tangerine-poster-695x1024There’s a sense of liberation in indie writer/director Sean Baker’s follow-up to his 2012 film Starlet, a film that felt weighed down by its intentions (Film Review: Misguided ‘Starlet’ fails as wannabe transcendent drama). Compared to his previous film, which suffered from contrivances and weak performances that reached for something grand but never went anywhere, his new movie, Tangerine is a sea change. It never tries to be anything more than it is, even while featuring a timely element of today’s contemporary culture: the transgender person. In doing so it becomes a grounded, human story with a consistent sense of humor that may just blow you away.

Though Baker still can’t seem to contain an over-the-top, sometimes self-conscious acting style, it works in Tangerine. Some have compared the film to the work to what Andy Warhol did with his cast of characters at The Factory, and it’s a perfect comparison, except there’s a definite plot and even a smart sense of story-telling. This is also a production by the Duplass brothers, who were pioneers in presenting comedic dramas featuring chatty characters working through their positions in life in films that were sometimes preciously self-aware, and that ethos is also present. TangerineBaker’s main characters are two transgender prostitutes working the streets of Los Angeles one warm Christmas Eve. After her release from jail, Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) joins Alexandra (Mya Taylor) at a doughnut shop to catch up. Soon into their conversation, Alexandra lets slip that Sin-Dee’s no good boyfriend/pimp cheated on her with another prostitute, what she calls “a white fish … vagina and everything.” Much of the film follows Sin-Dee on a rampage trying to find out who the other woman is and then hunting her down. Meanwhile, a parallel story unfolds about Armenian taxi driver and family man Razmik (Karren Karagulian). Just like Sin-Dee and Alexandra, Razmik harbors his own deeper knowledge of the streets. While Sin-Dee’s out searching for her vengeance, Alexandra passes out flyers for her open mic performance later that night. Meanwhile, Razmik picks up one quirky fare after another, including a couple of drunk dudes during one of the film’s funniest moments of gross-out slapstick.

This is a comedy, but it’s also more. It’s a sincerely human and confrontational film that arrives at its insights with a brazen sense of humor and a light tough. The worlds of these people will collide in manners both visceral and profound. All the while, Baker never loses his grip of the humor that holds it all together. Though transgender characters have been treated way more seriously in earlier foreign films that I’ve written about (see this review and this one), Tangerine brings a human dimension to its characters that’s still lighthearted and dynamic. TangerineIt helps that the film has a kinetic energy, shot using iPhones. The movie opens with a sprightly, symphonic version of “Toyland” played against the white script opening credits that appear over a curiously scuffed and scratched brilliant yellow surface. Then two pairs of large, black hands appear, revealing the yellow backdrop was a worn table. The hands show a flash of wear in their own way. The fingernails are unclean, but one wrist features ornate costume bracelets. One of the hands unwraps a colorful sprinkle-covered, frosted doughnut from a greasy white bag and lays it atop the paper pouch. “Merry Christmas Eve, bitch,” says one to the other before we meet Sin-Dee and Alexandra.

There’s a fascinating amount of information and humor in the moment. This is a film of high-contrast color that appreciates the rough edges, as well. Throughout Tangerine, the brightness and the range of color amazes, especially seeing as the film was shot with a trio of 5S iPhones. The camera phones help soften the actors’ style, drawing out more naturalistic moments above those self-conscious ones. They also capture a few breathtaking wide-shots that speak to Baker’s keen eye for visuals. It’s all done with a raw but sympathetic sense of humor that still highlights the challenges of a world few really know. Baker shot the film with Radium Cheung in a fast and loose manner. Baker also channeled that energy in the editing room himself. The iPhone cameras and the transgender element in a post-Caitlin Jenner world are interesting hooks, but they wouldn’t have mattered without the passion and delight Baker transmits in making this film. It has its rough edges, some scenes go on too long and the acting doesn’t always measure up, but this could very well be a new classic in indie film.

Hans Morgenstern

Trailer:

Tangerine runs 88 minutes and is rated R (cussing, nudity and drug use). The film opened in our Miami area this Friday, July 31, for an exclusive run at O Cinema Wynwood. Magnolia Pictures provided an on-line screener link for the purpose of this review. It’s playing in many locations across the U.S. and has future dates scheduled through November, so if you live in other parts of the U.S., follow this link for other screening locations. All images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

amy posterYou don’t need this movie to show you Amy Winehouse was an independent spirit at heart, but feature filmmaker turned documentary filmmaker Asif Kapadia hits the respectable notes in his mostly chronological documentary, Amy. As she came to fame, Winehouse spoke frankly with the BBC’s Russell Harty about her refusal to be packaged as a commodity by the management company that gave us The Spice Girls. She also says she hates pop music and admires jazz above all, a music scene she made no apologies for as elitist and unfit for the massive open air shows she would ultimately headline. She did her best to be relatable, calling her breakout second album, Back to Black, an accessible record because it was not as jazzy as her first album, Frank.

Kapadia worked with a team of editors with access to home video footage provided by family members as well as footage from every source imaginable — from paparazzi shots to YouTube fan footage to broadcast TV appearances — to splice together an intimate story about Winehouse’s all-too-speedy rise to fame and acclaim, then into a period of brutal rejection by the pop culture media machine and her untimely death. It’s remarkable how grounded Amy feels from moment to moment. Early on, Winehouse comes across as a mischievous child, as we meet her singing “Happy Birthday” with a voice that spontaneously takes over the room and draws in the camera. What’s so painful to watch is how her personality gradually loses its luster over the course of the film. The more attention she received, the more she disappeared. It’s a heartbreaking thing to watch, until she pulls that ultimate disappearing act. It was a tragic loss for the music world because that Back to Black album was too good and too human for the popular music scene she got trapped in, the chorus of the hit single “Rehab” co-opted into an ironic, frivolous joke when referencing her hard times.

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That song came from a sincere place, and there’s little room for its complexity and humanity in the often flippantly referential pop music world. While her public downfall was transmitted in 15 second updates on entertainment news shows, this documentary grips you with its near two-and-half-hour run time, inviting the viewer to contemplate the person behind the tunes. I would never posit any documentary transmits a true portrait of anyone. The story it wants to tell are in the choices the director makes when he cuts together his footage. With one splice in an image, a filmmaker will exert editorial vision.

From the start, Amy seeks to make the audience aware of Winehouse’s penchant for drinking and partying as well her attraction to drugs and toxic relationships. Her father, Mitch Winehouse, is vilified as an absent parent who jumped back into her life with her success. He has famously protested the director’s alleged decision to cut short a certain statement in the film where he declares his daughter didn’t need rehab. He told “The Guardian” his soundbite was edited to remove context: “What I said was: ‘She didn’t need to go to rehab at that time.’ … They’ve edited me out saying ‘at that time’.”

Let that serve to prove that there is no such thing as a genuinely objective documentary, and let’s be honest, this film was built in the editing room. However, the big picture of Winehouse’s stratospheric rise to fame where she flamed out is sharply presented. amy 2There’s no denying the cruelty of ill-informed soundbites on late night TV and gossip shows would hurt a person such as Winehouse, who never made fame the priority over her craft. She prided herself in writing her own lyrics, based on her own experiences (she titled her first album Frank for a reason). During her rise as a pop culture icon, she appeared on “The Tonight Show” to sing “Rehab.” Jay Leno is seen complimenting her at the end of her performance. Later in the film, during her downfall, Kapadia edits in footage of another episode of “The Tonight Show,” months later. During his opening monologue, Leno cracks a joke about her drug abuse and the camera sweeps over the massive audience breaking out in laughter.

The movie is long, and if there was one section that felt like it dragged it was during the presentation of the entire footage –with the camera focused on Winehouse — as all the Grammy nominees for Record of the Year are read. It’s interesting to watch Winehouse’s blasé attitude to the nominees, which included Carrie Underwood and Rihanna. Then, when her name is announced, we get to see her surprise, a moment captured in all the trailers for this movie. At this point in the movie, one should feel a keen ambivalence to the pop music machine, as well, so it becomes a bitter-sweet moment.

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Amy is a craftily constructed experience, but it never reduces Winehouse to a victim of her circumstance or her addictions. As much as I like to single out the terrors of the mass media machine, Winehouse’s story is a complicated one. An array of characters in her life, some poisonous some supportive, provide voice-over narration over all the archival footage (there are no talking heads, beyond Kapadia’s found footage). She came from a home that was both broken but also tolerant. There are moments in the studio or her composing in her notebooks that reveal Winehouse in zones that show an artist focused but relaxed in her craft. She seems incredibly distinct in how she approached the guitar and her voice. It’s also nice to know a lot of that happened in Miami, away from the tensions of London.

With Amy, Kapadia has assembled an utterly tragic story about a truly talented young woman who went down the wrong slide of the music industrial complex. A sense of tragedy looms over the entire thing. Success is many things, but beware popularity. There hasn’t been a film that depicts the idea of “the build you up to tear you down” as vividly as Amy, which is an ultimately heartbreaking film.

Hans Morgenstern

Amy runs 128 minutes and is rated R (lots of “common” talk and drug use). The film has been playing in our Miami area for awhile, and is scheduled to continue its through Aug. 6 at the following independent theaters: Tower Theater and O Cinema Wynwood. Tower Theater invited me to a screening for the purpose of this review. It’s playing in many locations and is already a bonafide indie hit (check out its box office) for A24 Films. If you live in other parts of the U.S., follow this link for other screening locations. All images courtesy A24.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

the-tribe-posterFor all of its gimmicks — a Ukrainian film inspired by silent movies that eschews subtitles and features a cast of deaf characters — The Tribe (Plemya) is also something else: one of the most uncomfortably disturbing films you will probably see this year. It’s a challenging movie to sit through, not just because there is no dialogue for those who don’t know Ukrainian sign language, but because the notion of the distant objective camera (with no closeups) adopted from silent film presents such an unflinching gaze. The deaf teenagers writer/director Miroslav Slaboshpitsky follows are involved with the deaf mafia, a very real organization in the Ukraine with all the rules you might expect of organized crimes, and it’s brutal (read my interview with the director and actress in Miami New Times: Ukrainian Film The Tribe Explores the Little-Known World of the Deaf Mafia).

Grigoriy Fesenko plays the film’s lead, who we meet at a bus stop located across the street from the cameraman. In the wide shot, traffic whizzes by as he struggles to get directions from a woman to the deaf boarding school. The camera lingers so long, one can’t help but notice the rusted shell of a Trabant next to the bench, half buried by dead leaves, which speaks to the ills of post-Soviet Ukraine. The camera then follows him as he begins to walk to the school. This is a movie of long takes and distant camera. It’s a bold stylistic choice. While it often looks beautiful, it also often works to the film’s detriment.

THE-TRIBE_Home

There’s already a barrier between the audience and the characters due to the language and lack of translation. There’s a particularly frustrating scene that kills the flim’s momentum when the two female leads, who sneak out of the boarding school to moonlight as prostitutes, enter someone’s apartment surely higher up in the mafia. The characters sit around signing to one another for some time before the girls try on T-shirts advertising Italy. Only in the next scene, when the girls appear in line for a visa to Italy, does it become clear that they are to take a trip overseas to — most likely — peddle their bodies. It takes a long time before that becomes clear, and too often you’ll be thinking about running time in scenes like these.

But then there are the moments of extreme violence and raw sex acts between Fesenko’s character and one of the girls he pimps out and finds feelings for (Yana Novikova). It’s only worth noting these scenes not as spoilers but as fair warning about what you are getting into when you buy a ticket to The Tribe. You can expect some skull crushing violence, a backroom abortion that takes its time with every tool needed for the act and a sexual encounter where the two lovers 69 for sometime, where their slurping becomes a highlight for a largely voiceless movie. As Slaboshpitsky allows the camera to roll on and on … and on and on, you may find yourself tuning out of the narrative to grumble that you get the point.

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Also, for all it’s stylishness, the distant camera makes it hard for the audience to feel anything for the characters, except for the primal difficulty of their most physical experiences. It works on that level, maybe too well. But it doesn’t work on a level of character development. It is a film about outsiders, after all, and this style stays true to that, but you need some intimacy to connect with these people if you want the audience to sit through the duration of this 132-minute movie and actually care about what happens to them. However, Novikova deserves special mention as the most expressive of the lot. From her emphatic signing to a rare moment where she must scream out, she is the film’s heart.

There’s no denying this will be a difficult film for most to sit through. The film’s violent finale takes into account deafness at a harrowing level, but some will wonder if it’s too gimmicky. Maybe I am a little mixed about this movie, but it’s not an exploitation film or some movie devised to be cruel to the audience, like that terrible movie Gaspar Noe concocted, Irreversible. The Tribe is a product of the Ukraine. Anyone who has ever visited (the only ones I know visited for research or educational purposes) can speak to the post-communist chill of the nation’s disillusioned people. The Ukraine has long struggled with a corrupt leadership that has left many disheartened citizens to struggle on their own. Now Russia wants the territory back and has used some of the most flagrantly violent means and deceits to do so. What of its underclass and handicapped? This is a country coming apart shred by shred by the hollow promises of the Soviet Empire, a specter that still looms over its empty present. Sure, Slaboshpitsky has shot an unblinking violent, perverse and often shocking movie but can you blame him?

Hans Morgenstern

The Tribe runs 132 minutes, is in Ukranian sign language without subtitles and is not rated (you’ve already been warned about content in the review). It opens in our South Florida area this Friday, July 24, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque and further north, in Broward County at the Cinema Paradiso Hollywood. It could already be playing in other locations across the U.S., if not coming soon. For other screening dates, visit this link and scroll down. The Miami Beach Cinematheque hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this review. All images are courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse. You can also read more of my conversation with Slaboshpitsky and Novikova in this post from a few days ago:

Interviews with the director and lead actress of The Tribe

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

filmgateThere is a local movement slowly brewing in Miami, one that holds a promise to create a strong film scene. The film community in South Florida has been growing, from incredible cinema art houses to more offerings throughout the year at galleries, museums and even a film program at Art Basel. Indeed, Miami is shaping up to be a welcoming space for film lovers, enriched by organizations like FilmGate Miami, which is not only a welcomed addition to the Miami film scene, but it also puts forth an innovative take on what a film festival should be.

I recently sat down with Executive Director Diliana Alexander, who along with Jose Jacho, have brought this organization to life from an idea. “We started doing the immersive film festival collaboratively,” she says. “I convinced Jose that the interactive element would be interesting for everyone. He brought a democratic element to the process.”

The organization came out of a process of doing, like Indie Film Club Miami, the previous iteration of the organization, which programmed workshops for filmmakers after seeing the need for that during local film festivals. Alexander and Jacho have an inventive and collaborative approach to most of their programs. The organization, which was only recently formalized, came out of a series of programmatic activities that started at a grassroots level and centered on a passion for storytelling and the craft of making films.

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FilmGate’s interactive film festival, now heading into its third year, was one of the first programs of the organization. It attracts aspiring filmmakers not just from South Florida but from around the globe. It is “hard to describe,” according to Alexander. It exists in an experimental space where the organization has found its footing, opening the creative process to audiences and adding lots of technological advances in the process. “I looked around in Miami and saw that no one was really doing this,” says Alexander of the immersive interactive transmedia experience that is FilmGate Miami’s annual festival.

The interactive/multimedia storytelling approach, which is more widespread in Canada, where Alexander grew up, has been in use through several productions by the National Film Board of Canada. But it is one of the concepts that Alexander and Jacho wanted for Miami. An exciting aspect of the interactive narrative in multi-platform storytelling is the audience’s ability to participate in the creative process, which could be a nightmare for a curator, but not so for FilmGate. “The audience wants to be a co-creator,” says Alexander, “they want to be more interactive. You can get them to really interact and create interesting stories that live on longer than traditional films.”

Depending on the particular project, people can be part of the process via social media or other forms of participation like choose-your-own-adventure, for example. The festival is also very aware of the environment, which affects people in all walks of life. “I felt that if we were going to start a festival,” says Jacho of his experience with the festival, “it should have an eye on environmental issues and social causes. As it turns out one of the most engaging stories being told through interactive means have been documentaries.”

Lost children

Before you conjure up images of strange, incomprehensible art-house films or overly serious documentaries, the list of local short films is much wider and diverse than a niche of friends. Recent showings of NOLA – short for “Not Going to Move to L.A.” — have included filmmakers from the Keys, Orlando, Northern Florida and our own Miami. Their approach is inclusive, every NOLA we at IndieEthos have attended feels like a backyard party, complete with a juried competition of films showcased (full disclosure: both of us have had a turn), an audience competition that includes fuzzy balls to throw at filmmakers (yes, fuzzy balls, that is not a typo), and a live band after the local films’ showcase.

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FilmGate is like the hip, younger new kid on the film scene, experimenting with interactive storytelling and bringing StoryCode to Miami — originally the program started in New York City. The idea behind StoryCode is “to connect the tech community to the film-making community to make sure that ideas conceived by filmmakers can be done within specific technical guidelines,” explains Alexander.

With growing investments in Miami making it a sort of tropical Silicon Valley, the idea of engaging with this growing sector is a timely one. It is also the engine behind some of the creatives at FilmGate. “The most exciting and fulfilling part of FilmGate is getting storytellers to re-imagine their stories using new media,” says Jacho. All these projects have something in common. They are the core of what makes FilmGate stand out in South Florida, marrying technological advances with traditional storytelling and in doing so bringing a fresh outlook to the film scene.

One of the latest initiatives by FilmGate is the Percolator, a multidisciplinary gathering of creatives around coffee with the goal of creating and collaborating in storytelling. Alexander’s voice brightens up when she talks about what a good day at FilmGate is like. “When I know that everything is possible, and that we can completely conceive something that never existed, it makes me excited for the day,” she declares. That is the ethos of the organization, which has an approachable style but is serious about making a space to connect filmmakers. I must confess, it is the community-building aspect that I appreciate the most about FilmGate; being a resident of the Miami tropics for over 10 years and counting myself a cinephile for most of my life, I have dreamt of catching indies not only during those two glorious weeks in March when the Miami International Film Festival is in full swing but throughout the year.

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Ana Morgenstern

Related links:

For details on “Not Gonna Move to L.A.”
http://www.film-gate.org/news/marchnola

Interactive Tech Playground
http://www.film-gate.org/techplayground

Last year’s FilmGate Interactive Festival
http://www.film-gate.org/filmgate2015

Submissions are open for FilmGate Interactive 2016
http://www.film-gate.org/news/2015/5/20/submit-your-project-to-filmgate-2016

(Copyright 2015 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

THE-TRIBE_Walk

Note: the Q&A with actress Yana Novikova below features frank talk about sex and may reveal plot spoilers. If you are offended by either, you might want to skip that part of the article.

The first ever deaf-led film from the Ukraine will not be an easy experience for anyone. The Tribe (Plemya) is concerned with teenagers who work for the country’s Deaf Mafia, a real thing, according to Ukrainian filmmaker Miroslav Slaboshpitsky. The writer/director was once a crime reporter in Kiev, and he has seen it all. It’s no wonder he doesn’t hold back when he presents the world of these kids with a distant camera that hardly ever blinks. The sex and violence is presented with an unflinching gaze, and it has rattled people the world over, as the film has collected many awards.

Speaking via Skype, Slaboshpitsky says he noticed something rather funny about the cultural differences of certain countries with how they reacted to either the film’s sex or violence. “The film is already released in 144 countries,” he says, “including the United States … We had this discussion with my French distributor. It received the rating of 16+ in France. It’s very big. I think 18+ … only 10 films per year receive this rating, but 16+ is not good. For example Blue is the Warmest Color has 13+ and my French distributor told me, ‘We have no problem with sex in your film, but violence was a problem for French audience, and this rating, 16+, can inform the audience it is a violent film, so for this reason we can lose some viewers.’ Anyway, we have a successful release in France, but I have the same with my American distributor, and he told me, the violence wasn’t the problem with the film, but the sex is. It’s very funny. It’s a different culture,” he adds with a laugh.

THE-TRIBE_Threaten

It took a special cast to put the film together and Slaboshpitsky spent about six months working on casting the film. He said he auditioned approximately 300 deaf people for the movie before settling on the bold group of actors that make up the teenagers of The Tribe. Of lead actor, Grigoriy Fesenko, he said he needed some patience before he could tap into the talent he saw from the start. “A friend of Grigoriy sent us his photo,” he reveals, “and I thought his look was very nice. Then he came to audition, and it was very tangible because Grigoriy is a real street guy. He is a parkourist. He has experience in street fighting and hooliganism and something like that. In the audition, he was so nervous he completely fucked up the whole audition. It interested me because it was a very interesting mix of the brutal street guy and … very, nervous … and I ask him to come to the audition again, and I asked him come again and finally we took him in the film.”

Meanwhile, the female lead, Yana Novikova, took the director by surprise. She stood out during an audition for someone else Slaboshpitsky was considering for the role. “Yana it was a very special story because I wasn’t sure about Yana before we started to shoot the movie,” he recalls, “so [the character] is a prostitute, and I’m looking for someone who is more sexy, much more Marilyn Monroe style, something like that. So I go to audition at a special deaf theater in Kiev, and Yana was one of the persons who tried to take part in this audition, and I’m coming to see the other girl, which really looks like a sex bomb. When I saw them doing all these different tasks for the audition, I didn’t notice this sex bomb anymore. Yana took all my attention. Finally, we invited her to rehearsal, and she really, really impressed me.”

To read more from Slaboshpitsky about the film, as well as Novikova, jump through the logo below for the Miami New Times’ Art and Culture blog:

NT Arts

Now, for those still here, below is my complete interview with Novikova. She responded to my questions via email which were translated for her and then translated back and sent to me. It was a lot of work for everyone involved, and she gave some long, intelligent and insightful responses, so I wanted to share the entire interview somewhere, and Independent Ethos is probably the best place for it. Note: this is also where the frank talk of sex and spoilers come in, including reference to an incident on set that would make for a funny blooper reel on the home video release were it not X-rated.

Hans Morgenstern: Your performance is incredibly powerful. Did you ever think you would become an actress? I read you have always dreamed of acting since childhood. What attracted you to it when you were a child?

Yana Novikova: I was 6 or 7 years old and I went with my mother to see “Titanic.”  I loved Kate Winslet’s performance. I realized then that I wanted to become an actress, and what an interesting thing it is to do. It’s such a beautiful profession.

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Which of the films the director showed you in preparation for your role did you like best and why:

Last Tango in Paris
La vie d’Adel (Blue is the Warmest Color)
9 Songs
Shortbus
Any of the films by Lars von Trier or Larry Clark or Pier Paolo Pasolini?

The director advised me to watch some good movies. I was most impressed with Blue is the Warmest Color. We saw it with the guys who also star in The Tribe. I was so impressed with the performance by the lead character. It is because of her performance in that film that I changed my attitude towards the role in The Tribe. I was no longer afraid.

Where did you find the courage to express yourself with such a demanding performance that includes nudity and violence?

After watching Blue is the Warmest Color I realized that working in cinema is art. Internally I was ready for it. The movie is not about nudity. This is a very profound film, and I came to its subject and depiction seriously. I rehearsed and worked on the role for a long time, trying to get used to the image of myself as a prostitute. When it was time to film the intimate scenes, I asked Myroslav to keep the set to a minimum number of people. So the only one’s present were the camera, sound and translator. Even Myroslav was in another room, watching at the monitor. I still do not feel comfortable about being naked in front of strangers, it is unnatural for me. And we had to do a lot of takes. I had a good understanding with my scene partner, and I did what I intuitively felt. This was not porn, the scenes have an aesthetic purity, there is feeling to them. These scenes are important to convey a sense of fullness, so that the audience believes and empathize with the hero. In some ways it’s like a cinematic representation of some of the great Renaissance art. For example, one of our scenes is very similar to the painting of Adam and Eve by Albrecht Durer.

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There is a disturbing scene where you undergo an illegal “backroom” abortion. What was it like to shoot and how long did it take?

Myroslav prepared me well in advance that there would be a graphic abortion scene. I agreed immediately, but I was also worried about it, because I did not know how I should move or react like a real person might when having this procedure because I had never had one. The first day I was in rehearsal with Marina [Panivan], who played the woman performing the abortion. The second day we went to the director of a hospital, and we rehearsed in the hospital with a gynecologist. There was a special doll, a dummy, that they used to let doctors train on, so we could watch how it is done. The next day we filmed the scene, and it all turned out. And each time it was necessary to re-live the pain, to cry, to put forth the necessary emotion. In addition, I felt physical pain. The whole day I had to lay on that bare board, and by the end of filming that scene I was all cried out.

Though it is shocking movie, I’m sure you also must have enjoyed doing it. What did you enjoy most about making it?  Was there anything that you didn’t enjoy so much about the shoot?

I like that the film is completely without subtitles and words. It seems to me that a deaf actor can convey more emotion than a hearing actor, because everything must be written on the face, all of the emotions: joy, sadness, hatred, resentment. Wherever we showed the film, viewers who hear all understood. Of course, when deaf audiences see it, they pay attention to the gestures, to what the characters say with their hands. But that’s not the signed dialogue, that is the emotions, because deaf foreigners who don’t understand International Sign are like hearing audiences forced to understand it from the emotions. When Myroslav explained to us what he needed us to do, he emphasized that the main thing was what emotions we give. If we forgot a word, he did not want us to worry, the main thing was to show emotion. It was okay to improvise, especially when there are gestures, not words. You do not need to hear dialogue when everything is written on the face, you can see all you need to in the movements. Because of that, The Tribe is truly a film for everyone. I like that.

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Was there a fun moment you had on the set?

Yes, there was a funny moment where Myroslav said to me and Grigoriy that it was necessary to come up with a position we liked for a sex scene. I laughed, and I could not pick a position, then Myroslav came up with the “69” position, but I did not want to do “69,” and I wanted to choose something else. But Myroslav showed us the “69” position and how beautiful it looked, like how a “snake” moves. We were in rehearsal and we just could not be serious about this. We were laughing so hard, no one could keep from laughing about this.

Do you have any other roles lined up in the future?

I have received several offers for new films, and I hope to be working on a new project soon. I’m also planning to study in the U.S. and earn my masters in dramatic arts.

Hans Morgenstern

The Tribe opens in our South Florida area this Friday, July 24, at the Miami Beach Cinematheque and further north, in Broward County at the Cinema Paradiso Hollywood. It could already be playing in other locations across the U.S., if not coming soon. For other screening dates, visit this link and scroll down. The Miami Beach Cinematheque hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this article. All images are courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

blackvenus

Abdellatif Kechiche, The director behind Blue is the Warmest Color, one of my favorite films of 2013 (Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ and the pain of loving), has a very rich filmography that few have seen in the U.S. in its entirety. Two of his previous films (2000’s La Faute à Voltaire [a.k.a. Blame it on Voltaire or Poetical Refugee] and 2010’s Black Venus [pictured above]) never received commercial theatrical runs in the U.S. As far as the other two, Secret of the Grain (2007) is thankfully available via the Criterion Collection (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link) but his second film, Games of Love and Chance (2003), went of print when its distributor, New Yorker Films, went temporarily out of business (if you’re lucky, Amazon will have one for sale by re-sellers).

So that’s the situation of Kechiche’s filmography in the U.S. But I had the chance to see all of his films, two in 35mm, no less, thanks to a preview by the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the French Embassy. I processed the French-Tunisian writer/director/actor’s career, and was able to sum it up in a preview in the Miami New Times’ art and culture section last week. Not enough seemed to have recommended it via social media, but I am very proud of it. You can read it by jumping through the blog’s logo below, just click the image:

NT Arts

I hope the first weekend went well for the retrospective, which included Kechiche’s powerful debut, La Faute à Voltaire and the deeply moving Games of Love and Chance. This weekend comes his two later films, also to be shown on 35mm, The Secret of the Grain and Black Venus, which — forget about Blue — stands as his most controversial film. I’ll let what I say about the movie in the Miami New Times stand. Believe me when I say it’s a bold but vital film.

I would like to add, however, that Kechiche’s knack for capturing earthy moments between people in a vivid, natural manner, which I praised so much in my review of Blue, is no fluke. All his films feel as though they come from life. His endings are special in their lack of resolution but their inspiration to rattle the viewer to consider his storytelling decisions for deeper insights into life. After all, in our own lives, we all only get one real ending, no? His films all feel like experiences, and if you live near Miami, you should not miss the opportunity to see these two later films in his career on the big screen and in 35mm, no less. I’ll leave you with these movies’ trailers.

Hans Morgenstern

Catch the second part of Kechiche Before Blue this weekend at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. The Secret of the Grain shows at 1 p.m. this Saturday and Black Venus screens Sunday, at 1 p.m. Details and tickets can be found here (that’s a hot link).

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

CLOUDS-OF-SILS-MARIA-4

We are a bit past the halfway point, and the lists of what are so far the best movies of 2015 are already popping up. Here’s a good one by a friend on WordPress: Humanizing the Vacuum (and inspiration behind this post). If you prefer something more popular, take a look at these lists by the critics of Variety, though I would disagree that some films are worthy (White God and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl stand as some of this year’s worst films, in my view).

As for my list, for now, below are the top 10 contenders for this best films of 2015. There’s a hint to my preferences in their order, but it could change by Dec. 31. Note: many link to reviews on Independent Ethos, so click through the titles for deeper thoughts on these titles:

Some facts about these films:  Three of them premiered in my neighborhood at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival (Flowers, Theeb and Voice Over), and one premiered at the Miami Jewish Film Festival (Gett). A couple came out a year earlier but didn’t hit theaters in Miami until this year (Inherent Vice and Mr. Turner).

I never found the time to write reviews for two of these. Let me just say Girlhood is an amazing French film following a group of girls from the projects of Paris who have more in common with American girls that you would imagine. There’s a very universal need to physically connect, and it’s depicted with incredible grace in the film by French director Céline Sciamma.

Mr. Turner deserved more recognition at the end of last year. Watching it, you will not have to second guess why it was nominated for a cinematography Oscar. It should have won over Birdman. It’s less about flash yet incredibly transporting. It also deserves notice for its lead performance by Timothy Spall. You might as well throw in production design, and heck, even editing. I literally yelled “Oh my God!” and broke out laughing between cuts of Turner spitting on a painting and a close-up of a mountain. If you never experienced it on the big screen, woe unto thee. The second best thing you can do is purchase it on blu-ray (buy it here and you’ll be supporting the Independent Ethos).

To see some contenders that are trailing behind these films, check out my list on Letterboxd (that’s a hot link). If you don’t already follow me there, you should. There’s where you will get my most intimidate reactions to films I catch — in almost real time.

Do you have a list of favorite films of 2015? Let us know in the comment section.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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