November 29, 2013
Though it would have found a fine home on this blog, I was able to write a review for the new Alexander Payne film, Nebraska for Hollywood.com, a gig I haven’t really announced on this blog, as I have mostly written reviews for pop culture films. They include the following films (all titles link direct to those reviews, where I am required to give scale ratings in the form of stars [halves count, so it's a 1 - 10 scale], so I’ve added the ratings to the titles):
- Frozen ****
- The Fifth Estate * 1/2
- Rush *** 1-2
- Insidious: Chapter 2 ***
- Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 ** 1/2
- The Butler ****
- Disney’s Planes ***
But Nebraska was the first true indie-oriented film I’ve had a chance to write about for the pop culture site. It follows Woody Grant (a brilliantly subtle Bruce Dern playing cantankerous and vulnerable) on a Captain Ahab-like journey to claim a million-dollar prize he may or may not know he has even won.
You can read the review by jumping through the website’s logo below (and see what rating I gave it):
But this is about Nebraska, a nice, low-key film I think has not generated the attention it really deserves, as it opens only in one multiplex in South Florida and not a single art house. It’s not a perfect film, but it features some amazing performances by Dern, Will Forte and June Squibb. Stacy Keach also appears, who Payne taps for his signature menacing quality. He also becomes an easy sort of bad guy as Woody’s family grows more endearing despite the continued appearances of their shortcomings, like one surprising matryoshka doll after another.
Nebraska is rated R (there’s only some common cussing) and runs 115 minutes. It opened in South Florida Thursday, Nov. 28, at the Regal South Beach Stadium 18. Meanwhile, in other parts of the U.S., it may already be playing at a theater near you; visit the film’s website and enter your zip code to find out here.
November 27, 2013
Paolo Sorrentino’s new film, the Great Beauty, Italy’s entry for the foreign language Oscar competition, follows Jep Gambardella (Toni Servillo) a celebrity writer learning to come to terms with his own irrelevance, as he reaches his 65th birthday. It has been decades since he wrote his only book, the pretentiously titled “Human Apparatus.” People still ask when he will follow it up. Meanwhile, he stays busy with celebrity interviews and parties.
Early in the film, a motley crew of party goers gathers to line dance, drink and laugh to pulsing electro beats and perky pop dance songs in celebration of Jep’s birthday. Lorena (Serena Grandi of Tinto Brass fame) bursts from a cake in the shape of the Coliseum with a number six on her right breast and five on her left. When one party goer cannot recognize the aged, rotund and boisterous woman, another party goer explains, she’s “an ex TV showgirl now in full physical and mental decline.” Both young and old mix together with a unified aspiration to both live it up and cover up their inadequacies. A group tosses a well-dressed older, female dwarf in the air.
Anyone familiar with the filmography of Federico Fellini will find it hard to resist comparisons. Many a surreal scene peppers the film, and the transitions between scenes feel associative, as if following dream logic. Jep could easily be seen as an older version of Marcello of La Dolce Vita, who travels circles of debauchery in Rome to come to his own sublime revelation at the end of that 1960 classic, which gave popular culture the accursed term “paparazzi.”
But as the Great Beauty moves along, a sense of humanity and even dignity overshadows the decadence. We soon learn the dwarf is the wizened editor of Jep, Dadina (Giovanna Vignola). Her short stature has only allowed her a better perspective for noticing the charms of life with humor and humility. Indeed, the Great Beauty in the title of the film is not so much a reference to the opulent imagery as what lies in the gaps. It’s a tremendous film rich not only in visual splendor but also existential angst.
Sorrentino has no interest in picking up where Fellini left off. He injects his characters with a raw yearning for fulfillment and purpose. His choice to focus on older characters is far from incidental. These people don’t only want to live. There is something much bigger at stake: they want to matter.
Ironically, the set pieces are vibrant with color and life. The ever-drifting camera of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi practically swings through the air, zooming in and pulling out, dancing to an unheard rhythm, as if it were the film’s virtual heartbeat. It does not hurt that the ancient city of Rome, where the ruins of the Coliseum make prominent appearances, is such an inherently beautiful site to see. On an intimate level, over his bed, the recurring image of Jep’s ceiling as a vast, undulating ocean stands as symbol of rebirth, as Jep’s thoughts often drift off to find memories to reconsider his life.
Jep drinks, parties and philosophizes with fellow sixty-something celebrities and sycophants. Along the way, he refines his appreciation for those he loves and those he loathes. All around him, time seems to creep along. Nostalgia for the past bubbles up and the pressure of following up his only novel haunts him. Cornered by both the past and the future, he must ultimately come to terms with loosening control of destiny so he might find the grace he pines for.
Servillo does a splendid job harnessing Jep’s conflicting traits of jaded, free-wheeling and vulnerable, as the film trudges along across a dynamic two-and-a-half-hour runtime that ultimately earns one of the most significant end title sequences ever committed to film. As a celebration of the visual form of cinema, this unassuming final note achieves a moment of transcendence that should be savored to the last second of its eight minutes by anyone who has learned something from the film’s brilliant finale: It is in the moments when we live, everything else is “blah, blah, blah.”
The Great Beauty runs 142 minutes, is in Italian with English subtitles and is unrated (there’s drugging, drinking, fucking, loving and living). It opens in our area at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables, MDCulture Art Cinema at Koubek Theater in Miami and Cinema Paradiso-Hollywood this Friday, Nov. 29.
Note: The Miami Beach Cinematheque hosted a preview screening for the purposes of this review. The MBC’s screening marks the beginning of its Italian film series “Cinema Made In Italy” that continues into April. An opening night rooftop party kicks it off at Highbar (click here for more information, including how to get into the party for free).
For screening dates of the Great Beauty in other parts of the U.S., visit the film’s official website and enter your zip code.
November 15, 2013
Life emanates from the smallest component. This is the premise of the new documentary Symphony of Soil, where even the most minuscule organisms are shown to have a big impact on our health, environment and the planet. The documentary is a well-researched thoughtful piece directed by Deborah Koons Garcia that presents a slew of passionate scientists unraveling the complex processes that make planet earth thrive. The focus is on soil and how this seemingly small and overlooked component is the basis for environmental success.
The documentary is a master class in the science and practice of sustainable farming. While we learn a lot, the information is not presented in a preachy, you-should-feel-guilty-for-how-you-are-currently-living kind of way. Indeed, unlike many of the environmentally aware/advocacy documentaries, A Symphony of Soil is informative without being heavy-handed. It is a well-organized piece that will also be quite enjoyable for those with a curious mind.
Cast as the protagonist, soil appears as something more than just dirt. Soil is the foundation from which life emanates. When one scientist takes an auger to one lush piece of ground it almost feels as though he is cutting into the fleshy skin of a giant animal. Koons Garcia’s accomplishment stems from the fact that she can create such a bond with an inanimate organism. The slew of experts and practitioners also are cast in the same passionate light about soil. Though the subject could easily induce boredom in some viewers, Koons Garcia’s treatment is uplifting and inspiring.
Through this documentary, Koons Garcia makes a point to show that the future is wide open; we can either continue to squander resources or try the various alternatives presented in the film. As it turns out, Koons Garcia does not tell us what to do but shows us what others are accomplishing. The alternatives are exciting, from a farmer in North Dakota who grew up in a farm and realized what traditional farming does to the earth, to an Indian farmer (Jaspal Singh Chattha) who waxes eloquent about the need for natural, sustainable compost and rails against the Green Revolution.
This is Koons Garcia’s second piece on the importance of environmental conservation. Her previous work The Future of Food was released in 2004, where she depicted the move towards genetically modified foods by agribusiness and the resistance from organic farmers.
Symphony of Soil runs 104 mins. Shotwell Media provided a DVD screener for the purposes of this review. You can catch it on DVD or catch one of the special screenings available near you. It is set to screen in Palm Beach, on Sunday, Nov. 17, at 3 p.m. at ArtsMuvico Parisian 20 & IMAX. Tickets can be purchased here. For a complete calendar of screenings around the country go here.
Music is an essential component of filmmaking. It adds a layer of expression beyond words. A soundtrack (music or sounds), can envelop an audience in a particular mood. Indeed, creating an atmosphere is truly a work of art and certainly not a given in every film. Crafting a soundtrack is challenging, as it must not distract while also melding into the storytelling. Sometimes songs and sounds are too overt, calling more attention to itself than the action on the screen. Other times, the sounds are predictable and generic, making the audience all too aware of what is to come— enter the high-pitched soprano and some piano chords in D-minor to elicit tears, or the dissonant noises warning the heroine not to go there right before her throat gets slashed. Yes, all cinephiles know these commonplace sounds all too well. I can think of even more examples of sounds gone wrong or feeling too generic, which is why a good soundtrack is worth celebrating. This list represents a small taste of what an important character sounds can play in every film, and how they elevate our experience.
1. Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola has a gifted ear when it comes to soundtracks. In Lost in Translation, we learn about the inner workings of confused souls in troubled relationships and about Japan! Rare new, ethereal solo music by dream pop pioneer Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine evokes a brilliant sense of lonely ennui of Scarlett Johansson‘s character. The sounds evoke the longing you feel being in a different country, and the contradictory emotions you find when being at a crossroads— from stillness to rapid-fire boom bips of the pachinko parlor. This is also a rare occasion to find the amazing Bill Murray singing Roxy Music at a Karaoke bar. How could it get any better?
Here’s another one of my favorite tracks on the soundtrack by Air, a band that worked closely with Coppola to score her debut feature, the Virgin Suicides:
Richard Ayoade’s 2010 film is a fantastic coming-of-age story, funny and complicated, complete with original music by Alex Turner of Arctic Monkey’s fame. The soft and melodious sound of Turner’s songs compliment the plot wherein Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) faces a mission to save his parents’ marriage and lose his virginity— an almost epic journey for a 15-year-old. Turner’s lyrics complement this saga in a soft way. For instance, in “Hiding Tonight,” Turner’s husky voice whispers: “Tomorrow I’ll be faster/I’ll catch what I’ve been chasing after/And have time to play/But I’m quite alright hiding today.” Though the lyrics suggest that hopeful bright future we both fear and cannot wait for as we are young, the music evokes a nostalgic feeling. The atmospheric quality this soundtrack brings to Submarine translates so well into living life.
Listen here to “Hiding Tonight” from that soundtrack:
3. Old Joy
Kelly Reichardt’s 2006 small indie film Old Joy has the ability to transport the viewer into that wild terrain of unspoiled nature and masculine feelings. Old Joy captures the friendship between Mark (Daniel London) and Kurt (Will Oldham, a noted indie musician himself) who take a trip in the forest of the Pacific Northwest. The film is heavy with sorrow, regret and unsaid things that have mounted between these two men. Much of the genius of this film comes from an atmospheric quality. There are turbulent waters under the bridge between these two friends. The soundtrack by Yo La Tengo has a nostalgic quality, an instrumental rendering that elevates the film into that feeling of “Old Joy.” The album, They Shoot, We Score compiles the music from Old Joy, as well as Junebug, Game 6 and Shortbus, so it’s a one-stop-shop for Yo La Tengo fans or independent film buffs.
Here’s my favorite track from that album, which if you’re feeling any stress, you can just listen to and let it melt away:
Melding with the storytelling, this soundtrack provides somewhat of an insight into the mind of Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman). For instance, the sprightly notes of “the Hardest Geometry Problem in the World” by Mark Mothersbaugh are reminiscent of Max’s scheming designs to open a million-dollar project to build an aquarium at Rushmore Academy to win a teacher’s heart. Mothersbaugh, of Devo fame, is in charge of most of the score with original instrumental music that truly adds to the action on screen. The rest of the songs give us a way into Max Fisher’s personality, the prep school reject who is also into writing theatrical plays, is also seriously partial to British pop, including the Who, the Kinks and even the Creation. The compilation plays like a fun mixtape that has some imaginative breaks at the hands of Mothersbaugh.
Here’s my favorite track from that album:
5. The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach’s 2005 family saga is full of drama, black humor and great music. Less rock and roll than the previous albums on this list, the Squid and the Whale soundtrack has a more folky vibe with songs from Bert Jansch, Kate and Anna McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. The original music comes courtesy of Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham, best known for headlining the indie band Luna or as the duo Dean and Britta. Perhaps it is no coincidence that this couple of musicians can write music so well for the complicated relationship between the two recently divorced writers depicted on screen.
Here’s my favorite track from that album (R.I.P. Lou Reed):
What are some of your favorite soundtracks? What is it about music and film that moves us beyond our lived experience? Leave a comment below!
November 11, 2013
There is a lot of noise surrounding this year’s Palme d’Or-crowned Blue is the Warmest Color. As it finally hits theaters in the U.S., it arrives on the heels of actress Léa Seydoux publicly feuding with director Abdellatif Kechiche. Seydoux has bemoaned the director’s treatment of her and lead actress Adèle Exarchopoulos during the lengthy production of the film. In turn, Kechiche has become incredibly defensive. Maybe it has something to do with the Steven Spielberg-led jury— in a move away from protocol— deciding to bestow the Palme on not only the film but also on Seydoux and Exarchopoulos.
None of that matters.
Titled La vie d’Adèle, Chapitre 1 & 2 in French, the film follows a young girl’s bold exploration of love and stands on its own merits beyond politically correct awards and bitter behind-the-scenes clashes. Adèle (Exarchopoulos) is still in high school when she first lays eyes on Emma (Seydoux), who’s close to finishing her fine arts degree in college. Though involved in a sexual relationship with a boy from class, Adèle grows obsessed with the vision of Emma, who she had only glanced on the street, in passing. With her shock of haphazardly dyed blue hair and her arm around the shoulders of a girl, Adèle cannot seem to shake Emma from her head. One night, after another chance encounter, she follows Emma to a lesbian bar.
Sitting alone at the bar, fending off advances from other women, Adèle locks eyes with Emma, and Emma wanders over. She warns Adèle about having entered the bar alone with a crooked, interested smile, as they brew up a casual but cute, getting-to-know-you dialogue. They have an intimate chemistry, and when a gang of Emma’s girlfriends interrupt to coax Emma to a club, it’s as if a protective bubble around them has burst.
What follows is not so much Adèle’s “sexual awakening” as it is her finding herself caught up in her own feelings for this fantastical pixie-like creature. The unfolding tragedy of this film is that Emma, who has a profound intellectual outlook as an artist, does not return the same level of love. The relationship feels doomed from the beginning, but the viewer will hardly notice, as the film so neatly packs you into the primal experience of Adèle.
Before the behind-the-scenes quarrel stole the film’s thunder, a lot of the buzz that seemed to threaten to overshadow the cinematic drama of Blue is the Warmest Color focused on the lengthy, explicit sex scenes between the women. I once heard the film’s first sex scene was 15 minutes long, then it was 10, then eight, but it’s less. Kechiche, who worked with a total of five editors, knows how to hold a scene for maximum impact. It’s a three-hour film that seems to defy time by offering moments where time seems to hold still. He also cannot be accused of allowing scenes to move too slow. He understands the impact of patient, dramatic build-up. Some scenes are almost musical crescendos. They can be as tender as Adèle’s and Emma’s first conversation, and as rough as the argument that inevitably ends their relationship.
Though the sex seems to get all the attention, what with the film’s NC-17 rating, Kechiche is only applying the same detailed, uncompromising attention he uses in every scene of the film. He lingers on silent glances loaded with revelation. To Kechiche, reaction shots seem to hold more depth than dialogue. There is a moment when the camera lingers on Adèle’s face, in the afterglow of her first sexual experience with Emma, where she does nothing but stare at Emma’s crotch, her face loaded with amusement and disbelief. Cinematographer Sofian El Fani knows how to focus on Exarchopoulos’ face throughout the film, and the actress rises to the task. Her lips in a perpetual open-mouthed pout, her doe-like eyes and her thick hair an amorphous, ever shifting puff makes Adèle look like a subject in an Egon Schiele painting. It’s no wonder Adèle becomes Emma’s muse.
As the film carries on, Adèle works to hide the relationship from suspicious, bullying classmates and her straight-laced family. Meanwhile, Emma and her bohemian friends keep it casual and open. Despite the seemingly progressive quality of the relationship in Emma’s world, it also hints at its triviality to the elder, more experienced half of the couple. After Adèle cooks dinner for Emma and her friends, Emma makes a speech, stating, “I’d especially like to thank my muse … who makes me happy today, Adèle.” The temporal quality of that statement is not lost on Adèle, and the first dagger subtly plunges into her heart.
As the hip dinner guests wolf down the meal of spaghetti alla bolognese Adèle has cooked for the occasion, Emma brings up the question whether pleasure is a shared experience. Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), who admits to his bisexuality, speaks of his limited masculine pleasure compared to what appears to him is the rather mystical experience of female orgasm. “We attain differing realities over and above orgasm,” he says. “Insofar as I’m a man, everything I’ve glimpsed is frustrated by the limits of male sexuality.”
With this speech also arrives Kechiche’s redemption as a director accused of offering a queer film with a heterosexual, alleged pornographic, gaze. A lot gels together with this game-changing speech at the center of the film. This is more than a man allowing his camera to linger long on sex between two young women, edited to offer a variety of positions, some of which never appear in mainstream films.
On a more contextual level to the central drama, Adèle overhears Joachim’s statements as another dinner guest, an actor named Samir (Salim Kechiouche), compliments her on her “yummy” pasta. As Joachim says he can never experience the ecstasy depicted in the woman’s gaze captured in Emma’s paintings, Samir prods Adèle about her relationship with Emma. “Is this the first time she’s been with a woman? Is it different? Does she want to have children?” It’s almost the base version of Joachim’s statements, and Adèle seems to brush it all off, though actually she takes it very much to heart.
This scene and its layers of narrative, both external and internal, speaks to the complexity of Blue is the Warmest Color. The English title hints at this, by attributing warmth to a color commonly associated with coldness. It’s not about irony or contrast. It’s about loving someone so hard that it hurts. The French psychoanalyst turned theorist Jacques Lacan took Freud’s pleasure principle to another level when he employed the French version of orgasm, le jouissance, to describe taking something enjoyable, and using up all the pleasure to the point that it turns into pain. It’s a drive for pleasure that becomes pain, a mix of revelation and ecstasy. That’s the jouissance Adèle endures by overhearing the one conversation while partaking in another that asks her to consider children. It also takes care of the male gaze so often questioned when it comes to this brilliant movie.
In the documentary Zizek! noted Lacanian Slavoj Zizek shrugged off sex as mutual masturbation. It’s not incidental that Kechiche chose to illustrate his story of pained love with two women. During one sexual liaison, both thrust their crotches into one another in a moment of passion and ecstasy. Seeking more connection, they clasp hands. The notion cannot be more literal than this. To Zizek, sex is two people wrestling to achieve the most pleasure from the other. The romantic notion of shared pleasure is just that: a romantic notion.
Beyond sex scenes as described above, Blue is the Warmest Color calls for a subtle awareness and a maturity in experience that merits the NC-17 rating. To some, the film will end on a rather abrupt note. But it actually marks another heartbreaking moment of jouissance where Adèle comes to realize love is never equal or shared at the same level. When Emma tells her, “I will have infinite tenderness for you” it’s different from what Adèle feels. This is not a film so much about gay love as it as about love in itself. Adèle is not sexually confused. She loves Emma in a manner that defies gender. That the actresses can convey this while under the meticulous direction of a man speaks to the power of Blue is the Warmest Color.
The full-frontal nudity, the sex and the masturbation, juxtaposed with Adèle teaching pre-school children or her wolfing down dinner while talking with her mouth full with her father shows intimacy and life. This is far from some abstract art film. It conveys life much more honestly than many romantic films out of Hollywood, which only seem to instill some false sense of expectation. This is the real deal. Far deeper than girl-on-girl porn turned drama, Blue is the Warmest Color stands on its own merits as a progressive essay on the elusive sensation of love that defies the hetero-normative constructs of what a relationship is supposed to be.
Blue Is the Warmest Color is Rated NC-17 (you know the hype: the sex in this film is explicit. Regardless, its story has a subtlety that will only be picked up by the mature audience member), is in French with English Subtitles and runs 179 minutes. It is distributed by IFC Films who provided a preview screener for the purposes of this review. It is now slowly seeping into theaters. It opened this past Friday, Nov. 8 in my area of South Florida at the following theaters:
South Beach 18 – Miami Beach
Gateway 4 – Fort Lauderdale
On Nov. 15, it opens further north in:
Parisian 20 – West Palm Beach
Pompano 18 – Pompano
Shadowood – Boca Raton
Update: The Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables has added the film to its calendar beginning Thursday, Nov. 21. See the cinema’s calendar here.
Update 2: The Miami Beach Cinematheque has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 22. See the cinema’s calendar here.
Update 3: The Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 22. See the cinema’s calendar here.
Update 4: O Cinema’s Wynwood location has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 29. See the cinema’s calendar here.
It has already opened in some parts of the U.S., and it may already be playing at a theater near you or on its way there. Visit the film’s official website here and insert your zip code to find out.
French director Bruno Dumont works in an elliptical manner. Though he consistently works with powerful visuals, his work requires an audience with an open mind and some patience. His latest, Camille Claudel, 1915, though somewhat based on true events, remains no exception. It stars Juliette Binoche as the titular sculptor turned committed psych patient. As noted by the year in the film’s title, the story focuses on her early years at an asylum in Montdevergues (she would die there, her body interred in a communal grave, in 1943).
She was placed at the psychiatric hospital against her will by her family. Her younger brother, the poet Paul Claudel, co-signed the papers. He was also the only person who would visit her. Often, years would go by between visits.
As Dumont is no ordinary filmmaker, Camille Claudel, 1915 is no ordinary biopic. The drama focuses on only three days. Early in the film, Camille receives word of one of Paul’s visits. She has high hopes he will agree to discharge her. In the meantime, she waits.
Left to languish, she often sits alone when she is not helping the nuns attend to other patients (all are played by actual nuns and real mental patients). She mostly suffers quietly between manic periods of elation at the impending visit and tearful fits of sadness over her abandonment. There are also outbursts of frustration and moments when she finds some reserve to offer care to the other patients. It all speaks to her strength as a powerful woman trapped in the wrong time.
Binoche does far more than emote. The script, credited to Dumont, is mostly based on improvisation after Binoche studied Camille’s letters. She brings intensity to a few standout monologue sequences, which Dumont treats with the utmost respect by not allowing for a single cut to break her performance. He has placed much trust in Binoche, and she delivers. As Paul, Jean-Luc Vincent also delivers, despite his lack of acting experience. Though he plays a seemingly composed, well-put-together man, an impressive question arises from his moments of speechifying. As he reveals an almost zealous devotion to God, one has to wonder who is more insane, the brother or sister?
Dumont never overtly presents this question. After all, his is the language of visuals and sounds, and he packs much baggage into his film through mostly extended scenes that sometimes feature no dialogue. As always, his shots are not only immaculately composed but loaded with meaning. His camera angles are occasionally askew, representing a world misaligned. Camille’s complexity is exposed as much with her actions as reflected by the mentally disabled around her. They stand as living, breathing fun house mirrors. As Mademoiselle Lucas laughs maniacally, her gaping mouth exposes a large hole in her front teeth. Camille stares back with a mix of curiosity and resilient reserve.
As with his other films, Dumont seems fascinated by asymmetrical faces. He even shoots Binoche at an angle that highlights a raised eyebrow and crooked lips, a visual appearance hardly emphasized in other films featuring the 49-year-old actress. Dumont allows the camera to sit on many faces, inviting contemplation, despite some uncomfortable scenes that highlight the grotesque appearance of the patients.
One of the film’s more multi-dimensional scenes features Camille sitting in a chair as sunlight bathes her through a curtain. Dumont carefully cuts to the carpet, a wall covered in ornate wallpaper, a fidgety, elderly patient on one side and a stiff, grinning woman on another. All the images feature some variation of sunlight and shadow. It’s an expressionistic scene that is as much about an internal representation as it is a staged moment. What these images and their sequence mean are given to the viewer to consider into the loose plotting of the film.
One cannot also fail to notice the significance of the landscape in the films of Dumont. Camille Claudel, 1915 is no exception. Dumont loves utilizing the wild brush of the landscape, and a day trip out to the top of a dusty hill with the wind blowing through the desolate land implies the artists’s lack. Early in the film, an enormous, dead tree in a courtyard greets Camille when she excuses herself to sit outside. Its gnarly, brittle branches reach toward a heaven that seems non-existent, as we all know there will be no redemption for poor Camille in her lifetime.
As with his previous film, Outside Satan (read my review: Bruno Dumont’s ode to the land ‘Outside Satan’ – a film review), Dumont stages much of his action outdoors. During Paul’s travels to visit his sister, he stops to speak with a priest. They walk among unkempt brush, as Paul speaks about his Catholic enlightenment. Meanwhile, the overwhelming nature crowds them onto a strict path. Dumont is a naturalist who often relies on the magic hour to light his scenes, and it’s clear he adores shooting the outdoors. Indoors, he’s all about symmetry, and when he shows Paul inside a cathedral it marks a breathtakingly beautiful moment. But, just as he loves crooked faces, Dumont seems to prefer the random quality of nature, and he harnesses it to evocative effect with an unparalleled ease.
Claudel’s love affair with Auguste Rodin was well-known, and his work overshadowed hers. References to the affair emerge in the film to heart-breaking effect that only further highlight this poor artist’s abandonment. During a brief therapy session with a doctor where Camille implores for her release, expressing her sense of betrayal by her family and Rodin, the doctor ends it by stating, “Your relationship with Rodin ended 20 years ago. We’ll see you in a week.”
Despite the film’s rather tragic tone, Dumont has intense sympathy for Camille. This is not some emotional torture porn flick, this is a humanist tale fueled by tragic affection for the titular subject. Throughout the film he celebrates Claudel as he suppresses her. She was a kinetic force whose creativity was cut short confined for too many years before a rather pathetic end. Covering only a brief period, Dumont pays intense respect to not only a singular artist but a creative energy squandered to man’s zealous determination to control. Camille Claudel, 1915 stands as a rather beautiful piece of mourning for the loss of creativity.
Camille Claudel, 1915 runs 95 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is unrated (expect some brief nudity and language). It opens exclusively in our area at the Miami Beach Cinematheque this Friday, Nov. 8, which provided a DVD screener for the purposes of this review. For screening dates in other parts of the U.S., visit the film’s official website.
November 1, 2013
Let’s face it, it’s hard to sympathize with anyone inhabiting the world of the one-percenter. It’s no surprise then that legendary filmmaker Costa-Gavras gleefully jumps in and paints a rather cartoonish portrait of high-level managers jockeying for position at a fictitious bank called Phenix. Blending both a morbid sense of humor with a rather bleak outlook, Costa-Gavras has adapted Stéphane Osmont’s Le Capital to plumb the icy depths of greed and how it corrupts all levels of humanity.
Marc Tourneuil (Gad Elmaleh tearing into the role with steely restraint) is an ambitious cad who, from the start, is ready to sink his teeth into his impending role as interim CEO at Phenix after the current CEO keels over on a golf course, grabbing his crotch. Marc dives into his new position with reptilian cool as if he has played out this role a million times over in his head. But all the preparation in the world cannot seem to ready him for the degree personal compromise ahead, as infinite temptations seem to arise before him. Meanwhile, there are always predators from inside and out who want to take what he has.
It’s hard to feel anything for these people. They battle to double their million-dollar-plus salaries while looking at numbers that foretell lay-offs (their preferred term is “staff adjustments”) in the thousands. The mostly male characters float about various metaphors for money molded to fit their place in life. Ultimately, a phrase like “money is a dog” becomes “money is the master.” There’s drama with a supermodel (real-life model Liya Kebede) who Marc treats as a high-priced call girl. That relationship ends with a sickening, brutal scene that does little to redeem Marc.
Not that Costa-Gavras has any agenda to humanize these people. The film is tautly-paced and painted with a shimmering, almost surreal color-palette. Though it relies on a lot of talking action, the film feels action-packed, nevertheless. It’s not so much about character, as it is about their actions. These are less people than money-hungry vessels. Even Marc, the film’s main protagonist, feels less than human despite a few fantasy sequences that expose his vulnerable side. But these are brief, internal moments that have little influence on the plot. In “reality” he’s a calculating creature that ultimately feels hard to relate with. This gives the film a satirical sensibility that may let down those looking for something more profound.
Last year, David Cronenberg unleashed Cosmopolis, also adapted from a book, a film that examined the corrupting power of seeming limitless wealth with even cooler iciness as it teetered toward the edge of humanity (Read my review: ‘Cosmopolis’ offers indictment of capitalism through an accomplice’s eyes – a film review). Cronenberg’s take on Don Delillo’s 2003 book stands as the stronger movie examination of such characters. The oft-unfairly maligned Robert Pattinson did a stirring job as a similarly cold and distant character accumulating wealth via algorithms who looks back toward a more innocent self to find his humanity and then engage in a brilliant tête-à-tête with one of those he stepped upon on his rise to power (a marvelous Paul Giamatti).
It’s not easy to make these kinds of characters compelling. Costa-Gavras does not pretend to try to humanize them. This is about the corporation as man-eating entity. The management are its tools. The problem is, as one hedge fund manager (Gabriel Byrne) notes, they think money is a tool, but it is actually the master. It’s all about maneuvering for capital, which equals power and then watching the company cope and settle to enjoy its greediness. Humanity is only collateral, and Costa-Gavras knows how to show that.
Capital is Rated R (for language, sex, violence … and greed), is in English and French with English Subtitles and runs 119 minutes. It is distributed by Cohen Media who provided a preview screener for the purposes of this review. It opens Friday, Nov. 1 in my area of South Florida at the following theaters:
Koubek — Miami, FL
Bill Cosford Cinema — Coral Gables, FL
Frank Sunrise — Fort Lauderdale, FL
Living Room Theaters – Boca Raton, FL
Regal Delray Beach 18 — Delray Beach, FL
Regal Shadowood 16 — Boca Raton, FL
It opened in New York City on Oct. 25 and may also be playing at a theater near you, if you live outside of South Florida.