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

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