The French Dispatch (of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun)

Release: Friday, October 22, 2021 (limited)

👀 Theater

Written by: Wes Anderson

Directed by: Wes Anderson

Starring: Bill Murray; Owen Wilson; Adrien Brody; Benicio del Toro; Léa Seydoux; Tilda Swinton; Frances McDormand; Timothée Chalamet; Jeffrey Wright; Mathieu Amalric; Ed Norton; Steve Park; Elizabeth Moss; Willem Dafoe; Saiorse Ronan

Distributor: Searchlight Pictures

 

****/*****

Trying not to laugh in a Wes Anderson movie is like trying to suppress a sneeze. All the little absurdities he is synonymous with are those constant tickles that build toward something you can no longer contain. Of course, his movies aren’t pure comedy and so you’re fighting a battle of needing that sweet release and being stifled by the seriousness that sits right beside the silliness.

The French Dispatch (etc, etc) is yet another example of that uniquely entertaining struggle. But it might be a struggle in another way, for this is the most ambitious project Anderson has yet undertaken. As such it isn’t a great starting point for a newcomer (I highly recommend beginning with his début Bottle Rocket — it’s low-key but full of the elements that would later make him an auteur). In some ways, early Anderson might be the best Anderson as you see raw talent more than the money. Post-Royal Tenenbaums, the intensifying style and increasing magnitude of cast represent an elitist form of repetition, with his exacting precision and obsessive-compulsive control over all elements remaining forever the things you remember more than story beats.

Don’t get me wrong though; I’m a fan, and if he so chooses to make a movie that somehow tops this level of complexity, consider me there. But I also wonder about the sustainability of the future — can Anderson just keep drilling down into more and more complicated narratives or does something eventually give? His tenth film is a doozy, at one point a post-World War II musical (that’d be something to see!) now turned into a detail-laden love letter to journalists that unfolds as though one is watching a magazine come to life on screen. For Anderson, the way a story is told has always been tantamount to the subjects of those stories and in drawing inspiration from The New Yorker he’s found an ideally idiosyncratic space in which to run wild with his obsessions.

It’s the end of an era for the staff of the titular paper, a foreign bureau of a fictional Kansas publication based in the delightfully made-up French town of Ennui-sur-Blasé (literally Boredom-upon-Apathy). The editor, Arthur Howitzer Jr. (Bill Murray), has suddenly passed away from a heart attack. Usually it’s no news is bad news but this is bad news for his underlings, a tight-knit group often coddled by Howitzer — a character loosely based on The New Yorker founding editor Howard Ross. As per his wishes, Howitzer’s death means the end of the paper. The overarching plot, manifested in a prologue and epilogue, revolves around this bittersweet development as the loyal staff gather themselves, without crying, to reprint a series of stories for the paper’s final issue.

Sporting an insane cast The French Dispatch all but demands a second viewing if you want more than the basic shape. The first segment, titled ‘The Concrete Masterpiece,’ is relayed to us by J.K.L. Berensen (Tilda Swinton), an art aficionado prone to personal digressions at the lectern. Her presentation describes a strange relationship between incarcerated, tortured artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro) and his prison guard/muse Simone (Léa Seydoux). Adrien Brody complicates the scene as an art dealer who intends to sell Rosenthaler’s provocative abstracts to the highest bidder. The buyer’s persistence sets off a chain of amusing events that becomes impressively convoluted considering the confinement of the scene.

From a physical altercation we pivot into social unrest in ‘Revisions to a Manifesto,’ which centers on journalist Lucinda Krementz (Frances McDormand), a lonely writer who emphasizes professional objectivity yet develops an intimate relationship with a student protestor (Timothée Chalamet) as she helps him formalize his complaints in writing. The righteous cause in this case is getting campus rules rewritten so that boys can visit girls in their dorms. As the movement evolves, the town of Ennui becomes ensconced in greater conflict, in what becomes known as The Chessboard Revolution. The tableau is constructed as farce but finds real-world roots in the May 1968 student-led protests that snowballed into nationwide strikes and even prompted a temporary government shutdown. It’s a tricky area in which Anderson’s unbridled whimsy could easily feel inappropriate, but he avoids unfunny facsimile by keeping the focus almost exclusively on the (intentionally inappropriate) dynamic between writer and subject.

Finally we arrive at ‘The Private Dining Room of the Police Commissioner,’ which, for now at least as my brain tries not to overheat, is at risk for being remembered only for the breathtaking action midway through, an Adventures of Tintin-style animated sequence down narrow French streets that effects a New Yorker comic strip in moving picture form. During a television interview, forlorn foodie Roebuck Wright (Jeffrey Wright) recounts the kidnapping of the Commissaire (Mathieu Amalric)’s son by members of Ennui’s seedy underbelly, represented by Ed Norton‘s Chauffeur. The kidnapper’s motive (and fate) prove far less significant than the recollection itself, which encompasses his painful backstory of how he, an openly gay writer, came to be hired by the Dispatch.

Each of these stories are works of art unto themselves. Although some are more memorable than others, it’s not crazy to imagine any one of them being stretched into a full-length film of its own. Details matter more here than they ever have. In a story overflowing with minutiae perhaps this is no small thing, but it’s important to note the way Anderson regards journalists — at the very least, his journalists — not as unassailable heroes incapable of doing harm but rather emotional beings who have egos, biases, habits, neuroses. The French Dispatch is not a lamentation of clickbait or a yearning for the days when long-form journalism didn’t need to be qualified as ‘good, old fashioned.’ This is a satire of writerly sensibilities, of insecurities and imperfections, ironically delivered by a veritable perfectionist. 

While the laughs may not come as easily on the first try, the layered narrative approach and copious relationships ensure The French Dispatch will be a piece worth returning to time and time again. 

If you mention block-editor to me one more time . . .

Moral of the Story: The French Dispatch is a movie that finds Wes Anderson pushing his iconic style and atmosphere to extremes, such that style and substance become one and the same. The subject matter is more esoteric than something like the romantic escape of Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and more complex even than the history of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), but the good news is that you don’t need to be aware of all the homages and references that are made to enjoy what Anderson is doing here. As with so many of his films, what you put into it is probably what you will get out of it. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins. 

Quoted: “As you know by now, we have kidnapped your son.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: www.impawards.com; www.rogerebert.com 

Divines

divines-movie-poster

Release: Friday, November 18, 2016 (Netflix)

[Netflix]

Written by: Uda Benyamina; Romain Compingt; Malik Rumeau 

Directed by: Uda Benyamina 

Divines provides a bleak but brilliant look into the lives of two teens in the Parisian banlieue. It follows Dounia and her best friend Maimouna as they seek out ways of making quick money so they can one day break free of their oppressive environs, an urban sprawl so neglected it almost looks post-apocalyptic. Small-time hustlers turn big-time drug pushers in this searing indictment of the socioeconomic climate of modern France, where the rich get richer “because the poor aren’t daring enough.”

Powerful female performances dominate but the French-Moroccan Uda Benyamina in her feature debut stops just short of making a film explicitly about female empowerment, and in so doing she creates a film that’s a little more open to interpretation. The narrative is more concerned with economics and how simply the lack of money so often coerces good people into making poor decisions. It just so happens to feature two impressionable young women going to extreme measures to realize a dream. Along the way Benyamina also examines the prominence of religion in poor communities. It is no accident the film opens with a sermon.

Dounia (Oulaya Amamra, the director’s sister) comes from a broken family, her mother an exotic dancer who sleeps around and is more often drunk than sober. There’s no real father figure as such, aside from a cross-dresser who hangs around for casual sex and to feign giving emotional support to the quietly angry teen. Maimouna (Déborah Lukumuena) comes from a more well-to-do family, her father a prayer leader at a mosque. The film’s major themes — poverty and religious devotion — become increasingly apparent through the perspectives and conversations had between the two girls. They are first seen peddling whatever items they have been able to thieve from a shopping mall on the streets to whomever will give them cash. When Dounia discovers a potential fast-track to success she starts cozying up to a drug dealer named Rebecca (Jisca Kalvanda).

Divines is hardly the first film to filter the political and economic turmoil of Western Europe through the experiences of young and naïve characters — in this case, young women from a Parisian ghetto. It will not be the last. That doesn’t mean Divines is a predictable or insignificant affair. Quite the contrary, actually. The story revitalizes tropes and breathes new life into expected character arcs, patiently building toward one of the most punishing endings you are likely to see. Julien Poppard’s cinematography, a heady combination of gritty realism and ethereal experimentation, forces viewers to acknowledge Paris as something other than just the City of Lights. This is a city of darkness. It’s worth noting the juxtaposition of these slums against iconic landmarks like the Arc de Triomphe. Poppard often frames the city in a contradictory manner, imprisoning the characters within a crumbling square betwixt decaying buildings while tossing in plenty of romantic stimuli to assure viewers are where the street signs say they are.

While the edifices certainly could use some attention, Dounia in particular is desperate for it. Or at least some sort of positive influence. As the narrative expands she is shown a door to an altogether different life with a dancer named Djigui (Kévin Mischel) whom she has been spying on from the rafters of the theater she and Maimouna frequently break into. (Initially I was put off by their ability to sneak in so easily but then I realized the set-up was quite intentional, that perhaps the motif is microcosmic of Benyamina’s frustrations over the French government’s failure to protect and look after all its citizens, as any good government should.) Djigui seems an odd sort, if only to the girls who don’t envision men as dancers. His commitment to his craft is what could lead him to better things. Dounia becomes fascinated by his devotion.

Divines is at its most heartbreaking when it offers the wayward teens a choice. As is the case in reality, they are forced to make decisions over the course of an hour and forty-five minutes that no teenager should have to make. The economics that have outlined her past as well as determine her future make Dounia an utterly tragic character (the less said about Maimouna’s fate, the better). Yet she’s far from an entirely empathetic person. She carries a lot of anger inside of her, and she often makes the wrong choice when it is plain to see there is a better one. She is seen in the film’s opening in temple with her best friend. By the end she couldn’t seem further from salvation. That contrast is not only heartbreaking but wholly convincing. It is the world we live in.

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Recommendation: Richly textured, occasionally symbolic and often breathtaking cinematography and some artistic but not distracting stylistic choices — some portions of the film are created such that we are “receiving” Snapchat videos — make Divines a physical beauty to watch. The story is dark and saddening and a conclusion that’s nothing short of devastating makes this a noteworthy film for the politically minded and the socially conscious. And fans of unorthodox directors need to add this to their shortlist. Good for Uda Benyamina for getting this film made. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 105 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.variety.com

The Measure of a Man

'The Measure of a Man'

Release: Friday, April 15, 2016 (limited)

[Vimeo]

Written by: Stéphane Brizé; Olivier Gorce

Directed by: Stéphane Brizé


This review marks my latest contribution to Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. I would like to give James a shout-out for the opportunity to talk about another foreign film here. 


The Measure of a Man (La loi du marché) could turn out to be a measure of one’s patience if they’re not prepared for the meditation that lays ahead. But if you’re willing to stick with it, you’ll hardly miss Stéphane Brizé’s biting critique of the status quo of the working class French, casting Vincent Lindon’s family man into the fire as he scrambles for another way to make ends meet after losing his factory job in unceremonious fashion.

I can hardly say I know what it’s like to live in Europe, but it’s not a stretch to imagine that the cutthroat experience of seeking better work in America doesn’t just end wherever there are geopolitical borders. It’s not the continental shelf; people the world over face variants of the same basic problems that constitute surviving in a modern society. And Thierry Taugourdaeu (Lindon) is one of them.

We first meet him when he’s become utterly fed up with the wild goose chases that are the job training courses he’s spent at least the last year committing to. Now he’s being told yet again, upon completion of another course, that he won’t get a job doing what he has just been trained for. Lindon is very good in the role, his face remaining mostly unchanged during the hardships, even while it’s clearly obvious that despair and exasperation are well setting in even by the opening frame. Wisely he never overacts or overreacts to new developments. His measured performance (e-hem) feels totally human.

His love for his family — wife Karine (Karine de Mirbeck) and their developmentally challenged high-school aged son named Matthieu (Matthieu Schaller) — is without question. As he faces a series of humiliations and disappointments his trials become a testament to that love. He worries, he doubts and occasionally he becomes discouraged. He doesn’t interview well, as his peers point out at will. He and his wife take dance classes, presumably to take their minds off of the fact they’re going to have to sell off assets in order to send their son to college.

The lack of consistently compelling viewing separates it by quite a large margin from its 2015 cousin Two Days, One Night, in which Marion Cotillard starred as a woman fighting for her right to regain employment with the same company after suffering a mental breakdown. The Dardenne brothers were arguably afforded a better product on the back of career-best work from Cotillard alone, though her character had to interact with a number of significant supports in order for us to gauge her psychological state — that intimate connectivity the film’s backbone. Thierry has a much different role to play; he’s much more of a loner, which proves to be a roadblock to success for him at points.

The Measure of a Man has neither the high(-ish) stakes nor the fiercely emotional performance that will make it linger in the way Two Days, One Night still does. Brizé nevertheless has created a very watchable film here and yes, a damning one to some lesser degree. Exasperation is an inescapable commodity here, and you can feel the weight of it accumulating as days turn to weeks, weeks to months. The study goes further than simply telling one man’s journey: it’s microcosmic of the situation many people of the global working class find themselves in today.

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Recommendation: The Measure of a Man is a small, compact and intriguing study of one man’s struggles that can be extrapolated to a global level. It tends to frustrate more than make viewers feel good about the current job market(s), but then, does it really have an obligation to make one feel good? The sense of reality often hits hard and with a strong central performance from Vincent Lindon I kind of have to recommend tracking this one down sometime for at least a one-time viewing.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 84 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Decades Blogathon – The Battle Of Algiers (1966)

 

Hey all, head on over to Three Rows Back for a review of The Battle of Algiers, brought to you by Marta, who runs the show over at Ramblings of a Cinephile. Thanks a lot!

three rows back

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1966

Welcome to another day of the event of the year: the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and Tom from Digital Shortbread! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I are running a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post) and for Super Tuesday it’s the turn of Marta from Ramblings of a Cinephile, who turns her sights on the masterpiece that is The Battle Of Algiers (1966).

The gritty and rather bloody story of the uprising that led to the independence of Algeria in 1962 is shot by Gillo Pontecorvo in a compelling style.

Commissioned by the Algerian government less than a decade after the facts, it shows both sides in an unforgiving way – from the terrorist attacks of the Algerian militants to the tortures of the French army. Pontecorvo…

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Decades Blogathon – The Tenant (1966)

 

Jordan has graciously contributed a review of Roman Polanski’s 1976 Parisian drama The Tenant. Head on over to Mark’s place to check out what he had to say! Thanks!

three rows back

Decades Blogathon Banner 20161976 2Hot diggity, it’s already day five of the Decades Blogathon – 6 edition – hosted by myself and the awesome Tom from Digital Shortbread. That means we’re already half way through! The blogathon focuses on movies that were released in the sixth year of the decade. Tom and I will run a different entry each day (we’ll also reblog the other’s post); and I’m delighted to welcome Jordan from Epileptic Moondancer to present his views on Roman Polanski’s unnerving psychological drama The Tenant.

Years ago, I introduced myself to film by rifling through the filmographies of Kubrick and Gilliam. Once that was done, I wanted to find another director whose films I could work through.

Through a Google search using the phrase ‘mind-f**k movies’ I came across Repulsion, perhaps Polanski’s best film. The atmosphere and the camerawork instantly hyptonised me and after watching the film the next…

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Decades Blogathon – Au Hasard Balthazar (1966)

1966

 

Happy Wednesday everyone. We move forward with day three in the Decades Blogathon, where me and Mark have been running posts from various bloggers interested in talking about films from decades past. Once again, there’ll be a new review posted each day, one here and one at the incomparable Three Rows Back. Today we’ve got a good one. This 1966 French piece comes courtesy of Keith, who runs the show over at his fantastic blog, Keith and the Movies


Anne Wiazemsky as Marie, with her donkey Balthazar,

The brilliant auteur Robert Bresson has been called the father of French cinema. Many of the greats from France’s New Wave movement considered Bresson their chief influence. Other filmmakers from around the world often pointed to Bresson’s work as effecting the shape and form of cinema for generations. He was known for his unconventional style and techniques which found their roots in his own unique philosophies behind the art of cinema.

Bresson had an intriguing filmography and one of his best pictures is his 1966 drama Au Hasard Balthazar. His films often focused on lead characters weighed down by or struggling with their circumstances or their inner-self. The conflicts and turmoils they faced often left them physically or emotionally broken. Bresson’s films are not for those looking for a lighthearted affair. They are thought-provoking examinations of humanity that refuse to shy away from our crueler and harsher sides. Au Hasard Balthazar is a stirring example of this approach.

The film follows a donkey named Balthazar who encounters a wide assortment of deeply flawed people during his life. We first see him right after birth living on a small rural farm. Over the film’s quick 95 minutes Balthazar changes hands several times. Many of his owners and handlers abuse him often physically but sometimes out of sheer neglect. But Bresson doesn’t take a cheap way out. Balthazar isn’t a miracle animal. He doesn’t speak or come up with clever ways to repay his abusers. No, he’s just a donkey. Simple, innocent, and true to his nature. He knows what donkeys know, feels what donkeys feel, and acts as donkeys act.

ABH 1

Why is that so important? Because it puts the spotlight on humanity. Balthazar is doing what he should be doing. It’s the people he endures along the way who show their very flawed and sometimes wicked sides. It’s an indictment on the reality of how things are. When speaking on the movie the great filmmaker and one-time critic Jean-Luc Godard called it “the world in an hour and a half”. It’s a sad picture that is sometimes hard to look at. And despite his limitations Balthazar is still intensely sympathetic and able to touch our emotions.

But Bresson doesn’t just follow Balthazar around everywhere. He also tells us the stories of several characters who play roles in the donkey’s life. The main one is Marie (Anne Wiazemsky). She lives on the farm where Balthazar is born and shows love towards him. But in another instance of straying from the conventional, Marie also sits idly by while a group of young thugs led by the slimy Gerard (François Lafarge) beats Balthazar. Marie becomes an emotionless hollow soul, in some ways like Balthazar – a victim of her circumstances. But she loses herself in a much darker place.

ABH 2

Gerard ends up with Balthazar on a couple of occasions and his cruelty towards the animal is unsettling. Gerard is a thug, a thief, and is shown to possibly be a lot worse. There are parts of his story that didn’t make sense to me, but Gerard’s brand of sadistic evil is felt by man and beast. Balthazar also spends time with a baker, a traveling circus, and a local drunk. We see all of these people through the clearest and most honest eyes possible – Balthazar’s.

Several of Bresson’s signature style choices are clearly seen in the film. Most obvious is his penchant for using non-professional actors in his roles. You will rarely find room for big movie stars in a Bresson movie. The director would hire unknowns and then train them specifically for their part. He didn’t want an ounce of theatrics from his actors and he was known to film a scene over and over until every hint of performance was removed. Even more, Bresson didn’t refer to his performers as actors. He called them “models” and they offered a raw and reserved take unlike what you see in the mainstream. When watching Au Hasard Balthazar this can be a challenge especially for those not accustomed to Bresson’s work. The characters can appear cold and indifferent, but that also causes us to look at them in a very unique way.

Au Hasard Balthazar can be a difficult film to take in. Its narrative can be a bit challenging but once you connect with Bresson’s greater message everything falls into place. It’s visceral and heartbreaking. At the same time it holds a mirror up to the world we live in. And while this film was made in 1966, the reflection it casts is just as piercing today as it was then. Godard’s description of the film is spot on. Bresson shows us the world. The question becomes how are we going to change it? Even more, can we change it?


Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Amélie (2001)

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Our second stop this December on Throwback Thursday finds us head-over-heels in like (?) with a very unique girl. A hopeless romantic. A dreamer. A dream-weaver. Though this entry doesn’t strictly qualify as a film that spreads holiday cheer, it’s one that spreads cheer and is the definition of a feel-good film. It’s a testament to the combined strengths of the performances, some delicious cinematography and memorable visual effects that I was eventually won over by this film. I was so very tempted to shut this thing off after about 40 minutes as it is a rather slow journey. But by the end I was actually kind of moved. For the second time this month I’m having a new experience with  

Today’s food for thought: Amélie (2001).

Amelie minimalist poster

Romancing the City of Love since: November 2, 2001

[Netflix]

The City of Love dazzles and shines in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s fantastical portrait of a young girl touching the lives of many a downtrodden Parisian. It aches with a melancholy the warm yellow hues of Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography (he helped set the mood for Inside Llewyn Davis with his distinctly colder, bluer photography) help offset, but only just. There are people everywhere but not much life to be found. People are shells of their former selves, save for Amélie, who has grown up in a unique but largely unenviable way.

Her parents, both hard workers but far from ideal caretakers — her father, never spending much time with her, had his only daughter incorrectly diagnosed with a heart condition; mother, a bit of an emotionally cold person who sadly lost her life in a most bizarre manner — effectively isolated Amélie from social settings. She was homeschooled. Amélie’s upbringing created many challenges for her, but that didn’t stop her from being curious about the world of which she was a part.

After witnessing the news of the death of Princess Diana and coming to the realization that life is all too fleeting, she became hooked on the idea of spreading joy to other people’s lives. She hoped maybe she could help them improve their outlook and in so doing, make her life have meaning. She sets about helping an older man recover a box filled with all sorts of memories from his past; a reclusive artist learn how to socialize; a young boy overcome his circumstances working for a nasty, ungrateful boss at a corner market. She even starts working her magic at The Two Windmills, a small café she has been working at, playing Cupid for one of her co-workers who can never seem to attract the attention she longs for from a regular customer.

It’s strange that someone who suffered such a cruel childhood could grow up to become such a romantic and an eternally kind-hearted person. In fact this protagonist is so incongruent to the way in which the real world works she comes across as a character only a movie could create. Amélie is a little girl nobody really seems to pay much mind to, yet she’s larger than life. I found it difficult to buy into her blossoming as a young woman. Not to mention, the film takes an eternity to get to where it really wants to go. The first half of this picture is nothing short of a slog as it sets about establishing dynamics between these many other lost souls who have all, in some way, shape or form had their hearts turned to stone.

Despite the unlikeliness of this enigmatic personality, it’s something of a task to resist her charms. Amélie may crawl like molasses spilling forth from the jar but it’s this process of slow absorption that finally won me over. I just couldn’t help it. I mean, how can you not fall in love with this girl, the short-cut, jet-black-haired woman with a perpetual twinkle in her eye that suggests she’s up to something? Parts of her recall Macauley Culkin in Home Alone, what with her mischievous nature as she goes to lengths to make life a little more difficult for the people who deserve it, while sending a potential lover, Mathieu Kassovitz’s Nino, on a whimsical journey across the city, scattering clues all over in an attempt to win his heart and, in effect, make her first true connection to someone in the real world.

And this is what, for me, made Amélie often a challenge to root for. She can be so helpless. She’s been programmed not to make direct contact with others, despite her affinity for passing through their lives like wind through the leaves on a branch. As the reclusive Dufayel observed, unable to conceal his disdain: “she would rather imagine herself relating to an absent person than build relationships with those around her.” It’s not all her fault of course but at some point it’s less about her failure to make that contact as it is her fault that she fails to do so on so many different occasions. “For Pete’s sake, go and get him!”

Indeed the film is nothing if not a traditional love story, steeped in karmic and coincidental reality. Amélie seemed destined to help others, but — and the film is almost too conscious of it — she’d be a fool if she would forget about her own happiness in the process. As the film builds into a crescendo composed of the efforts she has made to brighten others’ days, it begins to gain an unwieldy belly that, for the most part sits content, but often can feel a bit overstuffed and bloated. Engorged on sugary romance. Part of me wants to say this film isn’t exactly my tasse de thé and if it weren’t for Tautou’s mesmerizing performance I would have never made it past those first 40 minutes.

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Recommendation: A film defined by its central performance, Amélie is one for romantics at heart and French cinema enthusiasts. While bearing some fantastical camera techniques that remind one of Charlie Kaufman, this is a decidedly more upbeat and optimistic film than anything he’s done. Entertaining, beguiling, entrancing. This is a pretty great movie and I was ultimately rewarded for committing to it.

Rated: R

Running Time: 122 mins.

TBTrivia: Of all the things this movie inspired, it wasn’t so much passionate love affairs, but rather the advertising campaign of Travelocity. Throughout the film, Amélie, in an attempt to inspire her shut-in father to get out and see the world, hatched a scheme wherein the family garden gnome would be sent to various famous international locales and have its picture taken and sent back to him. Hence, the Travelocity Gnome.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Walk

Release: Friday, October 9, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Robert Zemeckis; Christopher Browne

Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

In this episode of Remarkable Feats of Human Spectacle and/or Idiocy, Joseph Gordon Levitt balances on a one-inch thick steel cable rigged between the newly-constructed towers of the World Trade Center, looming steel giants that would go on to cast infinite shadows across Lower Manhattan in both a literal and metaphorical sense. Levitt portrays a man with an insatiable death wish, French high wire artist Philippe Petit, who, after coming across a magazine article in a dentist’s office about the towers, becomes obsessed with the idea of creating the “artistic crime of the century.”

If you like going to the circus, Robert Zemeckis’ sensationally goofy ode to stunt/suicidal men should sit right with you. The Walk tiptoes precariously between harmless popcorn entertainment and shameless exploitation, using Petit’s brazen decision to defy death in the most ridiculous way possible to remind the world once again of how terrible a day Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was. In fact, Zemeckis is so obsessed with recapturing what our world looked like physically prior to that day of darkness that I lost track of the number of vertical-panning shots of these most uninspired-looking structures.

If you’re not a fan of the circus, you may find The Walk to be, in the words of my generation, a shit show. Not in the traditional sense of the phrase, in that Petit or his many accomplices that he guilt-tripped into assisting him were perpetually drunk throughout the picture. Rather, this show is just shitty. It’s not particularly well acted (save for Levitt who, as per usual, is clearly dedicated to his craft), it drags for at least half the runtime and it tries to compensate for the recklessness by striking a fanciful tone. The whole thing comes dangerously close to being pointless as tension fails to be generated given we know the outcome before the opening scene spirits us away to Paris and before we’re inundated with a lot of exposition covering the man’s personal and early professional background.

During one of my many periods of zoning out I recalled when American daredevil Nik Wallenda deemed it a good idea to fix a line between a narrow section of the Grand Canyon and walk it without the aid of safety nets or harnesses. (These people view that kind of silly stuff as some form of emasculation.) If we’re talking entertainment value, there’s no comparison between waiting for this fairytale’s happy ending and realizing Wallenda’s walk carried with it the very real potential of having an actual death broadcast on television. Macabre? Maybe, but at least the threat was right there, making viewers the world over extremely uncomfortable for the better part of an hour. Some families reportedly didn’t allow their children to watch it. They’d be fine watching this, though. It’s completely kid-friendly, one of a small handful of aspects you can stick in the Positives column.

As The Walk progresses, something strange happens. As we draw ever closer to the red letter day (August 6, 1974) — that is to say, as Petit’s dream becomes more real — the less authentic this true story feels. Maybe it’s because the actor’s safety never being in question is too thinly veiled. Maybe it’s just because Levitt is such a nice guy he fails to convey the level of arrogance necessary to fully transform. (His accent doesn’t help, either.) Despite Dariusz Wolski’s breathtaking cinematography culminating in several vertigo-inducing shots as we dare look past Petit’s feet and into the abyss, more often than not the film is unable to escape its Hallmark movie channel sheen.

The Walk relies on the power of illusion. This is Barnum & Bailey on the big screen. If I had known that that was what I was paying to see I would have stayed home and forced myself to rewatch Man on Wire; of course that would mean having to endure the actual high wire artist’s grating cocksureness. In the end, I’m really not sure why I put myself through this. Maybe it’s me and not Petit that needs the psych evaluation.

Recommendation: I’ve said it once but I will say it again: if your circus experiences have served you well in the past, here’s another you can attend but this time from the confines of a theater chair. I suppose in some way The Walk is more than just the single act; it is a respectful tribute to the twin towers as well as reminder that it’s pretty impressive what people can do when they put their minds to it. But my recommendation comes down to something simple: whether or not you can stand listening to people say things like, “You gave that building a soul,” or “It’s amazing how you never gave up on your dreams.” If you cringe at stuff like that, then I think for you the carrots are cooked, as they say.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 123 mins.

Quoted: “The carrots are cooked.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

Two Days, One Night

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Release: Friday, February 6, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

Directed by: Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne

It’s very difficult, if not impossible to sort through Marion Cotillard’s many impressive outings and alphabetize them in terms of brilliance. Go ahead; try it. A career like that of the 39-year-old Parisian trouper is hard to mimic for its consistency and versatility, but now with her Sandra Bya in the picture, recognizing the superlative form of Cotillard becomes much easier. This is it; this is as good as it gets with her.

There’s something Philip Seymour Hoffman-esque about the chameleonic way with which she moves through the industry. Ideally I’m suggesting only the most positive connotation in that comparison, though it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine Cotillard has had some difficulty assimilating back into reality on occasion. The rabbit hole reveals its true depth when you’re committed to the verisimilitude of something like Two Days, One Night, the tenth feature film from the Dardenne brothers, one that hinges on intensely psychological performances in its frank examination of workplace competition. Not that the story she’s telling with her fragile character is confusing, but the depths she must plumb within her own mind must surely become tricky to navigate.

At a small solar panel plant in the industrial town of Seraing, Belgium Sandra has experienced a nervous breakdown and has had to take time away from her job to get healthy once again. We come crashing into her life after the fact, observing a listless body burrowing deeply into a couch that can only give her so much comfort. Her phone begins to ring. And ring. And ring. Eventually she goes to answer it, only to be met with some bad news on the other end. The foreman at Solwel has decided in her absence that the company can only justify keeping 16 of its current 17 employees, and those remaining will be able to earn their yearly bonus if they decide to vote the weak link out of the company (read: the severely depressed Sandra).

Two Days, One Night doesn’t exactly play up to the drifter’s fantasy of losing their job and going home happy about it. Even if denial becomes their shadow. The proposition has serious consequences for Sandra and her family — husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione) and their two children — namely, the roof over their heads is likely to disappear and they will have to “go back on the dole,” as is explained by Sandra in a mostly trembling voice that throughout much of the film comes predicated by her popping an anti-depressant. After she and a helpful coworker convince their boss to have a second, secret ballot on the following Monday (Sandra receives the news on a Friday morning) Sandra must do her best to convince the 16 others to sacrifice their bonus so she can keep her job, and with any luck, her modest home.

Cotillard carries the weight of the world — or at least her present reality — upon shoulders, bony protrusions from underneath a coral tank top, that don’t look like they can take any more. It’s an understated performance to be sure, but confusingly enough that’s an understatement in itself. Her screen presence frequently treads the line (at least in my mind) of method acting to the point where I thought she was actually going to overdose on all those Xanax. That scene was tough to endure. Wonderful Manu, via a sublime performance from Rongione, provides the level of support and sympathy for his ailing wife one expects from a man who’s fully prepared to accept whatever life is going to throw at them after the wedding ceremony. In his finest hour, Manu insists Sandra isn’t reducing herself to beggar status by asking others to technically take pay cuts for her.

Perhaps the greatest achievement the Dardenne’s (who are these guys again, and why is this my first time watching their stuff?) are responsible for is the complete circumvention around manufactured emotion, contrived problem-solving and arguably greatest of all, melodrama. If Sandra falls, and she often does under the stress of these couple of days — quite plausibly the crux of a very trying period in this woman’s life — there are people who will catch her. Her loving husband is obligated to be at the forefront of that list of names, but there are also Solwel employees who may not react the way one might expect in the face of losing much-needed monies.

Quiet drama has all the hallmarks of a truly dark and depressing study of the uglier realities of the working class, but it is buoyed by unwavering positivity in the face of adversity that applies every bit as much to any one of us stepping into the theaters that happen to be showing this. Financial challenges are common, but Sandra’s greatest and most unique obstacle is overcoming herself.

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4-5Recommendation: While Cotillard’s character reaps the benefits of communal support, the select few who have managed to find Two Days, One Night undoubtedly reap those of a never-better Cotillard. There is heavy competition for what her finest work is, but for my money it doesn’t get any more impressive than what she effects here in a surprisingly physical and overwhelmingly emotional performance. The argument could be made her presence overshadows everything else occurring here, but the narrative presents such an interesting social dilemma I couldn’t help but buy into this — hook, line and sinker. A terrific film.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “I don’t exist. I’m nothing. Nothing at all!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com