By Ray Pride
Writers are told to kill their darlings, but, truly, they have to kill their masters. Murder them in their sleep.
Sometimes, often enough, I fret I’m too fixated on how authors and filmmakers are in thrall to their forebears, but the concern is always in the service of figuring out how they’ve burned through them. At the beginning and into the middle of the career of super-Swede Ingmar Bergman, critics would often pin the influence of Scandinavian dramatists like August Strindberg onto his work, but no one got it right until the writer, probably some Brit whose name I can’t recall, who said, you can see the influences, but no one else influenced by those playwrights had come anywhere near close to making an Ingmar Bergman movie. (Or being Ingmar fucking Bergman.)
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“Force Majeure,” Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film, is a movie that’s even better on a second viewing, when its dramatic craft is more apparent yet even more compelling. Set at a French ski resort, Ruben Östlund’s brilliant white-on-white black comedy is a precise, exacting psychological horror about the fissures in a bourgeoisie Swedish marriage, highlighted after a split-second’s reaction to a “controlled avalanche.” “How do human beings react in sudden and unexpected situations, such as a catastrophe?” Östlund has written of what he rightfully describes as his “existential drama.” “The story concerns a family on holiday that witnesses an avalanche and the father runs away, terrified. When it is over, he is ashamed because he has succumbed to his primal fear.” Read the rest of this entry »
At the age of seventy-five, Volker Schlöndorff sustains the stalwart political filmmaking he’s mastered since the early days of the New German Cinema with the dynamic verbal duels of “Diplomacy.” Set in Paris in 1944 as the Allies advance, Schlöndorff’s not-at-all-stagy adaptation of an award-winning play pits two men against one another: the German general (Niels Arestrup) whose order from Hitler is to level the “city of light” and the Swedish diplomat (André Dussollier) who must convince him it’s not such a great idea to follow the devastation of Berlin with such a barbaric act. As played out by Dussollier and Arestrup in front of Schlöndorff’s energetic camera, “Diplomacy” has all the stuff of a suspense thriller. Read the rest of this entry »
The dream life of angles: In Pascale Ferran’s “Bird People,” at a Hilton hotel near Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport, Gary, an American engineer (Josh Charles) who squirrels himself away while impulsively on the run from his life (job, wife, encroaching middle age) meets a young French maid, Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) whose fantasies are altogether surprising. The parallel tracks of their stories, the hopes of each for transforming their lives, enchant as much as what seems like a fated union. While the film’s first half finds fascination in details of the quotidian of Audrey’s day-to-day life, “Bird People” finds its form once enough surreal details burst to the surface. (The title offers a clue to the film’s key flight of whimsy.) Two people, adrift, one observant, one not, near a place where others take flight each day: the conceit is plain, simple, wispy and largely lovely. Read the rest of this entry »
Long out of American theatrical release over rights issues, indispensable distributor Rialto Films presents an alluring 4K digital restoration of Alain Resnais’ hypnotic, visually ravishing, wholly essential first fiction feature, “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959), written by novelist Marguerite Duras. (Her screenplay was Oscar-nominated.) Time-fractured stream-of-consciousness is the order of the day in this masterpiece of the French New Wave, as well as musings on memory and the powerful hold of guilt. Emmanuelle Riva is a French actress working on an antiwar film in bustling, post-War Hiroshima, and her fears unfold in her confessions to the Japanese architect (Eiji Okada) with whom she has an affair. Read the rest of this entry »
Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s “20,000 Days On Earth,” is stellar, a rich, luxuriant, calibrated auto-portrait of Nick Cave, not quite fact, not quite fiction, told as if it were taking place in a single day, in words, music, a first-time psychotherapy session, and personal hallucinations with former musical partners Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld in his car as he drives alongside the sea near his Brighton, England home. It sounds like so much attenuated tosh, but this bold, unique gem is bright, funny, brooding, hopeful, momentarily visionary, a wounded beauty exploring the creative process in a fresh and oft-brilliant fashion. Read the rest of this entry »
“Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”
By Ray Pride
Along with a hundred-plus features and shorts from around the world, the fiftieth edition of the Chicago International Film Festival includes notable appearances and master classes, including Michael Moore presenting his restored version of “Roger & Me,” a film that was nearly lost; producer-turned-online distributor Ted Hope talking about his memoir-manifesto, “Hope For Film,” and Oliver Stone, with a director’s cut of “Natural Born Killers” and “Alexander: Ultimate Edition,” a fourth version of his 2004 epic, reportedly with a warm handful of homoerotic content restored to its 207-minute duration. An Isabelle Huppert tribute will trail four features, including Michael Haneke’s “The Piano Teacher” and Claire Denis’ “White Material,” both shown in 35mm. Kathleen Turner will tell her truth, and eighty-one-year-old Hollywood Renaissance bright light Bob Rafelson will show his 1990 exploration epic “Mountains of the Moon” before presenting a master class to Columbia students, a rapscallion of a raconteur when I heard him speak a few years ago.
Notable locals include the world premiere of Chicago filmmaker Michael Caplan’s long-in-the-works “Algren” bio, as well as up-and-coming local auteur Stephen Cone’s “This Afternoon,” mingling his favored themes of sex and religion. Read the rest of this entry »
Mia Wasikowska radiates elemental strength in John Curran’s adaptation of “Tracks,” Robyn Davidson’s 1980 chronicle of her 1975 solo pilgrimage from Alice Springs, Australia across nearly 2,000 miles of desert in the company of a dog and four volatile, once-feral camels. The unlikely trip is financed by National Geographic, who sends photographer Rick Smolan (Adam Driver) at signposts along the way to mythologize her youthful determination (and beauty, which Smolan is smitten by). Curran’s earlier movies, including “We Don’t Live Here Anymore” (2004) and “Stone” (2010), demonstrated a similar willingness to keep the drama on simmer, to slowly accrue sensation rather than goosing the narrative. Read the rest of this entry »
Xavier Dolan by Clara Palardy.
Oft-expressed concerns about the “mainstreaming” of gay characters and subjects and how that would affect gay film festivals may be misplaced in the tectonic economic shifts of contemporary filmmaking and distribution. By advance word and by the range of subjects, the thirty-second edition of Reeling, like many other recent film festivals, looks like we may be in a brave new world of possibilities. A few I’ve liked: “Lilting,” with Ben Whishaw as a young gay man mourning a lover whose Cambodian mother did not know he was gay is low-key and touching, even more so in the light of Whishaw recently coming out. The intense psychological thriller, “Tom At The Farm” was made just before “Mommy,” the latest over-the-over-the-top melodrama by twenty-five-year-old Xavier Dolan, who shared a Cannes Jury Prize with eighty-three-year-old Jean-Luc Godard. While it lacks the peacock vainglory of the Québécois wunderkind’s fantasticated “Laurence Anyways,” “Tom” toys with the kind of ambiguous psychological turns that many French masters have done so well, including Clouzot and Chabrol. Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
“Starred Up” is ominous from its first instants, the sounds beginning with the very first frame under presentation credits, somewhere from inner space, like the confines of a skull pressured by the slightest sounds of a low febrile hum in a constrained space that echoes from other, nearby constrained spaces.
In a word: prison. In a world: a prisoner.
A Greek tragedy is in the offing. Violent nineteen-year-old convict Eric (Jack O’Connell, “Eden Lake,” Angelina Jolie’s upcoming “Unbroken”) has been “starred up”: slang for being transferred from a juvenile jail to an adult facility, which happens to be the prison where his estranged father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) has long been incarcerated.
The first seven minutes follow the succession of double-checks and humiliations involved in his induction, or even ingestion into the system, seven long minutes to get him into his cell, where Eric immediately snaps a disposable razor and blazes a toothbrush to create a provisional shank for what turns out to be imminent usage. The gentle float and sway of the Steadicam also suggests instability and the potential for sudden deadly motions, contrasting the naturalism of the setting of the cell block with a tensile, cumulatively dreamy-cum-nightmarish use of framing and cutting. “Starred Up” confines itself to an actual prison facility, and was shot in sequence with two editors cutting the film together daily to insure a rare immediacy in an all-too-familiar genre. The conflicts you expect from angry men under pressure come quickly, but within an unforeseen atmosphere. Read the rest of this entry »