31 May 2009

The Decade List: Hukkle (2002)

Hukkle - dir. György Pálfi

Along with Lucrecia Martel's La ciénaga, Sébastien Lifshitz's Presque rien and David Gordon Green's George Washington, György Pálfi's Hukkle was certainly one of the most astonishing film debuts of the decade. Following a hiccup in La ronde style, Pálfi captures a rural village in Hungary (animals included) with an alternately twisted and playful sense of humor. Hukkle is a near-perfectly realized experiment; the only quibble I had arose during a brief sequence where Pálfi used noticeable special effects to show an X-ray view of one of the people (everyone else I know who had seen the film didn't seem as bothered as I was). Despite that (likely) singular complaint, it's hard to find anything else wrong with Hukkle, which Pálfi followed (after an omnibus film Jött egy busz... [A Bus Came...]) with the absolutely wonderful Taxidermia in 2006.

Screenplay: György Pálfi
Cinematography: Gergely Pohárnok
Music: Balázs Barna, Samu Gryllus
Country of Origin: Hungary
US Distributor: Shadow Distribution/Home Vision

Premiere: 12 September 2002 (Toronto Film Festival)
US Premiere: 12 October 2002 (Chicago International Film Festival)

Awards: Discovery of the Year (European Film Awards); New Director's Award (San Sebastián Film Festival)

The Decade List: Chi-hwa-seon (2002)

Chi-hwa-seon [Painted Fire] - dir. Im Kwon-taek

Like the antithesis of all the loathsome biopics coming out of the US (and elsewhere), Im Kwon-taek's depiction of the life of painter Jang Seung-up (Choi Min-sik) proved that films about artists can be artful on their own. It's not that it hadn't been done before (like Pialat's Van Gogh), but it felt like it had been a really long time since one as good as Chi-hwa-seon came around. With the help of Park Seon-deok's exquisite, elliptical editing, Im illustrated Jang's life outside of the expected biopic mold, a surprising feat for a subject whose turbulent life as a doubting alcoholic sounds quite similar to all the other artists whose lives have been turned into films. The French title Ivre de femmes et de peinture [Drunk on Women and Painting] is a more accurate title than the US subtitle Painted Fire (or the British one, which is called Drunk on Women and Poetry for some reason).

With: Choi Min-sik, Ahn Sung-kee, Yu Ho-jeong, Kim Yeo-jin, Son Ye-jin
Screenplay: Im Kwon-taek, Kim Yong-ok, Min Byung-sam
Cinematography: Jung Il-sung
Music: Kim Young-dong
Country of Origin: South Korea
US Distributor: Kino

Premiere: 10 May 2002 (South Korea)
US Premiere: 28 September 2002 (New York Film Festival)

Awards: Best Director (Cannes Film Festival)

The Decade List: Awards (2002)

For as wonderful of a year as 2002 was for film, I'm not sure you'd be able to gather that from the list of awards below. Other than Pedro Almodóvar's Talk to Her and Todd Haynes' Far from Heaven, most of the top prize-winning films left me rather lukewarm. Talk to Her and Roman Polanski's The Pianist seemed to have been the most widespread in their accolades, but I'm frankly not sold on the latter. In fact, you're likely to only see one WWII/Holocaust film on the entire decade list, and that won't be until 2006.

As I said earlier, there are still at least 15 films I want to write about from 2002. They will be unraveling throughout the next couple months as I get around to re-watching them (it's going to be easier the closer I get to December, with the later entries fresher in my memory).


Palme d'Or: The Pianist [d. Roman Polanski]
Grand Prix: Mies vailla menneisyyttä (The Man Without a Past) [d. Aki Kaurismäki]
Prix du jury: Divine Intervention [d. Elia Suleiman]
Best Director: (tie) Im Kwon-taek - Chihwaseon; Paul Thomas Anderson - Punch-Drunk Love
Best Actor: Olivier Gourmet - Le fils [The Son]
Best Actress: Kati Outinen - The Man Without a Past
Best Screenplay: Paul Laverty - Sweet Sixteen
Camera d'Or: Bord de mer (Seaside) [d. Julie Lopes-Curval]


Golden Lion: The Magdalene Sisters [d. Peter Mullan]
Grand Special Jury Prize: House of Fools [d. Andrei Konchalovsky]
Best Actor: Stefano Accorsi - Un viaggio chiamato amore (A Journey Called Love)
Best Actress: Julianne Moore - Far from Heaven
Career Golden Lion: Dino Risi


People's Choice Award: Whale Rider [d. Niki Caro]
Discovery Award: The Magdalene Sisters [d. Peter Mullan]
Best Canadian Feature: Spider [d. David Cronenberg]


Golden Bear: (tie) Bloody Sunday [d. Paul Greengrass]; Spirited Away [d. Hayao Miyazaki]
Best Director: Otar Iosseliani - Lundi matin (Monday Morning)
Best Actor: Jacques Gamblin - Laissez-passer (Safe Conduct)
Best Actress: Halle Berry - Monster's Ball
Jury Grand Prix: Halbe Treppe (Grill Point) [d. Andreas Dresen]
Outstanding Artistic Achievment: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard, Ludivine Sagnier - 8 femmes (8 Women)
Honorary Golden Bear: Robert Altman, Claudia Cardinale
Teddy (Feature): Walking on Water [d. Tony Ayres]
Teddy (Documentary): Alt om min far (All About My Father) [d. Even Benestad]
Teddy (Jury Award): Juste une femme [d. Mitra Farahani]


Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic): Personal Velocity: Three Portraits [d. Rebecca Miller]
Grand Jury Prize (Documentary): Daughter from Danang [d. Gail Dolgin, Vicente Franco]
Director (Dramatic): Gary Winick - Tadpole
Director (Documentary): Rob Fruchtman, Rebecca Cammisa - Sister Helen
Special Jury Prize (Dramatic): (three-way tie) Manito, for Franky G, Leo Minaya, Manuel Cabral, Hector Gonzalez, Julissa Lopez, Jessica Morales, Panchito Gómez; Real Women Have Curves, for America Ferrara, Lupe Ontiveros; Secretary, for Steven Shainberg
Special Jury Prize (Documentary): (tie) How to Draw a Bunny [d. John W. Walter]; Señorita extraviada (Missing Young Woman) [d. Lourdes Portillo)
Cinematography (Dramatic): Ellen Kuras - Personal Velocity: Three Portraits
Cinematography (Documentary): Daniel B. Gold - Blue Vinyl
Audience Award (Dramatic): Real Women Have Curves [d. Patricia Cardoso]
Audience Award (Documentary): Amandla! A Revolution in Four Part Harmony [d. Lee Hirsch]
Audience Award (World Cinema): (tie) Bloody Sunday [d. Paul Greengrass]; L'ultimo bacio (The Last Kiss) [d. Gabriele Muccino]

Academy Awards

Best Picture: Chicago [d. Rob Marshall]
Best Director: Roman Polanski - The Pianist
Best Actor: Adrien Brody - The Pianist
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman - The Hours
Best Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper - Adaptation
Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones - Chicago
Best Original Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar - Hable con ella (Talk to Her)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Ronald Harwood - The Pianist
Best Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall - Road to Perdition
Best Documentary: Bowling for Columbine [d. Michael Moore]
Best Foreign Film: Nirgendwo in Afrika (Nowhere in Africa) [d. Caroline Link]
Animated Feature: Spirited Away [d. Hayao Miyazaki]
Honorary Award: Peter O'Toole


Best Film: The Pianist [d. Roman Polanski]
Best Director: Roman Polanski - The Pianist
Best British Film: The Warrior [d. Asif Kapadia]
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis - Gangs of New York
Best Actress: Nicole Kidman - The Hours
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Walken - Catch Me If You Can
Best Supporting Actress: Catherine Zeta-Jones - Chicago
Best Original Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar - Hable con ella (Talk to Her)
Best Adapted Screenplay: Charlie Kaufman, Donald Kaufman - Adaptation
Best Cinematography: Conrad L. Hall - Road to Perdition
Film Not in the English Language: Talk to Her

European Film Awards

Best Film: Hable con ella (Talk to Her) [d. Pedro Almodóvar]
Best Director: Pedro Almodóvar - Talk to Her
Best Actor: Sergio Castellitto - Bella Martha (Mostly Martha); L'ora di religione (Il sorriso di mia madre) (My Mother's Smile)
Best Actress: Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert, Emmanuelle Béart, Fanny Ardant, Virginie Ledoyen, Danielle Darrieux, Firmine Richard, Ludivine Sagnier - 8 femmes (8 Women)
Best Cinematography: Pawel Edelman - The Pianist
Best Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar - Talk to Her
Best Documentary: Être et avoir (To Be and To Have) [d. Nicolas Philibert]
Discovery: Hukkle [d. György Pálfi]
Screen International: Divine Intervention [d. Elia Suleiman]
Audience Award (Actor): Javier Cámara - Talk to Her
Audience Award (Actress): Kate Winslet - Iris
Audience Award (Director): Pedro Almodóvar - Talk to Her
Life Achievement Award: Tonino Guerra

Independent Spirit

Best Feature: Far from Heaven [d. Todd Haynes]
Best First Feature: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys [d. Peter Care]
Best Director: Todd Haynes - Far from Heaven
Best Male Lead: Derek Luke - Antwone Fisher
Best Female Lead: Julianne Moore - Far from Heaven
Best Supporting Male: Dennis Quaid - Far from Heaven
Best Supporting Female: Emily Mortimer - Lovely & Amazing
Best Debut Performance: Nia Vardalos - My Big Fat Greek Wedding
Best Screenplay: Mike White - The Good Girl
Best First Screenplay: Erin Cressida Wilson - Secretary
Best Cinematography: Edward Lachman - Far from Heaven
Best Documentary: Bowling for Columbine [d. Michael Moore]
Best Foreign Film: Y tu mamá también [d. Alfonso Cuarón]
Someone to Watch Award: Przemyslaw Reut - Paradox Lake

Golden Globes

Picture (Drama): The Hours [d. Stephen Daldry]
Picture (Comedy/Musical): Chicago [d. Rob Marshall]
Director: Martin Scorsese - Gangs of New York
Actor (D): Jack Nicholson - About Schmidt
Actress (D): Nicole Kidman - The Hours
Actor (M/C): Richard Gere - Chicago
Actress (M/C): Renée Zellweger - Chicago
Supporting Actor: Chris Cooper - Adaptation
Supporting Actress: Meryl Streep - Adaptation
Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor - About Schmidt
Foreign Film: Hable con ella (Talk to Her) [d. Pedro Almódovar]
Cecil B. DeMille Award: Gene Hackman

Césars Awards

Best Film (Meilleur film): The Pianist [d. Roman Polanski]
Best Director (Meilleur réalisateur): Roman Polanski - The Pianist
Best Actor (Meilleur acteur): Adrien Brody - The Pianist
Best Actress (Meilleure actrice): Isabelle Carré - Se souvenir des belles choses (Beautiful Memories)
Best Supporting Actor (Meilleur acteur dans un second rôle): Bernard Le Coq - Se souvenir des belles choses
Best Supporting Actress (Meilleure actrice dans un second rôle): Karin Viard - Embrassez qui vous voudrez (Summer Things)
Most Promising Actor (Meilleur espoir masculin): Jean-Paul Rouve - Monsieur Batignole
Most Promising Actress (Meilleur espoir féminin): Cécile De France - L'auberge espagnole
Best Screenplay (Meilleur scénario): Costa-Gavras, Jean-Claude Grumberg - Amen.
Best Cinematography (Meilleure photographie): Pawel Edelman - The Pianist
Best Foreign Film (Meilleur film étranger): Bowling for Columbine [d. Michael Moore]
Best European Union Film (Meilleur film de l'Union Européenne): Hable con ella (Talk to Her) [d. Pedro Almódovar]
Best First Film (Meilleur premier film): Se souvenir des belles choses [d. Zabou Breitman]
Honorary Césars: Bernadette Lafont, Spike Lee, Meryl Streep


Worst Film: Swept Away [d. Guy Ritchie]
Worst Director: Guy Ritchie - Swept Away
Worst Actor: Roberto Benigni, Breckin Meyer - Pinocchio
Worst Actress: (tie) Britney Spears - Crossroads; Madonna - Swept Away
Worst Supporting Actor: Hayden Cristensen - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Worst Supporting Actress: Madonna - Die Another Day
Worst Screenplay: George Lucas, Jonathan Hales - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones
Worst Remake/Sequel: Swept Away

2 Films by Eduardo de Gregorio, DVD Update

Les Films du paradoxe are releasing two films directed by Eduardo de Gregorio, frequent co-screenwriter for Jacques Rivette, on 18 June: Sérail [Surreal Estate] and La mémoire courte [Short Memory]. I mentioned the releases before, but now I have cover artwork for both. I still can't find any specifics of the releases, but I'd expect not to find English subtitles on either one... but then again, you never know. Another notable release from Les Films du paradoxe for 2009 is Werner Schroeter's 1996 documentary Poussières d'amour, in which Isabelle Huppert and Carole Bouquet interview some of the director's favorite opera singers. Check this link for more titles; the links for the two de Gergorio films above include their trailers.

29 May 2009

So, maybe, IFC will be releasing DVDs for purchase again

Thanks, as usual, to Eric for paying attention when I was not, but it looks as if IFC may have finally stepped away from their sinking ship of a distributor, Genius Products, as there will be three of their titles released through MPI in August. I've read no official confirmation of this, but things are looking likely in that IFC has found a home with MPI, who currently releases DVDs from both Music Box Films and Dark Sky Films. While I would have been more excited to see The Last Mistress or The Duchess of Langeais as one of the three, I'm still glad to see that (maybe) they will be making their films availablefor purchase in the US after six months of no new announcements. The three titles are Gaël Morel's Après lui (11 August), with Catherine Deneuve and Élodie Bouchez; Joe Swanberg and Greta Gerwig's Nights and Weekends (25 August); and Duane Graves and Justin Meeks' horror flick The Wild Man of the Navidad (11 August). I've also heard that Bruce McDonald's Pontypool will be out on 21 July, but that's from a different source that hasn't been confirmed yet.

And here are a few other DVD announcements:

- Serious Charge, d. Terence Young, 1959, VCI, 30 June
- Visioneers, d. Jared Drake, 2008, Virgil Films, w. Zach Galifinakis, Judy Greer, 21 July
- The Astonishing Works of Tezuka Osamu, 1962-1988, Kino, 28 July
- Phil Mulloy: Extreme Animation, 1991-1995, Kino, 28 July
- The Garden, d. Scott Hamilton Kennedy, 2008, Zeitgeist, 18 August
- Adam Resurrected, d. Paul Schrader, 2008, Image Entertainment, w. Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, 22 September

26 May 2009

The Decade List: Dans ma peau (2002)

Dans ma peau [In My Skin] - dir. Marina de Van

After five years of collaborating with François Ozon as both co-writer and actress, Marina de Van unveiled her directorial debut in 2002 with her metaphysical horror film In My Skin. With an ode to David Cronenberg, de Van examines the final frontier of horror films, the body and its dangerous levels of elasticity. After suffering a fall at a party, Esther (de Van) discovers a fascination with her body and its threshold for not simply pain, but sustainability. What follows is expectedly grotesque and ghastly.

The parables to Esther's fascination are abundant, some surprising and others effective despite the foreseeable correlations to the subject matter. The initial flesh wound doesn't introduce itself as a physical manifestation of Esther's lifestyle as a moderately successful businesswoman in a nominally happy relationship with Vincent (Laurent Lucas), but it becomes her obsession, something that seems initially impulsive but also weirdly natural. Esther's self-mutilation evolves into a search for feeling, something of a substitute for the falseness of the people around her and even herself.

While de Van is pointedly critical of the business world Esther places herself in, its treatment of women and even the carnivorous eating habits of these people, In My Skin isn't simply leftist propaganda masking as psychodrama. Both de Van and Esther approach this fascination with that oh-so-Cronenberg clinical eye. While she never avoids the shock aspects of In My Skin, particularly in the film's nauseatingly effective sound design, the suggestions and ramifications of Esther's "disorder" cut deeper than any of her literal knives.

With: Marina de Van, Laurent Lucas, Léa Drucker, Thibault de Montalembert
Screenplay: Marina de Van
Cinematography: Pierre Barougier
Music: Esbjorn Svensson
Country of Origin: France
US Distributor: Wellspring

Premiere: 27 September 2002 (San Sebastián Film Festival)
US Premiere: 7 November 2003 (New York City)

Nevermind, The African Queen ain't coming this fall

Via Eric, just as quickly as Paramount announced the long-fucking-overdue release of John Huston's Oscar-winning The African Queen, they've taken that announcement back. Sorry for the confusion, though I think Paramount should be the ones apologizing.

The Decade List: Hable con ella (2002)

Hable con ella [Talk to Her] - dir. Pedro Almodóvar

After Pedro Almodóvar won the Best Foreign Oscar for All About My Mother in 2000, there was no turning back. Few contemporary directors have molded a mid-career upsurge as impressive as he has, and Talk to Her is the best of these offerings. Stepping away from his usual obsessions (women on the verge of something-or-other), Almodóvar focuses Talk to Her on two men, Marco (Darío Grandinetti), a handsome journalist, and Benigno (Javier Cámara), a lonely nurse, both of whom are caring for their comatose lovers.

In so many of his films, Almodóvar finds beauty and depth in absurdity. For the director, absurdity isn't merely the peculiar situations he places his characters in, but the way he syphons the palpable emotions from his narrative. I'm forever impressed and even surprised at the ways in which Almodóvar gets to me. Unlike, say, Amèlie, Talk to Her never shields the fact that one of its main characters is up to some creepy business, but it's clear that Benigno isn't aware that what he's doing is wrong and that makes Talk to Her even more tragic.

Benigno is one of the most intriguing characters in Almodóvar's universe. For one, he's a male, which would typically place him beneath all the wonderful women the director and his actresses have created. He's a sympathetic sociopath with misdirected emotions and a strange passion, with a lot in common with Antonio Banderas' character in Law of Desire. Sheltered from the world by an overbearing mother, he has no sense of how the world functions or how to relate to other humans. One of his coworkers suggests that he's gay, and while his affections are toward a comatose female (Leonor Watling), this doesn't make him a heterosexual by any means. He's noticeably attracted to Marco but stands uncommonly faithful to Alicia (likely because she doesn't really have any say in this matter). All of his interests are derived from those around him, and without the demands of his mother, who dies before the film begins, he has no real sense of how to function in his world.

Talk to Her is such a painfully beautiful film that I struggle to verbalize both my intellectual and emotional feelings toward it. Even more than All About My Mother and Volver (though not by a whole lot), its closing moments leave me with swirling exhilaration, as the dancers shuffle onto the stage. Forgive my loss of words, but if any film I've written about so far deserves to be merely absorbed without hesitation, it's definitely Talk to Her.

With: Darío Grandinetti, Javier Cámara, Leonor Watling, Geraldine Chaplin, Rosario Flores, Mariola Fuentes, Elena Anaya, Lola Dueñas, Fele Martínez, Paz Vega
Screenplay: Pedro Almodóvar
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Country of Origin: Spain
US Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

Premiere: 15 March 2002 (Spain)
US Premiere: 30 April 2002 (Telluride Film Festival)

Awards: Best Original Screenplay (Academy Awards); Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Not in the English Language (BAFTAs); Best Actor, Audience Award - Javier Cámara, Best Director, Audience Award (European Film Awards); Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes); Best Original Score (Goya Awards, Spain)

Some Thoughts on the Closing Ceremony of the 62nd Festival International de Cannes

I trekked through the closing ceremony yesterday morning streaming via the Cannes Official website, which really is not conducive for the few of us who are fluent in both English and French, and had a few observations.

1. The best moment wasn't the long-overdue recognition for Alain Resnais or finally bestowing Michael Haneke with the fest's top prize, but instead, it was the humble acceptance of Charlotte Gainsbourg after being named Best Actress for Lars von Trier's Antichrist. With a "bien sûr" delivery, Isabelle Huppert read off Gainsbourg's name as if there were no other choice the jury could have made, which makes natural sense considering Huppert and fellow jury member Asia Argento's history of emotionally devastating roles. With her hushed voice, Gainsbourg thanked von Trier, co-star Willem Dafoe, husband Yvan Attal, her two children, mother Jane Birkin and, naturally, her late father, whom she hoped was looking down at her both proud and shocked. This was easily the best moment of the whole ceremony.

2. Worse than Isabelle Adjani's shameless plug for her film La journée de la jupe, which Andrew Grant informed me is not only "god-awful" but worse than Bon voyage, were presenter Terry Gilliam's laughless crocodile tears when host Edouard Baer informed him that he was not the winner of the Best Director prize, which he was introducing. IndieWire commented, "Across the stage, Isabelle Huppert, not laughing, remarks simply, 'OK?'" I was sort of hoping for a bitchier "OK?" than Huppert gave, with a half-smile, but her sentiment was precisely how I felt. I was more embarrassed for Gilliam in those three minutes than I was during the entirety of The Brothers Grimm.

3. While I was partly amused by Christoph Waltz's acceptance speech for Best Actor, I think I'm beyond the point of wanting to hear someone verbally jerk Quentin Tarantino off. He does a good enough job by himself.

4. Though it seems Isabel Coixet's Map of the Sounds of Tokyo was the hands-down worst film to screen in competition this year (not surprising after the steady decrease in the director's work from My Life Without Me to Elegy), I'm wondering if the boos that accompanied Brillante Mendoza's Kinatay and Lou Ye's Spring Fever from the US critics were appropriate or if the rumored "jury craziness" had some validity. I wasn't impressed with Mendoza's The Masseur or Lou's Summer Palace, but I'm certainly willing to give both another shot.

5. While this has nothing to do with the ceremony itself, I've read conflicting reports of how IFC Films is planning on releasing Antichrist in the US. Some have said we'll be seeing the film in all its genital-mutilation glory, but others have said it will be cut. Another source said that IFC will be releasing both versions, as certain cable providers would probably shy away from showing the film OnDemand. It'll be interesting to see how this is handled when IFC rolls the film out, hopefully later this year.

24 May 2009

Cannes 2009: Haneke, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Andrea Arnold, Jacques Audiard Among the Winners

The jury, headed by Isabelle Huppert, handed out their awards this afternoon, with a few surprises, both good and bad. Jane Campion's Bright Star and Marco Bellocchio's Vincere went home empty-handed despite mostly universal acclaim from the reviews I read. The awards are as follows.

Palme d'Or: Das weiße Band [The White Ribbon] - d. Michael Haneke - Austria/Germany/France
Grand prix: Un prophète [A Prophet] - d. Jacques Audiard
Prix exceptionnel du Festival de Cannes: Alain Resnais - Les herbes folles [Wild Grass]
Prix du jury: (tie) Fish Tank - d. Andrea Arnold; Thirst - d. Park Chan-wook
Prix de la mise en scène [Best Director]: Brillante Mendoza - Kinatay
Prix d'interprétation féminine [Best Actress]: Charlotte Gainsbourg - Antichrist
Prix d'interprétation masculine [Best Actor]: Christophe Waltz - Inglourious Basterds
Prix du scénario [Best Screenplay]: Ye Lou - Spring Fever
Caméra d'Or: Samson and Delilah - d. Warwick Thornton - Australia
Caméra d'Or Mention Spéciale: Ajami - d. Scandar Copti, Yaron Shani - Israel/Germany

As for the acquisitions, only a few have been snatched up so far. Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Ang Lee's Taking Woodstock and Park Chan-wook's Thirst were produced by The Weinstein Company and Focus Features, respectively. IFC Films took three films so far: Lars von Trier's Antichrist, Ken Loach's Looking for Eric and Tales from the Golden Age, from Romania. Sony Pictures Classics has the Palme d'Or and the Grand prix winners, as well as the fest's out-of-competition closer Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky and Pedro Almodóvar's Broken Embraces [Los abrazos rotos], which they bought a few months back. It's rumored that Bright Star will be the first release for a new company from Picturehouse's former head. I'll be posting more acquisitions in the coming weeks as they're announced.

Cannes Awards: Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, Un Certain Regard, Semaine de la Critique

The 62nd annual Cannes Film Festival has ended, and while the main competition prizes won't be given out until later today, the sidebars have already announced their winners. They are as follows.

Un Certain Regard

Prix Un Certain Regard: Dogtooth [Kynodontas] - d. Yorgos Lanthimos - Greece
Prix du jury: Police, adjective [Intermediar] - d. Corneliu Porumboiu - Romania
Prix special Un Certain Regard: (tie) No One Knows About Persian Cats - d. Bahman Ghobadi - Iran / Le père de mes enfants [The Father of My Children] - d. Mia Hansen-Løve - France

Semaine de la Critique

Grand Prix: Adieu Gary - d. Nassim Amaouche - France
SACD Award: Lost Persons Area - d. Caroline Strubbe - Belgium/Netherlands/Hungary/Germany/France
ACID/CCAS Support Award: Whisper with the Wind - d. Shahram Alidi - Iraq
OFAJ/TV5MONDE Young Critic Award: Whisper with the Wind - d. Shahram Alidi - Iraq

Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

Art Cinéma Award: J'ai tué ma mère [I Killed My Mother] - d. Xavier Dolan - Canada
Special Mention: De helaasheid der dingen [La mertitude des choses] - d. Felix van Groeningen - Belgium
7e Prix Regards Jeunes 2009: J'ai tué ma mère
SACD Prize: J'ai tué ma mère
Europa Cinemas Label: La Pivellina - d. Tizza Covi, Rainer Frimmel - Austria

IndieWire explains what these awards mean here.

23 May 2009

The Decade List: Morvern Callar (2002)

Morvern Callar - dir. Lynne Ramsay

Approaching a novel deemed "unfilmable" by both the literary and cinematic community can be the greatest challenge for a filmmaker, a make-or-break endeavor that's worked for some (Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange) and failed for twice as many (Alan Rudolph's Breakfast of Champions, Tom Tykwer's Perfume: The Story of a Murderer). Alan Warner's 1995 novel Morvern Callar, a first-person narrative about a young woman who finds the body of her boyfriend, who committed suicide, in their apartment around Christmas time, was one of those novels, and how Lynne Ramsay, successfully living up to her promise after Ratcatcher, visualized such a difficult work into a film as dazzling as this amazes me to this day.

In expert fashion, Ramsay operates with a complex narrative voice, a different breed of the novel's "first person." The film is entirely singular and dependent on the titular Morvern, played perfectly by Samantha Morton. While the film relies solely on her, it's not a window to her interior consciousness. Before killing himself, Morvern's boyfriend leaves her with an array of Christmas gifts, the most significant one a cassette player and accompanying mixtape which provides the auditory clue to the film's relationship to its protagonist. Shifting seamlessly from the diegetic sounds from her headphones to the encompassing swirl of music which takes over the film, Ramsay utilizes a tactic that feels either prudent or thoughtless when used by lesser filmmakers. And yet, it provides the film's rhythm, one of visual and phonic poetry, as well as defining the film's placement to its character.

Ramsay never feels the inclination to explain or defend Morvern's actions throughout the course of the film. With ethically questionable decisions like disposing of her boyfriend's body and sending his novel to a publisher's office with her name on it, Morvern views her world the same way Ramsay views her, seeking an unjudgmental beauty in humble surroundings. Ramsay's search is altogether more successful than Morvern's, as the money in her boyfriend's bank account allows her to escape to Spain with her best friend Lanna (Kathleen McDermott), who reveals before the trip that she fucked her boyfriend behind Morvern's back. It's never clear whether Morvern is in a state of emotional paralysis, akin to Lucrecia Martel's The Headless Woman, or if this it her ticket out.

Though plot is significantly less important that mood, Ramsay raises a number of questions about interpretation and gender. When the novel Morvern's boyfriend wrote is met with enthusiasm from the publishers, the term "distinctive female voice" (possibly) suggests a covert motive from the representatives. Is that the book's selling point, and to what level does that change what her boyfriend has written? Warner's novel is written from the point of view of a woman by a man. Ramsay's film is a woman's interpretation of a man writing as the voice of a woman. Does our perception of the film, or the novel, hang on these perspectives? Answering (or trying to) these questions would certainly disrupt the film, so Ramsay simply acknowledges their hovering presence and continues on the journey.

Shot by Alwin H. Kuchler, who also shot Ratcatcher and Ramsay's short Gasman, I can think of few films I'd want continuously projected on my wall more than Morvern Callar. The images are consistently breathtaking, something that could never be truly conveyed through the stills I've chosen as its beauty is only enhanced by the movement of both the camera and the subjects. Like the audio track, Kuchler's camera weaves the interior and exterior together meticulously. The cinematography, sound design, performances and narrative voice all assemble marvelously, making Morvern Callar a bold, enigmatic and seminal work of one of the most promising voices in contemporary cinema.

With: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott, Raife Patrick Burchell, Ruby Milton, James Wilson, Dolly Wells
Screenplay: Liana Dognini, Lynne Ramsay, based on the novel by Alan Warner
Cinematography: Alwin H. Kuchler
Country of Origin: UK
US Distributor: Palm Pictures

Premiere: May 2002 (Cannes Film Festival)
US Premiere: 16 October 2002 (Chicago International Film Festival)

Awards: Prix de la jeunesse (Cannes Film Festival); Best Actress - Kathleen McDermott (Scottish BAFTAs); Best Actress - Samantha Morton, Best Technical Achievement - Alwin H. Kuchler (British Independent Film Awards)