duke 1sheetIt’s funny that the 50 Shades of Grey movie will hit the multiplex on the same day as The Duke of Burgundy enters select art house theaters. I haven’t seen 50 Shades, but there’s no way it can present as complex a picture of a relationship between a sadist and a masochist than The Duke of Burgundy. Director Peter Strickland, who also wrote the script, presents a bold vision of S&M that not only tests the limits of its value in a relationship between an amorous couple, but he makes the couple women. He heightens the relationship further by placing them in a world only populated by women (the title actually refers to a variation of a genus of butterfly, but there is no “Duke” in the film, per se). Furthermore, Strickland also adopts a cinematic style that recalls early 1970s Euro sexploitation films like those by Jesús “Jess” Franco and Jean Rollin.

The atmosphere of the film is so on point and other-worldly, the viewer will forgive any superficial judgment of the two women at the center of the film, as the director explores the dynamic break-down of the relationship that gradually frays feelings and questions the roles between these two women, the lepidopterist Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her younger lover and servant Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), who reveals an amateurish interest in the moths and butterflies Cynthia studies. The film’s opening scene immediately seems to fetishize atmosphere. We meet Evelyn in a velvet cape sitting by a babbling brook, her back to the camera. Smash cuts to close-ups on some green moss that coats the bottom a tree trunk and protruding, brown mushrooms emphasize a fantasy world. Then there’s a cut to the brook and its sparkling surface reflecting the sunlight that dapples through the leaves overhead.

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Next, there’s a wide shot of the mountain forest, what appears to be a Bavarian wilderness. Evelyn rides out of the trees on her bicycle, as the opening titles begin with the film’s theme song by the film’s composers, Cat’s Eyes, a duo from London, who have a sound comparable to the ‘60s-influenced Broadcast, the composers of the music in Strickland’s last film, Berberian Sound Studio (2012). At a time when many Hollywood films are eschewing the opening title sequence in favor of cutting to the action, this moment in The Duke of Burgundy stands as a terrific musical testament to the importance of setting a mood for a film. First, the music sounds like a slight chamber pop song from the late ‘60s. Over the bright, pastoral rambling of an acoustic guitar, Cat’s Eyes vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Rachel Zeffira punctuates the soft tap of a beat with staccato sighs. After a flute plays a circular, cheerful melody, shimmering, languid strings join the track, and Zeffira hushedly (maybe) sings, “One day you’ll be back … when you’re done dreaming … about lust.” Her breathy voice sounds as though it is coming out of the ether of a dream. Her partner in the duo, Faris Badwan, who also sang on the band’s previous self-titled record, has no vocal duties in the score, once again, keeping the film strictly female-centric.

As the credits appear, the pictures freeze, like what Ti West did with the opening of The House of the Devil (2009), another contemporary indie film interested in recalling a film style of the past. Strickland takes it further, washing them out to monochromatic images of various colors using flickering filters of various primary colors. Another funny detail in the credits: lingerie and perfumes are given credit. Early in this sequence, when Evelyn pedals her bike out of the forest, the music is interrupted as a distant voice calls out her name and a young woman on another bike travelling the opposite direction waves at her. Her echoing voice has a surreal, archaic quality that speaks to Strickland’s detailed tribute to the past style he is emulating.

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Sound is incredibly important in this movie. When the title song ends in a flourish of flutes, twinkling harpsichord, swooning strings and that sighing voice, the chirp of birds and the mundane rattle of Evelyn parking her bike and grabbing her hard leather bag sounds jarringly pronounced. After buzzing the doorbell, Cynthia opens the front door with a creak and greets her with, “You’re late.” Evelyn does not reply but follows. The sound of their footsteps even vary, speaking to Evelyn’s smaller size to the older and taller Cynthia. When they speak, there’s an almost disembodied character to their voices, as if the dialogue has been dubbed into English. One could go on and on about the sound in this movie, which gradually grows from scandalously suggestive (behind a closed bathroom door it won’t take much imagination to figure out what one of Evelyn’s punishments entails) to surrealistically evocative (in several montage sequences the dissonant sound of insects, from chirps to fluttering wings evoke the internal state of things).

One could also go on at length about the rich use of lighting and shadow or the dynamic camera work, which often highlights reflections and double images, not to mention the atmospheric set design and the loaded mise-en-scène within those refracted images, as duality and role-reversal abounds. It’s also important to note that none of this could be pulled off without the sincere, heartfelt chemistry between the two leads. The Duke of Burgundy is such a rich film that upon returning to the opening scene after the first watch, I could not help but notice the witty foreshadowing of the babbling brook and all the water Cynthia gulps down as the movie unfolds.

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Though it all might sound a bit salacious or gratuitous, the film never goes there. Strickland keeps much of it suggestive, and that’s where the sex appeal lies. I think there was only one nipple shot in the entirety of the film, and when Cynthia sits on a chair with her legs open, all you can see is darkness. It’s not about keeping it classy, though. Strickland seems more interested in evoking mystery. Who knows? Maybe the women in this world do not even have genitalia. There’s always a sense that something is missing. During a languid pan of the audience at one of Cynthia’s lectures, the camera reveals not only are there no men in the audience, but there are also some mannequins of women sitting in the audience. It’s a stylistic flourish that calls attention to something being amiss in a world of only women.

The film soon reveals that S&M seems to be the de rigueur choice for intimacy between women who have paired off in the world of this movie. At least in the case of Evelyn and Cynthia, it is also revealed that their relationship is so mannered that it is the master Cynthia who is actually obliging herself to the commands of her servant Evelyn, who leaves notecards with instructions of what Cynthia should tell her as her punishment looms. Evelyn’s desperation to be punished also makes it feel as though the passion between this couple might falter at any moment despite such declarations as Evelyn whispering to herself, “Cynthia, as long as I am yours I remain alive.”

As the film lumbers along to even more twists, scenarios are repeated between the couple that reveal the terrible thread they have hung their relationship on. The idea that the spice of sadomasochistic sex might heighten romance is profoundly questioned in this film lush with atmosphere and a disturbingly probing insight into relationships. I highly doubt 50 Shades of Grey will dare to go as far as The Duke of Burgundy.

Hans Morgenstern

The Duke of Burgundy runs 105 minutes and is not rated (this film features all sorts of advanced sexuality between women except for the kind you might expect). It opens in the South Florida area exclusively at Miami’s O Cinema Wynwood on Friday, Feb. 13. It will later expand to the Miami Beach Cinematheque on March 12. It could be playing in your area if it isn’t already on its way. It’s also available on VOD, but we always encourage the viewer to give in to the controlling mercy of the dark theater. IFC Films sent us a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.

Once you’ve seen the movie, you may want to return to the soundtrack. Stream it here for the time being, or you might want to just go ahead an pre-order the vinyl version here.

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

mommyThroughout his oeuvre, writer/director Xavier Dolan has presented viewers with the great range of loving relationships. Love cannot be contained in neat categories constrained by normalcy or appropriateness. In his films, love spills over, revealed in raw emotion both beautiful and ugly. In Mommy, Dolan has developed characters filled with contradictions, shortcomings and limitations, brought to life through powerful performances by Anne Dorval as Diane, mother to teenage Steve played by Antoine-Olivier Pilon. These raw performances coupled with Dolan’s stylistic narrative make Mommy one of the most immersive, adventurous and – dare I say – masterful films of this year. It rightfully won the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014 tying with another master, Jean-Luc Godard (Godard’s Goodbye to Language 3D affirms a master filmmaker’s place in history of cinema). Mommy also won the Best North American Film Award at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

The film opens to a stark announcement about a law that allows parents to commit their children to a state-run facility if they are beyond control. The harsh law is also a warning for the audience to brace themselves, as the world we are about to enter is not an easy one. Mommy is the story of a dysfunctional family, a recently widowed woman and her teenage son, who has just been released from an institution, struggle to make a life for themselves. Circumstances constrain both mother and son. They live in economic distress and have difficulty managing their emotions in socially acceptable ways. The emotionally fractured characters are all strong and vulnerable, needing a family while rejecting structures — a modern tale of family.

The film kicks off with the encounter between mother and son, which is both a violent clash between two opposing worlds and a beautiful encounter between two family members who love each other so deeply it hurts. Diane “Die” Després (Dorval) is a recently widowed single mother living pay check to pay check. Die flaunts an over-sexualized image complete with youthful, scantily clad outfits that make for a garish exterior. Her maternal instincts kick in when Steve comes to live with her. Steve is loud and rude, but his is also screaming for attention and starving for familial connection. Going through ADorval-AOPilon21418088653adolescence, Steve’s sexuality is also very much present. Both Die and Steve are deeply affected by the loss of Steve’s father a few years earlier, and although they love each other deeply, their dynamic is fraught with confrontations that escalate to conflict easily. Dolan does not hold back, constraining much of the action in a suffocating 1:1 aspect ratio, and inviting the actors to express their characters to grating, bombastic heights that those familiar with his work should be prepared for.

Early in the movie, Steve comes home with bags filled with groceries and a gift for Die: a gold necklace that spells “Mommy.” He clearly has no way to pay for any of these things, and his worried mother scornfully implies thieving, shutting down his at first triumphant and exuberant entrance. Feeding off her negativity, Steve’s joy quickly turns to a violent outburst, one of the constants in the character dynamic throughout the film, which also seems on the edge of exploding in unpredictable ways.

Pilon’s performance captures that teenage angst and volatility brilliantly, and Dolan understands how to ratchet them with his shooting style. Some of the shots of Steve by himself running around and playing with a shopping cart in a parking lot showcase that combination of boredom and excess of energy all captured in the narrow confines of a life that seems overbearing, as demonstrated with a tighter aspect ratio than the sometimes familiar and more comfortable 4:3. Dolan’s stylistic choice therefore pushes the film medium to new heights, which is what makes him an exciting director. His defiance to the establishment can be likened to Steve’s own frustration with rules and order.

The complex relationship between mother and son is somewhat alleviated by the presence of neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément), who becomes a friend to Die and a caretaker to Steve. Unable to connect with her own family because of a mysterious trauma early in her life, Kyla suffers from a speech impediment that becomes less pronounced as she settles in with Steve and Die. Her ability to find her voice comes as the three characters discover an unconventional family structureSClement11418088668. The trio go from feeling trapped in their own circumstances to a freeing state that feels easy and open. As the entire mood of the film changes, “Wonderwall” by Oasis takes over the soundtrack, and beyond Steve’s smile, we can hear Noel Gallagher’s bratty cool voice intone, “Back beat, the word is on the street/That the fire in your heart is out.” The relief is so enjoyable it’s easy to forget the looming warning foreshadowed at the top of the film: the possibility of having Steve committed.

Dolan’s fifth film is as much an exploration on familial relationships and friendships, as it is a transformation in his filmmaking to another level. The exuberance and emotion that jump out of the screen are as much a product of strong performances as they are a result of Dolan’s directorial vision to take light, music and even the screen in a different direction. The stylistic choices in Mommy are not gratuitous but serve the overall arc of the story, doing what cinema does best, telling a story with imagery that captures all your senses. Dolan’s Mommy grabs on to your psyche and does not let go, and it will stay with you.

Ana Morgenstern

Mommy runs 139 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is rated R (for cussing and sexual referencing). It opens this Friday at the Coral Gables Art Cinema in Coral Gables, the Miami Beach Cinematheque in Miami Beach and The Classic Gateway Theater in Fort Lauderdale. To find screenings elsewhere in the US click here. The Coral Gables Art Cinema hosted a preview screening for the purpose of this review.

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

TIMBUKTU_1Sht_Acad_{f5134dd0-075b-e411-9d0b-d4ae527c3b65}From the country of Mauritania comes Timbuktu, one of the most heart-breaking and humanistic films you will see this year. Do not be turned off if you do not know where Mauritania is, for director Abderrahmane Sissako, who co-wrote the script with Kessen Tall, has put together a border-busting story that is both stark and beautiful. It also helps that the film has been nominated for the best foreign language Oscar. At last year’s Cannes Film Festival, it won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the François Chalais Prize.

Sissako grew up in Mali but was born in Mauritania. As a filmmaker he has worked from Russia and France, making movies concerned with Africa both inside and out. He has not made a movie since his much-loved Bamako (2006), now long out of print on DVD. In interviews, Sissako has said he makes movies when he is called to it. In 2012, the stoning death in a small town in Mali of an unmarried couple who had children outside of wedlock compelled him to make Timbuktu. His extraordinary film tells a story about oppression in Timbuktu by fundamentalist interlopers, true to its current history. Co-produced by a French company, Timbuktu expresses a universal idea informed by the current climate of fear propagated by a fundamentalism that oppresses expression in many forms.

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The film opens with a small gazelle running for its life as men, with faces covered by turbans, riding in the beds of speeding pickup trucks displaying a large black flag of Islamic jihad fire AK-47s. Next they are shooting up African masks and statues, including a fertility goddess, symbols of paganism to them but also icons of earthbound humanity. When they arrive at the dusty city if Timbuktu they use a megaphone to announce: “no music, no smoking and women must wear socks.” When they enter a mosque, the imam scolds them, “One cannot enter the house of God with shoes and weapons.”

“But we can. We’re doing jihad,” says one of the men, his mouth covered by a turban. The layers of hypocrisy are rich, from the jihadists’ desire for anonymity to their entitlement, and it permeates this film in various stories featuring an array of characters. Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed dit Pino) lives on the outskirts of the village in a tent with his wife Satima (Toulou Kiki), his young daughter Toya (Layla Walet Mohamed) and Issan (Mehdi A.G. Mohamed), a 12-year-old boy who shepherds Kidane’s small herd of cows. Kidane’s life seems a peaceful one, where he can play guitar and sing to his wife and daughter. Abdelkerim (Abel Jafri) is a jihadist who patrols the outskirts of Timbuktu and has a crush on Satima. He sneaks cigarettes, but as his driver tells him, “Everyone knows you smoke.” Then there’s Zabou (Kettly Noël), a woman who not only does not wear a veil, but wears her unkempt hair and a brightly colored robe with a long train with a pride many dismiss as madness. She is almost Shakespearean in her role as the town fool, having found her own sense of freedom in insanity in this insane world. At least she can get away with calling the jihadists “assholes” and carry on her merry way.

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These stories cross only incidentally, and Sissako presents them with little embellishment. Their connections may seem tenuous to some, and there are some characters that are hardly developed and mysteriously drop out of narrative, but it does not detract from the film as much as you might think. It speaks to the chaos and coldness that the jihadists bring to the community. That it does so in such a banal way speaks to the terrible, heavy cloud they have brought to Timbuktu, a once mystical place of romantic mystery.

The film is consistently and impressively shot. There are beautiful wide shots of the arid lands outside the city walls. The vistas are sometimes punctuated by the spare lute and flute-dominant score by composer Amin Bouhafa. But it never comes across as self-conscious and moody. It’s more contemplative, inviting the viewer to appreciate the beauty of a moment of peace. On the other hand, inside the city, dirt streets are crowded by the walls of buildings, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere, and when music appears in the city, it’s in violation of the militants’ law.Timbuktu4 - Copy That some of these men are foreigners adds further insult to their presence for these people who are only trying to live, love and enjoy life in peace, while still recognizing the importance of God in their lives. What becomes terrible is when these people are forced to submit under the threat of sharia punishments like lashings and even execution by stoning. The harsh dualism calls intense attention to the dynamic that drives the film’s drama, and Sissako mostly presents it with a stark, unembellished touch. Violence and even death comes suddenly, interrupting a languorous life defined by the quotidian but peaceful details.

What Sissako has created with Timbuktu is a piece of art that reminds the viewer of the everyday beauty of love, be it between people or the arts, like music, and even sports (the film features a surreal and bitter-sweet moment of boys playing soccer without a ball, for even soccer is forbidden by the jihadists). All the while the cloud of terror looms over the drama, driven by an old testament idea of justice and informed by narcissistic, vengeful righteousness, far from anything truly holy. Timbuktu is a vital film presented by a man deeply in touch with his humanity. If it does not call attention to a country cursed by a post-colonialist fate, it should at least speak to the horrors dished out by the more popularly known invaders in Iraq and Syria who are calling for a new nation under the flag of jihad built on the spilled blood of innocents.

Hans Morgenstern

Timuktu is in French, Arabic, Bambara and English. It runs 97 minutes and is not rated (some language and stark encounters with violence). It opens Friday, February 5, in the South Florida area at the MDC Tower Theater in Miami and the Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale. If you live outside of my area, it could be screening in your town already or coming soon. Visit this page (that’s a hot link) for other screening locations across the U.S. Cohen Media provided a screener link for the purpose of this review.

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

stacks_image_236While many Israeli film exports are straightforward or dramatic movies, Zero Motivation offers a breath of fresh air with a funny yet critical look at the role of women in the military. In a series of stories featuring women serving in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the film weaves different vignettes through an episodic narrative that at times is pure hilarity and at others shifts to insightful criticism with dark undertones. The film received an award from the 13th Annual Tribeca Film Festival for Best Narrative Feature and the Nora Ephron Prize, given to a female writer or director with a distinctive voice. Zero Motivation is the debut feature film from writer-director Talya Lavie who served in the IDF as a secretary on a base.

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In Zero Motivation, Lavie uses a critical inward-looking gaze at her own homeland with a focus on one of the strongest institutions of Israel: its military. Often touted as an achievement in gender equality, Lavie’s portrayal of the IDF is far from the international perception of the Israeli military as a model for gender equality. The machine, as presented by Lavie’s lens, is filled with the usual patriarchal practices you would expect in that setting: harassment, a lack of representation at the top and almost no engagement in combat. The film presents a group of women serving in the IDF — all of them quite different but all women — relegated to a highly bureaucratic human resources office characterized by a typical gendered division of labor. Not only does the office concern itself with having paper backups of leaves by soldiers, it also shreds papers and serves coffee and drinks to other officers.

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Early in the film we meet Daffi (Nelly Tagar), a young and naïve soldier who is also the “Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of Paper and Shredding.” Her storyline involves her quest to be transferred to a Tel Aviv station. In Daffi’s mind, the mindless paper tasks would be the same at any station, but at least Tel Aviv offers the glamour of the big city. Daffi’s good friend Zohar (Dana Ivgy) is focused on even smaller goals, her one quest at the office is to beat a Minesweeper record on the office’s outdated computer. Zohar’s other main priority is to lose her virginity, which is one of the standout chapters of the film. Zohar finds a soldier who seems interested, only to quickly learn that even for the seemingly polite young man, being a soldier means being entitled over the women around him. These are well-drawn characters that speak to the overall disconnectedness between the institution and its female population.

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With her comic storytelling, Lavie skillfully reveals the contradictions in the system of mandatory conscription in the IDF for women, while the status of women within the organization remains systematically constrained. On the one hand, including women in the IDF is an important step towards equality, but the governance of the organization has relegated women to secretaries far removed from the realities of combat. In a poignant and clever montage, two of the characters walk around the station while in the background another female soldier posts reminders of all the historic military engagements of the IDF and their significance. The message and design of these posters is quite institutional and shows the distance between that reality and the contained environment in the military stations.

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We have no clear sense of why each of the characters made it to service but all have hopes and dreams that, however small or funny it might seem to the audience, are upended via their military service. Even the one woman in this institution who holds genuine aspirations to grow within the IDF fumbles her chances. Rama (Shani Klein), the female officer in charge of this group of misfits, cannot seem to access the “good old boys network,” as her group of slackers sabotage her in one instance after another.

All the stories in Zero Motivation speak to the uncomfortable relationship between Israel’s Western aspirations and its embedded traditional structure. While the film is critical with an undercurrent of dark humor, it does not settle any of the issues it raises. It will certainly be the opening for many conversations that will be plagued with more questions than answers.

Ana Morgenstern

Zero Motivation runs 100 minutes, is in Hebrew with English Subtitles and is unrated (there’s cursing, violence, nudity and sexual situations). The film will premiere in Miami at the Miami Jewish Film Festival where I have been asked to introduce it on Sunday, January 25 at 6 p.m. at O Cinema Miami Shores. It is being distributed by Zeitgesit Films to theaters and has begun a theaterical run that continues expanding. For other screening dates and times around the country visit the film’s official website here.

Update: Zero Motivation opens for a brief three-day run at the Bill Cosford Cinema at the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus on Friday, Feb. 13.

(Copyright 2014 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

poster_100794With their new film, Two Days, One Night, the sibling directors Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne have stayed true to their spare but powerful aesthetic, using handheld camera, extended scenes often featuring simple framing in two-shots and straight-forward, understated smash cuts to move the story along. In fact, we could start this review by the Belgian brothers just like the last review we published here about their previous film (‘The Kid With a Bike’ harnesses potency of simple filmmaking). However, there are a few subtle changes worth noting in this new film. The Dardennes use no extra-diegetic music this time, and for the first time, they are working with an international star: Marion Cotillard.

The actress delivers a marvelous performance that only bolsters the focused gaze of the Dardennes. Wearing minimal if not any makeup, Cotillard delivers a heart-breaking performance as Sandra, a factory worker in Seraing, an industrial town of Liège in Belgium, who, upon her return to work after a medical leave due to depression, faces dismissal from her job. The boss has found a way to streamline work without her and has offered her co-workers to choose between keeping Sandra on the team or receiving a one-time bonus of €1,000. The outcome is exactly what you might be guessing: self-interest prevailed, and the majority of Sandra’s co-workers voted for their own bonus.

A colleague and friend, Juliette (Catherine Salée) convinces Sandra to ask the boss for another vote, as she has received word some of the employees were intimidated to vote for bonuses over Sandra. At first, Sandra appears weak, dubious and hesitant, but bolstered by her friend, who stands at her side, she asks the factory manager to Still9hold a second vote. It is a Friday evening and the factory owner agrees to hold the re-vote on Monday. The mother of two children, Sandra is also pressured by her husband Manu (Fabrizio Rongione), who works at a budget chain restaurant, to visit her co-workers at home and in some cases their second jobs, to campaign for herself. Should she lose her job, after all, she will go back on the dole, and her family will have to move back into public housing.

With the intimacy of this story, Two Days, One Night presents an unwavering and heartfelt look at the realities of the European proletariat. With a stagnant unemployment rate in Belgium at 8.5 percent and weak economic growth, the realities of the working class in Belgium seem bleak (some numbers from the National Bank of Belgium). The Dardenne brothers are able to capture the complexity of the labor market while focusing deeply in a single character with an actress in immense control of her talents.

Over the course of time in the film’s title, Sandra tries to hold it together, popping Xanax pills for energy and muttering to herself “you mustn’t cry” on more than one occasion. Cotillard gives a brilliantly modulated performance, and the Dardennes’ distant camera catches the actress genuinely acting, working off other players. As she maintains a strong face in the presence of her work mates, alone and sometimes with her husband, she Still4seems to barely hold herself together, caving to feelings of despair. When Manu tells her early in the film, in an effort of support, “You exist, Sandra … I love you,” she dynamically takes in his tender reminder of her relevance. She holds on to the positive energy with a tight grip, pauses for a moment to nearly double over in tears, but then composes herself. It reveals how threadbare Sandra’s composure is in the face of the challenge that lies ahead.

Cotillard’s range in just those few seconds is heart-stopping, and it works so well with the reserved, purist style of melodrama by the Dardennes. There’s no need to heighten scenes with music, slow motion, montage or close-ups. As Sandra confronts the various characters she works with, all give an array of reasons for either voting for her or their bonuses. In every encounter with her co-workers Sandra changes a little. Her voice wavers, she re-gains strength and confronts her own fears of not being wanted. The decisions by the Dardennes to keep he camera rolling as she crosses streets or walks paths before facing her co-workers or waiting several beats to cut away at the end of these scenes, as she turns to leave, bring a focus to these small transformations without feeling intrusive or manipulative. You really root for and sympathize with Sandra.

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It’s all beautifully shot by the Dardennes’ regular cinematographer Alain Marcoen. The images are often vibrant yet mundane. Again, it’s anti-romantic but movingly raw and real. Sometimes the camera is the editor. To emphasize one rare close-up, which the film earns impactfully when Sandra’s task seems insurmountable, a swish pan to Sandra allows hardly a moment of acting to be wasted. It all dynamically builds up to a moving pay-off that affirms the strength of an individual looking for value in one way but finding it another way. That the Dardennes pull it off so powerfully with such minimal cinematic flourish speaks to their focused storytelling and a major performance by Cotillard. The reflection of life by cinema is rarely this poetic and profound.

Hans and Ana Morgenstern

Two Days One Night runs 95 minutes and is rated PG-13 for some reason.

Screening update: There’s a series of encore screenings scheduled at the Miami Beach Cinematheque starting March 6.

It first opened in our Miami area Friday, January 16, at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and then expanded to the north in Broward and Palm Beach Counties on January 30th at the following theaters:

  • Gateway in Fort Lauderdale
  • Cinema Paradiso in Hollywood
  • Movies of Delray in Delray Beach
  • Movies of Lake Worth in Lake Worth
  • Living Room in Boca Raton
  • Silverspot in Naples

Update: More South Florida screenings have been scheduled for Friday, February 6th:

  • Belltower Stadium 20 in Fort Myers
  • MDC’s Tower Theater in Miami
  • O Cinemas Miami Beach in Miami Beach
  • Hollywood Stadium 20 in Naples
  • Movies of Delray 5 in Delray Beach

IFC Films sent us a DVD screener for the purpose of this review.

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

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The International Online Film Critics’ Poll has announced its nominations for its 2013/14 survey. I was honored to have been asked to participate for this fourth edition of this poll (see previous surveys here). I know at least one other local film critic asked to participate (Reuben Peira at Film Frontier). We were asked to provide five nominees for each category below. The organizer, George McCoy, informed me there are well over a hundred critics who participated. Eligible films had to be released in the U.S. in the years 2013 and 2014. I went out on many a limb with personal favorites (see my nomination ballot below the press release below). But hardly any of those long shots made it to the final ballot.

What I see in the list below is a lot of preciousness for the auteur. That terrible film by Martin Scorsese (‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!) has several nominations. Even Polanski makes an appearance for a film that really did not make as much as an impact as The Ghost Writer (2010). On the other hand, there’s Wes Anderson who did not disappoint last year (‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ may be cartoonish, but it’s also one of Wes Anderson’s most human films), and Alejandro González Iñárritu made a strong return with Birdman (‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire). But beyond those were clear Oscar winners or contenders like Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave and Patricia Arquette for Boyhood (‘Boyhood’ is Linklater’s masterpiece on youth, existence and humanity).

There are some surprises like Mads Mikkelsen for The Hunt (The Hunt’ examines influence of the crime on judgement) and The Great Beauty, which was one of he great surprises (‘The Great Beauty’ earns it’s title by looking beyond the superficial). There are some films I need to catch up on. Cavalry is up for screenplay, and Julianne Moore is the running for best actress in Still Alice. I may give Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Venus In Furs a chance, too.

The winners are scheduled to be announced January 25. Here are all the nominees:

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PRESS RELEASE – IOFCP NOMINATIONS

The International Online Film Critics’ Poll is proud to announce its nominations for the 4th biannual awards for excellence in film.

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman leads with nine nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Then, with eight nominations, Wes Anderson’s comedy The Grand Budapest Hotel, and with seven nominations, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Among the films of 2013 with most nominations there are Gravity (five), 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street (both four, including Best Picture).

Founded in 2007, the IOFCP is the only biannual poll of film critics from all around the world. The awards are biannual to allow the comparison of different film seasons.

Past IOFCP Awards winners include Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Inglourious Basterds and Slumdog Millionaire.

BEST PICTURE
12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST DIRECTOR
Alejandro González Iñárritu – Birdman
Richard Linklater – Boyhood
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paolo Sorrentino – The Great Beauty
Roman Polanski – Venus in Fur

BEST ACTOR
Michael Keaton – Birdman
Ralph Fiennes – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Mads Mikkelsen – The Hunt
Benedict Cumberbatch – The Imitation Game
Leonardo DiCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett – Blue Jasmine
Adele Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Colour
Rosamund Pike – Gone Girl
Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Marion Cotillard – The Immigrant

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Edward Norton – Birdman
Ethan Hawke – Boyhood
Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
Mark Ruffalo – Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons – Whiplash

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years a Slave
Emma Stone – Birdman
Sally Hawkins – Blue Jasmine
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
June Squibb – Nebraska

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST
12 Years a Slave
Birdman
Boyhood
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

BEST ORIGINAL SCEENPLAY
Birdman
Boyhood
Calvary
Her
The Grand Budapest Hotel

BEST ADAPTED SCEENPLAY
12 Years a Slave
Gone Girl
Snowpiercer
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Birdman
Gravity
Ida
Nebraska
The Great Beauty

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
Gravity
Her
Mr. Turner
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

BEST EDITING
Birdman
Boyhood
Gravity
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Wolf of Wall Street

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
Gravity
Her
Interstellar
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Interstellar
Gravity
Guardians of the Galaxy
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

* * *

Now, below you will find my nominations. Again, many long shots, but it’s more fun that way, and I do not feel as though I have sold out some genuine favorites that I might have naively believed had a chance of appearing on the list. After all, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy did win the last edition.

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Best Picture
Something in the Air (Après mai)
Blue is the Warmest Color
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Inherent Vice
Best Director
Olivier Assayas – Something in the Air (Après mai)
Noah Baumbach – Frances Ha
Abdellatif Kechiche – Blue Is the Warmest Color 
Jim Jarmusch – Only Lovers Left Alive
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – Two Days, One Night  (Deux jours, une nuit)
Best Actor
Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station
Bruce Dern – Nebraska
Ralph Fiennes – Grand Budapest Hotel
Jason Schwartzman – Listen Up Philip
Bradley Cooper – American Sniper
Best Actress
Adèle Exarchopoulos – Blue Is the Warmest Color 
Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Marion Cotillard – Two Days, One Night  (Deux jours, une nuit)
Felicity Jones – Theory of Everything
Scarlett Joahansen – Under the Skin
Best Supporting Actor
Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave
Benedict Cumberbatch – Star Trek Into Darkness
Edward Norton – Birdman
Jonathan Pryce – Listen Up Philip
Josh Brolin – Inherent Vice
Best Supporting Actress
Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
June Squibb – Nebraska
Mia Wasikowska – Only Lovers Left Alive
Patricia Arquette – Boyhood
Emma Stone – Birdman
Best Ensemble Cast
Inside Llewyn Davis
Something in the Air (Après mai)
Inherent Vice
Birdman
Only Lovers Left Alive
Best Original Screenplay
Noah Baumbach & Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha
Spike Jonez – Her
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Jim Jarmusch – Only Lovers Left Alive
Alex Ross Perry – Listen Up Philip
Best Adapted Screenplay
12 Years A Slave – John Ridley
The Butler – Danny Strong
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel
Paul Thomas Anderson – Inherent Vice
Anthony McCarten – The Theory of Everything
Best Cinematography
Inside Llewyn Davis
Blue is the Warmest Color
Under the Skin
Goodbye To Language 3D
Only Lovers Left Alive
Best Production Design
Her
Something in the Air (Après mai)
Under the Skin
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Best Editing
Gravity
Birdman
Under the Skin
Grand Budapest Hotel
Blue is the Warmest Color
Best Original Score
Something in the Air (Après mai) – various
Only Lovers Left Alive – Jim Jarmusch and Jozef van Wissem
Under the Skin – Mica Levi
Inherent Vice – Jonny Greenwood
Birdman – Antonio Sanchez
Best Visual Effects
Fury
Grand Budapest Hotel
Only Lovers Left Alive
Under the Skin
Goodbye To Language 3D

Click though the link before after January 25 to find who won this biennial poll :

Internationalonlinefilmcritics/home

Hans Morgenstern

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

Inherent Vice posterIt sounded like staid material in 2009 for author Thomas Pynchon when he set a detective story called Inherent Vice in 1970, a time when Flower Power had faded, in Los Angeles, a city in the state that once defined the hippie movement. But Pynchon focuses on creating a marvelous morality tale with great humor and witty layers of experience, perfect for the author known for his postmodernist writing. The time period captures a mythic moment in American history. Ideas of utopia and slogans like “make love not war” that once defined a generation had been overshadowed by the hedonism of Woodstock, the horror of the Kent State shootings, the quagmire of Vietnam, not to mention the Manson murders, which are often referenced in the text. The post-war product of the baby boom were coming of age into an era of idealism and were then suddenly hit with disillusionment. Look up the definition of the phrase “inherent vice,” and it seems a perfect title for a book seeking to examine the transition between the ideal 1960s and the grim reality of the early 1970s.

Now director Paul Thomas Anderson has adapted Inherent Vice, becoming the first director to take on Pynchon, an author whose works have often been called “dense” or “complex.” Working for the first time from a novel instead of an original script, Anderson takes Pynchon’s story and enriches it. After his amazing 2013 movie The Master (The Master harnesses cinema’s power to maximal effect), the auteur once again takes on another mythic era of America to offer another superficial take on the cultural landscape that actually shrouds a compelling tribute to people looking for purpose in the face of nihilism.

INHERENT VICE

Also for a second time in a row, Anderson is working with arguably the greatest American actor of the 21st century, Joaquin Phoenix. He plays Larry “Doc” Sportello, a private detective with a serious marijuana habit. Sporting momentous mutton chops to rival Hugh Jackman’s in the X-Men flicks, Phoenix gives Doc an endearing bumbling character that sometimes feels like a tribute to Jeff Bridges’ Dude in The Big Lebowski. Tasked by his ex-girlfriend Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston) to intervene in the looming kidnapping and institutionalization of her current lover, real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts), by his wife Sloane (Serena Scott Thomas), Doc finds himself soon over his head. The story twists and turns as more people enter the picture and Doc takes notes in his little pad with big letters like “paranoia alert” and “something Spanish.”

Throughout the film Doc suffers beatings and uncalled for detentions at the hands of his hippie-hating nemesis LAPD Lt. Detective Christian F. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen (a marvelously intense Josh Brolin). As the film’s most dynamic character, Bigfoot is not just a straight-edge policeman with a disdain for hippies. He also fancies himself a renaissance man who moonlights as a bit actor on TV shows and even the real estate commercials for Wolfmann that slyly lampoon hippie speak while celebrating it. Wearing a bad Afro wig and sunglasses, he tells Doc, “INHERENT VICERight on” from a TV screen before — in a moment of magical realism referring to Doc’s high — his face fills the screen, and he says, “What’s up, Doc?” At every turn, Bigfoot tries to undermine Doc or even arrest him. However, he is also an ally, like a big brother beating on a younger sibling. Though married with children, in a sly, comic dramatic twist, the film later reveals Bigfoot hardly has any love at home, and he and Doc have a bond that eclipses their differences. It’s one of the greatest relationships you will see in the movies this year, and it gives this byzantine comedy its warm heart.

The film features voiceover narration by Sortilège, (a pleasantly benign Joanna Newsom), a friend of Doc’s who provides the first cue in how this film presents its themes through its characters. The film opens with a stationary shot down the nondescript alley to Doc’s beach shack he calls home. The title card reads, “Gordita Beach, California. 1970.” It appears to be sunrise and the only thing on the soundtrack is the sound of the surf. Then there’s a cutaway to a woman’s face backlit by brilliant sunlight. As if born of the California sun, a golden glow shrouding her blond head of hair,INHERENT VICE Sortilège sets up the film’s story. She says Shasta “came along the alley and up the back stairs the way she always used to.” It’s a surprise visit after over a year-long absence from his life. Though Shasta’s entrance harkens to the past, somewhere around 1968/69, this is not the same woman. She arrives a changed woman “all in flat land gear … looking just like she swore she would never look.” While Sortilège appears in a halo of light, Shasta sneaks in and emerges from the nocturnal shadows with a whisper.

Things do change in this world, as Sortilège notes after Doc and a friend join her to share some pizza and beer. She gets vibes that Doc’s mind is racing about the unexpected visit of Shasta, a former intimate who had transformed in a way he never anticipated, so she recommends he do a little change. “Change your hair, change your life.” When he asks her what he might do with his hear, she suggests, “follow your intuition.” Then there’s a smash cut to a close up of Doc’s face with his hair in twists to enhance the curls of his already curly hair.

Change and surface presentation are a big part of Inherent Vice. Everybody is someone else below the surface or in a state of flux — well, maybe everyone except our protagonist Doc. It’s a role that won’t stand out much for Phoenix, which is a shame because he is terrific as a man caught in stagnation yet hoping for some connection. Some will find the developments in Doc’s case confusing as characters enter and leave the narrative. Though other characters come in and out of the picture, there is always somethingINHERENT VICE unforgettable about them. Maya Rudolph (Anderson’s wife) plays Doc’s alert secretary, a very aware being never short observation. Owen Wilson plays a musician lost in his own myth, and there’s even Martin Short who plays a dentist with a coke habit, a taste for young, runaway girls and nefarious connections to a drug cartel called “The Golden Fang.” I’ve left out about seven to 10 other import recurring characters. But it doesn’t matter. As the film falls further down a rabbit hole of narrative that will confuse many hoping to keep the story straight, the viewer should keep in mind that this is a detective story with a pothead hippie as the protagonist.

Beyond dialogue and characterization, as ever with Anderson, he never misses a chance to define his characters visually. Though The Master had an intensely measured pace and a precise mise-en-scène, consistently shot with an exquisite and meticulous quality by Mihai Malaimare Jr., Anderson has called back Robert Elswit to photograph his vision, and the result is not only wonderfully INHERENT VICEevocative of ‘70s era TV and movies but also speaks to the film’s themes of the unknown change ahead. Much of the camera movement is handheld, and many scenes are shot against the light. On the other hand, there are scenes deeply saturated by shadow and darkness, especially as the film barrels through some more nerve-racking moments for Doc, as he gets deeper and deeper into trouble with more dangerous characters, from Aryan brotherhood bruisers to drug dealers connected with The Golden Fang.

As ever with Anderson, the music is brilliantly curated. The choice early in the film to not use some tired, overly familiar pop song from the era but an underground hit by the Krautrock band Can is inspired. I don’t say this because I’m a big Krautrock fan. The song, in this case “Vitamin C,” though not entirely accurate to the era (it was released in 1972) has deeper resonance because it represents a new form of music born of a need to revolt against the establishment, even if it came about in Germany. It also helps that it’s a good tune, abstract yet catchy, involving enough standard rock instruments and a chirpy organ to be cool but quirky.

INHERENT VICE

Anderson has also once again hired Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood to provide a score for the film. Greenwood provides a fantastic, sometimes romantic soundtrack that’s very aware of the era it’s representing, a sort of mix of Neu!, Soft Machine and Ennio Morricone. His music either features strings and oboe or quietly grooving rock instruments. It’s spacey sometimes, and other times it’s pastoral. As with the more subtle, earthy camera work of Inherent Vice, the music, from songs to score, is not as intrusive as it was in The Master. As great as the score for that film was, Inherent Vice is a movie concerned with a different tone, after all, something much lighter and less intense. Again, it all fits the theme of flux and an obscured core defying clear comprehension, reflective of the era and the people struggling in it.

Much as I love the deliberate, controlled artistry of The Master, even more so than this loose-limbed film, Anderson proves he is in terrific control of his approach, and it serves the story and it’s deeper concerns very well. Inherent Vice actually features some of the most hilarious moments in an Anderson film since 1997’s Boogie Nights, another film where Anderson explored the dark side of the 1970s. Both films tangle with humor, from slapstick to witty dialogue and an ironic sense of discontent not really apparent to the film’s characters. It’s ironic, but it all culminates with great affection for the film’s hero and even his nemesis, Bigfoot. They are this film’s terrific beating heart. Change is inevitable, just go with that flow and enjoy the ride… man.

Hans Morgenstern

Inherent Vice runs 148 minutes and is Rated R (expect drug use throughout, graphic sexuality, cursing and several violent encounters). It opens pretty much everywhere today, Jan. 9. Warner Bros. provided a DVD screener for awards consideration last year.

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