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.

THE-TRIBE_Dress

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.

17TRIBE

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.

THE-TRIBE_Teacher

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.)

boyhood

The International Online Film Critics’ Poll has announced the winners its 2013/14 survey. I was honored to have been asked to participate for the fourth edition of this poll (see previous surveys here). I was worried when I saw Scorsese’s messy, unchecked ego-trip of a movie, The Wolf of Wall Street among the nominees in one too many categories. Everyone knows my disdain for the film, which reeks of missteps in film-making from someone I consider a master movie maker, and my review of the film in 2013 still continues to attract like-minded film-goers who have made the comment section a sort of sanctuary for their equal disdain for the film (Film review: ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ is one nasty, vulgar film about nasty, vulgar people– for 3 hours!). It made the top 10, but nothing else. No, the big winner was not a huge surprise. Over a hundred on-line film critics from around the globe were polled, and they gave the major awards to Boyhood (Film review: ‘Boyhood’ is Linklater’s masterpiece on youth, existence and humanity), which should speak to its chances at the Oscars, as it rose above last year’s major Oscar winner, 12 Years a Slave.

Other big winners were Gravity (Film Review: ‘Gravity’ harnesses the power of uncut images to thrilling heights) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (Film Review: ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ may be cartoonish, but it’s also one of Wes Anderson’s most human films). As the headline for my Gravity review indicates, the film won the deserved prize for editing and other technical prizes: cinematography and special effects. When I got my ballot, I almost went down the row voting for The Grand Budapest Hotel, but at least it also won three prizes (ensemble cast, production design and score).

grand_a

I’ll never protest Michael Keaton’s win for Birdman. He’s terrific in this intelligently subversive film (Film review: ‘Birdman’ lampoons Hollywood with humorous, hyper-real, hero-hating satire). But my fave will always be Ralph Fiennes for his work in Grand Budapest Hotel, even if I am biased for having had a chance to interview him for the film (Ralph Fiennes on Working With Wes Anderson: “A True Auteur in the Best Sense”). His thoughtful answers to my questions spoke to how deeply he connected to this character.

I have no real complaints about the results of the poll. All are deserving winners and include some favorites. I am particularly happy that many critics did not forget such great foreign language films as Ida (‘Ida’ comes to South Florida in 35mm; My review appears in ‘Reverse Shot’), The Great Beauty (Film Review: ‘The Great Beauty’ earns it’s title by looking beyond the superficial) and Blue is the Warmest Color (Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ and the pain of loving). But too bad Something in the Air (Film Review: ‘Something in the Air’ presents vibrant picture of youth in tumult) and Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ presents complex, enthralling portrait of the jaded vampire) were both missing.

OK, enough links to our old reviews glowing with praise for most of these films. Below is the official press release. Winners are in bold and my picks have an asterisk next to them:

PRESS RELEASE – IOFCP WINNERS

The International Online Film Critics’ Poll is proud to announce its  winners for the 4th biannual awards for excellence in film. Founded in 2007, the IOFCP is the only biannual poll of film critics from all around the world (over one hundred critics from USA, UK, Italy, Spain, Canada, France, Mexico, Australia, India, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, South Africa, Serbia, Poland, Romania, Estonia, Pakistan, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden). The awards are biannual to allow the comparison of different film seasons.

The IOFCP voted the coming-of-age drama Boyhood as Best Film, according to the results of its biannual critics’ poll which was released on January 26. Director Richard Linklater was voted as Best Director and Patricia Arquette won Best Supporting Actress award.

Michael Keaton was voted Best Actor of the biennium for his performance in Birdman, and Cate Blanchett won Best Actress award for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel won Best Ensemble Cast, Best Production Design and Best Original Score. Another big winner was Gravity with three awards: Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Visual Effects.

For the screenplays, Spike Jonze’s romantic comedy-drama Her was chosen as Best Original Screenplay. Instead Best Adapted Screenplay went to Steve McQueen’s Academy Award winner 12 Years a Slave.

At last, for his performance in Whiplash, J.K. Simmons was awarded as Best Supporting Actor of the biennium.

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

Complete list of winners (and nominations)

TOP TEN FILMS (alphabetical list)

12 Years a Slave
Blue is the Warmest Colour
Birdman
Boyhood
Her
Ida
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Great Beauty
The Imitation Game
The Wolf of Wall Street

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

* * *

Hans Morgenstern

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

This year proved quite fruitful for worthwhile cinema experiences for this writer. So much so, I want to vary up my year-end list. There were so many amazing documentaries, I have decided to rank those separately because, quite honestly, some of those could dethrone several of my top feature films (stay tuned for a top 20 in February). I have also decided to rank separately some of the great sentimental films that pulled me by the heartstrings despite their contrivances.

All lists below are ranked from descending to ascending order. There are links to reviews or interviews, if applicable. All the large, bold, italicized titles under the posters link to the home video releases on Amazon. If you follow that link and purchase them, a percentage of the sale goes back to support this blog.

First, some might call the following guilty pleasures. I call them sentimental favorites, where I swooned along with everyone else who wanted to escape for just a pleasant night at the movies, be they action-adventure or idealized depictions of true stories:

movies_saving-mr-banks-poster5. Saving Mr. Banks

There’s something a bit surreal and somewhat incestuous about Disney dramatizing the true story behind bringing Mary Poppins to the big screen. Though much of the hype surrounding the film came from a not-always-flattering portrait of Mr. Disney (big deal, you get to see him sneak a cigarette), the real skeletons depicted come from the traumatic childhood of the book’s author. The film spends a great amount of time flashing back to the past of author P. L. Travers who proved stubbornly uncooperative in the adaptation of her novel on the Disney studios lot. There’s much talk of Emma Thompson in the role of the author and Tom Hanks as Walt Disney. However, Colin Farrell offers the film’s most tangibly tragic performance as the father who cannot seem to rise to task during the author’s childhood. He’s the heartbreaking glue that explains all the trauma, escapism and defensiveness of Travers.

the-book-thief-poster

4. The Book Thief

More childhood trauma in real-life. This time, it’s a little girl growing up in Nazi Germany. Director Brian Percival, he of the stirring Downton Abbey series, brings his romantic eye to a place not often treated with romance. However, this is a child’s coming of age, so a hint of rose-colored lenses may be forgiven. Also, personal bias, my father survived living through Nazi Germany after he was drafted to fight for Hitler at the ripe age of 16. To add some more bias, I had a chance to speak to Percival, the film’s star (Sophie Nélisse) and the original book’s author, Markus Zusak, a conversation that began with sharing my dad’s journals during the war … which are still looking for a serious translator (read my interviews).

the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-poster3

3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

While the first Hobbit film felt like an overdose of effects and Rube Goldberg-like action sequences, things finally came together with the second part of this trilogy. There was time to get more intimate with the characters, as the film slowed down for some substantial moments between them. It also had a brisk pace and sense of adventure that harkened back to the great epic action films director Peter Jackson so much loves, like The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.

the-secret-life-of-walter-mitty-poster-mountain

2. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

I had no idea I would like this film as much as I did. I think its message that celebrates experiencing life without the escapism, ironically enough, touched me. It’s funny how a film so anti-escapism can also feel escapist. It started with obvious, overly stylized, stagey fantasies by the title character and ended with him out-growing them. (Read my link to my review here).

luss-enterprise-si-schianta-sulla-terra

1. Star Trek: Into Darkness

This movie was just the greatest thrill that had it all. The sentimentality on screen overwhelmed as stakes ran high, including a bromantic exchange of affection in the face of death between Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto). Even the evil Khan (a scene-stealing Benedict Cumberbatch) shed a tear for his cause, though it meant the extermination of humanity. It gives you high hopes for what director J.J. Abrams has planned for his series of Star Wars films under the ownership of Disney (Read my review).

* * *

Some of the most extraordinary documentaries I saw included these, again in bottom to top order. I reviewed all of these, so I shall spare additional commentary; click on the link below the poster art to read my reviews and the titles to purchase from Amazon and support the Independent Ethos:

Movie_Poster_of_-Beware_Of_Mr._Baker-

5. Beware of Mr. Baker

(read my review)

leviathan

4. Leviathan

(read my review)

The-act-if-killing-poster

3. The Act of Killing

(read my interview)

storieswetellposter

2. Stories We Tell

(read my review)

cutie_and_the_boxer

1. Cutie and the Boxer

(read my review)

* * *

Finally, the 10 best feature films I saw in 2013. I was surprised by my own ranking. Though consistency of tone, acting, cinematography, pacing and complexity of story all play a factor, I determined the ranking by considering  how strongly the films drew me in and then delivered their message and punch line. As usual, ambitious foreigners often win this list, but there was also a strong showing by a pair of American indie directors and one pair of directors who are given free-reign in the Hollywood machine. Again, click on the link below the poster art to read my reviews; the titles all link to product listings on Amazon, which supports the Independent Ethos:

thegreatbeauty_poster10. The Great Beauty

(Read my review)

Poster art9. Laurence Anyways

(Read my review)

museum_hours small

8. Museum Hours

(Read my review)

computer_chess_poster7. Computer Chess

(Read my review)

inside-llewyn-davis-poster6. Inside Llewyn Davis

 (Read my review)

frances-ha-poster 5. Frances Ha

(Read my review)

BLUEITWC_Poster_1080x16004. Blue is the Warmest Color

(Read my review)

apres3. Something in the Air (Après mai)

(Read my review)

la_noche_de_enfrente_xlg2. Night Across the Street

(Read my review)

beyond-the-hills-movie-poster-21. Beyond the Hills

(Read my review)

I think the Wolf of Wall Street, probably the biggest disappointment of the year for this writer, had some influence in my number one choice. Beyond the Hills indeed looked at some despicable people, but threw the lambs among them for a sense of dynamism that was missing from Wolf. It also had a similar ending that gave a shocking twist in perspective regarding the power of a leader who has led many astray that was well-earned over an extravagant run-time of two-and-a-half-hours. Because of that, Romanian director Cristian Mungiu proves himself a stronger director than Martin Scorsese is now.

Of course all these films, from sentimental faves, documentaries and features could be mixed for a top 10, or as in many previous years, a top 20, which I plan to prepare in February, when more late-coming foreign titles will see release (Miami has yet to see Mexico’s entry to the Oscars, the harrowing Heli arrive in theaters, and only now the multi-award-winning Wadjda is seeing release in indie art houses).

Heli

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

12-years-a-slave still

Today, the Florida Film Critics Circle announced its awards for the best of the best in cinema in 2013. Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave received the most recognition. It’s a dark, powerful film that is backed by the artistry of a fine craftsman of a director. It also won for best adapted screenplay. There were many awards for the actors in the film, deservedly so, as McQueen knows how to let the camera roll and allow an actor to act. Therefore, Chiwetel Ejiofor won for best actor, Lupita Nyong’o won for supporting actress and breakthrough role. Michael Fassbender was a runner up in supporting actor.

Other awards of note has to begin with Miami Beach Cinematheque director Dana Keith, who won the Golden Orange. He’s special to us here at Indie Ethos, as he was the first to take our reviews seriously. We’re kindred spirits in indie, foreign and art films. He’s also a great supporter of local film criticism, which will soon be more pronounced after he won a Knight Foundation grant for a program called “Speaking In Cinema” that will include the participation of many local film critics.

Gravity got some big technical wins that it deserved (my review of the film). I also nominated Blue Is the Warmest Color in many categories (my review), so I was happy to see it win foreign film. Apparently it just edged out the rather cruel film the Hunt, whose drama relies on dramatic irony as a ploy that many critics have fallen for (my review).

But I can’t say I’m much disappointed with this list, except that Michael B. Jordan did not win for breakout role for his work in Fruitvale Station (my review), as he missed it by two points, and Nyong’o had already won for supporting actress. I pushed for that because I thought it would mean something coming from the state where Trayvon Martin lost his life to profiling.

The other night, with the help of my cohort at Independent Ethos, Ana Morgenstern, I filled in my ballot (I was stuck many times, though I tried not to over-think my nominees). This task features a lot of strategy, some precociousness and a bit of bias toward the oft-misunderstood Blue Is the Warmest Color. My only regret, when I turned in the ballot, was not including Ejiofor. He really was amazing, but he feels like such a given to win so many awards this season. In the end, it was no surprise when he won (though I felt a little relief). But then, runner-up was Joaquin Phoenix, who I wanted for best actor last year (see that year’s list of winners).

Here’s the full press release from the FFCC:

FFCC Winners Announcement – 2013

December 18 -– With five major wins, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay, Steve McQueen’s riveting “12 Years a Slave” swept the 2013 Florida Film Critic Circle Awards, beating out such highly touted contenders as “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Alfonso Cuoron’s “Gravity” was the only other multiple winner, earning top marks for its cinematography and special effects.

McQueen, himself a winner for director, helped Chiwetel Ejiofor earn the group’s top honor as Best Actor for his stirring work as former freeman turned plantation “property” Solomon Northup, while Jared Leto stepped away from his rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars to win the Best Supporting Actor award for his touching turn as an AIDS patient in “The Dallas Buyers Club.”

Woody Allen again proved his skill with actresses, as Cate Blanchett won Best Actress for “Blue Jasmine” while newcomer Lupita Nyong’o walked away with the prize for Best Supporting Actress for her devastating work as Patsey in “Slave “. She was additionally acknowledged by the group, winning the prestigious Pauline Kael Breakout Award.

As stated before, Cuarón’s hit sci-fi thriller brought a Best Cinematography win for Emmanuel Lubezki as well as for its mind blowing F/X. Spike Jonze’s whimsical meditation on life, love and technology, “Her,” earned him the Best Original Screenplay award while John Ridley was honored with Best Adapted Screenplay for his efforts in bringing “Slave” to the screen.

In other awards, Cannes favorite “Blue is the Warmest Color” won a close race over “The Hunt” for Foreign Language Film, while “Frozen” narrowly defeated Hayao Miyazaki’s final effort, “The Wind Rises” for Animated Film. “The Act of Killing” edged out “Blackfish” for Best Documentary, while “The Great Gatsby” was touted for its Art Direction and Production Design.

The Golden Orange Award, given for outstanding contribution to film, went to Miami Beach Cinematheque director Dana Keith, a tireless champion of foreign, independent and alternative film for more than 20 years. He has consistently programmed some of the most daring films to make the art house circuit and has played host to a variety of film festivals, big and small.

Founded in 1996, the Florida Film Critics Circle is comprised of 21 writers from state publications. Bill Gibron of PopMatters.com and FilmRacket.com has served as chairman since March 2013. For more information on the FFCC, visit: www.floridafilmcritics.com.

Complete list of winners:

Picture: 12 Years a Slave

Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave

Actress: Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

Supporting Actor: Jared Leto, The Dallas Buyers Club

Supporting Actress: Lupita Nyong’o, 12 Years a Slave

Director: Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave

Adapted Screenplay: John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave

Original Screenplay: Spike Jonze, Her

Cinematography: Emmanuel Lubezki, Gravity

Visual Effects: Gravity

Art Direction/Production Design: Damien Drew et.al. and Catherine Martin et.al., The Great Gatsby

Foreign Language: Blue is the Warmest Color

Animated: Frozen

Documentary: The Act of Killing

Breakout: Lupita Nyong’O, 12 Years a Slave

Golden Orange: Dana Keith

* * *

And here’s how it broke down from our end, including rankings, at Independent Ethos:

Oscar Isaac winter in Joel and Ethan Coens INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS

BEST PICTURE

1.  Inside Llewyn Davis
2.  Frances Ha
3.  12 Years a Slave

BEST ACTOR

1.  Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station
2.  Christian Bale – American Hustle
3.  Bruce Dern – Nebraska

BEST ACTRESS

1.  Cate Blanchette – Blue Jasmine
2.  Meryl Streep – August: Osage County
3.  Greta Gerwig – Frances Ha

SUPPORTING ACTOR

1.  Michael Fassbender – 12 Years A Slave
2.  Jared Leto – Dallas Buyers Club
3.  Benedict Cumberbatch – Star Trek Into Darkness

SUPPORTING ACTRESS

1.  Lupita Nyong’o – 12 Years A Slave
2.  Jennifer Lawrence – American Hustle
3.  June Squibb – Nebraska

DIRECTOR

1. Coen Brothers – Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Noah Baumbach – Frances Ha
3. Abdellatif Kechiche – Blue Is the Warmest Color

SCREENPLAY (ADAPTED)

1.  12 Years A Slave
2.  The Butler
3.  August: Osage County

SCREENPLAY (ORIGINAL)

1. Frances Ha
2. Her
3. Blue Jasmine

CINEMATOGRAPHY

1. Inside Llewyn Davis
2. Rush
3. Leviathan

VISUAL EFFECTS

1. Gravity
2. Star Trek Into Darkness
3. The Conjuring

ART DIRECTION/PRODUCTION DESIGN

1. Blue is the Warmest Color
2. 12 Years A Slave
3. Her

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

1.  Blue is the Warmest Color
2.  Something in the Air
3.  Beyond the Hills

ANIMATED FEATURE

1.  The Wind Rises
2.  Frozen
3.  Monsters University

DOCUMENTARY

1.  Cutie and the Boxer
2.  The Act of Killing
3.  Stories We Tell

BREAKOUT AWARD

1.  Michael B. Jordan – Fruitvale Station
2.  Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis
3.  Adèle Exarchopoulos – Blue is the Warmest Color

GOLDEN ORANGE

1.  Dana Keith – Miami Beach Cinematheque (for his adventurous programming and support of local critics)
2.  Oscar Isaac – Inside Llewyn Davis (He was a local Miami musician, who “arrived” with this film in Hollywood)
3.  Jillian Mayer – #PostModem (She starred in and co-directed the short with Lucas Leyva, which went on to SXSW. Here’s the trailer:

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
BLUEITWC_Poster_1080x1600There is a lot of noise surrounding this year’s Palme d’Or-crowned Blue is the Warmest Color. As it finally hits theaters in the U.S., it arrives on the heels of actress Léa Seydoux publicly feuding with director Abdellatif Kechiche. Seydoux has bemoaned the director’s treatment of her and lead actress Adèle Exarchopoulos during the lengthy production of the film. In turn, Kechiche has become incredibly defensiveMaybe it has something to do with the Steven Spielberg-led jury— in a move away from protocol— deciding to bestow the Palme on not only the film but also on Seydoux and Exarchopoulos
None of that matters. Titled La vie d’Adèle, Chapitre 1 & 2 in French, the film follows a young girl’s bold exploration of love and stands on its own merits beyond politically correct awards and bitter behind-the-scenes clashes. Adèle (Exarchopoulos) is still in high school when she first lays eyes on Emma (Seydoux), who’s close to finishing her fine arts degree in college. Though involved in a sexual relationship with a boy from class, Adèle grows obsessed with the vision of Emma, who she had only glanced on the street, in passing. With her shock of haphazardly dyed blue hair and her arm around the shoulders of a girl, Adèle cannot seem to shake Emma from her head. One night, after another chance encounter, she follows Emma to a lesbian bar. Sitting alone at the bar, fending off advances from other women, Adèle locks eyes with Emma, and Emma wanders over. She warns Adèle about having entered the bar alone with a crooked, interested smile, as they brew up a casual but cute, getting-to-know-you dialogue. They have an intimate chemistry, and when a gang of Emma’s girlfriends interrupt to coax Emma to a club, it’s as if a protective bubble around them has burst. still2 What follows is not so much Adèle’s “sexual awakening” as it is her finding herself caught up in her own feelings for this fantastical pixie-like creature. The unfolding tragedy of this film is that Emma, who has a profound intellectual outlook as an artist, does not return the same level of love. The relationship feels doomed from the beginning, but the viewer will hardly notice, as the film so neatly packs you into the primal experience of Adèle. Before the behind-the-scenes quarrel stole the film’s thunder, a lot of the buzz that seemed to threaten to overshadow the cinematic drama of Blue is the Warmest Color focused on the lengthy, explicit sex scenes between the women. I once heard the film’s first sex scene was 15 minutes long, then it was 10, then eight, but it’s less. Kechiche, who worked with a total of five editors, knows how to hold a scene for maximum impact. It’s a three-hour film that seems to defy time by offering moments where time seems to hold still. He also cannot be accused of allowing scenes to move too slow. He understands the impact of patient, dramatic build-up. Some scenes are almost musical crescendos. They can be as tender as Adèle’s and Emma’s first conversation, and as rough as the argument that inevitably ends their relationship. Though the sex seems to get all the attention, what with the film’s NC-17 rating, Kechiche is only applying the same detailed, uncompromising attention he uses in every scene of the film. He lingers on silent glances loaded with revelation. To Kechiche, reaction shots seem to hold more depth than dialogue. There is a moment when the camera lingers on Adèle’s face, in the afterglow of her first sexual experience with Emma, where she does nothing but stare at Emma’s crotch, her face loaded with amusement and disbelief. Cinematographer Sofian El Fani knows how to focus on Exarchopoulos’ face throughout the film, and the actress rises to the task. Her lips in a perpetual open-mouthed pout, her doe-like eyes and her thick hair an amorphous, ever shifting puff makes Adèle look like a subject in an Egon Schiele painting. It’s no wonder Adèle becomes Emma’s muse. Still 3 As the film carries on, Adèle works to hide the relationship from suspicious, bullying classmates and her straight-laced family. Meanwhile, Emma and her bohemian friends keep it casual and open. Despite the seemingly progressive quality of the relationship in Emma’s world, it also hints at its triviality to the elder, more experienced half of the couple. After Adèle cooks dinner for Emma and her friends, Emma makes a speech, stating, “I’d especially like to thank my muse … who makes me happy today, Adèle.” The temporal quality of that statement is not lost on Adèle, and the first dagger subtly plunges into her heart. As the hip dinner guests wolf down the meal of spaghetti alla bolognese Adèle has cooked for the occasion, Emma brings up the question whether pleasure is a shared experience. Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), who admits to his bisexuality, speaks of his limited masculine pleasure compared to what appears to him is the rather mystical experience of female orgasm. “We attain differing realities over and above orgasm,” he says. “Insofar as I’m a man, everything I’ve glimpsed is frustrated by the limits of male sexuality.” With this speech also arrives Kechiche’s redemption as a director accused of offering a queer film with a heterosexual, alleged pornographic, gaze. Still 5A lot gels together with this game-changing speech at the center of the film. This is more than a man allowing his camera to linger long on sex between two young women, edited to offer a variety of positions, some of which never appear in mainstream films. On a more contextual level to the central drama, Adèle overhears Joachim’s statements as another dinner guest, an actor named Samir (Salim Kechiouche), compliments her on her “yummy” pasta. As Joachim says he can never experience the ecstasy depicted in the woman’s gaze captured in Emma’s paintings, Samir prods Adèle about her relationship with Emma. “Is this the first time she’s been with a woman? Is it different? Does she want to have children?” It’s almost the base version of Joachim’s statements, and Adèle seems to brush it all off, though actually she takes it very much to heart. This scene and its layers of narrative, both external and internal, speaks to the complexity of Blue is the Warmest Color. The English title hints at this, by attributing warmth to a color commonly associated with coldness. It’s not about irony or contrast. It’s about loving someone so hard that it hurts. The French psychoanalyst turned theorist Jacques Lacan took Freud’s pleasure principle to another level when he employed the French version of orgasm, le jouissance, to describe taking something enjoyable, and using up all the pleasure to the point that it turns into pain. It’s a drive for pleasure that becomes pain, a mix of revelation and ecstasy. That’s the jouissance Adèle endures by overhearing the one conversation while partaking in another that asks her to consider children. It also takes care of the male gaze so often questioned when it comes to this brilliant movie. still1 In the documentary Zizek! noted Lacanian Slavoj Zizek shrugged off sex as mutual masturbation. It’s not incidental that Kechiche chose to illustrate his story of pained love with two women. During one sexual liaison, both thrust their crotches into one another in a moment of passion and ecstasy. Seeking more connection, they clasp hands. The notion cannot be more literal than this. To Zizek, sex is two people wrestling to achieve the most pleasure from the other. The romantic notion of shared pleasure is just that: a romantic notion. Beyond sex scenes as described above, Blue is the Warmest Color calls for a subtle awareness and a maturity in experience that merits the NC-17 rating. To some, the film will end on a rather abrupt note. But it actually marks another heartbreaking moment of jouissance where Adèle comes to realize love is never equal or shared at the same level. Still 4When Emma tells her, “I will have infinite tenderness for you” it’s different from what Adèle feels. This is not a film so much about gay love as it as about love in itself. Adèle is not sexually confused. She loves Emma in a manner that defies gender. That the actresses can convey this while under the meticulous direction of a man speaks to the power of Blue is the Warmest Color. The full-frontal nudity, the sex and the masturbation, juxtaposed with Adèle teaching pre-school children or her wolfing down dinner while talking with her mouth full with her father shows intimacy and life. This is far from some abstract art film. It conveys life much more honestly than many romantic films out of Hollywood, which only seem to instill some false sense of expectation. This is the real deal. Far deeper than girl-on-girl porn turned drama, Blue is the Warmest Color stands on its own merits as a progressive essay on the elusive sensation of love that defies the hetero-normative constructs of what a relationship is supposed to be.

Hans Morgenstern http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQGSlVJgGlI

Blue Is the Warmest Color is Rated NC-17 (you know the hype: the sex in this film is explicit. Regardless, its story has a subtlety that will only be picked up by the mature audience member), is in French with English Subtitles and runs 179 minutes. It is distributed by IFC Films who provided a preview screener for the purposes of this review. It is now slowly seeping into theaters. It opened this past Friday, Nov. 8 in my area of South Florida at the following theaters:

South Beach 18 – Miami Beach Gateway 4 – Fort Lauderdale

On Nov. 15, it opens further north in:

Parisian 20 – West Palm Beach Pompano 18 – Pompano Shadowood – Boca Raton

Update: The Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables has added the film to its calendar beginning Thursday, Nov. 21. See the cinema’s calendar here. Update 2: The Miami Beach Cinematheque has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 22. See the cinema’s calendar here. Update 3: The Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 22. See the cinema’s calendar here. Update 4: O Cinema’s Wynwood location has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 29. See the cinema’s calendar here. It has already opened in some parts of the U.S., and it may already be playing at a theater near you or on its way there. Visit the film’s official website here and insert your zip code to find out.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)