Mitch Kaplan of Books and Books, Jaie Laplante of MIFF and Chef Allen SusserIn its 33rd iteration, Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival is putting artistic talent at the forefront of all its competitions. Festival Director, Jaie Laplante announced changes to three of its competitions: the Knight Competition, the Lexus Ibero-American film competition as well as the short films selection. The announcement came Monday afternoon, over lunch by Chef Allen Susser on the outdoor patio of the Cafe at Books & Books, outside the Adrienne Arsht Center in Downtown Miami, and Independent Ethos was invited at the table.

The Knight Competition will now be open to any feature film, including documentaries, that have been directed by a filmmaker who has been part of the festival’s official selection in the past; allowing any talented filmmaker (local or international) to take part in the competition. Previously, the Knight Competition was reserved for films only from Ibero-America. Now, it is open to films from anywhere in the world, including Miami filmmakers who have been a part of the Festival’s official selection in the 32 previous years.

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The second development, is in the Lexus Ibero-American film competition category, which was expanded to include all Latin American and U.S. Hispanic films, not only those that are opera primas. Filmmakers that create original works will now have more chances to compete for the $10,000 juried award. Finally, the shorts program will have more entries this year, as eligibility will include those films that have been previously shown in other Florida locations or streamed online, which used to disqualify many other shorts. “We’re excited as programmers because we really get to choose from the best work, not just the best work that meets our criteria,” said Jaie Laplante, Miami International Film Festival’s executive director.

The festival announced its call changes and call for entries among some of Miami’s filmmakers, film lovers and industry colleagues. IMG_9666Laplante said, “It’s very exciting. It expands our international content. It also expands our relationship with our Miami and Florida filmmakers that we spent a lot of time nurturing and supporting, especially in the last five years.” The new rules also mean that the Film Festival will become more competitive, which for audiences can only mean more to choose from all around the world. The 33rd Miami Dade College Miami International Film Festival is already promising to be an exciting ride that will open the door to artistic merit above all other criteria.

The festival is now accepting submissions and will continue to do so until Sept.30. Filmmakers should direct their entries via IMDB’s Withoutabox’s Secure Online Screener System (link here). For submission rules and requirements you can visit the Festival’s webpage here. The festival will take place in Miami March 4-13, 2016. Stay tuned to hear the latest and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. The last festival featured one of my favorite movies this year, Voice Over by Cristián Jiménez (Miami Film Festival Day 2: Voice Over reveals gargantuan obstacles of familial communication with humor and subtlety). We are looking forward to discovering new gems next year!

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Ana Morgenstern

All photos by Rachel Lauren Bleemer. Mouse over the images to see the names of all these fabulous people.

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

goodbye-to-language-3d-posterAnyone who loves cinema — and I’m talking about visuals, sound and editing, with acting and narrative falling into fourth and fifth place — needs to see Jean-Luc Godard’s first 3D film, Goodbye to Language (Adieu au langage). The pioneer French New Wave filmmaker has long moved into a more subversive yet pure exploration of cinema. There is something about his movies that celebrate cinema while trying to tear it down. Though that dichotomy is always fun to watch, with 3D Godard finds a fresh level of experimentation that adds a new thrilling perspective that also does not stray too far from his thinking of cinema.

There simply has been nothing like Goodbye to Language in the movies, and some will be uncomfortable with it while others will delight in it. Those familiar with late-period Godard, like his last movie, Film Socialisme (my review: Godard’s ‘Film Socialisme’ and the entrancing “music” of visuals) will recognize a certain style. The quality of his visuals vary. There are diverse images like the hyper-color-saturated shots of flowers in nature and grainy black and white archival film and cheap, low-def video but also crystal clear HD images of an obscure drama following two couples who are almost doppelgängers of each other (or it could be a sense of Jungian synchronicity that makes us perceive them as one and not).

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Godard’s synopsis of the film in the press kit is quite funny. He opens with “the idea is simple,” and continues:

a married woman and a single man meet
they love, they argue, fists fly
a dog strays between town and country
the seasons pass
the man and woman meet again
the dog finds itself between them
the other is in one
the one is in the other
and they are three
the former husband shatters everything
a second film begins
the same as the first
and yet not
from the human race we pass to metaphor
this ends in barking
and a baby’s cries

That is the basic story or, better put a taste of the sequence of events in Goodbye to Language, but the effect of these events and the connections between these “narrative elements” are so creative and loaded with so muchd48a139f-e443-4096-ac49-f41c7628cc59 meaning, it defies plot. Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn, Darwin, Sartre, among others, make appearances in quotes and Shelley even appears in the flesh (Jessica Erickson). But great thinkers are actually playing second fiddle here.

Beyond narrative and philosophy, there are the moments of 3D trickery, whether it highlights the pubic hair of an actress (Héloise Godet) or the snout of the director’s dog Roxy Miéville, it also plays with depth of field focus in ways that can feel dizzying, like a pylon’s view of a ferry gliding over the sea or Godard’s interest in floors that highlight their disappearance in an unseen horizon or looking into the depth of a flat mirror. But what most will notice is how he overlaps left and right images to create a super-imposition like no other in cinema. It happens on three occasions. Each time Godard finds a new way to make it relevant to his exploration of the medium as well as the action in the scene.

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But it’s not that these visuals try to move a narrative forward as much as capture the experience of time and space overlapping as an experience while celebrating creation in cinema. His “narrative” is loaded with meaning and history while also destroying any of its relevance in existence. He covers all sorts of heavy topics: gender roles, Hitler, marketing, nature, literature, socialism, but demands the viewer to inform the topics. It’s an invitation to bring competence to a work of abstraction.

Of course his film is also dense in commentary. For instance, a man, Gédéon (Kamel Abdeli) claims to take the position of Rodin’s Thinker while sitting nude on a toilet taking a noisy dump. It’s a profound gesture but also humanizing in uniting him with his female lover, Josette (Godet) who is also naked and watches him as he shit/speaks. He thinks it puts them on the same level as human beings. d1095a57-21c3-466d-9aae-c40d0dee4780But, as a man of a certain era, Godard cannot help but raise the woman to a higher state. The naked woman, her back to the camera, is all clean, curved lines. He’s a scruffy, unshaven troll sitting below her. He is still the man shitting, while she possess the great forest where life comes from (an unseen narrator, perhaps Godard himself, mentions a Native American tribe that refers to the world as “the forest” as he trains the dual camera lens on her hairy pubic area).

Staying true to the notion in the title of the film that language is a weak symbol for truth or expressing reality, the unseen narrator captures the unknowable character of woman in another great line repeated in the film regarding women: “A woman can do no harm. She can annoy you or kill you. That’s all.” Two extremes with the mystery of woman caught in between. The film, is about dualities on many levels, in another wonderful moment Gédéon says, “The two greatest inventions: infinity and zero.” She counters: “sex and death.” This review could be five times longer in exploring the play of dualities, it’s lush with them. Godard is a naturist in the way he celebrates nudity in a mundane sense, and it’s great fun in 3D, but then there is also the way he treats nature itself with his dog roaming through it. These moments provide wondrous respite from all his intense experiments in 3D, whether it’s the face of Roxy or a camera wandering up the trunk of a tree.

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Ultimately, with Goodbye to Language, you will feel something unequivocal in cinema. With the 3D medium, the master has once again found a new way to bring visuals to the forefront of the cinematic experience. Long frustrated with any idea of “truth” in cinema, Godard has gone on to make movies that expose the faults in the medium as far as storytelling but also raising them to a higher level. With Goodbye to Language he comes closer than ever to making the medium the message. He seeks to create a cognitive dissonance for anyone seeking some straight narrative informed by human history or current social concerns in an exhilarating way. Goodbye to Language is so much more than film or even experience for that matter. It is a portal meant to wake the mind out of a stupor numbed by expectation and trained by plot and narrative. It is awareness incarnate in image.

Hans Morgenstern

Goodbye to Language 3D runs 70 minutes, is in French with English subtitles and is not rated (there is violence, language and nudity).

Update: Broward County will now have a chance to experience this extraordinary movie. It opens December 19 at Cinema Paradiso – Fort Lauderdale.

It opened exclusively in South Florida this Friday, November 28 at the Miami Beach Cinematheque, which invited me to a preview screening for the purpose of this review. 

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

CHILD OF GOD-Scott Haze - 2One of this year’s most startling films has to be Child of God. It took a while for this film critic to warm up to it while watching it. It’s harsh, spare but ultimately eye-opening. Once you tangle with its stark intentions: accepting the humanity of a man who commits reprehensible acts, this is truly a film that deserves respect (read my review: James Franco captures pathos of a necrophiliac psycho with ‘Child of God’). The film, based on the 1974 book by Cormac McCarthy and directed by the popular actor James Franco, challenges the audience on several levels. Viewers are not only expected to bring open minds but also a sense of empathy for a character most movies would portray as frightening or despicable. That demands the audience to travel to a dark place within themselves.

I spoke with the film’s star, actor/director Scott Hazevia phone ahead of his visit to the Miami Beach Cinematheque where he will sit down and talk with two film critics about Child of God for about an hour. “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar will engage Haze during the Knight Foundationsponsored series “Speaking In Cinema.” The event will feature clips of the film and will be recorded on video to be archived for educational purposes.

Speaking from his car in Hollywood, California, Haze talks openly about the lengths of his preparation and the baggage that comes with being judged as part of a Franco-directed film. Much of our conversation has already been published in the “Miami New Times” art and culture blog “Cultist.” Read it by jumping through the logo to the blog below:

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We spoke for nearly a half hour, so there was a lot to our chat. Below you will find a modified Q&A featuring lots of the great material I could not fit into the “Cultist” story. It captures the gist of our 25-minute conversation without repeating anything from the “Miami New Times” story:

Hans Morgenstern: Have you ever been to Miami?

Scott Haze: I’ve been everywhere in the United States except for Miami, which is crazy.

Do you have any expectations?

My expectations are really probably very lame. Miami’s been such a backdrop for some of my favorite movies as a kid, so the expectations I have are that it’s a great city, it’s a fun city. There’s a lot of beautiful women. There’s a lot of parties.

I have a sense that you and Franco worked very closely on this film, which I think is one of the most humanizing portraits of a serial killer that I have seen.

You know, this project started as a passion project with James years ago. He knew that Sean Penn wanted to make the movie, and he’s a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, so I guess it started as his desire to translate this project into a film. He does a lot of adaptations, but this was a dream project. This one and As I Lay Dying were the two movies that he wanted to make before he died.

What is the audience supposed to take away from this film?

I don’t know. I think that’s the cool thing about cinema. People are obviously not going to see The Wizard of Oz or Spiderman. You walk away with different things when you watch Child of God. I’ve talked to a lot of people who have walked away with many, many different things. A lot of people have connected to the feeling of looking at somebody who’s really alone and what it was liked in the 1950s in Tennessee. It could happen to somebody because back then they didn’t have Instagram, they didn’t have Twitter, they didn’t have Facebook, so Lester probably couldn’t have gone online and made friends, so it’s a different time. I think a lot of people have felt — if they look at being isolated and being alone for that amount of time — what it looks like. Some people are deeply moved by it, some people are rooting for Lester, some people cheer him on. Some people are horrified, but they want to see the story unfold, so they stick with it. It’s been really varied.

What did you do to get into this character’s head?

I did a lot of stuff. What I did was I realized I had to lose a lot of weight because I just played a Marine, had a shaved head. I was really built up, so I ended up losing tons of weight. I had a friend in Tennessee, and I went out there with an actress named Elissa Shay, and we did work on the script for about a month, and I filmed like a short documentary on the town and the community and what it was like interviewing a thousand people who were from that actual time frame and where Cormac set the novel. The novel is set in rural Tennessee. My friend actually happened to be the town historian of that city, so he took me on like this crazy tour of learning about caves, and everything Lester does in the novel I did. Half that stuff didn’t make the movie, which is just funny. I think of all that work I did, like scenes we shot where I make my own ax, which is in the novel, so I did everything that Cormac wrote in the novel … and then [my friend] had a cabin there, which was alone in the woods, and then I ended up living in isolation for well over a month in the cabin. Then I was in the caves for a little over a month. There was like this ongoing, evolving process of how this thing happened.

Haze in Child of God

Watching your performance, you really go all out. Was it a fun role to play or was it painful?

It’s both. It was really, really hard, but at the same time, I look back on it, and a lot of people said I was just kinda crazy at that time, but it was fun at the same time. I knew that this was a great role. As a kid growing up wanting to play these great roles, I knew that I was very fortunate. I knew that Sean Penn wanted to do this role, and he couldn’t get this movie made for 15 years. It was like an adventure, like the stuff you watch on the Discovery channel.

Speaking of physicality, why include the scene of you shitting in the woods?

Well, that’s just in the novel. It wasn’t like I said, “You know what, James? What we need to do right now is I need to shit.” I think it was more like it’s what Cormac wrote, and I think there’s like something really wild about showing the conditions he’s living in and his mental state. There’s a lot of things that that does that I think Cormac was thinking about when he wrote that into the book … basically when you see that, the audience should realize what they’re in for. At that moment, when you see something like that, you don’t go, oh, I’m going to see Spiderman now, and I think James is a filmmaker who doesn’t want to shy away from something that may be hard on the audience.”

You are director too. How does that help the performance?

I direct films, I direct theater and I’m a filmmaker myself … I get it. There’s a scene in the movie where I could walk through the cold water in 10 degree weather or I don’t. What it was is it was James and I teamed up to tell the story, and we both understood that we were both completely invested. I think that being a director helps me in so many ways. It helps me in my preparation. It helps me in understanding filmmaking. It helps me in understanding how to help other actors in the scene. A lot of what I did I think it helps in a lot of ways.

The critical reception has been divisive at best. What are critics not getting?

If you were to put Brad Pitt in the role of Lester Ballard would that make Child of God different? I don’t know. I read an article in “Vice” that asked, ‘What are people missing out on by not realizing that Child of God is important to cinema today?’ I think it’s just a testimony to where we’re at with entertainment. These are really important movies that examine situations in life and human behavior that tell a story and don’t involve a green screen and don’t involve a cape or a superhero. Not only that, it’s really tackling serious circumstances in a very honest way. It’s hard to watch if people consider it a horror movie, and it’s not a horror movie. It’s a character study. It’s easy for people to say, ‘this is shocking, this is so crazy,’ and I don’t think it is.

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I think you are definitely touching on the way I feel about it because I think the more you escape, the more you detach from humanity. This film makes you realize you have to have humanity to sympathize with such a character. There’s something more dehumanizing in these cartoon movies as opposed to a film like this which says, ‘Hey, wake up.’

I’m really glad you liked it, man. I really am because I’ve talked to people since the movie came out who are just awful to talk to, and they ask me some of the stupidest questions. Like the worst one is, Did you read the book? I’m like living in a cave to prepare for the movie and ‘I’m like, ‘Did you read the book? Yes, I read the book, a thousand times.’”

I think sometimes reviewers are biased due to the star persona of James Franco, but at least some people, like Jonathan Romney in “Film Comment” are writing intelligently about this movie.

The reason I think that this one was more well-received than a lot of his work, cause this movie played in competition at Venice last year and people like yourself who understand it love it, and they said this was his best movie, and I think it’s because of the story we’re telling that we were able to get away with things that you can’t get away with if you’re doing Ocean’s 11, like we had a camera on sticks in the middle of nowhere or going handheld. The fact that this movie is so rugged in the filmmaking style that he rolled with added itself sometimes to help it when it could have been disastrous. Your overall question is that there’s tons of people that just hate people, and they just want to take people down who are out there trying new or daring projects, so yeah, it’s huge, and I know that he knows it, and I know it, and anybody who roles with our crew know it if he’s named as our director that people are going to come in and hate, and I don’t think it’s fair to him. I think he’s doing something that’s not revolutionary but that they used to do in the theater back in New York. They had a group of actors that all just made movies together that were friends, and I think, as the years go on, people might step back and look at this differently with what he’s doing. Sure some of it is crazy, but most of it is not. Most of it is really daring, challenging projects that no one else thinks to do or doesn’t have the balls to do or doesn’t want to do, and he does it because he wants to do it, and then his close friends get it.

Hans Morgenstern

Child of God is showing exclusively now in South Florida at the Miami Beach Cinematheque through Sept. 28. On Wednesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m., actor Scott Haze will join “Variety” film critic Justin Chang and “Hudak On Hollywood” film critic Andres Solar for the Knight Foundation-sponsored series “Speaking In Cinema” to discuss this film. A meet-and-greet party at the Sagamore Hotel ends the night. Tickets for each screening and the event can be found by visiting mbcinema.com.

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

JLG GOGOThough many great directors from the French New Wave have passed, it has been fascinating to have Jean-Luc Godard as long and productive as we have. Just this year, his first 3D film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. I’ve already expressed my affection for the director’s contemporary work in a review for his previous film, Film Socialisme. While Godard could be seen as a curmudgeon who has long declared cinema dead, he is also one of the form’s greatest champions by making such a bold statement. He practically reinvented movies while trying to subvert them. He made it apparent as early as his first feature film, Breathless (1960), well-known for it’s startling jump cuts and disorienting shot/reverse shots. He said it was never supposed to be hit, but it became that and so much more.

Godard has never relented in his quest to demolish expectations along with the rules of filmmaking. His new 3D film, Goodbye to Language, is supposed to be as amazing and revolutionary as one could expect from JLG (check out Scott Foundas’ review in “Variety”). But before that arrives in my South Florida neighborhood (and I already witnessed the enthusiasm for it by two local art house programmers ready to bring the equipment necessary to host the 3D version), the Bill Cosford Cinema, located on the University of Miami Coral Gables campus, will host a series of retro Godard films on 35mm (click for all the details).

Calling it “Godard À Go-Go,” the program features his more recognizable and easier-to-digest films, from the early part of his career. They all also feature his famous muse and ex-wife, the always-game and mercurial Anna Karina. Even if she appears in all of these films, she inhabits very different characters. Watching all three will offer insight into her range as an actress who always seemed overshadowed by the panache of her director husband.

The series begins this Sunday, June 22, at 5:30 p.m. with Vivre Sa Vie (1962). Karina plays a rather tragic figure. In this episodic film, Nana dreams of becoming an actress but ends up a prostitute. Some consider it one of Godard’s most sympathetic films. His concern for social tragedy probably has never been more human than with this film. It has less sly stylistic turns than his other films, but if anyone has only thought of Godard as some hardhearted intellectual deconstructionist, they will find his heart very much on display in this film.

Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfZQpLSuxKE
(Get tickets)

The next film, and the only of the three in color, screens Sunday, July 20, also at 5:50 p.m. I have been asked to introduce it by the theater’s programmer. I hope I can do justice to the greatness of Pierrot le Fou (1965). Though Vivre Sa Vie is the most tragic of these three, Pierrot remains the darkest. Brilliant in its play with color and light, I expect the film will look amazing in 35. But make not mistake, a grim, nihilistic undercurrent haunts this story about two lovers on the run. Appropriately, the narrative is the more fractured of the three, but even though character motives and actions may seem obscured, a sympathetic existential angst shines through. It’s also the only one of the three films featuring the star of Breathless, Jean-Paul Belmondo, in the titular role.

Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycg2yb3qiUo
(Get Tickets)

Again, 5:30 p.m., on a Sunday, this time on Aug. 24. Bande à Part (1964), or Band of Outsiders in English, is that famous Godard film featuring the impromptu dance sequence in the cafe, cited over and over in many films and other mediums since (most recently in Le Weekend). Forget the caper that seems to drive the film. The characters seem to constantly subvert it, anyhow. It’s all about that dance. It’s probably the liveliest of this trio of films, but the film still has that social awareness of the 1960s that Godard so consciously references in many a delightful scene.

Trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ds2hErT1OUE
(Get Tickets)

Hans Morgenstern

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

FADING GIGOLO

During the Miami International Film Festival, I had an opportunity to sit down with actor/director John Turturro. I was told I had 12 minutes to discuss his new film, Fading Gigolo, with him. Somehow we lost track of time and carried on for double that time, but it was a great conversation, touching on specifics in both his filmmaking and his acting style, directing Woody Allen the actor, his vision to hire Vanessa Paradis, a model/singer/actress better known in France for all her talents and best known in the U.S. as Johnny Depp’s ex. We also touched on his memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who only recently passed, and who we did love so much here at Independent Ethos.

It was a long chat that had to be spread across two articles in the Miami New Times. This first one appeared in print in and was written as a feature story and touched on not only the movie but Allen and that controversy that hung a bit too close over the film’s premiere in Miami. It also features his comments on Hoffman. Read it by jumping through the Miami New Times logo below:

Miami New Times logoThere were many details left out of that piece for the sake of space, which one has to be very conscious of when writing for print. We spoke much more about Allen and how it was working with him, but we also spoke about Paradis’ talents and, on a more important scale, the presence of a film like Fading Gigolo in a major movie production industry more concerned with adapting YA stories and comic books. Where does a film about more complicated adult love fit into such an industry? We get into all that and more in the expanded Q&A I provided for Miami New Times’ art and culture blog Cultist. You can read that part of our chat by jumping through the Cultist logo below:

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Finally, there is what is left of our chat, which was no less compelling. Turturro was certainly gracious about his award, which he received at a packed concert hall in Downtown Miami a couple of months ago, at the 2014 Miami International Film Festival (A re-cap of a hectic half-attended, still impressive Miami International Film Festival 31). However, there’s something of a feeling of achieving a peak with such awards, and it can do things to your creativity and career … We start there, talk about color and film, shooting in 35mm (which Turturro has not given up on), and love stories for mature people. Here’s part three of our talk, exclusive to Independent Ethos:

Hans Morgenstern: So what was it like getting your big career achievement Award?

John Turturro: You know, I take those things with a grain of salt. People obviously like what you do. But I wouldn’t like to be doing it, because I’m not announcing my retirement. You know, I got one of those things when I first started out in Sundance. They gave me this Actor Piper-Heidseick Award. I think I was the first person to ever get one, and I was just starting out. It was like 1990 or 1991 or something like that. I remember I didn’t even have a proper suit jacket to wear. I guess because I do a variety of things, oh, look at this, look at that. I’m always appreciative, but I’m more appreciative of being able to do the things I want. That’s what I want to do. People can win an Academy Award, and it may not help them get another job. Things like that have happened many times, and my important thing is being able to do things I like to do. That’s it. That’s what I care about. I can’t sit and stare at the walls and say I got all these awards. It’s nice, but I don’t think about it too much.

They also showed your new movie, Fading Gigolo. One of the things I noticed about the film was the range of colors you used.

Oh, yeah, very carefully selected. We used the Saul Leiter photographs. He was a fashion photographer who did all these great street pictures and reflections in windows. Maybe they were staged, some of them. I’m not sure some of them weren’t, but they were like Kodachrome. There was a certain dye transfer that he did. Then I used the Italian painter, [Giorgio] Morandi, a still life painter, for a lot of the colors of Fiorvante’s apartment. So those were the two visual sources. Everything was selected very carefully, stripes that the Hasidic community used and the stripes that my character had, and even getting Woody in dark pants was a big thing. I told him, no khaki pants. I didn’t tell him, but I gently nudged him, and as you see, he’s got dark pants on, and that’s very unusual for Woody, and he even has a purple, kind of, colored corduroy hat. He’s even got a black jacket at some point, and he never dresses that way.

I even noticed the white of his hair more in this movie.

Well, he hasn’t really been in that many movies for a long time. Anyway, yeah, cause color is emotional, and the way it’s lit, we shot it on film. We didn’t shoot digital. We used 8 millimeter for the credits and it’s 35 millimeter, and [director of photography] Marco Pontecorvo, he’s great with the light. We used a lot of shadow, a lot of chiaroscuro.

Have you always shot in 35mm?

Only Passione I did with the Red [digital camera]. But this we tested, and we thought it was a lot softer on the women, and it’s a film about New York or any city that’s kind of changing and fading a little bit. I thought that would just be—it’s more voluptuous, soft.

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Well, fading is a key word to your film.

Yeah, of course.

So what motivated you to do this film about a man far along in his prime, let’s say? Because when you are dealing with Hollywood and this complex idea of love, it’s so much easier to focus on the youth.

Well, youth is part of life, but it’s not all of life, and sometimes you can see a film like Blue Is the Warmest Color, and it’s fantastic. The girl is unbelievable because you’re seeing someone budding. I thought her performance was brilliant, but most of the time you see it, and their reference is very young, and life goes on, and people start life again at 40. They get divorced. They lose someone. They never find the right person, and though, well, here’s a guy who’s in the middle of his life and lives in a room, and I know people like that, who are really comfortable with women, who likes women, but he never really commits, but he’s a guy who is very good, physically. I have friends that can fix their engines, they have a plumbing problem, they have an electrical problem, and it’s very attractive to be around a person like that, cause you’re like, wow. These people express themselves in that way, and they may not be ambitious, and I was thinking about that. So many people want to be famous instead of doing what they do. I think love and needing to be loved, to be touched, to connect, it’s a universal thing. It never ends. You’re livin’ by yourself, and you’re 70 years old, you know, loneliness can kill a person. So I thought that could be an interesting thing to explore. Obviously, you have to be in good enough shape to do it, and I thought when Woody makes the suggestion to me, the guy is resistant. I’m too old. I’m not a gorgeous looking guy, but he’s not insecure that way at all. He’s like, well, I know who I am.

And that helps with the ladies.

Yeah, that’s right. It could help a lot. Especially if you know how to listen and you know how to behave, you know how to pick up what’s going on in the moment.

Your character has a great name: Fiorvante. Where’s that from?

A lot of the names I took— my father was a builder— right out of his phone book. He’s no longer alive and Dan Bongo, I took right out of his phone book. He was a plasterer. Fiorvante, I think [his last name was] Boccio, he was a painter. I just took the names right out of it. Not all of the names, but those names I did. Virgil Howard was a name I took right out of a phone book. So sometimes you’re superstitious. You think, well, maybe if I take something from my parents, it’ll bring you good fortune. It’s a way of communicating with them or something.

Fading Gigolo opens Friday, May 2, in the Miami area at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and AMC Aventura 24. On opening night, at the 7 p.m. screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema there will be a live video-link Q&A with Turturro. For screening dates in other cities, visit the film’s official website.

Hans Morgenstern

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

IronAndWineIf I don’t seem to be writing that much about music here lately, it’s only because I’ve been doing it elsewhere. Below, you will find links to two pieces I recently wrote on Iron and Wine. Those with a long memory of this blog, might recall this post: From the Archives: Iron and Wine + tour and new album news, Part 1 of 2.

I was probably Samuel Beam’s first interview, just after he signed a recording contract with the esteemed Seattle-based record label Sub Pop. It’s all documented in the post above, including stuff I originally felt a bit too sorry about sharing in my first profile about him, when he was but a lowly novice live performer (he kept fumbling songs during a private showcase for Sub Pop’s president and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock). But that no longer matters. In fact, the anecdote now has a certain charm as Beam has achieved a level of fame neither of us had anticipated. Yet, when we caught up after a recent show, he still called me a friend and seemed as personable and modest as I remembered him.

During our most interview, it just felt like we were catching up on old times. I was not given much room in print, but this profile I wrote for the Broward/Palm Beach and Miami New Times publications covered a nice amount of ground. It reflects on both that early embarrassing showcase and how his sound has evolved over the many years since. You can read the resulting story by jumping through the New Times’ music blog logo for “County Grind” below:

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Then it was off to watch his performance. I believe the night had sold out (it sure seemed crowded enough), and Beam brought an amazing sense of humor to set off his austere music. He also knows how to push an acoustic guitar to its limits without gimmicks, subtly adding variety to his songs. But what really made the night feel too short was his interaction with the audience. After the show, while we talked, he reiterated his love for the audience that night, saying it was so much fun. You can read my totally biased but not inaccurate review of that night’s show at Fort Lauderdale’s Culture Room by jumping through the image shot by New Times photographer Ian Witlen:

Iron & Wine at Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale. Photo by Ian Witlen

Iron & Wine at Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale. Photo by Ian Witlen

Hans Morgenstern

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

Act of Killing video release

This morning, the nominees for the Oscar® awards were announced. Among those nominated for best documentary* was the already plenty-award-winning film the Act of Killing, which also won best documentary from us at the Florida Film Critics Circle. The film’s co-director, Joshua Oppenheimer sent us a statement regarding the nomination this morning: “We are deeply grateful. This nomination is an honor for us as filmmakers, but for the survivors and victims it is a crucial first step in their country’s acknowledgement of a moral catastrophe— the horror of the genocide and the on-going regime of fear and corruption built by the killers. May it also be a first step toward healing.”

Last week, Cinedigm Entertainment released the extended cut of the Act of Killing on home video. I first spoke to Oppenheimer last year. We spoke fast and deep about this film, and much of our conversation can be found in this post featuring two articles:

An interview with the director of ‘the Act of Killing’; more in ‘Miami New Times’ (August 16, 2013)

However, as is usually the case, even with two articles, there was still left over material from our interview. I don’t even think I had room to note that Oppenheimer is actually credited as co-director with Christine Cynn and “Anonymous,” the latter representing the survivors of a virtual genocide in Indonesia following a coup d’état that left over a million dead in 1965. The Act of Killing director Joshua OppenheimerThey too spoke out about the Academy Award nomination: “The Act of Killing— and the issues of impunity it raises— will make front-page news today in Indonesia. Our schools still teach children an official history that glorifies genocide, and our government continues to celebrate mass murderers as national heroes. They do so to keep us afraid, so we won’t dare hold them accountable for their crimes. I hope this nomination encourages us to demand truth, justice, and reconciliation.”

That fear was the source of inspiration for making the Act of Killing. Oppenheimer revealed the project began with the Globalisation Tapes, a film he made with Cynn about a Belgian-owned oil pump plantation in Indonesia that manufactured palm oil (take note, Nutella lovers), which documents the struggles of workers with abuse and inhumane working conditions (the film was never released on home video, but you can view it free here). Oppenheimer noted that the workers were threatened into not forming a union and had to endure forced labor and pesticides that killed mostly women over the age of 40. “Turned out that the reason they were terrorized into silence was that their parents and grandparents had been in a union until 1965 and had been accused for being communist sympathizers simply because they were in a union, had been rounded up, put in concentration camps and dispatched out to be killed by local death squads, and they were afraid that this could happen to them again.”

This piece of history that still haunts much of the Indonesian population became the inspiration for the Act of Killing. However, the filmmaking was met with many roadblocks by Indonesian officials. “As soon as we came back and word got out that that’s what we were doing, the army would come and stop us from shooting with them,” Oppenheimer said.

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The victims that compose “Anonymous” then gave Oppenheimer and Cynn the idea to focus on the perpetrators because, they said, they would gladly not only share details about the killings they committed but also show off about them. The filmmakers struck a goldmine of material to work with. “I found they were all boastful. They were all open,” said Oppenheimer. “I found myself in Germany 40 years after the holocaust, and the Nazis were still in power.”

The filmmakers were able to brew up a surreal concoction of staged movie scenes featuring the killers themselves among traditional documentary footage. The mix of gangster film, musical, horror movie and documentary makes for a surreal experience that feels more truthful than most documentaries. The Act of Killing takes an exploration into the depths of the soul of men corrupted by heinous acts to a whole other level.

Oppenheimer said he prefers the extended cut of the film, a near-three-hour odyssey into the heart of remorse and revelation unlike most anyone will ever see, which can be found on the home video release. He notes one of the film’s executive producers also prefers this longer cut to the U.S. theatrical cut: the famed documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog (the other noteworthy executive producer is Errol Morris).

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The director also noted that some of the subjects of his film have seen this extended cut. “Anwar [Congo] was very, very moved by it. He was silent from a long time after watching it, a little bit tearful, and he said, ‘This film shows what it is like to be me. I am grateful to have had the chance to finally express feelings that I have been discouraged from acknowledging for so many years.’”

Oppenheimer noted he and Congo, who he filmed over the course of five years, have remained in touch, “and always will because we’ve been on such a painful, intimate and ultimately transformative journey.”

Then there was Herman Koto, who never hesitated to dress in drag during many of the staged scenes. “Herman has seen the film and loves the film,” said Oppenheimer. “Herman, over the course of the film, fell in love with acting, developed an actor’s loyalty to the truth. A good actor has to have a loyalty to the moral and emotional truth of any situation that she or he is acting in. He does.”

Oppenheimer said Koto also came to his own revelation about the group he belonged to, the sort-of neo-fascist Pancasila Youth, which still hold rallies celebrating the killings to this day. “He became more disillusioned with Pancasila Youth because he came to understand more and more deeply the horror upon which it’s all built. So he’s been very supportive of the film.”

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Someone Oppenheimer did not bother showing the film to was Adi Zulkadry. He explained, “He recognizes in the film exactly what the film will do and decides to leave the film for that reason, and he has high connections with the paramilitary leadership in Indonesia, and I was worried that if he saw the film he could start lobbying against the film and that could jeopardize our plan for distributing the film in Indonesia and could make it unsafe for people to screen the film … All high-ranking political leaders who appear in the film inevitably hate the film, as well as they should, or else it would mean I didn’t do my job.”

Though, throughout the Act of Killing, the filmmakers keep the implications of U.S. culpability to these killings on a subtle level in the film, juxtaposing destitute neighborhoods and the fancy malls tourists and the upper class frequent in Jakarta, it’s not lost on Oppenheimer that there was something culturally criminal at play here. Therefore, there could be some poetic justice if the film indeed wins the Oscar, come March 2. “There could be a whole film made, certainly a book written, about the U.S.’s role in supporting the genocide,” he said. “but that would be a historical film. The Act of Killing is not a film about the past. It’s a film about today. It’s about how the past is abused in the present … The moral and cultural vacuum of sort of rampant capitalism and consumerism. The alienation, the hollowness of consumerism is a character that haunts the whole movie.”

Hans Morgenstern

In South Florida, The Act of Killing returns to the Cosford Cinema on the University of Miami’s Coral Gables campus for two nights only this weekend (buy tickets).

*Also nominated for best documentary feature was another Indie Ethos favorite, Cutie and the Boxer (Film Review: ‘Cutie and the Boxer’ looks beyond art for the heart of a long-term relationship)

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