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October 2007 Archives

October 14, 2007

Paranoid Park, 2007

paranoid_park.gifThere is a palpable sentiment of trying to capture the ephemeral that runs through Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park, a film that further modulates his now familiar aesthetic of melding abstract episodes of hypnotic time drift with the alienated portrait of imploding, angry youth that have characterized his more recent films (beginning with his Béla Tarr epiphany film, Gerry). Based on the young adult novel by Portland author, Blake Nelson, the film follows a cherubic, teenaged skater, Alex's (Gabe Nevins) process of writing a diaristic letter to an unknown recipient (later revealed to be a classmate and casual acquaintance named Macy (Lauren Mc Kinney)) at an overgrown lookout near a desolate sound. Unfolding in often repeating, time altered flashbacks that recount Alex's suppressed, traumatic experience - and moments of pure bliss - surrounding his consuming, but reluctant obsession to visit Paranoid Park (an abandoned industrial site that was transformed into an advanced skate park by homeless, thrill-seeking kids), that are juxtaposed against images of his upended personal life as his separated parents (Grace Carter and John "Smay" Williamson) attempt to reassure him of their undying love and support despite their impending divorce, and his flighty, cheerleader girlfriend, Jennifer (Taylor Momsen) continues to pressure him to have sex, the film is an airy and swooning, if delicate and friable tone piece that strives to give form to an adolescent's subconscious awareness of passage, moral consequence, and impermanence that comes with the process of maturation. In a sense, his parents' vain promise that everything will be the same as before becomes a sobering reinforcement of his own realization of its consequential impossibility after a reckless, life-altering experience. It is within this consciousness of irretrievable time that the impressionistic, swooning slow motion images of skaters riding the concrete waves of Paranoid Park become an intrinsic reflection of Alex's own impressionable psyche - a naïve representation of his own desperate, unarticulated desire to manipulate time and return to an enchanted place of blissful innocence and fanciful imagination.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 14, 2007 | | Comments (7) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

The Last Mistress, 2007

lastmistress.gifThere is a moment in The Last Mistress when the Comtesse d'Artelles (Yolande Moreau), after having played her part in mitigating the scandal surrounding the dashing, but inscrutable rogue, Ryno de Marigny's (Fu'ad Aït Aattou) unresolved romantic entanglement with his long term mistress - and, consequently, enabling his marriage to the Marquise's granddaughter and heir, Hermangarde (Roxane Mesquida) - contently looks out of the window of the Marquise de Flers's (Claude Sarraute) seaside estate and observes, "How the sea rises!" It is a line taken directly from the text of Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly's titular novel that, delivered by veteran actress Moreau, becomes a double entendre reference to her own directorial debut feature, When the Sea Rises.... In a way, Catherine Breillat's infusion of subtle humor in the film reflects a certain accessible, newfound sensibility to her cinema. Using the metaphor of the brewing sea as a portent for the reappearance of Ryno's former mistress, a Spanish enchantress named La Vellini (Asia Argento) into his life following his marriage (an image that is incisively reinforced by Hermangarde's discovery of La Vellini, dressed in a fisherman's clothes and smoking a cigar) - Breillat diverges from the (explicitly) transgressive elements that have come to define her cinema towards a more implicit and refined, yet still sensual, atmospheric, and deeply romantic tale of fidelity, passion, and obsession. Ostensibly a tale of the penniless Ryno's attempts to win Hermangarde's hand in marriage by convincing the Marquise that his reputation as a reckless womanizer is behind him, the film proceeds in extended flashback as the sprightly Marquise conducts a thorough inquisition, not of his sexual exploits, but of his more problematic history of having conducted a ten year affair (which, as the Marquise appropriately points out, is essentially a marriage) with La Vellini. Framing La Vellini and Ryno's tumultuous relationship within the context of Breillat's recurring explorations on sexual ambiguity (most notably, in Romance and Fat Girl), the androgyny inherent in La Vellini's aggressiveness and Ryno's sensitivity become a reflection, not only of their inherent narcissism as dandyist provocateurs seeking to ingratiate themselves into aristocracy, but also their emotional interdependence and mutual obsession.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 14, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

October 13, 2007

I Just Didn't Do It, 2007

I_Just.gifOn an unassuming morning, a preoccupied young man, Teppei Kaneko (Ryo Kase) irregularly boards an overcrowded train (with the assistance of the station's white gloved, attendant shover) with his briefcase in hand on his way to a job interview and, while in transit, realizes that his jacket had been caught between the closing doors. Pinned to the doors of the train, Teppei instinctively continues to pull his jacket free, much to the irritation of the other passengers, until the train arrives at the station and releases him. On the surface, what appeared to be little more than a minor inconvenience in his morning commute would prove to be the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare when a schoolgirl grabs his sleeve at the platform and publicly accuses him of having groped her inside the train. Interrogated by police officers who immediately advise him to put the matter behind him by accepting the charge (on an apparently common occurrence) and paying a token, punitive fine (an advice subsequently echoed by his unmotivated public defender), Teppei instead refuses to be railroaded into a plea bargain and becomes more determined to prove his innocence in court. Caught in the judicial hypocrisy of having to remain in jail until the trial is underway because of his proclaimed innocence (even as other admitted offenders, having paid their customary fines, are immediately allowed to return home), the naïve Teppei enlists the aid of his mother (Masako Motai), best friend, Tatsuo (Koji Yamamoto, an idealistic defense attorney, Arakawa (Koji Yakusho), and his more skeptical junior colleague, Riko Sudo (Asaka Seto) to accept his long-shot case in the idealistic belief that innocence can triumph over the weight of judicial expediency. Masayuki Suo's I Just Didn't Do It is a taut, painstakingly observed, and incisive procedural on the intricacies of Japan's highly efficient, juryless, one judge criminal justice system. During the Q&A, Suo remarked that the story had been loosely inspired by newspaper headlines of an appellate court's reversal of a conviction handed down by a lower court. For Suo, the media's particular attention in broadcasting such rare acquittals reinforces a public misconception and fosters complacency towards the dispensation and fairness of the justice system. At the heart of his sobering social realist drama is the country's boasted 99.9% conviction rate, a daunting statistic that implicitly assumes a defendant's guilt, despite the founding tenets of blind justice. Framed against Japanese society's inherent cultural conformity, the statistic itself has become a symptom of perverted justice - an egregiously exploited tool for inducing confession, rather than a resulting measure of the system's infallibility.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 13, 2007 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

Volto sorpreso al buio (Face Caught in the Dark), 1995

volto_sorpreso.gifOne of the highlights from the 2006 Views from the Avant-Garde sidebar was the first public screening of a Paolo Gioli program in the country, and this year, the festival continues to reinforce Gioli's singular reputation by screening another of his sadly underseen works: the gorgeously ethereal, densely constructed, and mesmerizing Volto sorpreso al buio. Gioli assembles a self-described "impossible film" out of images recovered from found photographic plates from the 1950s (some of which were also used in the composition of his book Sconosciuti), creating imaginary apparitions of mutated, "new identities" out of interchanging fragments of unknown faces from the past. Part found film reconstitution of extracted composite images, and part somber impressionism in the splicing, stitching, overlaying, scratching, lighting, and modulated exposure of the black and white studio portraits into a continuous film reel, Volto sorpreso al buio transcends its seemingly facile constructive premise as the chronicled metamorphosis of a solitary portrait. Rather, in invoking the specter of the titular, suspended "face caught in the dark" as it organically transforms, each gentle sweep of the partial traces of facial features, contours, mannerisms, and expressions becomes a commemorative gesture within a haunted slipstream of passing time, where the ghosts of dissolving, anonymous identities re-assimilate into a collective memory and, for a brief moment, are brought to life again.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 13, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Paolo Gioli, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 11, 2007

Pitcher of Colored Light, 2007

pitcher.gifIn a sense, Robert Beavers's muted, sensual, and reverently observed short film diary, Pitcher of Colored Light may be seen as a companion piece to the climactic, long awaited homecoming sequence in Jonas Mekas's Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (albeit without the reflective commentary) - a personal chronicle that similarly evokes the silent intimacy and unarticulated melancholia of a child, now a grown man, absorbing, lingering, and reveling in the realization of a cherished, recreated memory, yet acutely aware of its impermanence and isolation. Composed of fragmented images that capture the essential minutiae of his aging mother's bucolic environment and the idiosyncrasies of her everyday routines - a treasured, black and white photograph, an eclectic assortment of country kitsch paraphernalia, a favorite chair from which she takes her afternoon naps, a pampered cat, an unused, but pre-decorated formal dining table, a meticulously tended garden - the film reveals an inherent restlessness in Beavers's gaze. Constantly scanning, cutting, and refocusing between objects and their shared spaces, light streams and cast shadows, Beavers creates a sense of perpetual motion within these quotidian images of apparent stasis. Framed against the changing of the seasons, these restless images become an inherent reflection, not of a wide-eyed curiosity, but a reluctant, desperate memorization to preserve a fading, transitory bliss.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 11, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

Eniaios IV "Nefeli Photos" Reel 2, 2004

Gregory Markopoulos's self-contained excerpt, Eniaios IV "Nefeli Photos" Reel 2, a fragment from his legendary, 80 hour, twenty-two cycle magnum opus, Eniaios is something of an alchemic composition of disparate, often contrasting images that conflate towards a dense singularity that no longer resembles its elemental forms - a vibrant, enigmatic, and sublime meditation on architectural landscape as both matter and space, saturation and void, where ecstasy exists as both a state of tactile intensity and profound spirituality. A composition in black where slivers of inanimate images occupying no more than a third of the screen at any given time (but made more focal by the framing of the dark margins) intermittently appear in repeating and overlapping arrhythmic cycles, the film is, in a sense, as much about the anticipation of the images as it is about the relation - and transcendent progression - of the images themselves: the light-streamed doorway of a villa that frames a clear blue Mediterranean sky with its deep toned wooden arch, the evocation of the rich colors of the villa in the translucency of a stained glass window, the kaleidoscopic fragmentation of the stain glass that is repeated in the mosaic pattern of Byzantine art, the flatness of Byzantine art that is reflected in the religious iconography of a church's medieval architecture. By limiting the visibility of the images into fleeting, but intense bursts of "activity", Markopoulos redefines the relationship between still life and motion picture, transforming the very nature of the images themselves in such a way that a photograph is no longer an absolute, historical reproduction of geometric and aesthetic details, but an architectural impression in an interactive and vital living consciousness.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 11, 2007 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 10, 2007

Hide, 2007

hide.gifAt first glance, Christoph Girardet and Matthius Müller's terse and ingeniously conceived Hide unfolds with the tactile eroticism and wry humor of Peter Kubelka's irreverent life cycle meditation on "transcendence through product consumption" in Truth and Poetry. Composed of densely atmospheric and highly stylized recycled commercial footage of young, picture perfect models pleasurably applying personal hygiene and cosmetic products in a quick cut montage of disembodied, glistening skins, hairs, hands, and lips, juxtaposed against the sensual application of assorted foams, lotions, waxes, and creams, these carefully constructed, plastic images begin to fade, speckle, crack, distort, and burn with the material deterioration of the celluloid itself, before being reduced to the stark whiteness - and unadulterated purity - of an empty projection. At once idealized and grotesque, the disintegrating images become an integral reflection of the title's double entendre of hide as both an organic surface that inherently decays with time, and the deliberate act of concealing its irreversible plasticity. Using the materiality of film as a surrogate for the materiality of the human body, Girardet and Müller create a droll metaphor for the vain pursuit of consumer-driven eternal youth.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 10, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

Stranger Comes to Town, 2007

stranger_comes_to_town.gifIn Stranger Comes to Town, Jacqueline Goss returns to the themes of alterity and cultural disconnection of How to Fix the World to create an equally charming, humorous, and incisive rumination on the absurdity and moral ramifications of ethnic profiling in a post 9/11, terrorist-conscious society. In one episode, a characteristically neutered Department of Homeland Security footage demonstrating the ease and convenience of non-invasive biometric fingerprint identity verification at a border checkpoint plays out against the testimony of a young woman who recounts her far more intrusive experience of being subjected to an anatomical examination by an official under the security mandate of verifying her gender. Cutting to the image of her identified avatar - a pink-haired, warthog-like creature - the idiosyncratic juxtaposition is both comical and poignant in reflecting the speaker's implicit sense of alienness and arbitrary exclusion as a result of the "procedural" encounter. In another episode, a secular immigrant from a Moslem country is compelled to re-evaluate and reframe his identity - and consequently, alter his behavior - through an imposed, non-existent, but stereotyped cultural profile after 9/11. Composed of anonymous, interwoven, first-person testimonies of travelers - immigrants, naturalized citizens visiting their ancestral homelands, and ordinary tourists - recounting their personal experiences of being targeted for enhanced identity screening at a U.S. border checkpoint that have been juxtaposed against tongue in cheek animated sequences from canned Department of Homeland Security how-to videos and re-purposed, self-assigned avatars and otherworldly landscapes from the World of Warcraft videogame, Stranger Comes to Town is a subtle, but potent indictment of broad stroke, xenophobic policies that have rendered an essential myth the idea of the United States as a country built on tolerance and a paradigm for a cultural melting pot assimilation.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 10, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 9, 2007

Alexandra, 2007

alexandra.gifOne of my favorite films from this year's festival is Aleksandr Sokurov's Alexandra, a spare, poetic, and understatedly affirming elegy on the spiritual and moral consequences of a corrosive, interminable war. At the heart and soul of the film is the stubborn and indomitable babushka, Alexandra, played by the famed Russian soprano and sprightly octogenarian (and wife of the late pre-eminent cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich), Galina Vishnevskaya, who, as the film begins, has curiously embarked on an ill advised, physically demanding journey of cramped boxcars, all terrain vehicles, and even battle tanks to arrive at a military outpost near a war torn Chechen village. Waking in her barracks "hotel" to the sight of her devoted, Denis (Vasili Shevtsov), a dashing and well respected officer in the Russian army who maintains a busy schedule with short deployments to insurgency hotspots, Alexandra soon grows weary of the inscrutable, yet highly regulated movements and seemingly arbitrary rules that define life within the camp (a frustration that is understatedly reflected in Alexandra's disorienting navigation through a maze of barracks) and undertakes her own journey to find a sense of normalcy in the most mundane of tasks - going to the local market - where she encounters and finds communion with an elderly Chechen refugee named Malika (Raisa Gichaeva), a former teacher who, now in her twilight years, is forced to make a meager living selling sundries at a market stall under the sobering reality of an inhumane existence in the decimated, occupied village. Returning to the metaphoric landscapes of Spiritual Voices and Confession in their evocative images of quotidian ritual and the profound desolation that exists within the remote frontiers of a long forgotten war, Sokurov uses desaturated sepia tones, arid and barren landscapes, primitive living conditions, and battle-scarred architectures to create a metaphor for a wounded humanity struggling to survive against the madness of conditioned barbarity, where solidarity and a lasting peace are achieved, not in the systematic demoralization of a people, but in the fragile community of mundane, yet defiant, ennobled gestures.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 09, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

In the City of Sylvia, 2007

Sylvia.gifOne of the most striking aspects of José Luis Guerín's preceding film, En Construcción is the recurring image of cast shadows in motion as a metaphor for the "ghost residents" of El Chino - the migrant laborers, evicted tenants, and even unearthed ancient corpses whose traces of existence and personal histories are gradually being displaced by the gentrification of the port town. In retrospect, the reappearance of these elusive, transient shadows in In the City of Sylvia (this time, as phantasmagoric projections onto the wall of the dreamer's hotel room) also provides the haunted tone of the film as the young traveler (Xavier Lafitte) - an artist and dreamer - returns to the cosmopolitan, medieval city of Strasbourg where, six years earlier, he had met a woman named Sylvie at a bar. For the dreamer, Sylvie is also a ghost, a remembrance of things past that grows sweeter in the abstraction of memory, and all he can do is to attempt to recapture her essence and give form to the ideal by immersing himself in the atmosphere of her city. Spending his waking moments religiously jotting down details and random observations in his sketchbook (a figurative act of historical reconstruction) - the cut of the hair, the curve of the neck, the shape of the mouth - these (appropriately) faceless, impressionistic sketches begin to converge and overlay each other within the faint intersections of their organic, evolving stories in the pages of his notebook (in one episode, a distracted waitress, annotated as "elle", is placed in the milieu of the café's equally interesting patrons and re-annotated as "elles"; in a subsequent episode, the dreamer's quick succession scanning through his notebook suggests flipbook animation, in a sense, making Sylvie come to life) until one day when he spots a young woman (Pilar López de Ayala) who may or may not be Sylvie through the window of the café. As in En Construcción, the seemingly incidental, interstitial sequences of passing shadows become a reflection of a resurfaced, dislocated past - a transformed memory that not only grows more ephemeral with the passage of time but also continues to reinsert its own vitality in the present. In a way, the stories of these ghosts, like the idea of Sylvie, never completely fade away even in their conscious supplanting: their histories retold in the silent architectures (most notably, in a graffiti proclaiming "Laure - Je t'aime" that traces the dreamer's pursuit of Sylvie), passing conversations, recycled artifacts, accidental encounters, and recounted - and often, colored - personal histories chronicled in the animated chapters of an eternal, quixotic quest.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 09, 2007 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

I'm Not There, 2007

NotThere.gifTodd Haynes's I'm Not There is an audacious and ingeniously conceived, if overlong and diluted free verse composition on the enigma of legendary artist, iconoclast, seeker, and voice of a generation, Bob Dylan. Haynes's idiosyncratic portrait of the artist as a loosely interwoven collage of overlapping incarnations filmed in different stylistic genres that reflect the inhabited personas embodied by Dylan is particularly inspired. Illustrated as a picaresque adventure, Dylan is a charismatic, young drifter with a nebulous (and seemingly troubled) past named Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin), whose penchant for outmoded folksongs reflects his old soul. Shot as a grainy, early television broadcast, he metamorphoses into poet, Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) whose writing reflected a sense of indulgent, libertine anarchy. Presented as a 1950s rebellious youth film, he is tortured artist, Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) seeking to maintain the relevance of his music in turbulent times. Framed as a 1970s, "me generation" film, he is an alienated rock star, Robbie (Heath Ledger) struggling between the temptations (and excesses) of celebrity and his failing marriage. Depicted as newsreel footage, he is a misunderstood, chameleon-like personality, Jude (Cate Blanchett), whose creative integrity (and sincerity) comes under attack in the face of his increasing musical and recreational experimentation. And finally, filmed as a western, he is a reclusive outlaw, Billy the Kid (Richard Gere), still haunted by the shadows of his legendary fame. Using parallel personality traits as a means of self-referentially that connects the disparate personas - Woody and Jack's search for salt of the earth authenticity, Arthur and Jude's (implied) sexual ambiguity, Robbie and Jude's disillusionment with fame - Haynes creates an initially cohesive portrait of the artist as a young man that ultimately unravels under the weight of increasingly indulgent and only marginally connected vignettes (most notably, in the inclusion of the uninvolving, hermetic Billy the Kid persona which does little to expound on the Dylan enigma).

Posted by acquarello on Oct 09, 2007 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

October 4, 2007

Memories, 2007 (Jeonju Digital Project)

Respite (Harun Farocki)

Harun Farocki's contribution to the 2007 Jeonju International Film Festival Digital Project, Respite, channels the spirit of his magnum opus, Images of the World and the Inscription of War to create a potent and provocative film essay on production, warfare, historical reconstruction, and the role of image-making. A prefacing text on the source of the found film provides the sobering context to the seemingly mundane scene of weary, confused passengers deboarding a train at a desolate station in wartime Europe. Filmed from the German transit camp in occupied Westerbork in the Netherlands, the assorted 16mm footage of "everyday life" at the camp was photographed in 1944 by an inmate, Rudolf Breslauer (who was subsequently deported and killed), under orders from the SS commander, Albert Gemmeker, who, in turn, commissioned the film in order to showcase the productivity of the transit camp (Gemmeker would subsequently testify that he had envisioned the project as a film for tourists) and, implicitly, its integral role in the German war machine as both a raw materials recycling facility and a deportation hub for trains leaving, every Tuesday morning, for the concentration camps of Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Sobibor. Composed as a silent essay film, Farocki's use of repeating images that are further emphasized by the spareness of intertitles reflects his expositions on the role of filmmaking as the creation of afterimages. In essence, by working with the artifacts of Breslauer's found film, Farocki's role becomes one, not of image production, but rather, a kind of image archaeology, where reality is sought in the critical observation, juxtaposition, correlation, and interpretation of (absolute) images. In one repeated sequence from Breslauer's sole shot footage of a departing train, a brief close-up of a gaunt and visibly frightened girl is framed, initially within the context of the Germans' penchant for precision and accuracy (in meticulously posting a correction to the accounting of people who had been loaded into a boxcar), then subsequently, in her identification as a ten-year-old Sinti girl named Settela Steinbach that leads to Farocki's theory on Breslauer's apparent rejection of close-ups in subsequent footage. Similarly, the footage of inmates extracting copper wires and fibers from electrical conduit is also repeated in the film, as both a demonstration of worker efficiency, and an allusion to the figurative recycling of human bodies (particularly, in the extraction of "Auschwitz gold" from the teeth of the dead). Alternately exposing inherent half truths (shots of smiling inmates at work and at their leisure omit the underlying reality that their expression is one of relief for their temporary reprieve from the weekly deportation train), unintentional humor (in the Germans' repackaging of the camp as a corporate venture with its own company logo and productivity charts), and overt propaganda (in the repeated, often slow-motion demonstrations of efficient manual labor and the deliberate low profile of Nazis around the camp that provide a false impression of the inmates' relative freedom), the idiosyncratic repetition of images serves, not only to reinforce the afterimage, but also to reframe the image through its differing contexts - through its permutations of assigned meaning.

The Rabbit Hunters (Pedro Costa)

memories.gifPedro Costa's entry, The Rabbit Hunters is a graceful modulation of his short film Tarrafal from the The State of the World omnibus, a series of elliptical encounters shot from the perspective of displaced Fonthainas elder villagers, Ventura, the paternal, old soul drifting through the vestiges of his dying neighborhood in Colossal Youth, and his unemployed and homeless friend, Alfredo (rather than José Alberto's perspective in Tarrafal). At one point in the film, a cook, having offered free meals of leftover soup to Ventura and Alfredo in the back kitchen, proceeds to brush off the dirt and grime from Ventura's clothing to make him look more presentable, and gives him a filial admonition for his careworn, disheveled appearance. "I'm haunted by lots of ghosts", explains Ventura. Similar to Costa's seminal film Casa de Lava, the characters' existential limbo is also a spiritual desolation borne of a haunted, implacable landscape. In The Rabbit Hunters, the repressed environmental memory has been formed by Tarrafal's unspoken history as a concentration camp site once dubbed the "camp of slow death" during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, where political dissidents and anti-colonialists were imprisoned and tortured. In a sense, the prison camp has become the embodiment of a corrosive, suppressed memory that has metastasized and leeched into the landscape, contaminating everyone who has lived on - and off - the land (in one episode, Alfredo recounts having trapped nothing but diseased animals to take home and cook for his meals). Like the long-forgotten prisoners before them, the villagers, too, exist in a state of slow death, discarded by the living and haunted by unreconciled ghosts - an ambiguity that is reflected in Ventura and Alfredo's odd conversations over each other's death experiences. Concluding with a shot of José Alberto's deportation letter that has been affixed to a wall by a pocket knife, the film comes to a metaphoric full circle - illustrating the connection between the trauma of dislocation and institutionalized marginalization.

Correspondences (Eugène Green)

On the surface, the stark brightness inherent in digital film would seem an unusual medium for the tonally incandescent, classical palette of Eugène Green's baroque films. Nevertheless, in hindsight, the union of old and new media (and technology) proves conducive to Green's creative ideology of redefining baroque as a (still) relevant, versatile, timeless, and contemporary art form. In Correspondences, Green returns to his familiar themes of interconnectedness, communion, and transcendent love (most recently illustrated in Green's sublime feature Le Pont des arts) to create a tale of young love in the digital age. Presented as a series of emails read offscreen that are juxtaposed against isolated frontal shots of the anonymous lovers and the (interior) spaces they inhabit, the film also subtly evokes Alain Resnais's baroque, nouveau roman puzzle film Last Year at Marienbad in its interplay of memory and seduction (or more appropriately, memory as seduction). At the heart of the film is the young hero, Virgile's (François Rivière) quest to win the love of Blanche (Delphine Hecquet), a young woman whom he has only seen (and danced with) once at a nightclub. For Virgile, their fates are intertwined, and he must convince her of their shared destiny; for Blanche, there is only the blankness of an unregistered memory, and the guilt of a young man's suicide (in an apparent homage to Jean Eustache). Similar to the Virgil of Dante Alighieri's Inferno, Virgile is the enlightened guide who will lead Blanche through the realm of lost souls and, with the realization of true love, break the bounds of impossibility. From this perspective, Virgile's quest also articulates Green's aesthetic vision in an age of new media - a desire to create texture from the intangible, a contour from the binary.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 04, 2007 | | Comments (10) | Filed under 2007, Views from the Avant-Garde

October 2, 2007

The Flight of the Red Balloon, 2007

flightredballoon.gifDuring an early conversation in Hou Hsiao-hsien's The Flight of the Red Balloon, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), having only recently met her young son, Simon's (Simon Iteanu) new minder, Song (Fang Song), a student from Beijing who moved to Paris to study film, expresses her gratitude for lending a copy of a short film that she had recently completed, remarking that the film had reminded her profoundly of her own childhood - not in the familiarity of the content itself, but in the sensations, aromas, and memories that were stirred up in the collective association of the disparate images. In a way, Suzanne's experience also conveys the intangible ideal behind Hou's vision for the film, a slender and diaphanous, but accessible and finely rendered homage to Albert Lamorisse's beloved postwar short film, The Red Balloon. Hou filters the child's perspective of Lamorisse's film through the alterity of Song's (and implicitly, Hou's own) gaze: as a foreigner in Paris, as a new member of a chaotic household adjusting to the rhythm of the fractured family's set routines and nuances (and dramas) of unarticulated histories, as a personal filmmaker working through the intersections and divergences between Lamorisse's approach to the children's tale and her own. Similarly, Hou's patient and painstakingly observed vision is inherently a dual natured one, tempered by both his figurative innocence (as a non-native filmmaker shooting an homage to a culturally rooted French film with a child actor) and knowingness as an adult - an implied understanding of life's everyday complications that is also reflected in his heroine's muted, polite (and perhaps resigned) responses of "d'accord". To this end, Hou's disarmingly (but appropriately) facile illustration of the film's inherent duality is elegantly encapsulated in Simon's school trip to the Musée d'Orsay, where a curator's interaction with the children reveals the ambiguities in even a seemingly banal image of a child at play in Félix Vallotton's The Ball. This impossibility of absolute recreation (and consequently, interpretation) is also reflected in the drifting, omnipresent red balloon that Simon spots hovering beyond the glass roof of the museum - in its own way, an evocation - a subjective reality shaped by the estrangement of culture, time, history, and memory.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 02, 2007 | | Comments (7) | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival

Go Go Tales, 2007

gogotales.gifDuring the Q&A for Go Go Tales, native New Yorker Abel Ferrara indicated that although the film's main setting, Ray Ruby's Paradise Lounge looks like something straight out of the city's seedier sections, the authentically gaudy look of the cabaret was actually inspired by an interchangeable array of fly-by-night strip clubs that used to operate around Union Square and painstakingly reconstructed as one continuous set at the famed Cinecittà Studios in Rome. In hindsight, the association with Cinecittà, the legendary studio that also served as the blank canvas for Federico Fellini's imagined worlds (including such masterworks as La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2), proves conducive to channeling the carnivalesque atmosphere of Fellini's cinema towards Ferrara's own risqué, disorienting, and perversely funny comedy. Framed as a loose, 24 hour chronicle of life at a run down strip club that is anything but paradise, the film follows the chaos surrounding the singular personality that is Ray Ruby, a smarmy, charismatic, Rupert Pupkin-styled club owner, master of ceremonies, perennial dreamer, and self-admitted lottery addict as he struggles to find a way to bring in more customers and keep the club afloat, continues to (re)negotiate with his increasingly disgruntled staff of unpaid exotic dancers (and who, in turn, are constantly being incited to strike by a seductive, new dancer/performance artist from Eastern Europe named Monroe (Asia Argento)), tries to placate his curmudgeonly landlady (Anita Pallenberg) who unexpectedly pays a visit to revoke his tenancy so that she can lease the space to Bed, Bath and Beyond, and argues with his silent partner, younger brother Johnie (Matthew Modine) - the most successful hairdresser in Staten Island - who wants to pull his financial support from Ray's money draining venture. Ferrara's penchant for organic structure, over-the-top imagery, and twisted, if innately humanist, morality especially suit the film's rich ensemble casting and intersecting storylines that provide texture and authenticity to Ferrara's unfiltered commentary on the plight of the poor, often immigrant, working class who take on these humbling, unseemly jobs in the pursuit of the American dream. Using the beleaguered club as a symbol of the staff's own unrealized ambitions (a correlation that is reinforced in the club's hosting of a weekly, after hours talent showcase, mostly catering to family and friends), Ferrara creates a polarizing and blunt, yet astute and unexpectedly compassionate allegory for the inextinguishable creative spirit in all its chaos, volatility, isolation, hope, and exhilaration.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 02, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival