I had a chance to meet the young actor Brady Corbet during this year’s Miami International Film Festival (Actor Brady Corbet praises 35mm ahead of rare screening of ‘Au Hasard Balthazar’ at MIFF). We stayed in touch, which made it easy to get him to answer some questions about his new movie Simon Killer, a stylized thriller that relies on a meek protagonist who seems lost in a downward spiral of heartache after breaking up with a girlfriend.
The suspense relies a lot on Corbet’s subtle performance of a repressed, unstable young man who corners himself with his own lies about the world around him. Director Antonio Campos adds a languorous style that highlights the performance with some rather inventive use of camera tricks that transition several scenes. There’s also a hip soundtrack that includes a cover of Miike Snow’s “Animal” you probably never heard. Then there is a brilliantly staged scene at a disco featuring the opening of LCD Soundsystem’s “Dance Yrself Clean” that captures the titular character’s fearsome instability.
I sent Corbet an email to ask for a chat. He was in Paris, so we did it via email. The resulting Q&A can be read on the blog “Cultist” from the “Miami New Times.” Jump through the logo for the blog to read it:
Simon Killer runs 101 minutes and is unrated (Corbet says it would have probably received an NC-17 rating should it have been submitted to the MPAA). It opens at the Miami Beach Cinematheque this Friday, May 17, which provided a DVD screener for the purposes of this story. The film also opens in South Florida at the Cosford Cinema, in the University of Miami Coral Gables campus, the same day.The film is also playing nationwide and on demand; visit the movie’s website for screening dates (this is a hotlink).
If you want to see how life informs acting, you have to see Caesar Must Die. Paolo Taviani and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies together since 1962. Influenced by one of the pioneers of Italian new-realism, Roberto Rossellini, the brothers come from a place where they understand that an actor’s experiences play a more important part in their performance than formal training. It should come as no surprise when the actors of the Tavianis’ latest work, a troupe gathered from inmates in the high-security Rebibbia Prison, channel Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with a potent verve that no posh, sincere actor could have achieved.
Caesar Must Die, only serves to highlight the artifice of acting through these potent performances that the filmmakers subvert in various ways throughout the movie. The film opens with the last scene of the play. The actors quiver with wide-eyed sincerity, delivering the lines of Shakespeare in Italian, using the accents from the various regions of Italy from whence they came. “This is a man,” seems to be the final line of this version of the play, according to the subtitles (as opposed to Shakespeare’s “This was a man”). It’s an appropriate finale, as the scene only marks the start of the film, which moves briskly along, in a little over an hour’s time. After the standing ovation by the civilian audience and the roar of cheers from the actors in response, it seems apparent these actors went through much more than a play, and the directors know the true drama lays in the making of this production.
The film next fades to a silent, empty theater and then interior of Rebibbia Prison, as the actors, in plain clothes walk with their heads bowed down in silence as jailers work to open their solitary cell doors before the convicts step inside. The film next fades to a tight exterior shot of the windows of the prison in black and white footage, an intertitle announces “Six months earlier…” So begins the casting of the actors, where the theater director Fabio Cavalli will walk the actors through their roles. From learning their lines and feeling out their characters, the actors often break their readings with comments and questions that illuminate their parts with a depth beyond the meaning of the dialogue.
This is not a documentary, though these actors are real prisoners for crimes like murder, drug dealing and mafia activities. This is a meta-narrative about the relevance of art as communication. There are times when it feels a bit heavy-handed, such as a drama between actors when one accuses the other of speaking behind his back, while they rehearse. It slips out creatively, however, during a rehearsal of lines that seems to become improvisation before turning into a real no-holds-barred argument, but by then the film has made its point, and the great moments are the extended scenes within the confines of the prison walls as the actors inhabit their roles for some key sequences of the play. Their confinement looms hard and heavy over the big, resonant words of Shakespeare. After a return to the final scene in color and on stage, which becomes even more powerful on a second viewing, the film ends with Cosimo Rega, who plays the scheming Cassius, alone in his cell, uttering the line, “Since I got to know art this cell is a prison.”
The Tavianis’ film went on to win the Golden Bear at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival. It’s a major achievement for such a small film, but it does offer a statement that reaches beyond film. The recognition arrives well-deserved in acknowledging a pair of strong directors whose visionary work offers not only a statement about art, but its saving grace, even if it does arrive a little late for those doomed to live out their last days in prison.
Caesar Must Die is in Italian with English subtitles, runs 76 minutes and is not rated (expect a scene with harsh language, however). It opened at the Miami Beach Cinematheque this past Friday, March 29, and plays there from Tuesday, April 2, through Thursday, April 4. The theater loaned me a DVD screener for the purposes of this review. The film may also be playing elsewhere nationwide, as dates are scheduled through the end of April. Visit the movie’s homepage via Adopt Films for all U.S. screening dates: here.
March 17, 2013
Raúl Ruiz is one lucky son of gun to have left a testament like Night Across the Street as his swan song. The film, released posthumously, stands as evidence of a master filmmaker interested in exploring not only cinematic images but movie-making’s unique characteristic of editing to tell a profound story that explores life and death and the tendrils that intertwine them. Besides gorgeous, fluid cinematography and art direction, Ruiz also maintains a sly sense of humor when confronting the abyss.
The film unfolds through layers and layers of coming to terms with what defines a life when faced with one’s inevitable twilight. The story might seem cumbersome at first, but a viewer who loosens up the mind and forgives a narrative that refuses to follow a straight line will reap enchanting rewards. With Night Across the Street Ruiz does with existentialism what he did with identity in his masterful Mysteries of Lisbon (read my review here).
Ruiz seems well aware that movies looking to answer the deeper questions of life are better served by obtuse structure in order to mimic an encounter with the sublime that defies literal language. For instance, Terence Malick’s Tree of Life indulged in wonder and pastiche that begged inference from the audience. Either you gave to it or you took from it. Those who took from it in search of logic left disappointed. By the same token, a film such as the Life of Pi replaced revelation with a gimmicky twist ending that reached for sentimentality. The latter film may feel easier to digest to some, but to others it might feel manipulative. If that is the case, does that make the film as intellectually satisfying and, more importantly, representative of the mystery we all shall face when the inevitable arrives?
Stanley Kubrick knew a film that harbors a message in the images, defying language, re-creates a more transcendent experience than an expository work. His most sublime film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, proved as much. It famously only contains about 45 minutes of dialogue in 141 minutes of images. He also knew the value of editing, noting it’s cinema’s only distinctive characteristic that separates it from all other media. In a 1972 interview in “Sight and Sound,” he said, “… editing is the only aspect of the cinematic art that is unique. It shares no connection with any other art form: writing, acting, photography, things that are major aspects of the cinema, are still not unique to it, but editing is.” (Read the interview).
In Night Across the Street, Ruiz uses language, editing and images in a playful manner while looking at deeper, existential themes. The film is as soul-stirring and heart-breaking as it is witty and life-affirming. It opens with a few sweeping aerial shots that unites the desert and ocean: two grand representations of death and life. Our hero, Don Celso Barro (Sergio Hernández) may just be dead already, if not unconscious and in a dream world reflecting on his life.
The director introduces the elderly version of Celso as he sits among students in a classroom from the past. A teacher who later is revealed as the author of the 1951 literary classic the Horseman on the Roof, Jean Giono (Christian Vadim), discusses the subtleties of translation to a class of teenage boys ordered to close their eyes. It’s a statement on the limits of language and how unreliable it may be without vision. That most of the class does not get the lecture stands as condescending testament to the unenlightened naiveté of youth unconcerned with defining their lives, yet at that hormonal moment of know-it-all attitude.
Celso also appears in the film as a boy on the cusp of his teen years with a seeming knowledge of a life fulfilled. This version of Celso (Santiago Figueroa) interacts with heroes like Beethoven (Sergio Schmied) and Long John Silver (Pedro Villagra) to varying dynamic effect as far as an exchange of ideas and knowledge. As this may be the life of a dying man in reflection, this intellectual boy seems a fantasy projected by the elder Celso of returning to naïve youthful days with the perspective and knowledge of maturity. But, even then, Ruiz will trip up our hero with a humbling encounter with an opposing figure who personifies the immovable contrarian.
Though much of the film seems to unfold in a period of the early to the middle 20th century, the boy version of Celso explains to Beethoven how soon “you don’t have to learn anything. Machines will do everything.” He could very well be talking about such definitive cultural modern inventions such as the Internet and how easy it has become to lean on things like Wikipedia or Google for knowledge. Beethoven’s response? “It’s sad.” The pleasure of Night Across the Street comes from an intellect let loose in search of defining a mortal life, hence why it dwells on a time mostly in the past, before the digital world, the Internet and cell phones, which all seem to be crutches on our current human intellect.*
Ultimately, the film is concerned with its own limitations as a medium but also its possibilities and power to create sublime cinematic encounters like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Tree of Life. When Celso takes Beethoven to the movies and describes film as “special shadows that give off light” he defines the medium with a metaphor that beautifully captures both the medium’s possibilities as well as its limitations. Soon, Beethoven seems confused as a result of the editing and shifting perspectives of the moving pictures, to which the young Celso says, “It’s hard to explain.” “Why come to the cinema, if you can’t explain the movies you come to see?” Beethoven replies. It’s a witty moment addressing antiquated perspectives meeting new forms of story-telling. As much as Ruiz seems to celebrate the past, he also seems open to the future, as revealed by this scene.
Night Across the Street is filled with such stimulating moments, which will reward repeated viewings. I can only scratch the film’s surface, but rest assured there are wonderful, humbling moments that go into coming of age, self-worth and yearning for a well-defined, mortal life that are explored and turned on their heads. It’s an enchanting film about time, memory, language and existence that never forgets a sense of humor. Sailing ships assembled in bottles, the recurrent concern of creative definitions of Rhododendron are just some of the many symbols that add further richness to the literary quality of this film where a bullet is described as an “epiphany from the depths.” Night Across the Street is truly an extraordinary work that constantly surprises with one layer of seeming enlightenment after another. Once you might think you understand it, Ruiz turns another subversive corner in his narrative of life in reflection, always celebrating epiphany while keeping it grounded.
The Night Across the Street is in Spanish and French with English subtitles, runs 110 minutes and is not rated (despite implied murder and low-key violence, the film should not offend). It premiered in Miami at the Miami Beach Cinematheque and plays there exclusively through March 20. The theater loaned me a DVD screener for the purposes of this review.
*Whether Ruiz knew it or not, it’s a rather prescient observation. Not too long ago, I heard futurist Ray Kurzweil discussing his 2012 book How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed on the “Diane Rehm Show” on NPR. He predicts that in the very near future— within most of our lifetimes— one will be not only be able to expand the brain’s neocortex by simply uploading it to the Internet but also find immortality, which is not too different with what happens that great science fiction movie by Duncan Jones, Source Code (read a transcript of the the show by jumping here; the relevant section begins at 11:49:50 ).
February 5, 2013
Cold War Germany has inspired many a depressing movie about humanity’s struggle in the face of oppression. The much-acclaimed Barbara offers something refreshingly different without dumbing-down the stark atmosphere that stays true to the dark era of the 20th century. It has deservedly won over those in the film’s native country, garnering top awards (see its recognition on IMDB).
Will it make the translation in the US? As the film seemed to have missed recognition during awards season stateside, I cannot say that it will, but it should. Cinephiles who should most not miss this film are those who appreciate the compact, concentrated moral tales by the Dardenne brothers (see: ‘The Kid With a Bike’ harnesses potency of simple filmmaking). Using the backdrop of Cold War era East Germany in the year 1980, director Christian Petzold presents a film designed to reveal something much grander than a single person’s struggle for freedom, but a story of sacrifice and grace under oppression.
The film’s titular protagonist (Nina Hoss, who won a Silver Bear for her performance) is a doctor banished from Berlin to the hinterlands after she committed some crime under the communist regime. The drama glazes over her wrongdoing (applying for an exit visa), which befits the film. As we know from history, many of the laws in East Germany were morally suspect and infringed on human rights. Applying for a visa no longer constitutes a criminal act in the eyes of today’s democratic Germany. But it is testament to the film’s strength that, with a few compact scenes, Barbara is established as a morally suspect person who must in the end win the audience over, despite her seemingly trivial moral divergence— a bold move in confident storytelling by Petzold, who co-wrote the script with Harun Farocki.
The first day at work for Barbara is all about establishing her as an outsider. Her enigmatic quality, as she maintains a distance from her landlady and co-workers, serves the film well. When she first appears on screen, the camera maintains an appropriate distance, as citizens in this era and place treated one another with suspicion, above all else. The first shot of her in the film is a high angle through the leaves of treetops. The gaze looks out as if from a window a couple of stories above ground, as two unseen men chatter about her behavior and make assumptions about her personality. We later learn the voyeurs are the man who will be her boss, André (Ronald Zehrfeld) and a fellow named Klaus Schütz (Rainer Bock), a member of the Stasi, police who spied on citizens waiting for them only to slip up, so they might be thrown back in jail.
Though the camera placement of this opening scene will never return in the film, the distant gaze haunts much of the film’s action. Barbara constantly looks over her shoulder while sneaking around to meet a lover who visits her from free West Germany bearing gifts and cash. Meanwhile, Klaus shadows her and pops up more than once sitting in a chair in her own apartment. As a colleague rummages through every nook of the modest dwelling, Klaus only studies Barbara, eyes fixated on catching behavior that might betray her. If that does not seem invasive enough, he does not leave until a female colleague shows up to strip search Barbara.
The stark situation, removed from the usually gray city of Berlin to the bucolic countryside, is punctuated by scenes like the one depicted above. The film maintains the mood without melodramatic angles or music but via consistent images. The desolate road Barbara travels by bicycle on her way to work always appears windswept. Never does a rainy day occur to change the mood. It’s all in the darkness of the situation. A moment given to strangers who turn to stare at Barbara is enough to establish the mood of oppression of East Germany, during this era.
Like Hoss, cinematographer Hans Fromm has been a consistent collaborator with the director. The three of them have made four other films together, and Barbara reveals a clear harmony in their craft that only experience can bring. Fromm maintains a steady, static camera throughout the film. Though there are no attention-grabbing pans, tracking shots or zooms, the images are loaded with irony, depth and color, which might seem an ironic cocktail of visual tones. Though often color-saturated, settings are always simple, yet loaded with information that push the story forward and maintain mood. The film’s mise-en-scène reveals the hospital as ill-equipped to handle some cases, but it also reveals the simplicity of life in the country disrupted by the government’s complicated, heavy-handed need to keep people in line. The colors are so dynamic and brilliant they not only make up for the film’s static camera but also the fact that the director chooses to use only diegetic music for mood enhancement within the scenes. The film almost feels like a Technicolor experience, standing in dramatic irony against a gloomy way of living.
As Barbara creeps around to meet her lover, her supervising doctor always exudes an amiable distant charm and has to work against a natural suspicion to gain her trust. They ultimately bond while taking extra steps to care for separate patients. Trust in these oppressed people is established outside their relationship. Before that, a conversation over a Rembrandt print, (The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp) whose brilliant colors meld into the world of Barbara prophetically, finally begins to thaw the ice between the two of them.
In the end, morality will trump a self-serving need for freedom for our hero who will have to make a crucial decision during the film’s climax, which is handled with as much low-key grace as can be expected by the filmmakers. That may read as rather heavy-handed, but the power of the film to go against melodrama and sentimentality for such a profound statement, reveals the talent of Petzold. Beyond the Cold War era period, this poetic, modest film ultimately reveals that trust is found outside relationships, and we are all more than the sum of the other’s perceptions, a human lesson beyond era and language we should all learn from.
Barbara is Rated PG-13, runs 105 min. and is in German with English subtitles in the US. It opens in my area, South Florida, this Friday, Feb. 8, at many indie theaters. Here they are (the Miami Beach Cinematheque held a preview screening for the purposes of this review):
Miami Beach Cinematheque – Miami Beach, FL
Cosford Cinema – Coral Gables, FL
Living Room Cinema 4 – Boca Raton, FL
Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale, FL
If you live outside of South Florida, it could very well be playing in your area now, but there are also other playdates planned throughout the year. A full schedule can be found on the film’s official website, here.
The legendary filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky finally responded to my questions via email. He prefers to communicate in Spanish, so I had to ask these questions in my limited Spanish. What he replied with is filled with as much wit and poetry as one would expect from the Chilean-born director who creates films that are so much more than trippy, psychedelic or surreal experiences. I had been waiting for his response since around when I got in touch with his eldest son Brontis Jodorowsky, last week (Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first son Brontis interviewed in “Miami New Times” ahead film retrospective).
I presented the responses in the same blog where my Brontis Jodorowsky article appeared, the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist,” after translating them to English. In one case, Brontis returned to help answer a question his father did not care to address beyond one short sentence. The elder Jodorowsky did begin his email by warning me, “I doubt, Hans, you will be well-served by my answers, but I cannot answer in any other way than how I feel and think.”
On the contrary, what I found were insightful responses if not into the specifics themselves but into the creator in general. I found them humorous and downright life-affirming for anyone who toils in art.
To see the piece, including more from Brontis, visit Cultist by jumping through the image below:
I did the best I could with the translations— and I think they came out pretty good— but for those who speak Spanish fluently (as many in my city of Miami do).I present here the original responses unedited and untranslated:
Hans Morgenstern: Desde una perspectiva de Miami, que es una ciudad tan cosmopólita; cómo te sientes de tener une retrospectiva en Miami?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: ……..No soy lo que fui, no soy lo que seré, ahora estoy siendo. Una retrospectiva es lo que fuí. Si no hubiera domado mi ego interesaría lo que seré en la historia del cine, pero como vivo en el tiempo vivo, es decir el presente, no me conmueve ni el pasado ni el futuro… Hoy día mismo no soy sino que estoy siendo, cambiando continuamente. Si me preguntas cómo me llamo, te diré que me digas “nube”. Si a Miami le agrego el ir, el go en inglés, es Mi-ami-go , mi amigo. En fin, no vivimos en países sino en el planete Pangea. Todas las ciudades son cosmopolitas.
Lo segundo que me da curiosidad es qué es lo que te hizo decidir que tu hijo Brontis jugara un papel en “El Topo” a una edad tan temprana? Esta es una de mis películas favoritas y aunque no tengo hijos siempre he tenido curiosidad de cómo fue la relación en el set, durante la escritura del guión y el rodaje.
…..Como no has tenido hijos no sabes lo que es sentir el amor de padre. Ese amor es tan fuerte como el amor de una madre. Elegí a Brontis porque era el niño de la edad que yo necesitaba : 7 años. Mi hijo tenía la hermosura inocente que yo siempre había querido tener. Como yo era un padre amable y comprensivo, mi hijo tenía un gran placer de estar conmigo. En fin, tu pregunta tiene una sola respuesta: nuestra relación fue la normal, la sana relación que tienen un hijo y un padre que se aman.
Te consideras a tí mismo un “surrealista”?
…No me gusta ponerme etiquetas.
Finalmente, cómo ha cambiado tu estilo de cineasta a través de los años? Cómo describirías el film en el que estás trabajando ahora, se podría calificar como auténticamente personal de “Psicomagia”?
… Para que cambiara mi estilo, tendría que tener un estilos, lo que es una forma de repetición. Los ríos no se repiten. Ten la bondad de compararme a la corriente de un río. Cada una de mis peliculas es difrente: no soy un fabricante de salchichas hollywoodenses. Describiría el film en el que estoy trabajando copmo Arte para no ganar dinero. Me cansa esa industria-puta que consiera genial una película porque produce millones de dólares. Sigo creyendo que el cine es el Arte más completo y profundo de todas las artes. “La danza de la realidad” que estoy terminando ya, no se puede calificar con ninguna etiqueta. Es simplemente Arte. Y por ello, si te gustan tus dos palabras, es “auténticamente personal”.
This interview was done to coincide with a rare month-long retrospective of Alejandro Jodrowsky’s films. A total of four films will screen at the Miami Beach Cinematheque:
The first screening, of Jodrowsky’s 1970 film El Topo, will feature a live introduction by Alejandro Jodorowsky and his eldest son, Brontis Jodorowsky. It happens Sunday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. It is timed and coordinated as part of the finale of Filmgate, an interactive media festival for filmmakers by the Indie Film Club, which kicks of Friday, Feb. 1:
Here’s the trailer for El Topo:
Cult film director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s first son Brontis interviewed in “Miami New Times” ahead film retrospective
January 30, 2013
Yesterday, I supplied the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist” with a short story on Brontis Jodorowsky, the son of cult filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky. I spoke with him via Skype last week (he lives in Paris). Miami will host a rare appreciation of his father’s films beginning early next week featuring one-night-only screenings of his most famous films. The eldest son of the director offered a reflection of working with his father as an actor in his movies at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. He spoke about his debut as the little son of the titular gunslinger in El Topo to his role playing his father’s father in the autobiographical film-in-progress, the Dance of Reality (no release date yet).
We spoke for a half hour, so I had a lot of material, and I am still hoping to hear back from his father via email, who is very occupied with the post-production of first movie in 20 years. It turned out to be fitting that our conversation began with my curiosity in the name Jodorowsky decided to bestow on his firstborn. Brontis explained it is actually a Greek surname, which alludes to a trio of brothers who seemed to have lived a carefree life in Jodorowsky’s hometown of Tocopilla, Chile where he was born in 1929. “The grass is always greener in the other yard,” the younger Jodorowsky said. “He thought that these children were free and happy,” he explained before adding: “My father had a very severe education from his father … and he remembers his childhood as a very sad and violent thing, and he always felt very different from other people.”
The elder Jodorowsky has never hidden his childhood of abuse, which he covers early in the book that inspired the Dance of Reality (it is only available in Spanish). Brontis pointed out something even more curious about his father. When the director married his first wife and failed to produce a child, Brontis said, “My father concluded that he was sterile.” He said his father saw it as poetic justice, as it made him last in the Jodorowsky line, and “he was killing the Jodorowsky name, and then he met my mother, who was convinced this was all crap, and she proved to him that he was not sterile.”
The younger Jodorowsky said his father had never fantasized about naming children until the point his first son was born. He wanted to end the curse of the names Jaime (Alejandro’s father) and Alejandro (his grandfather) in his family, so he went with Brontis, recalling those happy children of his hometown. “Normally, in Jewish tradition, you give your father’s name to your children, but he hated his father and said, ‘I can’t give my child the name of my father because I hate my father, but these children were free and happy, so let’s stop the curse of all the Jaimes and the Alejandros [because he carries his grandfather’s name], and if I call him Brontis he will be a free and happy boy.’”
The younger Jodorowsky cannot help but feel amused that in the new film by his father he plays Jaime. “The main character is his father, Alejandro’s father, and he asked me to play his father. In the end, we make the whole turn of our conversation,” he said with a laugh. “He didn’t name me Jaime in reality, but he named me Jaime in the film.”
I could not help but notice if this film might be the most “psychomagical” of the director’s career, to use one of the director’s own terms. Here is a 10-minute interview with the filmmaker where he explains the concept:
“It is. It absolutely is,” agreed Brontis, “but if you see El Topo and Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre, in all his films he’s really doing some kind of psychomagic. He’s working on something artistic— and at the same time— on a personal level. If he does a film it’s because he needs to do it. It’s not only ‘I’m an artist, and I want to make a movie.’ It’s also because he has to live intimately.”
I am hoping that this humanist and intellectual insight might allow a different perspective than just superficial “that’s so weird” appreciation of Jodorowsky’s cinema. This director is a symbolist in a very Jungian sense. Miami Beach Cinematheque Founder and Director Dana Keith added via email: “My favorite quote from Jodorowsky is ‘I ask of cinema what most North Americans ask of psychedelic drugs.’ He truly expands people’s minds with his surreal films by utilizing his imagination in groundbreaking ways, and making the camera a paint brush. We are very happy that the films have been restored and are now available for MBC and Indie Film Club members and others to experience in a theatrical setting, where they belong. No added stimulants are necessary!”
You can read a longer interview with Brontis Jodorowsky, where he also shares memories from the set of El Topo, by visiting the Cultist Blog (jump through the image):
This interview was done to coincide with a rare month-long retrospective of Alejandro Jodrowsky’s films. A total of four films will screen at the Miami Beach Cinematheque:
The first screening, of Jodrowsky’s 1970 film El Topo, will feature a live introduction by Alejandro Jodrowsky and his eldest son, Brontis Jodrowsky. It happens Sunday, Feb. 3, at 7 p.m. It is timed and coordinated as part of the finale of Filmgate, an interactive media festival for filmmakers by the Indie Film Club, which kicks of Friday, Feb. 1:
So who is Alejandro Jodorowsky? I’ll let the trailers of the four films screening in the retrospective speak for themselves. Warning: these avant-garde movies spawned of the psychedelic era feature (archetypal) images that are sometimes NSFW:
(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
January 24, 2013
More than any other foreign language film before it, Amour seems a sure-thing for winning the Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Picture of 2012. The year began with the Palme d’Or at Cannes where the film had its world premiere. It topped many critics’ award lists before winning the Foreign Language Award at the Golden Globes. It is even nominated for Best Picture in the Oscars®. I cannot remember the last time a foreign film crossed over into that category. Beyond the film’s accolades, director Michael Haneke has gained a reputation as one of the more important filmmakers working today. With every new film, the Austrian director has only ever upped his game. Amour is no less an example of his skill as an auteur. From his decisions in casting the lead roles to his efficient use of dialogue, Haneke has an awe-inducing ability to maximize the art of cinema to serve his end. Amour dwells on an elderly couple’s love as the wife debilitates from a stroke. The brilliance of the film lies in how Haneke takes such a simple premise to illuminate the viewer’s relationship with aging, and, in effect, living itself. The director, also the sole screenwriter, makes it clear that his film will be as much about death as it is about life when he opens the movie with the discovery of the body of Anne (Emmanuelle Riva) laid out on her bed, surrounded by decaying flowers. He implicates the viewer by next introducing she and her husband Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) as part of a crowd in a theater staring right through the screen, as a mirror of the cinema audience. In the crowd, people murmur (living) and cough (dying). An announcer warns members of the crowd to shut off mobile devices. After more murmurs and coughs, they applaud before the film cuts to the next scene: a ride home on the metro, where we get a closer look at the elderly couple but still at a distance and among people. The camera maintains a distance to show these are people among people. Anne and Georges are only faces in the sea of coughs and chatter. They are among us, yet they also are us. They are alive and near death. Life goes on, despite it slowing down for them. And, the film implies more subtly, we will all reach that state at some point, as well. As grim as it might seem, Amour spends much of its time reminding the viewer of his or her own mortality while humanizing this caring couple. Besides the initial establishing scenes in the concert hall and train, the couple is only ever presented in what will be Anne’s tomb: the couple’s culturally overflowing Paris apartment. They were musicians and teachers at some point before the events depicted in the film. A grand piano sits at the center of giant library, played only by a ghost at one point in the film. Paintings, CDs and books they have accumulated over their long lives together loom over their existence as the occupy their last few days on earth with mostly mundane things. Their kitchen is tiny by comparison, and it is here where Anne suffers her first stroke. Time seems to stop for her as Georges tries to get her attention, but she does not respond. When she comes back to awareness, she carries on as if nothing has happened. When Georges tries to explain what happened, Anne has no memory of the event. A frozen moment presents itself as the first shift toward the abyss. Haneke wastes no opportunity to present other frozen moments as eternity, such as Anne’s sudden desire to look at photo album and a beautiful and an exquisite, soundless montage of the paintings, some in detail, in Anne and Georges’ apartment. But the real game-changing moment, a sudden shift in awareness Haneke so skillfully plays with in his films, arrives during a conversation between the couple. There’s an exchange between the two about 45 minutes into the film. It’s a conversation loaded with speculation, what would to do for our loved one should something happen, such as the stroke Anne had so suddenly suffered. Every couple has imagined the thought whether aloud or in private contemplation. Up until this moment in the film this angle of perception did not come up. They were a couple who did things together. They were a unit, a team who will get through Anne’s ailment together. They had similar tastes and interests that buoyed their many years of marriage. If they could not beat this thing together, they would deal with it together. He offers his view: “Put yourself in my shoes. Haven’t you ever thought it could happen to me, too?” “Sure,” she responds, and here arrives Haneke’s signature twist of perception: “But imagination and reality have little in common.” Thus, the great, unbreachable gulf arrives between the couple. As Anne deteriorates, they begin to more clearly lose their bond and unified place in time together. It happens in humbling and humiliating circumstances. As a nurse goes through the motions of changing Anne’s diaper, dictating directions to Georges. Anne’s mortified face speaks volumes. Haneke presents scenes like these with no sentimentality, and Riva dives in with him, giving a brave, self-deprecating performance that captures an awareness of the gradual suffering of a helpless, aged person that feels not only heart-rending to watch but uncomfortable (she has also been singled out for a Best Actress Oscar®). Discomfort is also part of Haneke’s aesthetic. He sets up one of these with a visit from a successful former student of the couple (pianist Alexandre Tharaud playing a version of himself). Though the student shows empathy to see his teacher with a useless hook of a right hand, he also has a flourishing career with a recording contract and sold out shows. Alexandre’s moment on earth at the height of his career especially hits hard when he sends them a card calling their strength in the face of Anne’s stroke “beautiful and sad.” Anne cannot bear to listen to his CD after that sentimental note. What does anyone know about dying when they have so much life ahead of them? There are many moments such as these to look for, including several featuring their daughter Eva played by the always wonderful Isabelle Huppert. Of course the subject matter is difficult, but Haneke’s anti-sentimentality— also captured magnificently by the two brave leads— offers as much respect to living as it does death. There is a poetic reveal of the intermingling of life, death and love that vividly comes to light throughout Amour, not least of all in the final gesture of love by Georges to his wife. The best poetry is unsentimental and life-affirming. With Amour, Haneke reveals himself as a true poet of cinema. –Hans Morgenstern http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AD-JzGIhk94 Amour is Rated PG-13 (growing old ain’t pretty, after all), runs 127 min. and is in French with English subtitles. Sony Pictures Classics provided a DVD screener for the purpose of this review. It opens in South Florida at the following theaters on Friday, Jan. 25:
Up-dates: The indie art house Miami Beach Cinematheque has added Amour to its line-up. It premieres just after Valentine’s Day, Feb. 22. After you’re done celebrating love in all its commercialized glory, go see Amour for your reality check. Visit this hotlink: for ticket information. It later arrives in mainland Miami’s art house, the O Cinema beginning March 1 (click here for ticket information and screening dates).
(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)