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September 2005 Archives

September 30, 2005

Something Like Happiness, 2005

something_happiness.gifNear the halfway mark of the first week at the festival, Bohdan Slama's exquisitely rendered Something Like Happiness provides a good-natured, refreshing, leisurely paced, and satisfying palate cleanser: a slice-of-life serio-comedy on devotion, friendship, family, and missed connection. At the heart of the film is the scruffy bohemian, a perennial "sweet guy" named Tonik (Pavel Liska) who lives with his aunt in a derelict house on a scrap of land overlooking a sprawling industrial complex in which they are two of the few remaining holdouts in a proposed factory expansion project (long after other residents, including his own parents, have moved into residential apartments with all modern conveniences). Secretly carrying a torch for his childhood best friend, a beautiful store clerk named Monika (Tatiana Vilhelmová), his prospects for winning her heart prove ever fading when, at the start of the film, her dashing and affable boyfriend immigrates to America and subsequently sends her a ticket to join him after he secures a steady job for both of them. However, when the Tonik and Monika become unexpected custodians to a pair of young boys after their mother is institutionalized, her decision to defer her trip until her release from the hospital provides the shy Tonik with a glimmer of hope for their long awaited romantic union. Like the character Tonik, the film is also gentle and unassuming, but ultimately haunting and endearing portrait of compassion, unrequited longing, and human dignity.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2005 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival

Capote, 2005

capote.gifDuring the Q&A for the film, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman commented that the inspiration behind his remarkable transformation into the character of novelist Truman Capote came from the idea of someone who needed the other person much more than the other needed him, but concealed this lopsided dependence in such a manner that the other believes the reverse. This posture provides an insightful glimpse, not only into the controversial relationship between Truman and Perry (Clifton Collins, Jr.) one of the killers of the Clutter family whose senseless murder served as the basis for his non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, but also in his self-consumption and eccentricity. From the opening sequence recreating the discovery of the bodies in the Klutter family in their Kansas farmhouse that cuts into the image of Capote transfixedly reading the article on the murder from his New York City apartment (figuratively holding the open ended resolution of their deaths in his hands), filmmaker Bennett Miller creates a sense of interconnected fatedness in this chance "encounter", a compulsion that would propel him to visit Kansas with his childhood friend (and implicit beard) Nell Harper Lee (Catherine Keener). While I disagree with Bennett's characterization of Truman as a narcissist but rather, as an insecure outsider whose abandonment as a child led him to perpetually seek attention, the film achieves resonance into Capote's true character (and ties into the theme of fate) in a scene in which Truman describes Perry as coming from the same house, an image of himself who left through the back door, while he left through the front.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 30, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival

September 29, 2005

The Lights of Asakusa, 1937

asakusa.gifA well-crafted riff on Yasujiro Shimazu's familiar shomin-geki films, this time transplanted to a group of Western opera stage actors working in the bustling theater and entertainment district of Asakusa in old downtown Tokyo, The Lights of Asakusa is a charming and elegantly realized ensemble slice-of-life serio-comedy. Centering on the acting troupe's attempts to harbor a virginal young chorus girl from the lecherous advances of one of the theater's most powerful patrons - and abetted in no small part by the troupe director's wife and principal actress Marie (played by the legendary screen and stage performer, and frequent Ozu and Naruse actress, Haruko Sugimura) - the plot provides a simple backdrop for the ecletic personalities of the film's cast of characters: a struggling painter who derives inspiration from European art, a veteran actor who contemplates retirement after being jeered onstage, a lonely arcade worker who longs to escape the tawdry lights of the district, a well-intentioned actor (Ken Uehara) whose off-stage samaritan deeds and insistence on fairness and righteousness rival the heroics of his on-stage persona, an older, world wise chorus girl who takes it upon herself to protect her young co-worker's honor. Eschewing plot in favor of richly textured characters, the film is a thoughtful and affectionate portrait of camaraderie, pragmatism, and human decency.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 29, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Shochiku at 110, Yasujiro Shimazu

A Star Athlete, 1937

star_athlete.gifHiroshi Shimizu's government-pressured, militarism-era film A Star Athlete is a breezy, refreshingly lighthearted, and subtly subversive slice-of-life comedy that centers on an all-day student march in formation and armed combat drills through the rural countryside for military training exercises. Shimizu demonstrates his deceptively facile adeptness and virtuoso camerawork through a series of extraordinarily choreographed plan sequence shots: a track-and-field race around the campus track between the school's start athlete Seki (Shuji Sano) and his constantly spurring - and sparring - team mate (Chishu Ryu); an extended dolly sequence of the students' march as bemused villagers and flirtatious, love-struck young women alternately respectfully step aside, playfully trail, obliviously obstruct, and amorously chase the dashing students in uniform; a mock battlefield charge assault through muddy fields as a guilt-ridden motley crew of travelers on the road scramble to flee from the students in a mistaken belief of being chased in retribution for their petty transgressions during their brief stay in the village.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 29, 2005 | | Comments (2) | Filed under 2005, Hiroshi Shimizu, Shochiku at 110

I Am, 2005

i_am.gifDorota Kedzierzawska continues to demonstrate her strength in directing young actors (particularly evident in the performance of the lead actor, Piotr Jagielski) that she had earlier illustrated in The Crows with her latest film I Am. Recalling Ken Loach's Kes or Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Nobody Knows in its modern day, pseudo-Dickensian tale of instinctual survival shot from a child's perspective, the film is a familiar story of a neglected, troubled child's fugue, retreat into a makeshift world of his own imagined creation, and inevitable return to the "outside" world, I Am renders a less metaphoric journey for parental connection in a similarly suffused and foreboding vein of Andrei Zvyagintsev's Return). However, while Kedzierzawska's execution is impeccable and remarkably adept, the film, nevertheless, retains an oddly sterile conventionality to its manner of storytelling, an impression that is further reinforced by composer Michael Nyman's swelling and overwrought (if not patently manipulative) soundtrack that suffuses each dramatic scene with an inconguent, near-mythic sense of tragedy.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 29, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival

September 28, 2005

Every Night's Dreams, 1933

nights_dream.gifMikio Naruse's elegantly distilled early silent film Every Night's Dreams provides an archetype for the filmmaker's recurring themes: pragmatic, determined women who tenaciously hold onto their failing relationships, weak men who lead a life of increasing dependence on the women they mistreat, life stations that grow baser as characters paradoxically strive to improve their situation. Structured in the framework of a melodrama, the story chronicles the life of a popular bar hostess and single mother named Omitsu (Sumiko Kurishima) as she struggles to rebuild her fractured family after her chronically unemployed husband (Tatsuo Saito) unexpectedly returns. Stylistically, Naruse incorporates a series of innovative camerawork: temporal cross-cutting, elliptical montage, and recurring shots of disembodied framing (most notably, in a night time sequence of running legs) the serve, not only to provide a compact precision - and therefore, emotional tension - to the film's pervasive atmosphere of entrapment and existential stasis, but also to reflect the characters' sense of disorientation and economic instability.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 28, 2005 | | Comments (6) | Filed under 2005, Shochiku at 110

Woman of the Mist, 1936

woman_mist.gifIn the essay Woman of the Mist and Gosho and the 1930s from the book Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History, Arthur Nolletti examines the complex narrative and visual strategies employed by Gosho that culminate in what would become one of his most accomplished works. Perhaps the most indicative of this style is his use of irony and subverted expectation. As the film begins, Bunkichi (Takeshi Sakamoto), an affable ne'er-do-well who married late (after sowing quite a few wild oats in his own youth) is approached by members of the community to head a collection drive for a commemorative lantern, a level of responsibility for which his wife Okiyo teasingly calls into question his suitability. Bunkichi further proves his irresponsibility when his widowed sister Otoku asks him to speak her son Seiichi in order to advise him to concentrate on his studies (instead of frittering his time reading novels) and instead, takes the young man out for a night of drinking. However, when Seiichi becomes involved in an even more serious - and potentially life-altering - predicament, Bunkichi takes him under his wing and assumes responsibility to mitigate the consequences of the young man's indiscretion. Gosho's richly textured home drama is a refined and seemingly effortless examination of duty, sacrifice, and maturity. The film's curious title, a reference to the out-of-favor geisha turned Ginza bar hostess Terue, provides an evocative and haunting metaphor for human transience.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 28, 2005 | | Comments (3) | Filed under 2005, Heinosuke Gosho, Shochiku at 110

September 27, 2005

Our Neighbor Miss Yae, 1934

missyae.gifFrom the seemingly effortless opening tracking shot through a middle-class neighborhood that terminates to a shot of two young men practicing baseball pitches in the backyard of their suburban home (and accidentally breaking the window of a neighbor's home), Yasujiro Shimazu illustrates his remarkable agility with the medium in the sublime shomin-geki (home drama), Our Neighbor Miss Yae. Ostensibly chronicling the story of a budding affection for the girl next door, Yaeko (Yumeko Aizome), the film is also a complexly (but gracefully) choreographed portrait of contemporary 1930s Japan, as the two households broach an array of traditional and modern social realities from divorce and extramarital affairs, to a young woman's sexual forthrightness, independence, and virginity. Shimazu's elegant command of narrative and camera is bolstered by the equally strong, natural performances of the actors (most notably, the great character actress, Chouko Iida), resulting in a remarkably fluid and delightfully satisfying slice-of-life portrait of prewar Japan.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 27, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, Shochiku at 110, Yasujiro Shimazu

The Neighbor's Wife and Mine, 1931

neighborswife.gifHeinosuke Gosho's The Neighbor's Wife and Mine is a breezy and efferverscent slice-of-life comedy on a harried - and easily distracted - freelance writer (Atsushi Watanabe) whose deadline for a commission work to write a play for a theater company in Tokyo is quickly approaching. Scouting for a suitable retreat where he can complete his draft, the playwright comes upon a house for rent in a quiet, rural enclave and decides to move in with his young family. However, the seemingly idyllic town soon proves to be a source of its own distractions, from mice scrurrying in the attic, to stray cats foraging in the garden, to the children waking in the middle of the night to demand their parents' attention. The final straw comes when a jazz band begins to rehearse at a neighboring house, prompting the playwright to pay a visit to the lady of the household, a Western-dressed moga (modern girl) who invites him to their jam session. The first all-talkie motion picture made in Japan, the film effectively showcases the strength of the technology, from evocative sound effects, to subtle inflections in dialogue, to the fully formed presentation of unconventional, cutting-edge music: a fitting and ebullient celebration and warm embrance of modern ways, creativity, and an open mind.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 27, 2005 | | Comments (1) | Filed under 2005, Heinosuke Gosho, Shochiku at 110

Bubble, 2005

bubble.gifThe title of the film provides a glimpse into the fragility of the hollow, empty life led by the main character: a middle-aged airbrush operator at an Ohio doll factory named Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) who takes cares for her invalid father, shuttles her car-less, twentysomething best friend and fellow factory worker Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) to his second job in neighboring West Virginia, and spends her evenings sewing doll clothes. It is a predictable routine that is soon perturbated when the company foreman hires a second airbrush operator named Rose (Misty Dawn Wilkins) to ramp-up production for a large order, a nebulous, young single mother with a penchant for stealing. Shot with a cast of non-professional actors, Steven Soderbergh's low budget indie film Bubble has the signature look - and rides the familiar clichés - of an independent film set in rural America: pot-smoking, high school drop-out blue collar workers, dysfunctional family lives (burdensome and unemployed parents, volatile ex-boyfriends, a steady diet of fast food), and distended sequences of dead time. Skirting the narrative and muted emotional arc of monotonic ritual, betrayal, and senseless violence, the characters' lives - like the film itself - are reflected in the dolls of their creation: fractured, colorless, inanimate, and underformed.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 27, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival

September 26, 2005

Avenge But One of My Two Eyes, 2005

avenge.gifFilms about the effects of Israeli occupation on the Palestianian population are always bound to be inflammatory and subject to often unfair, prejudicial criticism of justifying terrorism, and this ugliness unfortunately surfaced from a particularly hostile member of the audience at the Q&A with filmmaker Avi Mograbi for his penetrating documentary Avenge But One of My Two Eyes. At the heart of Mograbi's organic essay is the juxtaposition of two events. The first is the ancient history of the mass suicide of the zealots at Masada during the Jewish Revolt as a final act of defiance against an inevitable Roman capture. The second is the Biblical text of the emasculated, blinded, and captured Nazirite Samson standing between the main pillars of the temple who implored God to find the strength to "avenge but one of my two eyes" (a phrase that, coincidentally, is also used in a rallying song by the minority militant, right-wing settlers), collapsing the temple - which brought his own death - in such a way that he killed more Philistines with his final act of suicidal retribution than during his lifetime. While the film does not inherently correlate the defiant act of the Masada with the modern-day act of suicide bombing, it was the juxtaposition of these two ideas that clearly vexed a few people. However, rather than directly commenting on the suicide bombing as a consequence of the occupation, the film instead explores the psychology behind the egregious act, laying bare the underlying callous indifference, insensitivity, racism, and uncertainty that the occupation has caused in the conduct of everyday life for the Palestinians: an ambulance carrying a seriously ill woman is physically blockaded by two armor tanks and repeatedly ordered to go home, refusing any pleas from the anxious husband and her family with the terse response "I don’t care. Go home!" broadcasted through a megaphone; a group of farmers who must cross a checkpoint in order to harvest their olives are refused permission to enter because of military exercises and denied information for a set time that they can return in order to be admitted entry; a group of young schoolchildren returning from school are refused passage through the checkpoint gates under "military orders" that the soldiers refuse to present. Mograbi’s vérité-styled filmmaking effectively captures the turbulence, humiliation, and uncertainty of occupation, presenting a thoughtful and incisive call to action for the return of humanity in increasingly entrenched and inhuman times.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 26, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival

L'Enfant, 2005

enfant.gifThere is a palpable spirit of Robert Bresson (most notably Pickpocket and L'Argent) and Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment at work in Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s L'Enfant, so it comes as no surprise that during the subsequent Q&A, the brothers remarked that one of the images that they had wanted to capture in the film was how the fallen hero, a petty thief and new father Bruno (Jérémie Régnier), learns to "see the woman facing him". This woman (Déborah François), appropriately named Sonia, is a Dostoevsky archetypal chracter: devoted, suffering, taken for granted. As in the Dardenne's earlier film, The Son, the "child" of the film is also a figurative embodiment of redemption that is defined by more than one character: the newborn son Jimmy who is sold by his father on a whim, the immature Bruno, a flightly and rootless young man who sees his son as a disposable accessory, the band of young boys recruited by Bruno to perpetrate the petty crimes for a share of the profits. In this respect, the repeated shots of Bruno aggressively pushing the pram through the streets (and subsequently, in a situational permutation of him pushing a scooter) becomes a refiguration of Raskolnikov's dream: an image of burden, reluctant responsibility, and duty.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 26, 2005 | | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival

September 25, 2005

The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, 2005

lazarescu.gifSomething of a hybrid between the sardonic humor of a talkative Otar Iosseliani or Béla Tarr and the vérité-like, social realism of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu is a thoughtful and incisive slice-of-life comedy on the impersonalization (and desensitization) of institutional health care. Exploring similar issues of entrenched bureaucracy as Moussa Bathily's Le Certificat d'indigence that serve to impede the proper dispensation of proper medical care (and, more importantly, lose sight of the face of humanity behind human suffering), the film unfolds as an absurd subversion of Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych in which the isolative process of dying becomes occluded in the pettiness, moralizing, helplessness, and coincidental distractions that invariably occupy everyday life as the lonely widower and retired engineer, Larazescu, is scuttled from one hospital to another throughout the evening after suffering from a bout of migraine and nausea. As in Tolstoy's novella, the process of death does not alter the process of living, but rather, becomes only a momentary distraction in an eternal - and seemingly interminable - human comedy.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2005 | | Comments (4) | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival

Regular Lovers, 2005

regularlovers.gifRegular Lovers is a quintessential Philippe Garrel film. Part self-exorcism of the failed idealism of the May 68 counter-culture revolution that inevitably burned out in a haze of recreational drug use, sexual liberation, and the inertia of bohemianism, and part elegy on love found in the wreckage of a heartbreaking aftermath that, too, becomes inevitably lost, the film follows the plight of a young poet and draft dodger, François, as he devolves from impassioned idealist and revolutionary, to hopeless romantic (who once - perhaps, half-heartedly - offered to put aside his art and find a wage-earning vocation in order to provide a more stable life for his new lover, Lilie), and eventually, to adrift bohemian and parasitic houseguest. The film's final sequence - an evocation of the romanticism of revolution - is a fitting double entendre that recalls an earlier extended dream sequence of the French Revolution, as the latent potency of the dross opium becomes a metaphor, not only for the crystalized potential for upheaval and (self)destruction that continues to sublimate within the souls of a consumed and demoralized May 68 generation, but also, in its stabilized, incombustible form, represents the consumed residue of a transitory and ephemeral moment of bliss and paradise lost.

Posted by acquarello on Sep 25, 2005 | | Comments (16) | Filed under 2005, New York Film Festival