Saturday, December 28, 2013

Favorite (four), part twenty-four

Just like in my other twenty-three posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to finally see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to someone else as well.

Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Color
Kechiche works in Dardennes territory favoring close-ups, handheld camerawork, and a naturalism of image, look, and performance.  The performances, specifically those of Adele and Emma, rank alongside the greatest the medium has ever given us, that is if great acting is an actor's ability to walk someone else through his or her emotional experience in a given moment.  Kechiche uses sex like Noe or Dumont uses violence.  The sex is unsettling but the most direct and purest means for Kechiche to achieve what he is after - the most honest cinematic look yet at the harrowing emotional experience of coming out.  What we are left with is a masterful film, a masterpiece, the cinema of the Dardennes taken to the next level - an emotional highwire accomplished with only the most rigorous difficult technique.

Michelangelo Antoinioni's Blow Up
Antonioni gives sixties ennui and youthful alienation his masterful cinematic talents in this gloriously modern film.  Antonioni particularly excels in set design, the studio space at the center of the film is endlessly evocative, camera placement and movement, his camera hovers and sees in ways that continually feel new and uninhibited, and sound, the lack of music and reliance on ambient sound for most of the film add immeasurable effect to the entire experience.  A unique, landmark film wearing its age well and another example of Antonioni's special and great talent.   

Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life
I had not seen the film in almost twenty years and had no real memory of it.  What struck me first is just how well made it is - brilliantly plotted, masterfully cast and performed, and of course emotionally affecting of the highest order.  Sure it is manipulative and sure it is very much a Hollywood film.  But is also very human and universal and as a result very life-affirming.  I am left imagining what role American film might play in today's mainstream psyche if only Hollywood still had this much talent behind their films and this much desire to connect rather than escape.

Nicolas Philibert's Etre et avoir
Less disciplined and rigorous than Wiseman, Philibert still impresses with the unique moments he is able to capture.  Watching for instance a young boy realize there are numbers beyond those he already knows feels like something the cinema has never quite captured before, the awakening of a young mind.  Overall the film is a very warm, patient look at an extremely gifted and giving teacher.  


  1. Hi Jeffrey - I'm a friend of Steve's. I loved "Blue is the Warmest Color" too, but I thought the sex scenes were extraneous to the relationship and the emotional journey. And, silly - they look like two straight women trying to make a porn than they do two gay women having private sex.

  2. My favorite film from 2013, wildly underappreciated, is "What Masie Knew" - another immersive film. It's on Netflix.

  3. Thanks, Scott. Great to hear from you. I can see how the sex scenes could be viewed as such. Personally I found purpose and appropriateness in how they were depicted. I responded to them as purposefully disturbing forcing the viewer to question why such scenes would make one uncomfortable in hopes the viewer would then further question one's own perhaps complex feelings with regards to the subject of same-sex relationships.

    Your comment is the first I have heard of What Masie Knew. It is now on my radar and I will definitely seek it out at some point.