Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-eight

Just like in my other sixty-seven 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 a 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.

Joseph Losey's Mr. Klein
Only the second or third film I have seen from Losey but what a film it is.  Delon's performance ranks with his very best and Losey sustains interest and an uncomfortable mood and atmosphere throughout every single shot.  The camera is elegant, as are the locations, the set design and the wardrobe and Losey ends up making a film about the Resistance that might be every bit as powerful as Meville's Army of Shadows.

Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno
If I were still making films, Kechiche would be one of the filmmakers I would study the closest.  His films feel as pure and perhaps more modern than anyone else's.  It is clear he is a cinephile and it feels as though he is taking art cinema to its most exciting and logical next phase.  What does that mean?  Kechiche's cinema is as much documentary as it is fiction.  Like the New Wave, he is embracing lighter technology to get inside his characters, get inside his scenes more to ward off elements that can quickly make the medium of cinema feel artificial.  But all the while, he is bringing in aspects of narrative cinema that make it arguably more palatable and more entertaining than cinema verite.  Kechiche has a painter's eye and dresses his realistic or naturalistic settings with strong locations, set design, emotive ambient sound and interesting-looking people acting in very believable ways.

Jacques Rozier's Maine-Ocean
Although I have only seen three of Rozier's films to date, it is clear that he has a unique voice and consistent thematic interests that include the constraining nature of society and the opportunities of freedom offered by water, travel and the sea.  Rozier's style is a unique balance of rigor and looseness and his humanistic spirit comes through in his joyful tone and emphasis on community.

Abbas Kiarostami's The Experience
The first of Kiarostami's longer form works is already masterful and a great indication of the Iranian filmmaker's career in cinema.  As much documentary as narrative, Kiarostami keeps his camera attached to his main character, a boy in his early teens.  Kiarostami's touch is soft and sensitive, as he would become known to be, and his camera graceful in its pans, zooms, handhelds and tracking shots.  Made for the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, I would consider it Kiarostami's first truly great work. 

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-seven

Just like in my other sixty-six 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 a 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.

Abdellatif Kechiche's L'esquive
Kechiche, an actor himself, has a tremendous ability for achieving vital, piercingly plausible performances.  The other two films I have seen of his, The Secret of the Grain and Blue Is the Warmest Colour, are stylistically bolder, employing long takes and complex mise-en-scene but all of his work features extraordinary acting.  What I admire about Kechiche, perhaps above all, is as daring as his cinema can be, he also understands restraint.  Here there is hardly any music at all and although mostly composed of tight, handheld shots, Kechiche sticks to this one approach rather than combining many different styles and approaches.  I put Kechiche in a small group of the greatest filmmakers working today, and this film only deepened that feeling for me.  

Robert Bresson's Le diable probablement
One of the remaining Bresson features I had yet to see.  Once again, Bresson impresses with his rigor and rhythm.  Not a movement out of place and every cut in sync with some atypical metronomic beat that is deeply his own.  Bresson grapples with action, love, enjoyment and life in what might be a world without meaning or purpose.  The strong blacks in almost every frame suggest a darkness that potentially threatens all existence while its bleakness brings forth memories of Carax's Boy Meets Girl.

Nanni Moretti's Ecce bombo
Moretti's first feature already has many of the elements he would become known for - his great feel for music, his quick, playful wit, his political engagement and a structural looseness that is as much a part of his appeal as it is a weakness.  Not too far from the zany, episodic nature of Woody's early features.    

Hong Sang-soo's Yourself and Yours
One of my favorite Hong films, alongside Right Now, Wrong ThenIn Another Country and Woman Is the Future of Man.  Has there ever been anyone in the medium as successful at being so minimal?  Hong shrinks the world (few actors, one piece of music, only a handful of locations) but burrows in so well that his shrunken world still feels universal and relevant.  

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Favorite (four), sixty-six

Just like in my other sixty-five 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 a 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.

Fritz Lang's The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb
I have long wanted to track down these two films that were made right at the end of Lang's career.  I knew they had a large reputation among some people I admire and were a little different than anything else he had done.  They actually share a lot in common with some of his pre-American work such as Spies or The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.  But what is new is the Indian setting and Lang's attitude and perspective.  As to be expected, Lang shoots precisely and constructs a number of excellent set pieces throughout the two films.  And the film's influence can be felt in films as different as Pierrot Le Fou (Godard's shot directly looking at the hot sun) or all throughout the Indiana Jones trilogy.

Jacques Tati's Parade
I will admit - I do not know all that Tati is saying in the last feature of his career.  But there is a magic and an otherness about it (I cannot think of any other movie like it) that give it a power.  The way it is shot, with the performers alone from one angle and the crowd in the background of another, suggests the loneliness of performance and the circus-like world that feeds it.  It feels like a celebration of the entertainer and a moving summation of Tati's unique abilities and perspective. 

Jacques Rozier's Du cote d'Orouet
Rozier has a disciplined looseness that is in perfect sync with his nearly three hour trip to the beach.  He approaches time like Rivette, allowing his scenes to unfold in blocks that are far longer than most directors would allow for similar moments.  He is gifted with his actors and immerses the viewer in something that feels as close to documentary as fiction.  

Stanley Kwan's Actress
It is a film I have been wanting to see for more than twenty years.  Usually with that type of expectation comes disappointment but not this time.  Aside from being absolutely gorgeous - in its cinematography, set design and wardrobe - it is utterly unique as a biopic.  By consistently merging interviews with people that knew Ruan and actual foootage of her with fictional shots and scenes, Kwan is able to create a character we know in deeper and different ways than cinema has previously allowed.  A film that is a key precursor to In the Mood for Love and one that warmly invites us to dig deeper into China's cinema past.