29 April 2008

Trois en plus

Yes, it looks as if one of the big "oversights" of the Cannes Film Festival announcement earlier this week was Fernando Meirelles' Blindness, but it's now confirmed that the film will open Cannes, out of competition. The film stars Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Danny Glover and Gael García Bernal and will be released theatrically in the US from Miramax in September. Additionally, Laurent Cantet's (Human Resources, Time Out) Entre les murs and James Gray's (We Own the Night, The Yards) Two Lovers with Gwyneth Paltrow, Elias Koteas, Joaquin Phoenix and Isabella Rossellini will also be screened in competition this year. Can someone please explain to me why Gray's films keep popping up at Cannes, particularly after We Own the Night was reportedly booed this past year?

In other news, it looks as if the Coen brothers' new film Burn After Reading, a comedy, will be the opener of this year's Venice Film Festival which begins sometime in August. The film stars Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Tilda Swinton, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Focus Features will have the film out in the US in September.

+ More Mathieu Amalric

New Yorker also announced the film The Heartbeat Detector [La question humaine], directed by Nicolas Klotz, and starring the ever-popular Mathieu Amalric (who seems to show up in just about every film from France these days). The DVD will be available on 22 July, although you can rent it now from Netflix exclusively. Also check out Eric's blog for more information on some New Yorker discs for the summer, including Peter Watkins' Privilege.

André Téchiné + Melville in July

Lionsgate, through Studio Canal, will be releasing a 4-film boxset of the films of André Téchiné in July, similar to the manner they did with Godard and Buñuel. The set will include two previously available titles (Wild Reeds [Les roseaux sauvages] and My Favorite Season [Ma saison préférée]) as well as two R1 debuts (I Don't Kiss [J'embrasse pas] and Hotel America [Hôtel des Amériques]). Lionsgate will also re-release Jean-Pierre Melville's final film, Un flic, under the title Dirty Money on the same day (22 July).


Cindy, the Doll Is Mine - dir. Bertrand Bonello - 2005 - France

I suppose, with me, it was bound to happen. It was bound to happen that Asia Argento's power over me would become uncontrollable... and with Bertrand Bonello's short, Cindy: The Doll Is Mine, it's happened. Within the past two months, I've probably watched more of Ms. Argento's films than most have seen in their entire life, and while I have have gotten frustrated around the time I saw Tony Gatlif's Transylvania, it all changed with Olivier Assayas' Boarding Gate. A lot of people, myself included, may suggest that Ms. Argento isn't exactly the most capable of actresses, but in my book, that means nothing now. Any detractor of her "acting ability" obviously hasn't seen this, and even if you had, you don't understand the appeal. Argento is like Grace Jones to me: this utterly fascinating persona of media personality... one we've never seen in quite such a way before. Here, she plays both artist Cindy Sherman and model Cindy Sherman, to the most effective of extents, examining what, perhaps, it truly is to be artist and subject. Bonello (Tiresia) received support from Sherman herself, but is that so surprising? Is Cindy: The Doll Is Mine not just the perfect extension of Sherman's self portraiture? Does it not become even more fascinating seeing someone else interpret this...? (Much more so than Sherman's own directorial debut Office Killer) And is Argento not the perfectly molded subject to convey this? I officially have a woman of my dreams, and I just hope she stops acting in her father's films.

28 April 2008

Study Up, Kids!

Unlike in the past few years, particularly this past one, the line up for this year’s Cannes film festival isn’t heavily populated by the international titans of cinema, but a handful of directors on a smaller scale, likely not as recognizable by name. Certainly, there’s some bigwigs in the competition this year (Clint Eastwood, Steven Soderbergh, the Dardenne brothers, Wim Wenders and Atom Egoyan), but here’s a roadmap to get you better acquainted with some of the directors you may not have heard of in preparation for the 14th of May. I've chosen not to do a rundown for Eastwood, Soderbergh or Charlie Kaufman... because, well, you should already be familiar with them.

Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Three Monkeys)

Hailing from Turkey, Nuri Bilge Ceylan isn’t a stranger to the festival. He went home with the Grand Prix in 2002 for Distant (Uzak), his third feature after the lesser-known Clouds of May (Mayis sikintisi) (1999) and Kasaba (1998). Ceylan returned to the festival in 2006 with Climates (Iklimler) which he also wrote and starred in. You’ll find many comparisons to the great Antonioni in Ceylan’s work, which is often characterized as slow and quiet cinema.

Availability: Distant is available on DVD through New Yorker in the US, Climates from Zeitgeist and Clouds of May and Kasaba can both be found R2 from Artificial Eye as a double-feature. Included on both the US and UK versions of Distant is Ceylan’s first short, Koza (1995).

Arnaud Desplechin (Un conte de Noël)

Un conte de Noël will mark the French director’s fourth film to play in competition at Cannes. La sentinelle, about a man’s obsession with a severed human head, was his first in 1992, followed by My Sex Life… Or How I Got into an Argument (Comment je me suis dispute… ma vie sexuelle), with Mathieu Amalric, Emmanuelle Devos, Jeanne Balibar and Chiara Mastroianni, in 1996 and his English-language Esther Kahn, with Summer Phoenix and Ian Holm, in 2000. Since then he has directed Léo, en jouant ‘Dans la compagnie des hommes’ (Playing ‘In the Company of Men’) (2003) and Rois & reine (Kings and Queen) (2004), with Amalric and Devos, which premiered at that year’s Venice Film Festival.

Availability: La sentinelle and My Sex Life are both available from Fox Lorber (though both appear to be out-of-print); Esther Kahn and Kings & Queen are both available from Wellspring, and both Léo and his first film, La vie des morts (1991), are only available in France from Gaumont and Cahiers du Cinéma, respectively.

Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir)

Waltz with Bashir will mark Israeli writer/director Ari Folman’s third feature film, following Saint Clara (Clara Hakedosha) (1996), which he co-directed with Ori Sivan, and Made in Israel (2001). In additiont o his film work, Folman has written for several Israeli television programs, as well as an episode for HBO’s In Treatment.

Availability: Saint Clara is available on DVD from Kino, and I couldn’t find a DVD release for Made in Israel.

Philippe Garrel (La frontière de l’aube)

Phillippe Garrel has been making films for over thirty years, but only with the emergence of his son Louis’ acting career and their film together, Regular Lovers (Les amants réguliers) (2005), has the international community started paying attention. In the late 60s and early 70s, Garrel worked with his then-partner Nico with several projects.

Availability: Regular Lovers is the only of his works to be available on DVD in the US, from Zeitgeist. J’entends plus la guitare (1991), Les baisers de secours (Emergency Kisses) (1989), La naissance de l’amour (The Birth of Love) (1993) Sauvage innocence (Wild Innocence) (2000), Le vent de la nuit (The Winds of the Night) (1993) and Elle a passé tant d’heures sous les sunlights… (1985) are available in France through Cahiers du Cinéma, as well as Le révélateur (1968) and Le lit de la verge (1969) through re:voir.

Matteo Garrone (Gomorra)

Gomorra will be Italian director Matteo Garrone’s first In Competition premiere at this year’s Cannes. Previously he directed two haunting features, The Embalmer (L’imbalsamatore) (2002), a strangely homoerotic tale of a taxidermist’s new assistant, and Primo amore (First Love) (2004), about an obsessive relationship where a man forces his new girlfriend into starvation. Gomorra is his sixth feature film.

Availability: The Embalmer is available in the US through First Run Features and Primo amore from Strand Releasing.

Jia Zhangke (24 City)

The Chinese director has gained quite a following in the film theorist circles, though not much success outside of that world. He gained popularity in the States with Platform (2000), Unknown Pleasures (2002), The World (2004) and Still Life (2006), again allowing for critics to make comparisons to Antonioni and even Godard in his stark depiction of rambling youth.

Availability: Platform and Unknown Pleasures are available in the US from New Yorker, The World from Zeitgeist. In the UK, the Artificial Eye Unknown Pleasures disc includes his film Xiao Wu (Pickpocket) (1997), and in France, the Still Life disc from mk2 features his documentary Dong (2006). Still Life has yet to receive a DVD release in the US from New Yorker, but is available in both France and China, from Warner, currently.

Eric Khoo (My Magic)

Singapore-based director Khoo achieved modest international success with his feature Be with Me from 2005. Previously, he elevated Singapore’s cinema to more widespread attraction with the films Mee Pok Man (1995) and 12 Storeys (1997). He has also directed a number of shorts since 1990. My Magic will be his fourth feature.

Availability: Be with Me is available in the US through Film Movement, Mee Pok Man through Kimstim. 12 Storeys is unavailable in the US but has been released in Singapore through Alliance.

Lucrecia Martel (La mujer sin cabeza)

Argentine director Lucrecia Martel has been selected as one of the filmmakers to keep an eye out for in this year’s festival. Granted, if you had seen her previous films, La niña santa (The Holy Girl) (2004) or La ciénaga (2001), you would have known what an amazing filmmaker Martel is beforehand. La mujer sin cabeza is her third feature, though she’s directed several shorts both live-action and animated.

Availability: The Holy Girl is available in the US through HBO, and La ciénaga from Home Vision, which also includes her short Rey muerto (1995).

Brillante Mendoza (Serbis)

Philippine director Brillant Mendoza will be showing his latest film In Competition for the first time this year. Prior to this, many of his films have made the international film circuit, becoming one of the most prominent voices in both contemporary queer and Philippine cinema.

Availability: Only two of his seven features, all made within three years, are available in the United States: The Masseur (2005) from Picture This! and Pantasya (2007) from Water Bearer Films.

Kornél Mundruczó (Delta)

As an actor, director, writer and production designer, Hungarian Kornél Mundruczó is a busy young man. Previously, his Johanna (2005), an avant-garde opera, was a controversial out-of-competition entry at Cannes. He’s also directed a number of shorts and features before Delta, many of the recent ones with actress Orsolya Tóth.

Availability: None of Mundruczó’s films have been made available in the US, although Tartan released Johanna in the UK.

Paolo Sorrentino (Il divo)

Italian director Paolo Sorrentino, along with Matteo Garrone, is a fine representation of the state of Italian cinema, a nation who has never been able to rival their extreme popularity from the 60s and early 70s. Sorrentino’s films haven’t made it to the US, but have been rather successful in the UK and other parts of Western Europe.

Availability: The Consequences of Love (Le conseguenze dell’amore) (2004) and The Family Friend (L’amico di famiglia) (2006) are both available in the UK from Artificial Eye.

Pablo Trapero (Leonera)

Pablo Trapero will be the second Argentine director to show at this year’s competition, along with Lucrecia Martel. Leonera will be his first film to play in competition as well.

Availability: Rolling Family (Familia rodante) (2004) and Crane World (Mundo grúa) (1999) are both available in the US from Palm Pictures and Facets, respectively. El bonaerense (2002) and Born and Bred (Nacido y criado) (2006) are only available in the UK from Optimum Releasing and Axiom Films respectively.

Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (Le silence de Lorna)

Availability: Palme d'Or winner L'enfant (2005) is available from Sony, La promesse (1996) and The Son (Le fils) (2002) through New Yorker. Their other Palme d'Or winner Rosetta (1999) is not available in the US, but can be found in the UK and France from Artificial Eye and TF1 Vidéo respectively.

Atom Egoyan (Adoration)

Availability: Where the Truth Lies (2005) is available in its uncut version from Sony. The Adjuster (1991) was once available from MGM but is now out-of-print; it still appears to be in print in Canada from Alliance. Exotica (1994) from Miramax is also out-of-print but still readily available at video stores and used; Miramax also released a 2-disc set of Ararat (2002), which is still in print. The Sweet Hereafter (1997) can be found from New Line, and Felicia's Journey (1999) from Artisan. Zeitgeist has also released the rest of his pre-Exotica films, which includes Speaking Parts (1989), Next of Kin (1984) and Family Viewing (1987), and Calendar (1993).

Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas (Linha de Passe)

Availability: The directors have worked together on three films: Paris je t'aime (2006) from First Look, Midnight (1998) and Foreign Land (Terra Estrangeira) (1996), both from Fox Lorber. Separately, Salles directed Behind the Sun (Abril Despedaçado) (2001) from Miramax, Central Station (Central do Brasil) (1998) from Columbia Tri-Star, the American remake of Dark Water (2005) from Touchstone and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004) from Focus Features.

Wim Wenders (The Palermo Shooting)

Availability: Palme d'Or winner Paris, Texas (1984) is available from 20th Century Fox, and Best Director winner Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin) (1987) from MGM and its Grand Prix-winning sequel Faraway, So Close (In weiter Ferne, so nah!) (1993). He co-directed Beyond the Clouds (Al di là delle nuvole) with Michelangelo Antonioni, but the Image disc is out-of-print in the States. It is available, however, in France. Other available titles include Buena Vista Social Club (1999) from Artisan, Don't Come Knocking (2005) from Sony, The End of Violence (1997) from MGM, Hammett (1982) from Paramount, Land of Plenty (2004) from IFC Films, Lisbon Story (1994) from Lionsgate, and The Million Dollar Hotel (2000) from Studio. Anchor Bay has released two box-sets which include Lightning Over Water (1980), Notebook on Cities and Clothes (Aufzeichnungen zu Kleidern und Städten) (1989), The American Friend (Der Amerikanische Freund) (1977); and a larger one which also includes Room 666 (Chambre 666) (1982), Tokyo-Ga (1985), Wrong Move (Falsche Bewegung) (1975), The Scarlet Letter (Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe) (1973) and Trick of Light (Die Gebrüder Skladanowsky) (1995) in addition to the three titles above. Some of the discs are available separately. Until the End of the World (Bis ans Ende der Welt) (1991) is not available in the US, but is in various formats around the world including the 279-minute version in Germany from Kinowelt and the 158-minute theatrical version in the UK from Metrodome. Alice in den Städten (1974), Der Stand der Dinge (The State of Things) (1982) and Im Lauf der Zeit (Kings of the Road) (1976) are available in Germany from Kinowelt.

Get busy.

23 April 2008

Un Certain Regard

The line-up for the Un Certain Regard category was also announced today with a few familiar faces. The line-up is as follows:

- Versailles - dir. Pierre Schöller (screenwriter of Hotel Harabati) - with Guillaume Depardieu
- Johnny Mad Dog - dir. Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
- Sol Cowboy - dir. Thomas Clay
- Wolke 9 - dir. Andreas Dresen (Summer in Berlin)
- O' Horten - dir. Bent Hamer (Factotum)
- Tokyo! - dir. Bong Joon-ho, Michel Gondry, Leos Carax
- Tulpan - dir. Sergei Dvortsevoy
- I Want to See [Je veux voir] - dir. Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige - with Catherine Deneuve
- Le Sel de la mer - dir. Annemarie Jacir
- Los Bastardos - dir. Amat Escalante
- A Festa da Menina Morta - dir. Matheus Nachtergaele (an actor from City of God making his directorial debut)
- Afterschool - dir. Antonio Campos
- Tokyo Sonata - dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Doppelganger, Bright Future)
- Ting che - dir. Chung Mong-Hong
- Yi ban Haishui, Yi ban huoyan - dir. Liu Fendou (writer of Shower, making his directorial debut)
- Wendy and Lucy - dir. Kelly Reichardt (Old Joy) - with Will Patton, Larry Fessenden, John Robinson
- Tyson - dir. James Toback (Two Girls and a Guy, When Will I Be Loved)

Thanks to GreenCine Daily for the updates. And I must second one of the reviewer's disappointment that Claire Denis' latest, White Material, with Isabelle Huppert, Nicolas Duvauchelle and Isaach De Bankolé was either not ready in time or not selected. The same goes for Bertrand Bonello's De la guerre, with Asia Argento, which also makes zero appearances this year from last year's princess of Cannes.

Cannes 08!

Looks like Vicky Cristina Barcelona will in fact play at Cannes, though Out of Competition. And, by the way, who the fuck gave Jennifer Chambers Lynch money to make another movie? Anyway, here's the official line-up.

- Three Monkeys - dir. Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Climates, Distant)
- Le silence de Lorna - dir. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
- Un conte de Noël - dir. Arnaud Desplechin (Kings & Queen) - with Catherine Deneuve, Matheiu Amalric, Chiarra Mastroianni, Emmanuelle Devos, Melvil Poupaud, Hippolyte Giradot
- Changeling - dir. Clint Eastwood - with Angelina Jolie and Amy Ryan
- Adoration - dir. Atom Egoyan - with Scott Speedman, Rachel Blanchard
- Waltz with Bashir - dir. Ari Folman (Saint Clara)
- La frontière de l'aube - dir. Philippe Garrel - with Louis Garrel, Laura Smet
- Gomorra - dir. Matteo Garrone (The Embalmber)
- Synecdoche, New York - dir. Charlie Kaufman - with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams
- My Magic - dir. Eric Khoo (Be with Me)
- La mujer sin cabeza - dir. Lucrecia Martel (The Holy Girl)
- Serbis - dir. Brillante Mendoza (The Masseur)
- Delta - dir. Kornél Mundruczó (Johanna)
- Linha de Passe - dir. Walter Salles, Daniela Thomas
- Leonera - dir. Pablo Trapero (Born and Bred, Rolling Family)
- The Palermo Shooting - dir. Wim Wenders - with Milla Jovovich, Dennis Hopper, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, Sebastian Blomberg
- 24 City - dir. Jia Zhangke (Unknown Pleasures, The World)
- Che - dir. Steven Soderbergh (comprised of Guerrilla and The Argentine - with Benicio Del Toro, Franka Potente, and a bunch of others

Screening Out of Competition:
- Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull - dir. Steven Spielberg
- Kung Fu Panda - dir. Mark Osborne, John Stevenson - with Jack Black
- The Good, The Bad, The Weird - dir. Kim Ji-Woon (Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life)
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona - dir. Woody Allen

Special Screenings:
- Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired - dir. Marina Zenovich
- Ashes of Time Redux - dir. Wong Kar-wai
- C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons - dir. Daniel Leconte
- Sangue pazzo - dir. Marco Tullio Giordana (The Best of Youth)
- Of Time and the City - dir. Terence Davies

Midnight Screenings:
- Maradona - dir. Emir Kustarica
- Surveillance - dir. Jennifer Chambers Lynch - with Julia Ormond, Bill Pullman, Pell James, French Stewart
- The Chaser - dir. Na Hong-jin

Sean Penn will be the president of the jury (barf), with Sergio Castellitto, Natalie Portman, Alfonso Cuaron, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Alexandra Maria Lara and Rachid Bouchareb also on the jury.

And, no, contrary to some Internet rumors, the model in the poster is not Amanda Lepore... though it was shot by David Lynch.

21 April 2008

Cannes Frontier

As the date for the announcement of this year's Cannes line-up comes closer, Todd McCarthy of Variety has given some alternate updates from my previous post of speculation and anticipation. It looks as though Steven Soderbergh's twin pics, Guerilla and The Argentine, will not be ready in time for a premiere in May, and Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona has some financial issues which will prevent it from consideration this year. McCarthy names a few that I already mentioned, but here are a few more for you:

- Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's Le silence de Lorna [The Silence of Lorna] with Jérémie Renier (which sounds like a sure-bet to me, considering the Dardennes have taken home two Palmes d'Or in the past)
- Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Daydreams
- Matteo Garrone's (The Embalmer) Gomorra
- Rithy Panh's (S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine) Un barrage contre le Pacifique [The Sea Wall] with Isabelle Huppert and Gaspard Ulliel, based on the novel by Marguerite Duras
- Atom Egoyan's Adoration with Scott Speedman and Rachel Blanchard
- Theo Angelopoulos' The Dust of Time with Harvey Keitel, Willem Dafe, Alexandra Maria Lara, Irene Jacob, Bruno Ganz and Michel Piccoli
- Jia Zhang-ke's The Age of Tattoo
- Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata
- Baltasar Kormakur's (101 Reykjavik) White Night Wedding [Brúðguminn] with Hilmir Snær Guðnason
- Tokyo, from directors Bong Joon-ho (The Host), Leos Carax and Michel Gondry

The line-up is to be announced this week, so you can be sure I'll have the updates then.

Mothers, Tears, Sex and Watermelons

Savage Grace – dir. Tom Kalin – 2007 – USA/Spain

God bless Julianne Moore were the first words that left my mouth after Savage Grace, Tom Kalin’s nearly fifteen-year follow up to Swoon. How many American actresses can hiss so wonderfully the line, “Yeah, that’s right, I called you a cunt,” as the lovely Ms. Moore can? In Savage Grace, Moore plays Barbara Baekeland, the victim in one of the most famous murder cases of the 1970s, at the hands of her young son Anthony (Eddie Redmayne). Based on the book by Natalie Robins, Savage Grace isn’t so much concerned with the violent act itself (it comes within the film’s final moments) as the course of events leading up to it. Baekeland quite famously married above her class to Brooks (Stephen Dillane) around the time of WWII only to become a socialite of questionable moral density. As Barbara, Moore plays the woman as if she were scripted for Isabelle Huppert and molded into Julianne Moore. It’s a fiery performance, one that will likely detract most American viewers. As a film though, Savage Grace isn’t nearly as satisfying as Moore herself. It’s exotic and full of debauchery (think an American Ma mère, only much better, and not directed by Christophe Honoré) as the mother’s curious relationship to her son (here, a bee-stung lipped homosexual) forever shapes his erratic, antisocial leanings. Rounding out the rest of the cast are Hugh Dancy as Barbara’s “walker,” Belén Rueda as her Spanish high-society acquaintance, Elena Anaya as Anthony’s “beard” and Unax Uglade as his hunky lover Black Jake. Kalin has certainly been missed after his New Queer Cinema staple Swoon, and while Savage Grace certainly mirrors that film’s taste for offbeat romance and violence, Savage Grace’s provocation is left somewhat unfelt.

Water Lilies [Naissance des pieuvres] – dir. Céline Sciamma – 2007 – France

It seemed fitting that the first film I ever saw that focused around synchronized swimming would come from France. Certainly, I could imagine Disney envisioning whoever their new Linsdsay Lohan is to embark on such a competition, however there’s something that’s too theatrical and aesthetic for a brainless competitive sports film. Thus, the world of synchronized swimming has come to life, beautifully, in the form of three young girls’ sexual awakening. Sciamma’s film debut is smart, if familiar, which does and does not go where you want it to. Water Lilies hits a point midway through, particularly at the point where your fears that you’ve seen it all before begin to surface, in which the film actually does defy those fears. Ultimately, it’s not enough, but the film still stings of the awkwardness of adolescent sexuality.

The Wayward Cloud – dir. Tsai Ming-liang – 2005 – Taiwan/France

There’s much to be said about the cinema of Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang. I’m pretty much convinced that I like his films even before I see them, as was certainly the case with The Wayward Cloud, his musical about a drought taking over Taipei and the wordless love affair between a bored woman (Chen Shiang-chyi) and a porno actor (Lee Kang-sheng). However, as has always been the case, I end up liking his films less once I actually see them. Maybe I should just keep my good faith toward the director and not see his films, because, more often than not, they lack something essential to my continued patience. His films are, quite frankly, slow as hell, which is never a problem for me, but the extraordinary distance he places himself from his audience feels more often like vacancy than it does poignancy. He’s a brilliant image maker, but that’s not the same thing as a filmmaker… and after seeing this and The River, the guy has gusto. I just wish I could feel something, instead of the limbo between something and nothing. The last shot of the film, however, is breathtaking.

Mother of Tears: The Third Mother [La terza madre] – dir. Dario Argento – 2007 – Italy/USA

Alert Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mother of Tears is on the way! Truly, I cannot think of a worse film directed by a once-revered filmmaker. Certainly Francis Ford Coppola’s Jack comes to mind, and I’ve heard wind that Terry Gilliam’s Tideland could qualify, but Dario Argento’s Mother of Tears is in a league-of-its-own awful. I think I’ve seen films released by Full Moon Pictures that have exuded more skill than this. For those interested, Mother of Tears is the long-overdue conclusion to Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy, which begun with Suspiria, followed by Inferno. Here, the director enlists his too-game daughter, Asia, to play an art history student who may have unleashed the third mother from her grave, and, naturally, she’s the only one who can stop her. Ms. Argento has obviously grown out of her days with daddy, constantly associating herself with vital and challenging filmmakers, and it seems about time for her to opt out of acting in all her father’s films. You can almost read the embarrassment she’s feeling on her face while enduring Mother of Tears. Perhaps Argento was once a great innovator the genre of horror, but he’s taken such a step away from those days that you’d have never guessed Mother of Tears came from the same man who directed Opera or Suspiria. I can’t stress enough how putrid Mother of Tears is, but at the same time, I can’t deny that the film elicited some of the most rousing and unintentional howls from this reviewer. If I’m to say anything nice about this catastrophe, at least Argento isn’t afraid to kill children… violently.

Save the Divine Child

The Baby of Mâcon – dir. Peter Greenaway – 1993 – UK/Netherlands/France/Germany/Belgium

The Baby of Mâcon is a bizarre artifact of contemporary cinema; it’s a film whose extreme notoriety has rendered it nearly impossible for the casual filmgoer to actually behold. After a wretched premiere at Cannes in 1993, very few people got the opportunity to master their own feelings for Peter Greenaway’s wicked tale. This could be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the film never received US distribution, likely due to the negative reception and, perhaps, to the fact that, even after the success of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, Greenaway was still a very inaccessible filmmaker for the American public. And this was still back when he was making wonderful films. In fact, The Baby of Mâcon is likely his last great film, which still preserved his unique brand of black humor; think of it as the Arrested Development syndrome, tackling low-brow comedy in a high-brow manner. For Greenaway, most of his films focused on absurdity, particularly of the British upper class throughout the ages. “What beautiful cock and balls this baby has!” declares Julia Ormond in the film after the titular infant is born. The Baby of Mâcon also includes Greenaway’s personal equivalent of a fart joke (ie, something that will induce laughter from the given person, without fail), which would be bumbling idiots in powdered wigs. He loves that shit.

The case of The Baby of Mâcon actually remains one of the more unfortunate ones. It’s a stunning, shocking film, perfectly fitting for the provocative director. Yet I can’t begin to wonder if The Baby of Mâcon was released this decade that it might have seen the light of day somehow. Like Drowning by Numbers (though that particular film’s absence on DVD has something to do with the master print itself), The Baby of Mâcon is only available on DVD from Australia, and based on anything Greenaway’s done since The Pillow Book in 1997, public interest (even in film circles) isn’t going to encourage anyone on the other side of the world to release the film. I suppose there’s also a blasphemy quotient involved in The Baby of Mâcon’s notoriety, as the film focuses on a woman’s (Ormond) heresy over claiming the miracle baby of her deformed mother is actually her own immaculate child. Certainly the images are shocking and the nudity aplenty, but this is only two years after a studio like Miramax released what I’d like to call the most naked film ever made, Prospero’s Books, which also followed their NC-17-rated release of the director’s most famous film, The Cook, the Thief… If Greenaway’s late career missteps haven’t completely left your interest in him cold, seek out The Baby of Mâcon; it’s the final masterwork of a once-brilliant filmmaker whose flair has unfortunately diminished with age.

17 April 2008

Shivers of...

Criterion will have Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr out in July; the disc will also include a 1966 documentary about the filmmaker.

13 April 2008

Meat Is Murder

Shotgun Stories - dir. Jeff Nichols - 2007 - USA

Like a gothic Midwestern Greek tragedy, Shotgun Stories unflinchingly looks at the family rivalry between seven men of the same father, separated by their father's ignorance toward the eldest three, who are conveniently named Boy, Kid, and Son. Michael Shannon (Bug) is remarkably good as the eldest of the first three, and even if the film sometimes goes where you expect it to in terms of plot, it's still rather remarkable in tone. Co-produced by David Gordon Green.

Bungalow - dir. Ulrich Köhler - 2002 - Germany

The aimlessness of youth has always been a cinematic obsession of mine, and Bungalow, from first-time director Köhler, is a fine addition to said sub-genre. Paul (Lennie Burmeister) goes AWOL from the military (out of boredom, we're lead to believe), only to spend two mundane days avoiding the military police, fighting with his older brother (David Striestow) and sort-of girlfriend (Nicole Glaser), flirting with his brother's Danish girlfriend (Trine Dyrholm of The Celebration), and doing a lot of swimming. Bungalow is constantly unassuming and keeps Paul's ambition and desires at an enigmatic distance, making his every move that much more fascinating. Köhler directs Burmeister with minimal emotion all to the film's benefit.

Mad Cowgirl - dir. Gregory Hatanaka - 2006 - USA

Whew. There's a lot to say about Mad Cowgirl, a black comedy/satire/slasher/martial arts film about a woman (Sarah Lassez of Nowhere and The Blackout) who works as a meat inspector and develops a lethal brain tumor, which may or may not have been caused by her meat consumption. This tumor spirals her into obsession with a kung-fu actress, a seedy sexual affair with her brother (James Duval), tormenting her former lover, a priest (Walter Koening), and going on some sort of killing spree. I refer back to the kitchen sink reference, as Mad Cowgirl really has it all, and some of it's dull, some of it's not. I can't fault it's ambition, or Lassez's strange performance, nor can I scream its praises... however, I can't resist applauding it for, at least moderately, succeeding in all its excess and blasphemy. You might also note that Lassez and Duval are joined in the cast by Devon Odessa and Jaason Simmons, all four of which starred in Gregg Araki's Nowhere. Hmm. If you get inspired to see Hatanaka's other films afterward, I can safely tell you to avoid Until the Night, which stars fellow Nowhere alum Kathleen Robertson, as well as Sean Young and (gag) Norman Reedus.

Summer Palace - dir. Ye Lou - 2006 - China/France

Oh, the sexual awakening of college. Summer Palace follows Yu Hong (Lei Hao) as she enters university in Beijing, starts fucking around with boys, writes in her journal and witnesses the massacre of Tiananmen Square. Director Ye Lou (Purple Butterfly, Suzhou River) paints Summer Palace like a dream, swirling and drifting as youth, but when the film ends up continuing for another hour and a half, it perhaps looses some of its merit. Instead of focusing simply on a young girl's sexual and political awakening, Lou spreads the film over the course of her young adulthood as well. As for the sex, I never thought I'd say so, but the prevalence of so many couplings so many times actually begins to wear. It's not a film with something intellectual to say about sex as much as it is how sex shapes the people, so in seeing the act so frequently, we might be lead to believe that they only exist in the film for shock value (which caused the film to be banned in China).