27 September 2012

Berlin & Beyond 2012 in San Francisco

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, the 17th annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival began this evening with an opening night gala of Christian Petzold's Barbara, which took home the Silver Bear for Best Director at this year's Berlinale, in addition to being selected as the official 2012 German submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar. Presented by the Goethe Institut, the Berlin & Beyond Film Festival showcases the latest in German, Swiss, and Austrian cinema, as well as German-language films from the rest of the world in the case of Aleksandr Sokurov's version of the oft-told and -filmed legend of Faust, which screens Friday, September 28th, at 9pm at the Castro Theatre.

The latest film from director Veit Helmer (Tuvalu, Absurdistan), Baikonur will screen as the festival's centerpiece selection on Saturday, September 29th, at the Castro Theatre, and the festival closes on Thursday, October 4th, with Marten Persiel's East German skater documentary This Ain't California.

Other notable films at this year's festival include Achim von Borries' (Love in Thoughts) WWII drama, 4 Days in May (4 Tage im Mai); Dagmar Schultz's documentary about lesbian poet Audre Lorde, entitled Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992; Maggie Peren's Color of the Ocean (Die Farbe des Ozeans), which played at last year's Toronto International Film Festival and stars Sabine Timoteo and Spanish actor Álex González; David Wnendt's tale of neo-Nazi teen girls, Combat Girls (Kriegerin); Christian Schwochow's backstage drama Cracks in the Shell (Die Unsichtbare), which won the Best Actress prize for Danish actress Stine Fischer Christensen at last year's Karlovy Vary International Film Festival; Anno Saul's The Door (Die Tür), starring another renowned Danish actor, Mads Mikkelsen; Hans-Christian Schmid's Home for the Weekend (Was bleibt), which played in competition to mixed reviews at this year's Berlinale; and Hendrik Handloegten's Summer Window (Fenster zum Sommer), with actors Nina Hoss and Lars Eidinger, who can be seen elsewhere at the festival in Barbara and Home for the Weekend, respectively.

Switzerland and Austria are both represented by three films each this year. The Swiss line-up includes two documentaries, Nicolas Steiner's Battle of the Queens (Kampf der Königinnen), which chronicles the traditional cow fights in the south of Switzerland, and Martin Witz's The Substance: Albert Hofmann's LSD, which traces the discovery of LSD in the early 1940s. The Swiss trio is rounded out with The Foster Boy (Der Verdingbub), a period drama from television-director Markus Imboden, starring Katja Riemann and newcomer Max Hubacher. This year's Austrian selection includes actor Karl Markovics' acclaimed directorial debut Breathing (Atmen), which premiered at the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs at the Cannes Film Festival last year; Julian Pölsler's The Wall (Die Wand), starring Martina Gedeck and recipient of the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at this year's Berlinale; and Michael Glawogger's documentary about prostitution in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico, Whores' Glory.

In addition to the contemporary films at this year's festival, there will be a tribute to Mario Adorf with four of the actor's films playing over the course of the week: Volker Schlöndorff's The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Lola, Georg Tressler's Ship of the Dead (Das Totenschiff), and Lola Randl's The Rhino and the Dragonfly (Die Libelle und das Nashorn). Please visit the Berlin & Beyond Film Festival's official site for showtimes and any other information you might need.

Drug Addicts, Nymphos, Tomboys, and Paul Verhoeven: 5 More Netflix Suggestions

A friend of mine who just finished school asked me if I could suggest some films for him to watch on Netflix Instant. Here are five more recommendations. Each of the films below were available on Netflix Instant in the USA at the time this was published.

Oslo, August 31st
Oslo, 31. august
2011, Norway
Joachim Trier

Joachim Trier's second film, following the marvelous Reprise (also available on Instant), readapts Pierre Drieu La Rochelle's novel Le feu follet (famously made for the screen by Louis Malle in 1963, as well as a little-seen made-for-French-television version in 1994), updating it to modern day Norway, chronicling roughly twenty-four-or-so hours in the life of recovering drug addict Anders (Anders Danielsen Lie) who is given leave from rehab for the first time in what appears to have been a while to interview for a job. Intimate and heartbreaking without being too austere, Oslo, August 31st is an assured, exceptional sophomore effort from the distant cousin of Lars von Trier and certainly one of the better films of 2011.

With: Anders Danielsen Lie, Hans Olav Brenner, Ingrid Olavs, Øystein Røger, Malin Crépin, Tone B. Mostraum, Kjærsti Odden Skjeldal, Johanne Kjellevik Ledang, Petter Width, Renate Reinsve, Anders Borchgrevink, Emil Lund, Andreas Braaten

The Music Lovers
1970, UK
Ken Russell

The late, great Ken Russell's own description of The Music Lovers as a film about a homosexual who falls in love with a nymphomaniac does accurately summarize this loose biopic of Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky (Richard Chamberlain), but The Music Lovers is so much more. I was lucky enough to have seen a beautiful print of the film at the Castro Theater earlier this year, which is truly the ideal way to watch any of Ken Russell's films (up to a point), but don't let that stop you from watching it at home. Following Tchaikovsky and his wife Nina (brilliantly played by Glenda Jackson), Russell surrounds these two individuals with a number of impossible love affairs, each of them branching off their own doomed marriage, which was unsuccessfully consummated in a riveting sequence on a train. Along with The Devils, The Music Lovers is one of the finest examples of Russell's signature style: frenzied, operatic, dazzling, cinematic decadence (at its finest).

With: Richard Chamberlain, Glenda Jackson, Max Adrian, Christopher Gable, Izabella Telezynska, Kenneth Colley, Maureen Pryor, Sabina Maydelle, Andrew Faulds, Bruce Robinson

Starship Troopers
1997, USA
Paul Verhoeven

Paul Verhoeven has only made one bad film in his entire career, and that was Hollow Man. So if anyone says that Showgirls, RoboCop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct, or Starship Troopers are bad films, rest assured that they're just plain wrong. Starship Troopers has everything you need in a film. It's enormously entertaining, weirdly erotic, intentionally hilarious (I've heard people try to say otherwise... again, they're wrong), kind of gross, and "secretly" really smart, which accurately describes all of Verhoeven's best work. Take for instance Rue McClanahan as an eye-patch-donning biology teacher, or Denise Richards as the good-girl brainiac Carmen Ibanez (all of the film's main characters come from a futuristic Buenos Aires where everyone is as American as they come, though still retaining Spanish names).

With: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards, Patrick Muldoon, Neil Patrick Harris, Jake Busey, Clancy Brown, Michael Ironside, Marshall Bell, Rue McClanahan, Seth Gilliam, Brenda Strong, Lenore Kasdorf, Amy Smart

Love and Death
1975, USA/France
Woody Allen

In my personal favorite Woody Allen film, Stardust Memories, Allen's character is hounded by a bunch of annoying fans, one of whom complains that they preferred his "older, funnier movies." Love and Death is the best of Allen's actual "older, funnier movies," a hysterical farce about a bumbling coward (played by Allen), in love with his slutty cousin (Diane Keaton), who joins the Russian army to try to defeat Napoleon. It's a great mix of visual humor, common in his early works, and the quick wit he's best known for.

With: Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Olga Georges-Picot, Harold Gould, Tony Jay, Jessica Harper, Henri Coutet, Despo Diamantidou, Féodor Atkine, Alfred Lutter, James Tolkan

2011, France
Céline Sciamma

It's no easy feat trying to depict the essence of adolescence on film without seeming too distant or nostalgic. Céline Sciamma's Tomboy does a rather exceptional job capturing the spirit of being a child, somewhere on your way to puberty. The French have always had a knack for this, from François Truffaut (not my favorite filmmaker by any means, but I still admire the way he films "la jeunesse") to films like Jacques Doillon's Ponette. In Tomboy, ten-year-old Laure (played by Zoé Héran, who already looks like a haute-couture runway model), a tall, lanky, androgynous girl, moves to a new town where she is mistaken for a boy by the neighborhood children and decides to invent a new identity for herself as Mikaël. Tomboy is considerably more interesting when it shows the interactions between the children; both its story and its lesson, while neither of them as obvious as you may think, are secondary.

With: Zoé Héran, Malonn Lévana, Jeanne Disson, Sophie Cattani, Mathieu Demy, Yohan Ventre, Noah Ventre, Cheyenne Lainé, Ryan Bonbeleri, Jeanne Dison

22 September 2012

Queer Lisboa 16

Though, more often than not, I don't much care for specifically GLBT film festivals, there are a small number of them around the world that do consistently program great stuff and not just the latest installment of the Eating Out series. Along with Turin International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival, the Queer Lisboa Film Festival, Lisbon's oldest film festival, is certainly one of the best of its kind. They began their 16th edition on 21 September, with Andrew Haigh's excellent Weekend (just released on DVD and Blu-ray in the US by Criterion) kicking off the festival, which runs until the 29th.

One of the highlights of the program this year is a section dedicated to Peter de Rome, a French-born queer filmmaker who directed a number of short and feature length erotic films in the United States from the 1960s until the mid-1980s. The BFI recently restored a number of his works for a DVD release earlier this year of The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome. QL16 will be showing his shorts Double Exposure, The Fire Island Kids, Prometheus, Scopo, and Underground along with the documentary Fragments: The Incomplete Films of Peter de Rome by Ethan Reid. You can find all of the films on the BFI disc.

You'll also find a pair of films from both Travis Mathews and filmmaking duo Jean-Marc Barr and Pascal Arnold at the festival. Mathews' excellent feature I Want Your Love, an extension of the short of the same name he directed in 2010, is screening in competition, and though Mathews is a personal friend of mine, I don't have any qualms in mentioning that it's one of the best films I've seen all year. His other film, In Their Room: Berlin, the second installment of his documentary series following queer boys discussing intimacy and sexuality in their bedrooms, will play as part of the Queer Art section. Barr and Arnold's 2011 feature American Translation will also screen in competition. The film stars Pierre Perrier and Lizzie Brocheré, who were both previously in the duo's 2006 film Chacun sa nuit (One to Another), play a pair of Bonnie and Clyde-esque lovers who like to seduce gay hustlers. Their other offering at the festival is this year's sexually-explicit comedy Chroniques sexuelles d'une famille d'aujourd'hui (Sexual Chronicles of a French Family), which was released in a tamed down edit by IFC Films in the US earlier this year.

The feature film competition also includes Ira Sachs' somber Keep the Lights On, winner of this year's Teddy at the Berlinale; Oliver Hermanus' Skoonheid (Beauty), South Africa's submission for best foreign language film at this year's Oscars and winner of the Queer Palm at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival; Lisa Aschan's Apflickorna (She-Monkeys), which made the festival rounds last year winning major prizes at both the Göteborg and Tribeca Film Festivals; Aurora Guerrero's Mosquita y Mari, which played in the national competition at Sundance in January; the feature film debut of acclaimed short filmmaker Bavo Defurne, Nordzee Texas (North Sea, Texas); Mark Jackson's Without, which also made the festival rounds last fall, which I've also heard is quite good; Odilon Rocha's Brazilian drama, A Novela das 8 (Prime Time Soap); and Zoltan Paul's Frauensee (Woman's Lake), which I didn't get a chance to catch at Frameline this past summer.

Some other notable films playing around the festival: the latest film from director Vincent Dieutre, entitled Jaurès, which premiered at Forum at this year's Berlinale; a trio of shorts from Portuguese/British director António Da Silva, Bankers, Pix, and the wonderful Julian; Gabriel Abrantes and Alexandre Melo's short Fratelli, an experimental, loose adaptation of Taming of the Shrew, co-starring Carloto Cotta (Odete) and Alexander David (To Die Like a Man); Matthew Mishory's Joshua Tree 1951: A Portrait of James Dean; the great Rosa von Praunheim's latest documentary, König des Comics (King of Comics); Matthew Akers' doc Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present; a short directed by João Pedro Rodrigues' long-time collaborator João Rui Guerra da Mata, O Que Arde Cura (As the Flames Rose), which stars Rodrigues; An Afternoon Siesta and Summer Romance, a pair of dirty Greek films from director Panajotis Evangelidis (The Life and Death of Celso Junior); and the omnibus film Fucking Different: XXX, which includes shorts by Bruce LaBruce, Maria Beatty, Todd Verow, and Émilie Jouvet.

Like every year, QL has a program or two spotlighting some of the best queer music videos, or to be more accurate, a bunch of music videos the gays love. This year, there's a program directed entirely to the music videos of ABBA, nearly all of them directed by Lasse Hallström, who also directed ABBA: The Movie before moving on to Hollywood junk like The Cider House Rules and Chocolat. Other featured videos include the latest from Kylie Minogue, Sigur Rós, The Magnetic Fields, Spiritualized, Pet Shop Boys, Rufus Wainwright, and, yes, Madonna.

And finally, you can head on over to the site I used to work for, where there are a number of films available streaming for free, including one of João Pedro Rodrigues' first shorts, Parabéns! (Happy Birthday!). Trevor Anderson's The Man That Got Away, Mauricio López Fernández's La santa (The Blessed), Juanma Carrillo's Andamio (Scaffolding), and Daniel Ribeiro's Eu Não Quero Voltar Sozinho (I Don't Want to Go Back Alone), among others. I imagine not all of the films are available in every region. Additionally, you can pay to watch the feature Venus in the Garden, directed by Telémachos Alexiou, which is playing in the Queer Art section. It looks as though Venus in the Garden is streaming for free now.

19 September 2012

Five Additional Netflix Instant Suggestions

A friend of mine who just finished school asked me if I could suggest some films for him to watch on Netflix Instant. Here are five additional recommendations. I've previously written about a few of these films and included links to the past reviews of them. Each of the films below were available on Netflix Instant in the USA at the time this was published.

Fish Tank
2009, UK/Netherlands
Andrea Arnold

On paper, Fish Tank sounds rather pedestrian: Mia, a teenage girl from the projects, tries to escape her grim existence by winning a dance competition. But on the screen, it's anything but, thanks to Andrea Arnold's spectacular vision and a dynamic central performance from Katie Jarvis. While the film is consistently breathtaking, there are at least two individual sequences that are just about heart-stopping. Older Post about Fish Tank: Down... on the Ground

With: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing, Rebecca Griffiths, Harry Treadaway, Sydney Mary Nash, Jason Maza

1976, USA
Sidney Lumet

A fine example of the stellar films coming out of Hollywood during one of its richest periods, during the 1970s, Network is a brilliant satire that only feels more relevant today in our world of reality programs and trash television. On one hand, it's sad to see how far we've fallen from a time when a TV station would be creating a news show following a group of political terrorists, but on the other, I could cite plenty of examples of how the television narrative as evolved. You take the good with the bad, I guess. Faye Dunaway (and the rest of the cast) is impeccable.

With: Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, Robert Duvall, Wesley Addy, Ned Beatty, Beatrice Straight, Bill Burrows, Jordan Charney, Kathy Cronkite, Ed Crowley, Jerome Dempsey, Conchata Ferrell, Ken Kercheval, Ted Sorel, Lane Smith, William Prince, Sasha von Scherler, Marlene Warfield, Lee Richardson

2010, USA
Jake Yuzna

A surprisingly tender and whimsical film following two separate pairings of gender dissidents: one a hermaphrodite who goes on something of a road trip/hometown-discovery-adventure with one-half of a couple who have undergone cosmetic surgery to look like one another, the other an FTM transsexual who ends up pregnant after having sex with a cute boy he meets at a show. I've never seen a film handle gender like this; it's honest, unique, and, well, open. Winner of the Teddy Jury Prize at the 2010 Berlinale.

With: Gaea Gaddy, Tempest Crane, Morty Diamond, Daniel Luedtke, Jendeen Forberg, Jill Sweiven

Don't Look Now
1973, UK/Italy
Nicolas Roeg

Easily one of the greatest horror films of all time, Don't Look Now follows an American architect (Donald Sutherland) and his wife (Julie Christie) who relocate to Venice after the death of their young daughter. While Donald Sutherland works on restoring a crumbling church, Julie Christie meets a pair of sisters, one of whom claims to have psychic visions of the dead girl being close-by. Nicolas Roeg used the city of Venice masterfully and created not only one of the great what-the-fuck finales but the greatest sex scene ever committed to film. Older Post About Don't Look Now: Boo!

With: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania, Massimo Serato, Renato Scarpa, Giorgio Trestini, Leopoldo Trieste, David Tree, Ann Rye, Nicholas Salter, Sharon Williams, Bruno Cattaneo, Adelina Poerio

Night of the Comet
1984, USA
Thom E. Eberhardt

One of my personal favorite apocalypse films, Night of the Comet finds the population in jeopardy when a comet hits earth and turns nearly everyone to dust, except for a duo of sassy teenage sisters from the Valley. Where so many films like it fail, Night of the Comet does a good job balancing its intentional and accidental cheese; it has just enough awareness of itself to keep things playful and annoyingly/hilariously trendy.

With: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran, Sharon Farrell, Mary Woronov, Geoffrey Lewis, Peter Fox, John Achorn, Michael Bowen

02 September 2012

Five Short Recommendations, Available on Netflix

A friend of mine who just finished school asked me if I could suggest some films for him to watch on Netflix Instant. I've written a number of annotated recommendations for him, so I figured I may as well share slightly edited versions here as well. I'll roll these out every so often, and I may write longer pieces on any of these in the future. Each of the films below were available on Netflix Instant in the USA at the time this was published.

House of Pleasures
L'Apollonide (Souvenirs de la maison close) / House of Tolerance
2011, France
Bertrand Bonello

You could spend an entire day coming up with adjectives to describe this film about the young women, their madame, her children, their clients, and the ghosts that inhabit a Parisian whorehouse at the dawn of the 20th century: beautiful, frightening, elegant, decadent, erotic, mysterious, haunting, radical, moving, difficult, luminous, and so on. But none of those words could accurately describe the total experience of watching Bertrand Bonello's unshakeable masterpiece.

With: Noémie Lvovsky, Alice Barnole, Céline Sallette, Adèle Haenel, Hafsia Herzi, Iliana Zabeth, Jasmine Trinca, Laurent Lacotte, Xavier Beauvois, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Jacques Nolot, Judith Lou Lévy, Anaïs Thomas, Pauline Jacquard, Maïa Sandoz, Joanna Grudzinska, Esther Garrel, Pierre Léon, Jean-Baptiste Verquin, Michel Peteau, Marcelo Novais Teles, Guillaume Verdier, Justin Taurand, Damien Odoul, Paul Moulin, Henry Lvovsky, Paolo Mattei, Frédéric Epaud, Anaïs Romand, Vincnet Dieutre, Bertrand Bonello, Pascale Ferran

2009, France/Austria
Patric Chiha

In what was John Waters' unexpected (but not unusual) favorite film of 2010, Béatrice Dalle, still a smoldering presence onscreen twenty years after Betty Blue, plays an alcoholic mathematician who is also a sort of mentor to her beautiful gay teenage nephew (Isaïe Sultan). It's neither a coming-of-age story nor a PSA for addiction, but instead a rather intimate portrait of the alternately tender and toxic relationship between these two misfits. There's a great club scene a little over half way into the film where a bunch of people dance bizarrely in a smoke-filled, infinitely negative space.

With: Béatrice Dalle, Isaïe Sultan, Alain Libolt, Raphaël Bouvet, Sylvia Roher, Bernd Birkhahn, Udo Samel, Tatiana Vialle, Manuel Marmier, Gisèle Vienne, Gloria Pedemonte, Thomas Landbo

Flirting with Disaster
1996, USA
David O. Russell

Flirting with Disaster was a film I couldn't appreciate at a young age for a variety of reasons, but revisiting it as an adult had me crying with laughter. David O. Russell's brand of humor is a unique blend of chatty New York high-brow and slapstick-y absurdism, which you can also see at work in I Heart Huckabee's, a film I've changed my opinion on at least three times. While Ben Stiller is easily replaceable in the central role of the new daddy who wants to find his birth parents before naming his son, the entire supporting cast is priceless, particularly Mary Tyler Moore as Stiller's high-strung adoptive mother, Téa Leoni as the hapless psychology student documenting the eventual reunion, and–above all–Lily Tomlin, who steals the show.

With: Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Téa Leoni, Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, Richard Jenkins, Josh Brolin, Glenn Fitzgerald, Celia Weston, David Patrick Kelly

1966, France/UK
Tony Richardson

It would be too easy to dismiss Mademoiselle as simply a historical oddity. The screenplay was originally written by Jean Genet as a present to actress Anouk Aimée, but he reportedly sold it unbeknownst to her, and it was eventually reworked by author Marguerite Duras to be the first (and only, I believe) French-language film by director Tony Richardson, starring the one-and-only Jeanne Moreau (for whom the closeted bisexual Richardson left wife Vanessa Redgrave) and, at some point, Marlon Brando, though his casting never actually panned out. All that bizarre history aside, Mademoiselle is perfectly wicked, and Moreau is flawless as the child-hating, sexually repressed, arsonist schoolteacher, whose loins become inflamed when she meets a strapping Italian woodsman.

With: Jeanne Moreau, Ettore Manni, Keith Skinner, Umberto Orsini, Georges Aubert, Jane Beretta, Paul Barge, Pierre Collet, Gérard Darrieu, Jean Gras, Gabriel Gobin

The Lovers on the Bridge
Les amants du Pont-Neuf
1991, France
Léos Carax

Les amants du Pont-Neuf was a highly-ambitious project from French auteur Léos Carax–whose latest film Holy Motors (which stars his usual leading man Denis Lavant alongside Eva Mendes and Kylie Minogue!) is supposed to be absolutely spectacular–one which involved numerous reshoots, delays and eventually an entire reconstruction of the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge across the Seine. There's probably no more appropriate way to describe Carax as an artist other than a visionary, and this is (not counting Holy Motors, which I haven't seen) his magnum opus, a small tale of a romance between a street performer (Lavant) and a painter (Juliette Binoche) who is going blind, told with dazzling opulence in grand measure. WARNING: Unfortunately, Netflix seems to be streaming a cropped version of the film. It looks like it's in 1.33:1 ratio, when it should be 1.85:1 (see the photo above). Such a shame for a film that utilizes the entirety of its frame so beautifully.

With: Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Daniel Buain, Edith Scob, Klaus-Michael Grüber, Marion Stalens, Chrichan Larsson, Paulette Berthonnier, Roger Berthonnier, Georges Aperghis, Michel Vandestien