Specific yet elusive, as in Olivier Assayas’ best work, “Clouds of Sils Maria” rises to the challenge that longtime colleague Juliette Binoche’s offered him: create a role for a woman of fifty that’s not all about a romantic relationship. What he came up with resembles a number of other movies, including a hint of “All About Eve,” as a professional triangle oscillates between her mid-career actress, her devoted and indispensable assistant, juggling multiple iPhones, Blackberrys and agendas (Kristen Stewart), and an ambitious young actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) repeating a role she played years earlier. (There’s also something of Joseph Mankiewicz in Assayas’ taut, gnomic gab, with professional status and personal moment indicated in snappish, contemporary dialogue.) Binoche’s performance matches Assayas’ visual style, alternately brittle and supple, while Stewart is laconic yet electric in conveying her character’s quiet, emphatic passion for her boss. Read the rest of this entry »
Taiwanese cinema grandmaster Hou Hsiao-hsien turned sixty-eight the day I wrote this, a melancholy day if only for the fact that he’s been working on his wuxia martial arts period piece, “The Assassin” for five years, neglecting the masterpieces of observation of the modern world he could have been making. The Siskel’s essential six-film 35mm retrospective of his work continues with the still-modern fragrance of “Millennium Mambo” (2001) and the sorrowful play of history, memory and performance in “Good Men, Good Women” (1995). Read the rest of this entry »
In multiple countries in greater Europe, right-wing parties have risen to power, perhaps to most dramatic effect in contemporary Hungary. In Kornél Mundruczó’s fantastic and often fantastically beautiful, Budapest-set revenge parable, there may or may not be useful allegory in the casting out of thirteen-year-old Lili’s dog, Hagen, for being “unfit” as a mixed-breed dog. Both Hagen and Lili search for a return to “home,” and for each other, but in the meantime the once-domesticated dog rounds up a canine cohort to face the cruelty that is the human race. It’s a child’s tale, in a way, but with hundreds and hundreds of extra sets of teeth. Read the rest of this entry »
In “The Salt of the Earth,” Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado capture a bittersweet, elegant slice of life of four decades in the career of the great Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado and his epic studies of nature and man’s cruelty. Wenders has said that the collaboration between himself and Salgado’s son almost resulted in two disparate films, but the final mingling of approaches works neatly, especially with the imagery seen on the big screen. Wenders hasn’t had the good fortune to make fiction features in years as richly rewarding as “Kings of the Road,” “The American Friend,” “Paris, Texas,” “Wings Of Desire” and “The State of Things,” but both his personal fine arts photography and his recent documentary work, such as “Pina,” are masterful. The Oscar-nominated “The Salt of the Earth” is no exception. “A photographer is someone literally drawing with light,” Wenders muses before we meet Salgado, in fact, before we see the first of the generous selection of his work, “writing and rewriting the world with light and shadows.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
A movie about movies and about butterflies and two lovers deep in the woods, dense with influence, about decadence and desire, the third feature by Peter Strickland (“Berberian Sound Studio,” “Katalin Varga”), “The Duke Of Burgundy” dabbles as well in entomology, taxonomies, field recordings, roleplaying and domination. In a European never-neverland (shot in Hungary, largely in a fancy, secluded turn-of-the-century house), the apparently dominant Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, “Borgen”) and the seemingly submissive Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) occasionally venture into a larger world confined to the presentations of butterfly scholars, but mostly remain at home, engaging in ritualistic sadomasochistic roleplaying.
“Burgundy” is a keen pastiche of 1970s Euro-sleaze and high art, and looks amazing on the big screen, calmly florid, precise yet bonkers, bristling with detail. It’s preposterous, delirious and delicious. “It’s great to get it into the cinema, such a short life in the cinema these days, isn’t it?” Strickland says in his firm, fast British accent at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in November 2014. Read the rest of this entry »
The city’s most teemingly eclectic film festival attains its majority with its eighteenth edition: sixty-one new features from twenty-seven countries. Highlights include the Oscar-submitted films from six nations, including Hungary’s expressive canine fable, “White God” and entries from Austria, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Spain. New work by established directors like Ettore Scola, Jessica Hausner, Bruno Dumont and Christian Petzold are scheduled. Other highlights: “The Life Of Riley,” which may not be shown otherwise in Chicago, the final film by the great Alain Resnais, released when he was ninety-one, is another one of his meta-theatrical, semi-surrealist japes. Read the rest of this entry »
Flamboyant yet controlled, paced yet shocking, and all about the feeling of letting go in pure, unbridled revenge, Damián Szifron’s six-story omnibus has the fancy and fury of a fine Almodóvar picture. “Wild Tales” (Relatos salvajes) is a pitch-black comedy, with a pre-credits sequence that raucously sets the tone for the gloriously preposterous complications to come. (It’s a contender for the best foreign language Oscar, and if the Academy doesn’t love “Ida”…) It would be foul to give away the rocket blast of those opening five minutes, but let’s say its premise mingles Buñuel, Almodóvar, contemporary Argentine comedy and the contours of a dream where figures of your past assemble but, undreamlike, the dreamer takes control, arriving at the source of all of his problems with wondrously shocking finality. The stories aren’t linked except by Argentine locales high and low, captured crisply and colorfully. Read the rest of this entry »
Tomm Moore’s deliciously illustrated “Song of the Sea” is his Oscar-nominated follow-up to “The Secret of Kells,” nominated in 2009. Circling the Irish legend of the Selkies, mythical creatures that are seals in the sea but human once onshore, Moore finds further fodder in Celtic magic, with lush, lovely watercolor animation that worships the dance of light (and Studio Ghibli) to hold the eye even as characterization and storytelling become cute. Read the rest of this entry »
Abderrahmane Sissako’s Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu,” shot in Mauritania but set in northern Mali near the title city, is a lovely, cogent, melancholy, quietly damning portrait of radical religious fundamentalists arrogantly, clumsily taking over a small town. Inspired by a 2012 murder by jihadists of a couple in their thirties by stoning, Sissako keenly observes cruelty, folly and tenderness during the year-long occupation and its wave of irrational destruction. “The film, through the couple Kidane and Satima, insists on one essential point,” he writes, “that violence will never be able to kill love. You can kill a man, but you cannot kill the love he has for his daughter, his wife. This is fundamental, and is the key to victory over barbarity. It is how we defy extremism. They will not have the last word. Beauty and dignity will triumph.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Ray Pride
Michael Mann’s “Blackhat” is not Ridley Scott’s “The Counselor,” but it’s in the same mulish, rarified league.
While the 2015 Oscar announcements led to much journalistic handwringing, online and off, with a dearth of nominations for women and people of color—overlooking the systemic issue of the dearth of mainstream movies being financed and produced for women and people of color—there’s not as much clamor about the handful of white male filmmakers who are presently productive into their eighth decade.
Michael Mann turns seventy-two in February, Sir Ridley Scott is seventy-seven, and while we’re at it, Jean-Luc Godard is eighty-four. “Blackhat,” “The Counselor” and “Farewell to Language” are all discernibly, definitively, obstinately, obdurately, the work of old men. Artists of a certain age, to be sure, but also personal, auteurist, in the most classic fashion. Late films by Alfred Hitchcock have been a subject for such discussion for decades, and Entertainment Weekly’s Mark Harris tweeted that “Blackhat” may well be Mann’s “Marnie,” that is, a movie that at first glance seems hermetic, compacted, a concatenation of images, fixations and stylistic devices. Read the rest of this entry »