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French

Review: Raw

Mar 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221293:43454:0[/embed] Raw (Grave)Director: Julia DucournauRating: RRelease Date: March 10, 2017Country: France/Belgium Justine (Garance Marillier) is an in-coming freshman at a veterinary college. It's the same school that her parents attended and where her older sister Alexia (Ella Rumpf) is a current student. She's a lifelong vegetarian; at a buffet en route to the college, her mom berates a clerk for an errant meatball in Justine's mashed potatoes. During a hazing ritual at the vet school, Justine gets her first taste of meat when she's force fed a raw rabbit kidney. That fetid little taste awakens something sexy and dangerous in her. Raw is set in an off-kilter place where fictional conceits co-mingle with quotidian problems. It's the location for weird literary short fiction, allowing anything and everything to function as a metaphor or a metaphorical space. There's the familiar trope of the teenage girl whose sexual maturation is a source of horror for herself and others. Justine is the gawky young woman trying to figure out adulthood and sexiness and desire and how to juggle all of these new cravings she has. But Ducournau avoids many of the simple 1:1 ratios of familiar genre metaphors by complicating her world and its characters. Justine's taste for flesh is borne of freedom from home, and it becomes a point of sibling rivalry. I mentioned Ducournau's knack for the visceral, which is evidenced early in the film during the first hazing ritual. The freshman are forced out of bed and into some on-campus rave. Ducournau's camera follows Justine through the flashing lights and the throb of the music. First she's annoyed and alone, but as the scene continues to play out, she and the audience find the exhilaration of the moment, and the underlying emotional current of the scene changes. When Justine gets the shakes like a junkie in withdrawal, Ducournau closes the whole of the world into the hallucinatory nightmare of Justine in fetal position under her sheet. In what's sure to be the most talked about scene of the film, a silly, sisterly moment of bonding between Justine and Alexia becomes a squirmy horror set piece for the ages. As it happened, I smiled at the brilliant audacity of the execution. That "brilliant audacity" is what I liked about so much of Raw, and it's often pulled off throughout the film with casual unexpectedness. Justine seems to be going mad with her rush of desires, and occasionally some unexpected image would appear on screen and haunt me a bit. A horse on a treadmill or an animal carcass ready for class dissection is full of such fervid, dreamlike weight. Marillier plays fragile Justine and feral Justine so well and of a piece. Any interaction between Justine and her male roommate Adrien (Rabah Nait Oufella) gets loaded with an expectant dread. Will she? Is this hunger? Won't she? Is this desire? Why not both? The way Justine and Alexia's antagonisms play out over the course of Raw is fascinating as well, and hints at a longer history. There's affection tinged with enmity between these sisters. The fact that so much of Raw works so well may be why I come back to the closing notes of Raw and why they fell so flat for me. So much of the movie is a gut punch filmed with such great craft. Justine is built up and broken and humiliated and I was hoping for one last moment that would linger the same way as so many others. I felt like the movie traded its gut punches for a rote, tepid, expected wind down, and then punctuated it with a flimsy punchline. And yet that wind down makes sense emotionally, and that punchline opens up this rich, sadly unexplored avenue of the story. That may speak to the promise of Ducournau as filmmaker to watch--that I think there's something good wrapped up in a sour note, something exciting in the shadow of a disappointing coda. I guess sometimes even great cuts of meat have a little gristle.
Review: Raw photo
Flesh, sex, and self-destruction
While playing at film festivals last year, the hype over Raw was insane. Writer/director Julia Ducournau's coming-of-age horror/cannibal drama purportedly caused audience members to faint, to vomit, to leave screenings in dis...

Review: My Life as a Zucchini

Mar 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221336:43439:0[/embed] My Life as a Zucchini (Ma vie de Courgette)Director: Claude BarrasRating: PG-13Release Date: October 19, 2016 (France/Switzerland); February 24, 2017 (limited)Country: France/Switzerland My Life as a Zucchini opens with the accidental death of a boy's abusive, alcoholic mother. His father isn't around and never shows up, but he draws an idealized, superhero version of him on a homemade kite. The boy calls himself Zucchini (Erick Abbate), and as a police officer drives him to an orphanage, he flies the kite out of the car window. The moment is both beautiful and sad, just like so many other moments in My Life is a Zucchini. The other children at the orphanage are neglected, have had their parents deported, lost their parents in violent ways, or were physically or sexually abused. They're each around 10 years old. This is absolutely bleak material, and it's reflected in the look of the stop-motion puppets of the children. When a new girl named Camille (Ness Krell) arrives, one of the children remarks that she has sad eyes. It's a quality all of the children share. They all have huge, Margaret Keane-painting eyes, but they look wounded rather than doe-like, as if each of them might burst into tears at any moment out of sadness or a fleeting joy. While the situations these children face are so dark, My Life as a Zucchini is a hopeful film, and brimming with sympathy and empathy. I found myself crying through a lot of the film, which is a testament to the effectiveness of the animation. There's something important about the tactile nature of stop-motion I can't put my finger on. Maybe it's because the characters look like toys, and the settings feel like playsets--like the entire film functions as a space for a child to work through the dark things in their head. The English-language voice acting is commendable. The child actors sounded like actors rather than kids acting, if the distinction makes sense. Abbate and Krell have to do so much heavylifting whenever their characters are on screen, but there's no strain to it. I was so wrapped up in the emotion of the film that I didn't sense a flat line read or a sour delivery. Somehow, effortlessly, the child actors sounded vulnerable and true. The adult voice cast was good as well, with Nick Offerman, Will Forte, and Ellen Page disappearing into their roles as caretakers. Amy Sedaris' voice was distinct--very Strangers with Candy--though it fits with the brash, prickly character she portrays. Barras depicts kindness in various gestures between the kids and their caretakers at the orphanage. There's a snow trip with a tiny techno dance party in a cabin. There's play time. There's dress up and parties. When the children grow up, the psychological repercussions of what they've faced might be daunting, but at least there's this orphanage and these people who care about them. The adults try to create some semblance of a normal life free from from solitude and abuse. Things that seems so commonplace are suddenly imbued with a tremendous expression of love and humanity. How good it is, even if just briefly, to give someone the joy of a carefree childhood. My Life as a Zucchini is about children, but it's not a children's movie. That may have held it back in awards season. It was such a longshot to win a Golden Globe or an Oscar (Zootopia took both awards), and its bleakness didn't help matters. The film did wind up winning Best Animated Film and Best Adapted Screenplay at the Cesar Awards, however. Saying all this, part of me wonders how traumatized children might respond to the film. Would they feel less alone? Would they feel loved? Those concerns are more important than a statuette; they're what's most important in life.
My Life as a Zucchini photo
About kids but not a children's movie
There's this pervasive idea that children are resilient, that they're able to cope well even in dire circumstances. In stories about forlorn kids, a combination of optimistic pluck and boundless imagination helps them through...

Review: Evolution

Nov 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220389:42858:0[/embed] EvolutionDirector: Lucile HadzihalilovicRelease Date: November 25, 2016 (limited/VOD)Rating: NRCountry: France The world of Evolution is mysterious from the get go, which is due largely to the coastal locale where the film is set. We don't know what year it is, or quite where this place is either. It's all so otherworldly, the sort of setting for tales, allegories, and de Chirico paintings. There are white stucco buildings built near the water, and the sand is black leading to the turbulent shore. It's beautiful in how stark it is. In the distance, there's a medical facility that looks like it was abandoned years ago, but boys and their mothers walk back and forth for periodic examinations. There are only grown women and young boys on this island. There are no men, there are no girls, and the mothers have a sinister uniformity about them. At night, the mothers leave their homes carrying hand lanterns and congregate near the water. The boys are just boys but are in the dark about their caretakers. The boys are raised on a diet of mashed kelp and something like worms, one of those foods that while heated in a saucepan still looks cold when it's served. Evolution centers primarily on Nicolas (Max Brebant) and his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier), and what Nicolas discovers about this town and where babies come from. We follow him into the night, down long corridors, to water in the dark, and in the process participate in the act of discovery, unwrapping the allegory along with Nicolas, sharing in his repulsion and curiosity. Roughly midway through Evolution, this dive into the unknown slows, maybe too much for what's revealed about the mothers and their boys. Yet even what's revealed is just enough to suggest larger possibilities and delve deeper into the thematic territory of the movie--sex, childbirth, asexuality, violation, flesh, reproduction, biological processes. I sensed in the film's lull that Hadzihalilovic was signalling a move away from an explicit exploration of the plot and the machinery of the world to a series of ruminative brushstrokes, each one a deliberate move to the film's finale, which is more conceptual than visceral. In the immediate aftermath of Evolution, I felt a little let down, expecting more of a resolution to what's introduced early on. Yet the movie has this strange, lingering quality thanks to its pervasive otherworldliness. I mentioned Lovecraft and Cronenbeg earlier, but Hadzihalilovic makes this movie her own, invested with unique hobbyhorses and a fascinating sensibility. It's rare to see a movie that sticks around in your mind after an initial sense of disappointment. The fact I'm still thinking about Evolution, and deeper now than in the hours after the first viewing, have made me reevaluate Hadzihalilovic's languid pace, which unfolds with the same speed as a dream verging on a nightmare but never quite arriving there. Cinematographer Manuel Dacosse does a magnificent job in rendering these images and giving them such a haunting quality that I can't get several of them out of my head. Evolution's grown on me, like a skin graft or like coral, or maybe it's grown in me, like the stuff of recurring bad dreams.
Review: Evolution photo
Lingering, haunting, and yet
There's so much going for Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Evolution, a film expertly lensed from the deliberate first shot: looking up to the sky from underwater. From beneath, the ripples and waves on the ocean surface produce undul...

Review: Elle

Nov 10 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220908:43150:0[/embed] ElleDirector: Paul VerhoevenRating: RRelease Date: November 11, 2016 (limited)Country: France  Elle starts with the rape, in media res. Verhoeven shoots the scene with surprising restraint. There's the noise of the assault off camera. Michèle's pet cat looks on blankly. The rapist, dressed in black with a ski mask, stands and wipes blood from his hip and groin and then walks away. Michèle tidies up around the kitchen and continues about her day in a daze. She's in shock, but it's subtle. A brief bubble bath scene is so artfully done and haunting. Michèle's a bit angrier at her son Vincent (Jonas Bloquet) when he comes to visit than she would be otherwise. Vincent asks about the bruise on the side of her face. She says she fell off her bike. The rape goes unreported. When Michèle finally mentions it to anyone, she waits for the most awkward moment possible to bring it up. She says what happened as if she lost a credit card. Is it a coping mechanism or is it just the movie playing provocateur? Elle aims for the uncomfortable laugh, and for a while it succeeds in doling out its cringe humor. At a certain point, it's just cringes. While dealing with horrible things in life, one hundred other genres may be occurring in the world simultaneously. A portion of the film plays like a thriller, with Michèle narrowing down the suspects in her life while her attacker stalks and harasses her. As this thriller plays out, there's a family dramedy: Michèle's jealous about her ex-husband's new girlfriend, annoyed by her son's screwed up relationship with his pregnant girlfriend, and can't stand her mother's new boyfriend either. Then there's the matter of her father and an infamous trauma in her past, one essential to Michèle's character but never explored substantively in the story. Huppert's a saving grace for the film in that she plays everything so straight, even Michèle's unexpected actions and reactions. Yet these are just actions in a performance, not necessarily actions stemming from a character. I could rarely get a handle on who Michèle was or how she interpreted the world and the events around her. The rape is replayed explicitly in the film, and then played again as a kind of revenge fantasy. Later, Michèle seems to invite victimization. There's a harrowing scene in which Michèle seems turned on by the idea of the man she's with raping her, recreating the trauma that opened the film. Is she feeling pleasure? Is that pain and masochistic shame? Is it a mix of both, and if so, what then? Huppert wears an inscrutable mask before, during, and after the scene. The moment is never discussed afterward. I don't need on-screen psychoanalysis or to be handheld through a narrative, but I'd like to be given some hint of what Michèle feels about what's happened. Elle avoids exploring the emotional impact of rape. Instead the film tries to offer Michèle's detachment as some opaque and oblique portrait of her psychology, but even this amounts to a blank gray page. This is all extremely difficult and sensitive territory to explore, especially when Michèle's motives are so ambiguous. Sure, there's never a single correct way for someone to respond to trauma, but rather than provide an alternative portrait of recovery or greater insight into this personality in flux, I felt as if Elle was simply pushing buttons and inverting the traditional rape-revenge narrative for the shock value. That's easier and less painful than really getting into someone's interior life after such a traumatic experience. The film's MO seems to be keep the focus on the inscrutable surface, and make it shocking. It doesn't help that Elle's perspective is male dominated; it's directed by Verhoeven from a script by David Birke, and adapted from a novel by Philippe Dijan. Am I watching a woman's experience as she struggles to retake power as all the men in her life rob her of agency? Or am I just watching a male interpretation of all this that indulges in a little bit of rape fantasy? This might all be up for audience interpretation, which makes me surprised that so many critics have written that the film is so empowering to women and makes bold statements. I don't think it says anything at all, or intends to empower anyone; it's just well-orchestrated provocation. No surprise that by the end of Elle, I was left feeling a sour and empty frustration. Michèle is the head of a video game company, though this portion of Elle serves as a mild subtextual and metatextual backdrop. They're making a medieval action-adventure--think Warcraft by way of Assassin's Creed with really antiquated graphics. During a meeting, one of her designers--a man who may be the rapist--says that Michèle's pretentious literary background has gotten in the way of the game's basic playability. I think Verhoeven's penchant for provocation might have gotten in the way of the fundamental human concerns of Elle.
Review: Elle photo
Provocative, but is it saying anything?
Elle has been billed as a rape-comedy, but that's a misnomer. It's a comedy in the classical sense given the events of the story, but it's not necessarily funny (there are funny scenes, though). And yes, it's about rape. Elle...


Elle trailer photo
Elle trailer

Paul Verhoeven is back with Elle starring Isabelle Huppert, watch the trailer


An empowering, lighthearted rape movie?
Sep 06
// Hubert Vigilla
Though Showgirls eventually achieved camp/cult status, it was a major strike against Paul Verhoeven's career. He couldn't find steady footing in Hollywood afterwards, Starship Troopers notwithstanding. Showgirls also torpedoe...

Review: April and the Extraordinary World

Apr 08 // Geoff Henao
[embed]220489:42898:0[/embed] April and the Extraordinary WorldDirectors: Christian Desmares and Franck EkinciRating: PGRelease Date: April 8, 2016 In an alternate 1870 France, scientists were being mysteriously kidnapped. As it's revealed, Napoleon III was in search of a serum that would turn his soldiers invincible, created by a scientist who successfully injected the serum into two lizards. Frightened by their ability to talk, however, Napoleon III destroys the makeshift lab and everyone inside. The next day, Napoleon IV signs a peace treaty with Prussia. As time passes, notable scientists like Albert Einstein and Alfred Nobel go missing, halting the advancement of science in the late 1800s. By 1931, the world is still reliant on steam and charcoal to run their machinery, essentially creating the steampunk setting of April and the Extraordinary World. The scientist's descendants are on the cusp of re-creating the serum that would essentially grant immortality. However, they are hunted down by a French officer under orders to kidnap them for enlistment into France's weapons program. The incident culminates in the loss of many lives and the family's young daughter, April, left alone with their talking cat, Darwin. Ten years later, April is on the brink of remaking the serum when she suddenly finds herself in the middle of a dark mystery that ties her missing family in with a secret government conspiracy that can change the entire world. April and the Extraordinary World is a mix of Hayao Miyazaki's fascination with machinery and strong female leads, Pixar's overarching theme of strong family bonds, and the distinctly "French" style of animation. As previously mentioned, the art style is more or less governed by steampunk, giving this alternate Paris a very bleak and dull look that permeates beyond the visual elements of the film. Everything is very detailed and looks technically amazing; however, it just lacks that certain "IT factor" that Studio Ghibli films have. The film's plot is very predictable, even down to the plot twists that you know are coming. Given the film's PG rating, there just weren't many risks that could have been taken with its plot. However, despite this, the film is aimed more so at adults, given the strong ties to issues that aren't important or captivating to the normal child. There's much to be said about the political issues at hand, the sci-fi elements of an alternate universe that runs on steam, and the outdated notions of a modern film falling into an all-too-familiar trope, but that's better left for armchair activists and essayists. While April and the Extraordinary World is a solid family film, I wish it explored its "extraordinary world" more. Given its title, one would assume the setting, which is admittedly the most exciting aspect of the film, would play more of a focal point in the film's narrative. All of this isn't to say April and the Extraordinary World isn't enjoyable, it just leaves you wishing for something truly extraordinary.
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More like April and the Ordinary World.
Animated films are the best, aren't they? They give more life to their worlds than most live-action films do with their mixed use of CGI and human actors. Even as technology advances to the point where CG characters will be f...

NYFF Review: Microbe & Gasoline

Oct 01 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219843:42635:0[/embed] Microbe and Gasoline (Microbe et Gasoil)Director: Michel GondryRated: n/aRelease Date: TBDCountry: France Daniel (Ange Dargent) is an introverted budding artist with an eye for portraits as well as the crude porno pics he hides under his bed. He's small and looks younger than 14, which is why everyone calls him "Microbe." Worse, most people mistake him for a girl. There's the new kid, Theo (Theophile Baquet), who has a penchant for swagger, Michael Jackson leather jackets, and tinkering with machines. He's poor and there's grease under his fingernails, so they call him "Gasoline." The outsiders bond over a sound board that Gasoline has attached to his bike handles. It's a movie, and they're loners who represent divergent social classes and upbringings. So of course they become friends. It's the logic of the misfit buddy movie, and I don't object to it. Misfits attract misfits, but like magnets, the bond between cinematic misfits is between opposite poles rather than like ones. That might be why so many misfit kid movies often feature groups comprised of individual specialists--the tough one, the scientific one, the artsy one, the charismatic one, the one who knows Spanish--rather than people who are identical. Besides, who wants to hang out with someone who's exactly the same? How boring. Microbe and Gasoline are both 14, which is that point when kids want to be (or seem) more adult but don't quite know how that works. They act like they think adults should act, which is mostly learned from movies and TV rather than life. At a costume party, the boys are dressed like old men, and they loaf on the couch, world weary and judgmental, though Microbe looks on longingly at a girl from class. As Microbe obsesses over his crush, Gasoline offers advice as if he's had a decades-long history of loves and losses. There are limits to maturity, no matter how precocious a teenager is, and most of the comedy is rooted in this teenage worldview. It pervades the whole film, but it really takes charge in the second half of Microbe and Gasoline. With school out for the summer, the boys build a mobile home and go out on the road together. Many of Michel Gondry's films have an adorably ramshackle, handmade look about them, like the sweded movies in Be Kind Rewind or the hand-drawn animation from his Noam Chomsky documentary Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? The boys' mobile home--part tiny house, part go-kart--is such a Gondry-looking contraption; wood, nuts, bolts, inventive gimmickry. You feel the splinters and rust, same goes for the gas fumes. From here the film embarks on an odyssey through Gondryland, and the teenage point of view takes over completely. The danger of being a runaway is relatively low. There's just freedom. Some might find the shift from a grounded world to Gondryland jarring. Picture riffs on fairy tales by way of Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend and you get some inkling of what happens. But I felt this change was a charming way to invoke the youthful promise of summer. It also shows just how out of their element the boys are. The parents have no sway over the kids, so the kids have to find their own way. (Microbe's mom is played by Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame, though she's a bit of a non-presence in the film even before summer begins.) Plus, it's all pretty funny. Earlier I mentioned the idea of sameness and difference when it comes to the people we hang out with. This become an important component of Microbe and Gasoline's friendship, and maybe most friendships. Our teenage years are about trying to figure out what adulthood is like, sure, but they're really about trying to define ourselves. Microbe is worried he's too much of a blank slate, and he's anxious that other people are doing the work of defining him, including Gasoline. And we do wind up mimicking our friends to a certain degree just like, earlier in life, we mimicked our parents/guardians and siblings. It's the inescapable fact of interaction. This is all a roundabout way of saying that the friends we love--the ones that matter and that we think of even years later after losing touch--are people who changed us in some way. We take on some of their qualities, they take on some of ours, and in this synthesis of personalities there's something new that's brought out in ourselves and sometimes into the world. An inside joke, maybe, or an experience of some kind that wouldn't have existed without that other person. Gondry captures the way these kinds of friendships can change us, and why they're so important when we're young works-in-progress. Even when Microbe and Gasoline leaves grounded reality, it's all tethered to that genuine, warm feeling we get whenever we meet and befriend someone who really gets us. The boys made a sweet ride, but not a saccharine one.
Review: Microbe & Gasolin photo
Friendship is magic
When Michel Gondry writes his own films, I've noticed that his protagonists have a tendency to act like quirky, whimsical teenagers. The misfit oddballs of The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind probably found a Zoltar machi...

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Eden

Latest trailer for Eden is a celebration of music and club culture


Lose yourself to dance!
May 15
// Per Morten Mjolkeraaen
While you may not know Mia Hansen-Løve yet, her husband, and dare I say muse, Olivier Assayas is certainly more recognisable. As a fan of them both, it is easy to see how they inspire the best in each other, and with E...
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Check out the new English language trailer for The Little Prince


He's got tiny hands, tiny features-- he's the little guy!
Apr 22
// John-Charles Holmes
Oh man, The Little Prince is one of my absolute favorite books, so when I heard they were making a new animated film version, my attention went up. The first trailer, while entirely in French, gave an impressive look at the ...

Review: Two Days, One Night

Jan 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218812:42122:0[/embed] Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)Directors: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne Release Date: January 6, 2015Rating: PG-13 Country: Belgium  I like Two Days, One Night's premise: While Sandra (Marion Cotillard) was on medical leave, her bosses put together a voting ballot. People could either vote for Sandra to stay on when she was feeling better, or they could keep their annual bonuses. The company can't (well, won't) afford to do both. Unsurprisingly, more went for the bonuses and suddenly Sandra was unemployed. But Sandra wasn't a part of the process, and she must go to each coworker one by one and ask (beg) them to reconsider. There are 16 people. She needs nine votes. On concept, that sounds like a really interesting way to develop a character. At the start of Two Days, One Night, we know almost nothing about Sandra other than that she's really sad. But a lot of people would be sad in that particular situation, so that barely even counts. We don't know why she left in the first place, what job it is that she's lost, or how she gets along with the others at her workplace. All we know is that Marion Cotillard is a good crier, and why wouldn't she be? She's a great actress. As it turns out, there's not really anything more to Sandra than that. Sandra is boring. It was depression that took her out of work, and while that's a totally valid reason to take some time off (she's medicated now), she is hampered at each and every moment of the film by her depression. She wants to keep her job, but she doesn't want to impose on others. She doesn't want to be told "No, I need my bonus more than I need you to have a job" by people she worked with. I get these things, but these issues manifest themselves as a constant game of Sandra refusing to do anything other than pop pills and her husband saying, "Come on!" until she eventually acquiesces. That's boring. And so is hearing Sandra explain why she has shown up unannounced on a colleague's doorstep over and over again. It's an issue of realism: Sure, most of them would not have heard of her new crusade to get her job back, but we (the audience) have heard her little introductory spiel way too many times, and it doesn't change. Nearly every single interaction starts the same way: - Sandra shows up at their house but the person is not there- She goes to wherever they are (usually pointed out by a spouse or child)- She explains the ballot- "But it's soooo much money!"- "But it's my job!" Over and over and over again. It's maddening, really.  So you'd think I didn't like Two Days, One Night, because it's boring and because its lead character is boring, but that's because what makes the film interesting (and ultimately worth watching) has almost nothing to do with its lead character. While Sandra as a character is never particularly interesting (even if the ultimate result shows something verging on character growth), the other people she interacts with are. There are only two possible responses – "I need the money, but okay" and "I need the money, so no" – but the situations that lead them to go from one answer to the other are occasionally fascinating to watch. The one-on-one interactions are by far the least interesting, because then it's just one person begging and the other person accepting or not. But when a third person (usually a spouse) becomes involved and it turns into a shouting match or some other intense moment, then you see what the money means to these people. Sandra needs a job, but these people have structured their lives around this 1,000 Euro annual bonus. It lets them pay their bills or get their children an education. Maybe it lets them do something cool and new for themselves where all of their other income had gone exclusively to the necessities. All of these are acceptable reasons to say no (even the latter, although it's a bit sketchy), and all of them get used. But seeing the way the co-worker (who usually has empathy) reacts versus the spouse (who has no love for Sandra) reveals a lot about who those people are and the fights that sometimes occur as a result are fascinating (and sometimes terrifying) glimpses into the lives of other characters. If Two Days, One Night succeeds at anything, it's at making these other characters feel like they're real people with actual lives. It feels like Sandra is intruding on them and they're just trying to keep on living. And because of that, I kept watching. Would they stick to their guns? Would they crack under pressure? Those questions propelled the narrative forward far more than the overarching "Would Sandra get to keep her job?" Because the film didn't make me care about Sandra, but it did make me care about everyone else.
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Cotillard Cried
Sometimes you watch a movie and you immediately know how you're going to feel about it. There's something about the atmosphere that it creates that just strikes you. You know exactly what the film is trying to do, and you kno...

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Flix for Short: Space Cat Hob


Sep 26
// Liz Rugg
In Space Cat Hob, we meet Hob, an anthropomorphic cat with a fancy space suit who has crash landed on a dangerous planet. Despite just wanting to do the right thing, Hob finds himself in trouble after trouble as he navigates...
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Trailer for Xavier Dolan's Mommy teases sweeping family drama


Sep 26
// Liz Rugg
Director Xavier Dolan's film Mommy examines the tumultuous lives of a mother and son as they go through the challenge of growing up. Unable to do everything alone, the sassy widowed mother finds balance when their neighbor o...
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Whiplash Trailer

Trailer for Whiplash starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons


Aug 27
// Nick Valdez
Whoa, why hasn't anyone told me about Whiplash? Starring J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller, as a jazz student and incredibly harsh teacher, Whiplash looks like it's going to be one of my favorites this year if the rest of it is ...
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Trailer for French animated short Tempŕte Sur Anorak delights


Mar 14
// Liz Rugg
Tempête Sur Anorak - or Storm Hits Jacket - is an upcoming French animated short film by animator and artist Paul Cabon. It's not everyday we see a trailer for a short film, and it's certainly that much more rare to se...

After the Credits: Not caring about unlikable characters

Feb 19 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Previously on After the Credits: Why I gave The Raid 2 a 97 A Serbian Film and shifting opinions Love Strikes!, Moteki, and Raging Bull No cell phones in the theater (Film) festival fatigue Just turn the damn thing off No one is afraid of the dark in 144p Why would you want to see trash? The Korean Romantic Comedies of NYAFF 2013  
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Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, Blue is the Warmest Color, and bad things happening to meh people
Last week, I saw a movie I didn't like very much, but I found the fact that I didn't like it interesting. I got about halfway through writing the review when I realized that I would rather talk about it than write. Hence thi...

Review: What's in a Name?

Dec 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217002:41004:0[/embed] What's in a Name? (Le Prénom)Directors: Alexandre de La Patellière and Matthieu DelaporteRelease Date: December 13, 2013 (Theatrical and iTunes)Country: France  Although it seems to be billed that way, it's disingenuous to define What's in a Name? as a comedy. Sure, it's funny, especially at the bookends, but the bulk of the film is serious, as the characters reveal aspects of their own and each others' personalities, and rarely in a pleasant context. The ensemble is one big family: Pierre and Babu, a college professor and schoolteacher respectively, are married and host the big dinner party that is the film's setting; Claude is Babu's best friend ever since they were children; Vincent is Babu's brother and Pierre's best friend; Anna is Vincent's wife, the newest addition to the group, and she is pregnant with his child. So it's a weirdly tight-knit group, and there are not a lot of secrets between them. Of course, there are still some, but not for long. At the party, before Anna has arrived, Vincent announces that his child is a boy and lets everyone else guess. Eventually, it comes out: the name will be Adolphe (pronounced Adolf). Of course, this leads to a massive fight, as everyone tells Vincent that he can't doom his son to a life in the footsteps of die Führer, a legitimate point, but Vincent's semi-sarcastic responses only make things worse. Once Anna arrives, things go downhill fast. One misplaced comment after another after another leads a wonderfully tight-knit group down a very dark path. But it's an interesting path to follow. Because the film is essentially a 90 minute conversation with little bits on either side, there is plenty of time for each of the characters to really develop in interesting ways. The character that is developed the least is, as could be expected, Anna, the newest member of the group and the one who has the fewest connections. Pierre, Claude, Vincent, and Babu have decades of history together, and some key moments come bubbling to the service. But they don't come up without context, and each one is explained sufficiently to give it suitable weight. Sometimes it's something small, but in a couple of cases the revelations are huge, and even more than the revelations themselves, the reactions change the way characters come across in an instant. There's something inherently odd to a foreigner about a film that is so... French. I'm not really up on French culture, which made it difficult to follow at times. Allusions were thrown out that I assume the intended audience would get but that went entirely over my head. It wasn't enoguh to be a serious problem, but it definitely made me feel like an ignorant American at times. And speaking of being an ignorant American: almost every single name thrown out during the guessing-game seemed silly to me, but they were said with such earnestness that I was struck with a sense of wonder. Also, one of the characters is named Babu. Babu! It's one letter away from "Baboon" (although not in French). I'm pretty sure it's short for something, but that's just a dumb name. As a term of endearment? Please. But the oddest thing about the film is the inconsistency of its presentation. The frenetic opening, reminiscent of Amélie, is radically unlike the film itself. It starts with rapid introductions of each character, filled with digressions and quick cuts of irrelevant imagery that are interesting and silly, but it sets a false precedent. Following this weirdly omniscient opening (which doesn't really make sense in the context of the film, but whatever), the narrator (Vincent) arrives on the scene and suddenly things become much more static. In fact, almost everything from then on takes place in Pierre and Babu's living room, with a little bit of time spent in the dining room beside it. Aside from a two short series of quick-cuts about three-quarters of the way through film and a return to narration at the end, it's just people in a room talking. And this makes sense, because it's based on a play that likely doesn't leave the house setting, but the existence of this entirely different set of cinematic rules makes it seem like the filmmakers were dissatisfied with their own creation. It's odd, because it's the same pair that wrote the play. Perhaps if that random set of quick-cuts didn't exist it would be more justifiable, and the pre-and post-dinner scenes could have been just been different because this is a movie and I guess it needs to have something more movie-ish about it to justify its adaptation. There are one or two other quick flashbacks, but they don't have the same sort of impact, so it really feels as though they tried it once and then gave up on it... but they tried it near the end, which is just weird. There were so many other moments that could have cut to the past but never did, and there's no reason why not. It just seems arbitrary. But even though it starts and ends the film, it's not hard to ignore these bits of weirdness and just think of the film as a well-written and well-acted character study about these four people who have known each other basically forever and a fifth person who is about to play a major role in that dynamic. The theatrical roots are clear, and I don't mean that in a bad way. Yes, in many ways this really is just a filmed version of a play, and it would probably be a better play than movie, but it's not like I was going to go to France and see a production of a show in a language I don't understand. And it's not like they could really make an English version without some massive conceptual changes, because as I said it is very French. The only way anyone outside or France gets to see this story of these people talking in a living room is through this film, and it's a story I'm glad I got to experience.
What's in a Name? Review photo
Why you shouldn't tell jokes at dinner parties
It's a stereotype that the French are more cultured than Americans, but obviously that's a hard claim to either prove or disprove. There are any number of examples that could be used to show it either way, but here's evidence...

Review: Blue Is the Warmest Color

Oct 24 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216438:40774:0[/embed] Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle chapitres 1 & 2)Director: Abdellatif KechicheRating: NC-17Country: FranceRelease Date: October 9th, 2013 (France); October 25th, 2013 (US limited) The reason I'm so critical of the explicit lesbian sex scenes is because Blue Is the Warmest Color is a near-masterpiece otherwise. The movie is three hours long but feels so brisk because it's packed with so much authentic emotion. From well-observed scene to well-observed scene, we sprint through 10 years of life in a way that somehow doesn't feel rushed. The life that's lived off camera is communicated seamlessly through what we're shown on camera. By the end, Blue feels like it's only two hours tops. And yet I would have gladly spent another hour in the life of Adèle, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos. Through hairdo and posture, we watch Adèle go from a gawky suburban teen to a young woman ill at ease in the city. The change is different for Adèle's lover Emma, played by Léa Seydoux. She's so assured in her role as a butch artist (who looks and acts like the Platonic form of River Phoenix, come to think of it) and continues along the path she's started, becoming only more driven in her vocation. The whole focus of Blue Is the Warmest Color is Adèle's sexual awakening and sense of self-discovery. (In terms of the latter, the discoveries aren't always great.) She first runs into Emma on the street in a gorgeously crafted moment of one-sided love-at-first-sight. Emma's shock of blue hair is like sky pulled down to earth and locked there in Adèle's mind under a celestial clamoring of steel drum. It's all the sexiness and exoticism of Emma filtered through Adèle's mind, scored uncannily. When Adèle and Emma finally meet for the first time and flirt, the screen fills with a sensual charge. Emma knows she has the power in that first conversation together and she maintains power in every frame of that scene, whether it's a shot of her or a reverse angle to catch Adèle's nervous attraction. Their eyes oscillate to take each other in, and the close-ups are deliberately placed so we're allowed to notice every subtle shift in look. A show of teeth is invitation, a twinge in a smile is wildfire, the eyebrows and eyelids a kind of semaphore. As Emma leans in, Adèle parries and then lunges, swayed by so many unseen powers that are convincingly conveyed in these intimately-framed shots. So much of Blue Is the Warmest Color is about how much a close-up can capture in a performance and how much can be added to the characters and the scene through the careful juxtaposition of close-ups. This doesn't just apply to flirtation. You can access the unstated thoughts in Emma's parents and Adèle's parents in close-ups as well. Exarchopoulos has such an expressive face, one made for close-ups. When she's outright devastated in one scene, it's like the edifice of a building crumbling, yet her blank face can say so much too. Seydoux has a similar quality in her performance. For both actresses, I think their performances are mostly about what they can do with their eyes and their mouths when they're not speaking, with body language and delivery secondary. That might be why the film's two explicit lesbian sex scenes don't work. In fact, there are a couple of problems with them, and the fault is entirely on writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche. From a purely functional standpoint, it doesn't look like the two people having sex are even having sex. Adèle and Emma crook their arms at impossible angles to please each other, they sprawl in inefficient ways. In some shots, it's as if a sudden swivel or buck of the hips could break an elbow or dislocate a shoulder. The explicit lesbian sex seemed more ridiculous than sexy, and I'm writing this as a straight man. In fact, it doesn't even have the workwomanlike look of lesbian porn; instead it looks like space aliens who've never seen humans before were told in vague terms how lesbians have sex and were asked to film what they think lesbian sex looks like. There are glaring qualitative differences between the two explicit lesbian sex scenes and the rest of the film. Whereas so much of Blue Is the Warmest Color is done in close-up with emphasis on facial expressions and careful lighting, these explicit sex scenes are done in medium shots with flat lighting, with faces a secondary concern. (The actresses were apparently wearing realistic artificial vaginas in these scenes.) This is the male gaze in all its deplorable glory, and it undercuts so much of what makes the film work. What's most apparent, however, is the sheer lack of pleasure on the faces of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. They grunt and moan, but their eyes are blank and they look like they'd rather be somewhere else. By contrast, when they're flirting in the park or just hanging out and experiencing the best part of young love, there's no other place they'd rather be. I found myself comparing these two explicit lesbian sex scenes to the two other sex scenes in the film (one straight, one lesbian) and there's a world of difference there as well. Sex should be integral to this narrative given what it says about the characters, and in the straight sex scene and the less explicit lesbian sex scene, it's all about the characters involved. The body language in those scenes is about varying degrees of passion and engagement. Yes they're naked, yes they're breathing heavy, but the focus is what this moment says about the moment, not seeing two French women unconvincingly fake orgasms. Even a scene of Adèle masturbating is all about her character -- note how it begins, how it progresses, and how that scene ends. In the sex scenes that work in the film, there's a similar sense of internal narrative. This doesn't mean that Kechiche should have made these two explicit sex scenes non-explicit. I think Kechiche should have shot the explicit lesbian sex with the same level of care he shot the other sex scenes. This would have turned absurd sensationalism into some of the best, most frank, and most emotionally charged sex ever filmed. As it is now, those explicit sex scenes aren't about how Adèle is interpreting pleasure -- they're about Adèle and Emma being objects in frame. The male gaze in the explicit lesbian sex scenes actually made me wonder if there's a pervasive maleness that affects the whole narrative of Blue Is the Warmest Color. (The graphic novel it's loosely adapted from is by Julie Maroh; the screenplay which is apparently nothing like the graphic novel is by Kechiche.) In other words, maybe the story of powerful first loves is universal, or maybe I think that way because I'm a guy watching this movie and the characters are playing into my own life experiences as a man rather than the realities of a woman who figures out she's into women. Do most people wish they were like Emma -- sure of themselves, a figure of constant allure, as effortlessly unique as they are sexy -- or is she embodying a male version of that desire? I'm inclined to think it's universal, but now I'm forced to confront the alternative. (Emma flirts by talking about Sartre, which is something I did in college. Make of that what you will.) Does everyone feel like Adèle at times, or is she more a portrait of male insecurity and existential uncertainty rather than universal insecurity and existential uncertainty? In the press notes, it seems as if Kechiche considered Adèle a cinematic analogue for himself much like the Antoine Doinel character was for François Truffaut. Make of that what you will. This larger conversation about the male gaze and pervasive maleness in Blue Is the Warmest Color will take place over the next few months, and honestly, it's something I wouldn't have even considered if the explicit sex hadn't problematized the movie. I still love it despite its most glaring flaws, which is why I'm scoring it so high and also why I'm not scoring it higher. Excepting two scenes, this is a powerful look at what happens when we fall hard for someone whose mere presence feels elemental but when we haven't matured enough to deal with it. In France, the title for the film is The Life of Adèle Chapters 1 & 2. If the story continues (and if the actresses even agree to work with Kechiche again, which given recent reports seems unlikely), I hope the subsequent chapters in the life of Adèle are as good as the best parts of Blue Is the Warmest Color. Alec Kubas-Meyer: Blue is the Warmest Color hit me hard. Really, really hard. I should have expected that a three-hour romantic epic would be pretty heart-wrenching, but I didn't know it would feel so personal. While nothing that happens in the film directly translates to experiences I've had in my own life, certain things hit pretty close to home. In those moments, the film's true brilliance shown through. Unfortunately, I agree with everything Hubert said about the explicit sex scenes. I wish that they weren't there at all. They're uncomfortable (especially in a theater setting), awkward, and unnecessary. They don't push the story forward, serving only to titillate, but they can't even do that well. There is a proper way to portray sex in a film (hell, Blue is the Warmest Color does it on multiple occasions), but they are not it. Aside from those scenes, my only serious complaint is about the film's timeline. I don't know what time period the film follows (only that at one point people use answering machines), but clearly no effort was put into making the 19 year old Adèle Exarchopoulos (who gives a truly brilliant performance) look any older than she is. A different hairstyle and some glasses aren't enough to make her look like a working teacher, but that's all the effort that was made. There are times when years would pass in between shots, and because Adèle always looked the same, it was difficult to know when it had happened. What should have been immediate took unnecessary time. But while those are serious complaints, they can't stop the emotional power that Blue is the Warmest Color has. There is one moment, an argument between Emma and Adèle, that is the single most powerful scene in a film I have seen in years. Everything about that scene is absolutely, truly perfect, so too is much of the rest of the film. At three hours, it feels long, but it never drags. In a press conference following the screening, director Abdellatif Kechiche said that there is another cut, 40 minutes longer, that will eventually be released, and I would love to see it. Adèle's story is incredible, and I want to see more and more of it. That I'm so angry about the sex isn't really because it's so poor; it's because everything else is so incredible. This movie should be one of the best I've seen in my life, but it's not. It's just really, really close. 88 - Excellent
Blue Warmest Color Review photo
First love and other sorrows (and the male gaze problem)
There are many examples of desire in Blue Is the Warmest Color that are nuanced and downright erotic. These moments are communicated in coy shifts in facial expression, through the brinkmanship of flirtation, the intimate ris...

Our Day Will Come clip photo
Our Day Will Come clip

A clip from Romain Gavras's Our Day Will Come


The gingers of the world will one day have their retribution!
Oct 22
// Flixist Staff
Our Day Will Come (Notre jour viendra) is the debut feature film of Romain Gavras, best known as the music video director behind "No Church in the Wild" by Kanye West and Jay-Z and "Born Free" by M.I.A. Released in France in...

NYFF Review: The Missing Picture

Oct 08 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]216433:40769:0[/embed] The Missing Picture (L'image manquante)Director: Rithy PanhRating: TBDCountry: Cambodia / FranceRelease Date: TBD The experience of history can take many different forms. There's the official narrative that's accepted and promulgated by the powers that be, there's a cultural memory (a sort of memory of the people, for lack of a better term) that may run parallel or contrary to the official narrative, and there's memory/personal narrative. There's more than just these three threads, but you get the idea. These all knot and intertwine and create this difficult braid that's constantly making and reconfiguring itself. In the case of Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge, the history of the country was all rooted in propaganda intended to forward the official narrative. Cultural memory and personal narrative could not be shared since it was in the state's best interest to create an image of an ideal world even if the situation was actually anything but. Panh attempts to look at actual lived history -- his own youth and what others experienced -- by means of art since the only official pictures that exist are from the Khmer Rouge. So many other photos are burned or destroyed. Panh uses hand-crafted clay figurines situated in dioramas in order to recreate moments he and others endured. There was labor and mass murder and illness and famine. What's missing in the official narrative is all the actual suffering. The sound design helps evoke the moments that have been recreated as a simulacrum of an undocumented reality. Into these tableaux Panh incorporates the remains of extant photos from the era and the propaganda footage shot the Khmer Rouge. All kinds of histories are merged together as a larger way into the horrors of Cambodia's past and what can be excavated from it. In some ways Panh's art is a way of unmaking the lies of the Khmer Rouge even if these are not actual images of events and merely representations from memory, testimony, and other personal narratives. Yet not only is this an act of memory, but by creating art from memory to counter the lies in the official narrative, I think Panh's larger project of diorama, text, and film is a way of contributing to Cambodia's cultural memory. These are stories that must be told, these are voices that were not allowed to speak; both must be heard, or at least ought to be. In trying to recreate and refashion a lost Cambodia during a time of major suffering, I think that's also an attempt to call out to other voices to share their narratives. When the history of a country is written in propaganda, it's up to future generations to create their own images that are more essentially true -- if propaganda can be considered a kind of art, then it's the least moral form of it. From a formal and philosophical standpoint, I found so much of The Missing Picture fascinating just to ponder. Yet with that in mind, I did sense a bit of meandering in the film since it is so much about a wander through memory constructed by and tethered to language. This is the first of Panh's work I've encountered, but apparently he's written extensively on this subject and made many films on the matter. I guess the text in The Missing Picture is a bit Proust-like in its attempt to recreate and retrieve what is no longer present. Language is just another means of contributing to the cultural memory, adding to the multi-facted, multimedia feel of the project. If culture is to be regained, it seems necessary to use different mediums to regain it just as the Khmer Rouge used multiple means to rewrite it. (Somewhat related: I think the dioramas, the text, the archival footage, the damaged artifacts, and the documentary itself would make for a great museum exhibition. I'd love to view each element on its own and then merged as a film. That might help the weight of history sink in more to have all the physical stuff there in front of me.) One issue I had with the narration may come from the translation. The version I saw was the English-language one, and the monologue and the text were just all right, but maybe a bit stilted. Turns of phrase didn't seem as poetic or as elegant as the images, which seemed to me like something got lost in the transition from French to English. The issues with text in translation are always about finding the right meaning in the right tone and the right voice. It'll never be perfect, but sometimes different translations are better than others. I have a feeling that if I saw the French-language version of the film with English subtitles, I may have had a different experience of the film even as it did meander. Despite these gripes, there are striking moments in The Missing Picture even if most of them involve static clay figurines. Their immobility and crude appearance almost makes the situations they're depicting seem even more real, like caricatures caught in moments of dread. I'm reminded of those bodies in Pompeii and Herculaneum that were frozen in place by the ash of Mount Vesuvius. To represent so many people in clay makes the figures at once an individual person who may have existed as well as the idea of a people who have been murdered and are unable to speak for themselves. Maybe the most haunting thing about The Missing Picture is that the clay that Panh used to craft his figures may be comprised of countless missing generations.
Missing Picture Review photo
Recreating Cambodia's lost past in text, clay, and film
At last year's New York Asian Film Festival I saw a documentary called Golden Slumbers, which focused on the lost cinema of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge had destroyed cinema houses and film negatives throughout the country, wipi...

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Trailer for Blue is the Warmest Color is quiet and lovely


Sep 19
// Liz Rugg
Blue is the Warmest Color is a French romantic drama directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, and it's been making quite an impression on the indie and film festival crowds. The film follows a young girl named Adele, played by Ad&eg...
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The Young and Prodigious Spivet lands images and trailer


Sep 04
// Matthew Razak
So you know how you like Amélie, but you sometimes think, "Man, I wish that movie could be even more adorable and heartwarming." Check out the trailer for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's (director of Amélie...
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Trailer: The Young and Prodigious Spivet


The latest from director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
May 20
// Hubert Vigilla
Here is the trailer for The Young and Prodigious Spivet, the latest from Amelie and City of Lost Children director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The film is an adaptation of the book The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet by Reif Larsen, ...

Review: Something in the Air

May 03 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215538:40044:0[/embed] Something in the Air (Apres Mai)Director: Olivier AssayasRating: NRCountry: FranceRelease Date: May 3, 2013 (limited) Assayas's analog in the film is Gilles (Clément Métayer), who's just about to graduate from high school. He's got it pretty good, all things considered, especially for someone who's really still a kid. His beautiful semi-girlfriend Laure (Carole Combes) is really into his artwork. She's the embodiment of his young ideals of free-spirited Bohemia, and her live-for-today attitude serves as a strange sort of complement to Gilles's own political consciousness that's being awakened in this month of strikes and tumult. For all the lovey-dovey peace and art of 1960s counterculture, there were also explosions and beat downs. Something in the Air follows Gilles and his friends as the spend their summer revolting, resisting, traveling, loving, and then slowly succumbing to the reality of this situations: after the month of May, the world will mostly go back to being what it was like before May. The revolt was just an explosion, no matter how legitimate its causes, but it was not a lasting conflagration, or at least not in the way that was hoped. This winds up being the same in everyone's young lives. While vandalizing his school and lobbing Molotov cocktails, Gilles falls for a pretty young comrade named Christine (Lola Créton), but whatever they have might be fleeting, just like whatever Gilles had with Laure. What's remarkable about Something in the Air is how it meanders without losing its hold. I'm not quite sure how it was done. Every now and then I became conscious that I was compelled not by a rousing plot or by major scenes with emotional kick. Instead what captivated me was a kind of clean and astute act of observation. Assayas and cinematographer Eric Gautier let the camera meander with control, which results in some long takes that pan through crowds or past shadows of bramble and ivy to arrive at some gorgeous tableaux. The scope of the film is similar in a way -- wander, linger, then arrive unexpectedly. I think a big part of the allure in Something in the Air had to do with Assayas's closeness to the material. It's as if he's lifting memories right out of his own youth to insert into this film as needed. This gives Something in the Air a lived-in, memoiristic quality rather than a novelistic one. The grand arc of Gilles's coming-of-age comes in small spurts as the promise of May fades off, not necessarily in grand decisions or major plot points. By the end he's a slightly different person in the way he sees himself in the world. Even his hair looks less goofy somehow, as if he's either grown into it or grown out of it. Assayas probably filtered these memories and made Gilles a better version of his young self -- that's what most people do with characters as analogs anyway. It makes me wonder if there were actual Laures and Christines, or if Assayas had proudly attempted to harm campus security guards. There's a sort of fond way that the film looks back on these days, like going through an old shoe box full of photos and saying wistfully but affirmatively, "Yeah, that was me." Since I'm not sure of France's social climate in the late 60s and how that's viewed in France today, I can't comment on the authenticity of the recreated era. It seems spot on, though, at least in terms of clothes and attitude, like the in-fights between anarchists and revolutionaries over who is more anarchic or revolutionary. I'm forced to think of the late 1960s in France in terms of the late 1960s in the US, I suppose. But even then, that spirit of the late 1960s is a sort of late-adolescent idea of what the future ought to be like, as if everything was so simple, and in those terms, it makes perfect sense to set a coming-of-age story at that time. Adolescence and the late teens are probably the best ages to get swept up in the romance of revolution. You're still too young to know any better, but you're just old enough to start creating adult certainties about life despite limited experience. It's the brashness of youth at the cusp of maturity, eager to define itself too early. This all may be summed up in Gilles's first on-screen act of rebellion: carving an anarchy symbol into his desk. It's adorable how small the act is, how timid the rebellion, how unsophisticated it seems, but to Gilles, it probably means the world to him. But this is 1968, after all, and those little actions matter; especially when you're young, especially when there's a sense that something big is about to happen. The French title of the film is Apres Mai ("after May"), which likely has more resonance in France, but Something in the Air seems fitting as well. Thinking in stateside terms, Woodstock was still a year away from the events at the beginning of this film, and those days of peace and music would be the decade's mighty crescendo. The good vibes would crash and burn about five months later with the ugliness of Altamont. Funny the difference that a few months can make. That thing in the air may be a lot of things, but I think in Assayas's film it's mostly revolution that turns into adulthood and healthy disillusion. At the end of Tom Wolfe's The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test there's the famous refrain for the era: "We blew it!" For all the hope and promise of the 1960s, the sea change never came. If there's a refrain for Something in the Air, it might be, "We blew it, and we grew up."
Something in Air Review photo
You say you want a revolution...
Confession time: the only Olivier Assayas movie I'd seen prior to Something in the Air was Irma Vep starring Maggie Cheung, which I really enjoyed. Summer Hours, Clean, and Carlos have been on my to-see list for a while, and ...

Review: In the House

Apr 19 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]214712:39714:0[/embed] In the House (Dans la Maison)Director: François OzonRating: TBDRelease Date: April 19, 2013 (New York and LA); additional cities and dates to followCountry: France Claude's just a teenager, but his writing gets the attention of his French Literature teacher, Germain (Fabrice Luchini), and Germain's wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas). While grading papers, Germain bemoans the stupidity of his students who generally write about pizza, cell phones, and nothing, but Claude is different. When writing about his weekend, he weaves a series of accomplished observations about a friend's family. The young writer reveals his attraction to his friend's mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner), a quintessential middle-class housewife who, in the text, smolders with quiet and unfulfilled desire. The brief piece that Germain reads is filled with just the right amount of sophistication and condescension to sound like a precocious teen rather than an adult affecting the writing style of a precocious teen. (The latter is one of the biggest problems with most works about brilliant young writers.) Germain takes Claude under his wing to help mentor the young talent. In their one-on-one workshops they go through basic observations about writing -- Creative Writing 101 stuff -- but what's interesting is how Claude begins to incorporate and subvert these ideas in his own work. The relationship begins as teacher-student, but since this is Ozon, there are various reversals in store. What's fascinating is how gripped Germain and Jeanne are with Claude's story. He ends each of his installments with domestic cliffhangers: whispers, secrets, incipient schemes, tentative seduction. Germain prods his young writer, pushing him to observe and to write more humanely. Some of this is genuine admiration for the young man's gifts, but there's also envy -- Claude is more talented that Germain could ever be, and both know it. Ozon plays with different layers of truth in Claude's writing and his relationships in real life, which points out the artifice of writing, even if it's ostensibly non-fiction. Esther, her son, and her husband are real people that Claude is forcing himself upon, and yet they are also characters in his writing. His tone toward them shifts. At first it's mocking, as if he's trying to make a farce of middle-class comforts and worries. Then it's more like a thriller, then it's charged with eroticism. Both Germain and Jeanne wonder what the family is like in real life, and both come to question how true Claude's story is. Amid the compelling swerves in the story is the meta-fictive material that's unavoidable in movies about writing. Germain and Jeanne are real people reading about fictional characters based on real people, but they're all fictional characters anyway. The various discussions of writing affect the film itself as well as the story-within-a-story that Claude is writing. And then, eventually, Germain and Jeanne find themselves involved in Claude's story on the periphery, and yet they're oblivious to the fact they're characters in the film even though they speak knowingly about the nature of characters. They're making predictions about the lives they're reading, but they're also engaged in a kind of unintentional self-diagnosis. Some of this is explored early on as Germain and Jeanne wonder about Claude's intentions in writing about this family. Claude mocks Esther for her ignorance concerning a collection of Paul Klee prints in the hallway, which she sees as merely decorative. Jeanne works at a bad art gallery that specializes in art as mere commodities: pretty images of the sky, accessories made of used tires, potential investments for people who don't care about art; fine art as tchotchkes, accessories, college fund bric-a-brac. Even the sensational, transgressive art in the gallery seems to be the edgy stuff out of high school -- sex and fascism (literally) in the midst of banal middle-class society. And Germain and Jeanna are blind to it; they're able to look into the windows of Esther's house through Claude's work, but they don't sense that they're also targets in Claude's writing. And then there's the matter of conflict, which is at the heart of the mystery of In the House. Even though he's totally wrapped up in the drama of the unfolding story, Germain tells Claude his narrative is flaggig. The hero of the story (Claude himself) must desire something and overcome obstacles to get what he's after. Claude explicitly states what his character in the story is after, but what is Claude himself actually after? Is he trying to replace his friend? Sleep with his friend's mother? Or is he just trying to toy with people? The conflict of the film is Germain's desire to find out Claude's real-life conflict. But since Germain's an inattentive reader who can't see beyond what the text says on the surface, he stumbles through the house that Claude built, down every intricately placed hallway, through each odd and umarked door, in the dark. The old truism about movies centering on writers is that the writer is a surrogate for the filmmaker's ideas about storytelling. If both Germain and Claude are pieces of Ozon, he seems to be expressing two sides: the reader/writer (or the audience/filmmaker, if you prefer). As Germain, the reader, there is nothing better than getting lost in a story; as Claude, the writer, there is nothing better than to lead people astray. In Esther's home, there's room enough to play with both. More than the meta-fictive stuff, the pleasure of In the House is similar to pleasure derived from any good thriller or mystery: there's a desire to know what happens next, whether it's in Claude's writing or in the life of Germain. I shared in Germain and Jeanne's anticipation for each new installment and felt an excited frustration with each "to be continued..." that Claude dropped. In the House is about the lengths we're willing to go to hear a good story through to its end, and how we unexpectedly compromise when we're driven by that need. On my way out of the screening, three people stood in the aisle and briefly blocked my way. I heard one of them say that the final shots of In the House reminded them of another movie. She declared with excruciating pomposity to her nodding friends, "Oh, there's nothing original, they're never giving us anything new." I don't want to say what movie the final shots make reference to, but I will say that these people were only partially right. On the surface, the shots are about gazes and voyeurism, and yet the note that Ozon closes his movie on is far more sinister than the film he pays homage to. It's as if the people in the aisle, like some of the characters from In the House, didn't understand what they were actually reading.
In the House Review photo
Franšois Ozon explores the act of writing and storytelling as a kind of home invasion
There's a great short story in Richard Yates's Eleven Kinds of Loneliness called "Builders." In it, one of the characters naively but sincerely thinks of writing in terms of building houses, and the windows are places where l...

Tribeca Review: Mobius

Apr 18 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]215349:39957:0[/embed] MöbiusDirector: Éric RochantRating: TBDCountry: FranceRelease Date: TBD Then again, these expectations could just be me, which is why I'll briefly put myself in the shoes of Roth's character in the scene a little bit after the elevator fight. If something bad happened to a person I trusted with my safety, I might show a lot of concern. Since he wasn't the only henchman in my employ, I'd probably ask around to find out where he was. All signs would point to the apartment of Alice (Cecile De France), the woman I've recently hired to earn me a lot of easy money through creative financial malfeasance; she's also someone I'm desperately trying to sleep with. And say, didn't my henchman think something was fishy about her, like she may be followed by an intelligence agent? This would then lead me to do some fishing and find out that Alice has some suspect allegiances of her own because of how close she is to me. On top of that, I'd also learn that her new lover (Dujardin) is really working with Russian intelligence to bring me down. (All of the above is touched on in the first quarter of the movie, so nothing of consequence has been spoiled.) Instead, Roth's character carries on with his life like normal, without added suspicion or security. It's as if someone placed a Papa John's flyer at the gate of his mansion rather than a corpse. These kinds of lapses in character logic can mar an otherwise promising movie, especially when it involves the ostensible antagonist of the film; and up to this point, Möbius is pretty promising given its individual components. It's a spy movie with double-crosses and triple-crosses adapted to its time, with the concern now on international finance rather than nuclear codes. The old combatants and allegiances of the Cold War are still here in the film, though it's the FSB instead of the KGB taking on the CIA; the resentments might be larger now since the late 80s. There's some sexiness to the story too. The seduction of De France is handled with a kind of charming suaveness, and she and Dujardin eventually engage in a few steamy bouts of near-motionless coitus. De France fakes orgasms like she's about to sneeze while stifling a deep belly laugh in a meat locker. Dujardin looks on admiringly, though perhaps more in awe than in love. Theirs is a romance of French whispers and shuddered gasps, so maybe it makes sense that this relationship winds up going into Douglas Sirk territory. Dujardin's an interesting figure to lead his group of intelligence agents. He's a mix of danger and old-Hollywood charisma by way of Europe, but he's also severely incompetent. His personal involvement with Alice jeopardizes the whole intelligence gathering job. He knows this full well, but he never seems to have a Plan B for anything that happens. That might be why I expected the film to suddenly become an escape picture: after the elevator fight, everything about the operation seems botched. Why not get reckless with everything else? But again, for some reason Roth's character seems disinterested. In a lot of ways, this points to one of the biggest weaknesses of Möbius. There's no sense of an active antagonist who's goading our heroes into desperation or danger. It wouldn't even need to be Roth's character giving chase or applying pressure. There's a sense of potential mutiny within the small group of Russian spies trailing Alice, particularly Émilie Dequenne's character. She seems almost resentful to be a mere observer rather than the leader of a high-stakes intelligence mission. Dequenne was incredible in Our Children, but she's squandered here and left mostly on the sidelines throughout. The pressure could have also come from the FSB and the CIA, both of which have interests in a lot of the parties involved. We occasionally get glimpses of the CIA operation since they're keeping tabs on Alice for her role in the global financial crisis. Yet even these large groups seem mostly hands off, with occasional signs of stern disapproval from organization figureheads. They're more interested in clandestine moves punctuated by the occasional gotcha moment. Rather than the escapes and evasions I was expecting, the biggest moment of tension in the film after the elevator fight involves a phone call. It may sound underwhelming, but it's pretty well done. Möbius could have become a collection of small intrigues like this, one clever dodge after the other, each one becoming more complex, the next a potentially fatal misstep. But no, it's a thriller that's low on thrills. [For tickets and more info on Möbius, visit tribecafilm.com/festival.]
M÷bius Review photo
Muddled thrills and multiple fake orgasms
There's a moment in Möbius where I expected a turn toward high-stakes adventure and evasion. As in any story of spies and espionage, this is where a fine plan goes horribly, uncontrollably wrong. People who shouldn't get...

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First images from Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Prodigious Spivet


The Young & Prodigious Spivet is Jeunet's first foray into 3D
Apr 09
// Hubert Vigilla
I really loved Jean-Pierre Jeunet's and Marc Caro's films in high school and college, wearing down my VHS copies of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, and watching Amelie pretty regularly on fancy, new-fangled DVD. I...
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Trailer: Before Midnight


Mar 29
// Liz Rugg
The third installment in Richard Linklater's series of movies -- which include indie darlings Before Sunrise and Before Sunset -- Before Midnight finds characters Celine and Jesse (played by Julie Deply and Ethan Hawke) in t...
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Trailer: Something in the Air


Mar 15
// Liz Rugg
Something in the Air is the newest tale from director Olivier Assayas. Assayas is well-known for his 2010 TV mini-series Carlos, which told the tale of revolutionary/terrorist Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, also known ...
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Trailer: Mood Indigo


Mar 12
// Liz Rugg
Mood Indigo (titled L'Écume des Jours or "Froth on the Daydream" in French) is director Michel Gondry's newest dealings with love and loss. With such previous heavy-hitters as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and...

RFC Review: The Suicide Shop

Mar 05 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]214709:39746:0[/embed] The Suicide Shop (Le magasin des suicides)Director: Patrice LeconteRating: TBDCountry: FranceRelease Date: TBD The world of The Suicide Shop is one of cold, gray drudgery. Long-faced people crowd the rainy streets. We watch a weary pigeon swoop around the city's uninspired utilitarian architecture, dodging dozens of jumpers from tall buildings. Eventually, the pigeon itself succumbs to its own depression. But there's an odd layer of bureaucratic farce to all this death. Just like in real life, if you attempt to kill yourself, you can receive a citation and have to pay a fine. The cops show up a few times in the film to stuff tickets into the mouths of the recently deceased, leaving them where they lay as they drive off. That's where the Suicide Shop fits into the story. Want to avoid a fine and make sure you do the job right? Then head to the dark alley and enter that well-lit, cute-looking boutique. The store's been run by the Tuvache family for a few generations, and we learn about how great it is in song. "Vivre suicide" the family rejoices (rough translation: "long live suicide"), or at least it's the closest they come to rejoicing. Enthuse is more like it, but not a happy kind of enthusing. The Tuvaches don't enjoy life and rarely smile. Anything jovial they say may ruin the sale of poison, a noose, a razor blade, or a poisonous snake. It takes the depressed to help depressives kill themselves. The Tuvaches are like the Addams Family on downers. Three of the family members are named after famous suicides. The two Tuvache children are named after Vincent van Gogh and Marilyn Monroe, and the Tuvache patriarch is named after Yukio Mishima, the great Japanese novelist who killed himself in 1970 by committing seppukku after a failed government coup. The world gets upended for the family with the birth of a son named Alain. Rather than hating life, Alain loves living. He's a happy child who hums and skips and throws paper airplanes. Alain's parents are afraid their son will ruin the family business, but as he gets older, that's precisely what he wants. The Suicide Shop is Patrice Leconte's (The Man on a Train, Ridicule) first attempt at directing animation, though the animation is oddly flat. That's part of a choice on his part, however, and it works in a charming way. Rather than having a traditional hand-drawn look or the gloss of CG, The Suicide Shop is more like watching something that's part flash and part paper puppet show. There are very clear foregrounds and backgrounds in each frame, and the puppet Tuvaches zip through them, often occupying the same middle plane(s) in each shot. Only occasionally will you get a sense of full depth in a frame. Watching The Suicide Shop in 3D adds to the 2D puppet effect. It's almost like watching an animated pop-up book in that regard, and it's quaint. Like most films, the 3D doesn't enhance the story, but it doesn't detract from The Suicide Shop either. Leconte's film wouldn't work if it didn't embrace the gallows humor. In addition to the suicide tickets, Mishima only sells his customers a single bullet. "You only need one if you do it right," he says. The film injects dark material with moments of levity because the story is more about enjoying life than about wanting to die. I think sometimes it takes those dark hours of the soul to make you realize why life is worth living. Alain Tuvache experiences these dark hours only dimly, and only because everyone else around him is so depressed and can't see how beautiful it is to live. When Alain tells his sister she's beautiful, she runs off crying and insists that she's ugly; the rest of the family is also appalled at Alain's tactlessly polite behavior. Alain and his friends seem the only change agents in this sickly little world. At one point Alain even sings (if I remember the translated lyric right) "death to suicide" or "death to death." All smiles, he rallies his friends in an act of life-affirming revolution/sabotage. Just when it seems like the story's winding down, it goes on an extra absurd beat, and all the better. In some ways The Suicide Shop is too short even though it's thoroughly entertaining. As gray and depressing as its reality is, I wanted to linger in the shop and streets a little longer, and especially learn more about Vincent Tuvache, the teenage artist who draws gothy skulls, landscapes, and landscapes that incorporate gothy skulls. But it's not the briskness of the storytelling that's the weak link in The Suicide Shop. It's the music. The first song that introduces us to the Tuvache family and their store is fun -- a mix of gloom and goofiness reminiscent of Danny Elfman. But the rest of the songs blend together, and there are no memorable melodies. It's not bad music by any means, but it lacks a sense of personality. One lyric later in the movie stands out, however: Life is a plate of diarrhea served with a good Bordeaux. It's better than Forrest Gump's "Life is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're gonna get." (The X-Files's riff on that is great, by the way -- "Life is like a box of chocolates: a cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable, because all you get back is another box of chocolates.") I think the silliness of the diarrhea and wine analogy exemplifies the best qualities of The Suicide Shop and its underlying message, which is the stuff of old school French existentialism: life can be hard and it can wear you down; it can be lonely and miserable, too, but these feelings will end, even if just briefly. After you clean your plate, at least you can look forward to something that'll cleanse your palate and make life worth living. Death to death. [The Suicide Shop will screen will screen at the IFC Center on Thursday, March 7th and at the Walter Reade Theater on Friday, March 8th and Saturday, March 9th.]
The Suicide Shop Review photo
An animated musical dark comedy about a family-run business that helps you die
[Over the next few days we'll be looking at some of the films from Rendez Vous with French Cinema 2013, an annual showcase of contemporary and classic French films running from February 28th to March 10th. The screenings will...


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