i (TÃ³mas Lemarquis) and in his Icelandic small town locals can't figure out if he's the village idiot or an undiscovered wonder kid.
Yes, I've chosen to review another coming of age film. Like Louis Malle, I think it's a common source of intrigue for me, though I hope you'll discover that, aside from my personal interest, the genre is the best way to learn about the nuances of youth across the world. This is the first and only Nordic film that I've seen that is not based in the city or in the distant past, which I'm sure is more cutting edge. The director kept things interesting by being simple and yet very potent. Unlike directors who attempt to jazz things up and shoot in the more industrial mainland of nations, NÃ³i is set in the outskirts and follows its albino outcast through his uneventful and yet mesmerizing adventures. Even though the film is fairly slow and doesn't have a wide array of events, it is more alive and present that some of the sappy over-stimulating dramas that we're used to. Its pathos and grim humor stand as excellent examples of everything that should be in the work of an up and coming filmmaker.Continue Reading
4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days
Watching my first Romanian film called for a background of Romanian history, which I will impose on you shortly. It is very important, especially when watching foreign films, to have a sense of context within history. If you know that there will be a controversial or historical aspect breached within the film, I suggest you find out what constituted it. This will not only enrich your experience (not to mention free education), but it will allow you to not ask intellectual questions that are brought up while watching the movie. In short, you'll be able to suspend disbelief better.
According to my research - which is not entirely reliable because it's solely Internet based - Romania's pro-life policies became radical while the communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu was president. In efforts to raise Romania's low birthrate, several extreme measures were put into effect. The legal age for a woman to marry was lowered to 15. Men and women, regardless of whether they were single or married, were taxed between 10-20% of their income if they remained childless after they were in their mid-20s. Married couples were questioned about their sex life if they had not had children yet, and those with children received a "family allowance" from the government for each child. Contraceptives were no longer manufactured or imported, and of course abortion became illegal, with only a few rare cases allowed. Miscarriages were investigated, and illegal abortions led to a prison sentence, both for the expecting mother and the doctor or person performing it.Continue Reading
I Stand Alone
Impressions are the one thing we all have in common. Like an instinct for other animals, we need them to stay alert. For instance, how do you know what pain is? Some say that the memory of something such as pain comes from your first experience or impression of it. A child, let's say, only needs to touch a hot stone once before they are aware that it would not be wise to do so again. I Stand Alone was not a cinematic experience for me, but a real and dangerous impression. I've thought of it often over the years, especially with its successor, Irreversible, being talked about and vomited over so heavily (apparently there is a frequency in the soundtrack that induces nausea). And now a new film by Gaspar Noé is in theaters, and within me there is an urge to both rush to the theater and to stay far away from it. I've heard that Noé's new film is not as grizzly as the others, but that is not what I am worried about. While watching I Stand Alone I lost myself. I saw the world, not as a woman or youth, but with the perspective of a bitter, old, incestuous man. The lead character (I dare not call him a protagonist), is so overpowering and steadfast in his ugliness that you cannot help but see things his way. When the film is over, you'll shake your head and repeat to yourself that no soul is this hideous. The fact that you are uncertain is more unsettling than any amount of gore that could ever be pumped into a movie.
Compared to Taxi Driver for its narration, violence, and themes of justice being taken into the hands of a working class maniac, it is also considered the anti-Amélie. Devoid of the previously established harmonies in French cinema, it still boasts the same beautiful cinematography and nostalgic storytelling techniques that were used to exhaustion before it. Were it intentional (and we'll never know if it was), it could be seen as mockery. I enjoyed Amélie as much as the next person, but with cinematic techniques, certain things can be stretched only so far.Continue Reading
The Battle Of Algiers
Banned in France for five years, The Battle Of Algiers is the best pro-terrorism film ever made (yep, even better than V For Vendetta). Led by Ennio Morricone’s thrilling score, who wouldn’t root for those poor, but heroic Algerians in their struggle against the creepy militant imperialistic French? Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to get all those pretentious cafes out of the Casbah. Told about ten years after the actual war, director Gillo Pontecorvo has crafted the definition of a "docu-drama," so well done it’s often mistaken for an actual documentary. Shot in grainy black & white in the actual locations of the real life events, Pontecorvo notes in the opening titles that not one foot of newsreel footage was used.
The Battle Of Algiers was released in the United States as the war in Vietnam was making many Americans sympathetic to the victims of colonialists. The film had a massive impact and scored awards all over the world. It would win the prestigious Silver Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival and strangely, for technical reasons, it would be nominated in 1967 for the Best Foreign Film Oscar and two years later it would get nominated for Best Director and for Best Screenplay (I’m not sure if any other film has received three Oscar nominations in two different years, two years apart).Continue Reading