Monday, March 6, 2017

Favorite (four), part thirty-nine

Just like in my other thirty-eight 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 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 you as well.

Jim Jarmusch's Paterson
Another strong entry from one of my favorite filmmakers currently at work, after what felt like a slight drop in quality between Ghost Dog and Only Lovers Left Alive.  Like his great previous film, Jarmusch seems to be in an internal dialogue with the past and with art.  Whereas the excellent Lovers was with one of his favorite passions, music.  This time around Jarmusch seems to be most concerned with another of his primary artistic passions, poetry.  In fact, there is so much in common, formally and narratively, between the two films that they seem to form a couple relationship within his body of work.  The greatest strength of Jarmusch has always been his ability to distill and condense.  Like the best poems, his work conveys so much with so little.    

Jacques Demy's The Umbrellas of Cherbourg
I was frustrated by the backlash against La La Land.  And I was confused by the critical preference for Moonlight.  Sure, Chazelle's film had the more robust budget.  But I felt like his film also had far more filmmaking rigor than Jenkins' and that Chazelle's formal approach in general was much clearer and achieved at a significantly higher level.  And when I hear someone compare Moonlight's color palate to the incredible work Doyle and Wong Kar-wai achieved together I really don't see it at all.  

With that out of the way, I was looking forward to rewatching Demy's film, cited as a key influence on La La Land.  I remembered Demy's work with color as among the most impressive in film's history and it was as brash and beautiful as I remembered.  The pinks, purples, and splashes of bold colors of Demy's cinema certainly find their way into some of the clothes and onto some of the sets of La La Land (most noticeably in Emma Stone's apartment and her roommates' outfits).  What I did not remember though is just how bittersweet and powerful the final minutes of Cherbourg are.  Rewatching it now, if you felt it like I did, it seems that the secret behind the emotional power of some of La La Land's final exchanges is Chazelle tapping into the same cinema magic Demy was onto for Cherbourg's last moments.  Both films explore unrequited and both get deep rewards for staying on the other side of happily ever after.

Sadao Yamanaka's Humanity and Paper Balloons
I know nothing at all about the filmmaker and it was the first of his films I have seen.  What impressed most was the film's study of class and the way it examines the idea that there are other things in life of far greater value than money.  Yamanaka also infuses the film with a similar strain of poetry that seems to exist in the other great works of Japanese cinema. 

Yasujiro Ozu's I Was Born, But...
For the first time since February of 2016, I am back to working my way through the work of Ozu in chronological order.  This one I had seen before and I had very fond memories of and re-watching did not disappoint.  And, it was instructive to watch it in relation to what immediately came before it.

Ozu seems to be using "tatami" shots now in almost every shot but I wouldn't say all aspects of his signature style are present.  There seem to be far more quick cuts than we find in the later Ozu, when he begins to move to very long takes.  There also seems to be far more movements of the camera, primarily tracking shots to follow characters walking, but there is also a backwards tracking movement to introduce the dad at work that seems very reminiscent of Vidor's The Crowd.

Ozu's under-recognized sense of playfulness is really at the fore as is his unusually strong ability with his child actors.  Without a doubt, this is also his most complex film emotionally to date, as he delves into some very rich but tricky terrain as the two boys try to reconcile what they come to learn about their father.


  1. Like you Jeffrey I was mighty frustrated by the failure of LA LA LAND to win the Best Picture Oscar, but it did win numerous other more meaningful prizes like that from the Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle. I loved LA LA LAND's ebullient recall of THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG, which you wonderfully encapsulate here. And great work with the other three too--PATERSON was one of my Top 10 films of 2016; I do love that Yamanaka, and of course Ozu's I WAS BORN...BUT is one of his great masterpieces.

  2. Sam, great to hear from you. Yes for me Moonlight was nowhere near in the same category as La La Land but I realize that there are many others that violently disagree with me. Great to hear on the Jarmusch, Demy and Yamanaka. And, of course, it is because of you that I first discovered Ozu, the most meaningful cinematic discovery I have had the last 10 years.