55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: BPM (120 BEATS PER MINUTE)

France
Director: Robin Campillo
Runtime: 143 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies.com grading: A+

[Seen October 9th at the New York Film Festival, where it received the second of two standing ovations, and that is rare.]

They say that the closer the drama is to one’s real life experience the stronger the story that comes out of it. Nothing could be closer to the truth than the viewing of Robin Campillo’s aggressive yet tender drama BPM (120 Beats Per Minute) that makes its bow at the Angelika and the Lincoln Center October 20th and is France’s strongest submission to the Oscars in decades. Campillo, in discussing his film during the Q & A, spoke about being an Act-Up activist in the Paris Chapter during the 80s and 90s and literally seeing his then lover die of AIDs while no cure was visible in sight; his and the actions of this force of nature that was gay activism eventually led to the release of the medicine that would curb the corrosive effect of the AIDs virus and at least allow those who were positive to live (and love) if at all for a little while more than if they had not been given anything at all.

From the moment it starts, BPM is two hours of a literal battle not for equality, but for the very right to simply exist. Much like its title implicates there are no pauses for contemplation for contemplation’s sake; Campillo’s film is, without machine guns, a war movie that involves a rather broad spectrum of people at the bottom of society: gays, lesbians, and those infected with the blood of HIV-positive people. Anyone who either witnessed or survived the 80s and 90s can and will tell you that to even be gay during that period was tantamount to already have the ‘cancer’, and thus, be not just an undesirable, but also be unworthy to life itself. In short, it was a period where gay men and women would have to slip back into the dark, remain silent, and let AIDs do its infernal work.

So what was one to do then? Once it was made clear that those in the bottom could never aspire to have their voices heard, the only thing that anyone then had left was becoming the cry in the dark. BPM illustrates this effect in a chilling sequence where the members of Act-Up Paris infiltrate a pharmaceutical corporation and start throwing bags of fake blood everywhere and unto their executives. The intent is to shock, of course, and it makes its mark, but it’s also to sling back the blood corporate France  had on their hands. It’s hard not to see a clear correlation between these events and the many that transpired here in the US when Act-Up protested, how one can view this and not be reminded of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and David France’s searing documentary How to Survive a Plague. [Side note: David France’s newest documentary, The Death and Life of Marsha P Johnson is currently in cinemas and on Netflix.]

Robin Campillo moves between the documentary — Act-Up meetings and protests — and the personal, inserting smaller yet more poignant stories that stand out from the mass of activists that occupy the large tapestry of participants. First in line we get Nathan (Arnaud Valois, standing in for Campillo), a twenty-something young man who’s joined Act-Up and is seen as a bit of an outsider since he’s negative (most aren’t). There he meets the very vocal Sean Dalmazo (Argentinean actor Nathan Perez Viscayart in a compelling, riveting performance) who’s passion for life is as big as his need for action from those at the top to deliver the drugs he needs to live a bit longer. There is the hemophiliac kid who’s mother unwittingly gave infected blood to for months, effectively infecting him. Also shown are Sophie (Adele Haenel, a tremedous presence, but underused — also the only marquee name in the movie) and Thibaut (Antoine Reinartz), an activist with whom Sean clashes often.

The brilliance of this ferocious movie is that it never pauses for maudlin and I loved that. Too often, AIDs-related movies treated its characters’ deaths like over-long operas to be played out in slow motion as if somewhat fascinated at the fact that yes, gay men did die dramatic deaths, disfigured, weighing less than their clothes, listening to some campy classical music. [And as a side note, I noted the conspicuous absence of sex in AIDs movies made in our own soil raises the question, do we still, even now in 2017, still have issues with gay sex represented on film?] This movie uses house — the music of the time — to express its defiance at the face of death. Even the central romance that becomes born under the threat of death — that of Sean and Nathan — is played with a vibrancy I have not seen in any American film about the same topic. It’s probably what will make this stand out from its American counterparts, that it knows death (for many) is looming, but embraces life, the ultimate spectacular now, as its own affirmation. And the sex? Confessional, revealing, and ultimately, a means to mourn those who have passed on, who were loved.

BPM opens at the Angelika and the Film Society of Lincoln Center October 20.

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: LET THE SUNSHINE IN

LET THE SUNSHINE IN
France
Director: Claire Denis
Runtime: 92 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies.com grading: C+

If there is something one can state about acclaimed French film director Claire Denis is that she definitely is unpredictable. Most directors tend to have a connected style in their storytelling, and that, one can say, defines the director’s body of work. With Denis, you can’t really say her pictures have a theme, a sense that one story somehow flows right into the other even when some of her greatest films (Beau Travail, 35 Shots of Rum, and White Material) have taken place in Africa. Her 2013 film Bastards (Les salauds) was a compelling black hole masquerading as film-noir; the movie reeked of pure, conscious evil that lay within its characters. It was almost a horror movie by way of the human exploitation (and particularly the subjugation of women to their masculine counterparts).

Her latest entry couldn’t be more divorced from the underbelly of society and is even more removed by anything she has done before. The poorly titled Let the Sunshine In (technically, the title should read Bright Sunshine Inside) is a light as a feather character study of Isabelle (luminously played by Juliette Binoche), an artist going from one relationship to the next, each one ending in what seems to be an ellipsis. When we first see her, she’s in the middle of having sex with a married banker, That doesn’t end well, predictably so. She moves right into the arms of an actor, and then into yet an unnamed man who sweeps her off of her feet in a club to the sounds of Etta James’ “At Last“. [I sensed some perverse irony in the selection of this title, and Denis of course, delivered.]

My one problem with the movie stems from the fact that other than a leisurely paced portrait of a woman who’s basically clueless about herself and what she wants, Let the Sunshine In never quite manages to intrigue you about Isabelle’s misadventures in a way that Woody Allen’s female-centric studies do. It takes the very late entrance of a certain French actor posing as one thing, but being something completely different, to neatly explain Isabelle to us, even when she herself remains totally and tonally blind. Perhaps this is what Denis’ movie is meant to be: a snapshot of a ridiculous woman, on a love treadmill, going nowhere. Maybe I need to see this odd little film again when it reaches US cinemas (a thing that seems meant for next year). Directors love to play games on their audiences and remain one step ahead. For now, my impression is that of a movie that didn’t quite deliver despite having a brilliant star on scene for 90 minutes, living, breathing, and failing to love.

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE

THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE
Finland
Director: Aki Kaurismäki
Runtime: 100 minutes
Language: Finnish / Arabic / German / Swedish

Mostlyindies.com grading: B+

They say we all cross each other’s paths for a reason. Now before you keel sideways and stop living due to the sheer cheesiness of the sentence I just typed, hear me out because the movie I’m about to talk about is that sentence to a scientific fault. Kaurismäki’s film The Other Side of Hope focuses on the state of Syrian refugee crisis, but while that in itself is a harrowing experience, Kaurismäki treats his topic with a humor so deadpan and dry it borders on absurdism and maybe even a hint of the surreal.

When we first come into the movie we do so via a traveling businessman, Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) who’s leaving his wife because she’s a little too fond of the bottle. On his way to his next venture he almost runs over the dirty immigrant Khaled (Sherwan Haji) who has arrived on the Eira seeking asylum. Khaled doesn’t get much help while in Helsinki, and sort of floats around in a no-man’s limbo while trying to also find the whereabouts of his sister who escaped the Aleppo devastation just in time, while the rest of his family did not.

Meanwhile Wikström has bought a crummy restaurant filled with colorful characters. He doesn’t, however, know the first thing about how a restaurant works, and that makes up the bulk of the situations that arise shortly after. A chance meeting with Khaled, who stands facing deportation to Syria, changes the paths of both men who form an alliance.

During its entirety Kaurismaki’s film keeps its pacing pretty quick but not more than it needs to. It invites you to see the collision of two vastly different worlds and cultures and it’s one piece of insight is how it puts  the plight of displaced people front and center, but doesn’t idealize the “hope” part of its title but illustrate just how badly they can still have it on the other side of war, be it with going homeless due to lack of knowledge of the language of culture, or worse, the appearance of hate groups. The brilliance of a movie this dry is that it’s got life just underneath; compassion and friendship exist even in places as cold as Finland.

The Other Side of Hope will make its US premiere in December.

 

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: CALL ME BY YOUR NAME

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
Italy / France / Brazil / USA
Director: Luca Guadagnino
Runtime: 132 minutes
Language: Italian / French / English / German
Mostlyindies.com grading: A+

There was a pregnant tension in the air inside the Alice Tully during the half-hour leading to the world premiere of Luca Guadagnino’s film version of Andre Aciman’s novel Call Me By Your Name — would it remain faithful to the novel, how would the performances be, and what about that famous scene with a fruit? Not having read the book or known what the plot was about other than the synopsis featured in the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s page and a little apprehensive after seeing Guadagnino’s awful 2015 film A Bigger Splash that made its rounds in US theaters last year, I figured I’d give it a try based solely on the trailer. When it comes to LGBT cinema, I’ll usually watch them all — the bad with the good — because hey, if one can’t support it, what’s the use in complaining there aren’t any stories being told? And considering that this year the New York Film Festival has not one but three in its Main Slate — the other two being the Norwegian Thelma and the French BPM as well as Todd Haynes new film Wonderstruck and a restored version of G W Pabst’s 1929 classic Pandora’s Box, there should be enough quality to glean a lot of positive chatter about the state of Queer Cinema yesterday and today.

Luca Guadagnino again returns to his native Italy to take us into a sensual trip through a lazy summer in 1983. Elio Perlman (Timothee Chalamet) lives with his parents, both intellectuals, in a secluded part of Italy and have a tradition (established by his father, a history professor (Michael Stuhlbarg in a role that anchors and elevates the film) of inviting a student over for mentoring. Elio doesn’t quite care for this since his privacy will be altered, and could you blame him? The look of disdain on his face as he and his girlfriend Marzia get their first glimpse of the impossibly beautiful Oliver (Armie Hammer) emerging from his parents vehicle says it all. Elio is frankly, not impressed one bit.

Not that Oliver makes it easy, either: a good ten years older than Elio there doesn’t seem to be much holding them together. Both are clearly sophisticated in their fields; Oliver in his knowledge of history and languages; Elio, in music. However, Oliver varies from being dismissive to vague, flighty interest, and any attempt at dialog ends with a sense of the both of them being completely incompatible. Conversations end in moments of awkwardness, and no one seems to know how to break the ice. A visual discovery that Oliver is also Jewish, while striking a spark, also fails to really make things work between them. All Elio can hope is that the six weeks that Oliver will be in Italy will go as quickly and painlessly as possible so life can return to normal.

It’s this tension between the two that carries the story to its conclusion; constantly framed together, it only seems logical that something has to give. A first attempt at physical contact during a volleyball game backfires. A night on the town, where both Elio and Oliver dance with women, also goes south. It’s precisely at the halfway mark when we realize not that Elio has been resenting Oliver’s presence, but that he’s attracted to him, and this being 1983, a crucial year for gay men as the Disco era had begun to feel its aftermaths and AIDS had made its way to the cover of Time magazine, such feelings were best kept in the quiet and resolved in the dark.

What makes Call Me By Your Name succeed is precisely this need for silencing: Elio obviously doesn’t need his parents to know yet, but Oliver suddenly becomes less a Greek God in the flesh and turns into a vulnerable young man who doesn’t wish to harm this boy who’s clearly growing up and has a world to learn. Perhaps, also, he has his own demons to wrestle with, and again, the timing of the story is crucial. Both begin a dance of wanting to be as close as possible to wanting to stay away from each other, a thing that leads Elio to experiment with Marzia and sadly, lead her on. In the meantime we’re left to wonder, how much do the parents know about what’s going on?

The only one who seems to hint at something is Mr Perlman (although a telling expression in Mrs Perlman answers the age-old question of “Does Mother know?”). There is a build up to a scene that happens in stages. Firstly, a gay couple appears, and Perlman wants Elio to at least try to behave with a certain tolerance not because they’re gay or ridiculous but because they’re “both.” It’s the film’s one self-hating moment, a subtle slap that strikes at the way gay men were still seen at the time — campy, effete, diva-worshiping, and overall, emasculated. This is followed by another scene in which Perlman goes on and on about the male form and how it was admired in Grecian times. It’s a very telling revelation. MIchael Stuhlbarg’s delivering of his lines reveal something completely startling about his until then very worldly, bourgeois professor. So disarming it is, that even Hammer’s Oliver gets taken aback and it hovers over the second half of the picture until Stuhlbarg, practically doing nothing other than sit with his son, has the most ideal,naked, and emotionally revealing conversation any father should have. Because of this, his is the character that stands out the most because of how it informs the viewer of where he comes from other than making him “the clueless father”. Anyone — me included — knows that parents always know, but to do what Perlman does during the film . . . priceless. An Oscar consideration for Best Supporting Actor could happen for him.

I dare anyone to view this movie and not reminisce about those days of experiencing first love and choke a little on tears. It is as nuanced and detailed a love story as a coming of age, beautifully rendered by everyone onscreen, meticulously acted to a point where one would be hard pressed not too see oneself in any of the two leads, or perhaps the father. Several 80s New Wave classics make their way into the film (notably The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way), but it’s Sufjyan Stevens ethereal music, reminiscent of the early 70s, that paints this film in smoldering passionate hues that will still evoke emotions well past the end credits. Guadagnino in my opinion has made the perfect gay romance.

Call Me By Your Name just had its screening at the 55th New York Film Festival and will make its US premiere November 24.

55TH NY FILM FESTIVAL: ZAMA

ZAMA
Argentina
Director: Lucrecia Martel
Runtime: 115 minutes
Language: Spanish
Mostlyindies.com grading: C —
Argentina usually produces strong dramas that engage you right from the onset, so it confuses me as to why Lucrecia Martel’s film, Zama, based on an obscure novel by Antonio di Benedetto, winds up looking austerely beautiful with hints of the Colombian Embrace of the Serpent and Argentina’s own Jauja. Now, looking at the sheer lever of the producers involved – which include giants like the Almodovars alongside Gael Garcia Bernal, Danny Glover, Julia Solomonoff (who’s own picture Nadie Nos Mira won Best Actor at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival and just enjoyed its run at the Film Forum; do seek this film out on DVD please) – I can perhaps see a reason. Twenty-seven producers thought adapting di Benedetto’s novel would be a great idea and perhaps on paper, it does look like it. But the film version never takes off unless we take into account a burgeoning relationship between the lead character (Daniel Jimenez Cacho) and the treasurer’s flirtatious wife (Lola Duenas).

 

To wit, this is the synopsis of the movie: Don Diego de Zama, a Spanish officer stationed in Asuncion, awaits his transfer to Buenos Aires. As it reads, this synopsis doesn’t exactly translate into compelling or engrossing and the picture itself remains unwilling to truly introduce us into Diego de Zama the man, how he arrived, who he is as a person, and his almost paralyzing fear of the mostly unseen super-villain Vicuña Porto who does make a late appearance in a rather surprising way. There is precious little that engrosses you to want to know what transpired in Asuncion. Yes, we wait for Zama’s transfer, while he parades himself as though he were a statue in movement, and it slowly becomes clear that this might not happen.  Zama, at first seen proud and authoritarian, begins to age and crumble by the sheer force of time imposed in exile. Meanwhile, we fail to truly connect because the movie’s own dense nature makes it nearly impossible to understand only at a marginal level. If at least the film had a hint of humor at what seems to be an absurd situation, perhaps it would be more engrossing, Sadly, we are left with a movie that slogs forward at a pace some art cinema snobs aficionados would like to identify as deliberate. To me, it’s as fast moving as the waters of those nearly still rivers covered in moss pictured at the end in what could be the film’s most dreamlike and serene sequence.

 

Zama, a curious movie without a start and an ending,  has been selected as the Argentinian entry for the Best Foreign Language movie at the 90th Academy Awards. Its release date will be sometime in 2018.

 

55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)


THE MEYEROWITZ STORIES (NEW AND SELECTED)

USA

Director: Noah Baumbach

Runtime: 110 minutes

Language: English

Mostlyindies.com grading: A –

I think it’s safe to say that Noah Baumbach has become the Woody Allen of our time. His work since 2005’s The Squid and the Whale have continually explored the dynamics of New York families in a way not dissimilar to the films Allen directed during his 70s and 80s era starting from Interiors and culminating with Hannah and Her Sisters, two movies book-ended by the presence of three siblings and their less than perfect parents. The Meyerowitz Stories is somewhat in the middle of these two, and it introduces us to the black sheep of the family, Danny (Adam Sandler) who, moving into his family home as his divorce comes through, can’t find parking. His daughter Eliza (Grace van Patten), a budding film talent, tries to keep his temper in check but it’s clear that there’s bound to be an explosion of expletives and road rage. It’s only a hint of what’s to come in this offbeat, eccentric family.

At the Meyerowitzs, we meet Harold (Dustin Hoffman), a sculptor who never amounted to much but firmly believes himself to be the next thing to God, his wife Maureen (Emma Thompson in a fright wig and hippie dress, constantly wasted and slightly out of touch), Matthew (Ben Stiller), the brother who is the apple of Harold’s eye but who’s very controlling nature made him go west 3,000 miles away into the world of numbers, quiet sister Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), the wallflower who lived in the shadow of everyone else and only marginally incurred into the art world (but who has some of the mvoie’s sharpest lines and her own story). Conversations and interactions verbal or musical flow with an incredible but prickly ease, and we see in these short but sharply constructed scenes that always manage to cleverly stop just as things are about to veer out of control, everything that went wrong in this family, that oddly, is being kept together by the presence and persona of the marginalized Danny.

To describe the actions in Baumbach’s densely plotted movie would be a disservice to the story (and mind you, a lot happens during this family reunion filled with revelations and surprises you won’t see coming). This is, quite simply, a near-perfect ensemble in which even smaller characters inform the more salient players. The surprise of this movie – and I can’t believe I am writing this – is Adam Sandler himself. Ben Stiller has played in enough Baumbach movies to know the type of dialogue he uses so his character is restrained, but fairly easy. Sandler, on the other hand . . . total revelation. He starts and basically ends the movie with two powerful scenes (although he is consistently on point whenever he on screen as it is). Being Danny, and experiencing a relationship with a father so enamored of himself that can only equate itself to a passive-aggressive version of Chinese torture, he carries all this deeply repressed angst on the inside that no one seems to truly relate to (since it becomes clear Harold is sort of a Kronos to his sons and daughter). Seeing Sandler in this film made me wish he’d quit his so-called comedies and became an actor willing to test the boundaries of performance with other directors. His Danny is one of the most fully realized characters he has played, ever, a man in physical and emotional pain who will have to learn to let go in order to be at peace.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) opens on Netflix October 13.

55TH NYFF: THE FLORIDA PROJECT

THE FLORIDA PROJECT

USA
Director: Sean Baker
Runtime: 110 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies.com grading: A+

Do not let the garish color palette of Sean Baker’s new movie The Florida Project fool you; despite its Floridian setting, this is as neo-realist (and I’m talking about the kinds Vittorio De Sica, Luschino Visconti, and especially Roberto Rossellini produced in the 40s, 50s, and 60s) a picture as can be and for that, it is at a much higher level than the sea of indies being produced by the masses today. I’d even go to deny its inclusion in the genre; indie cinema can be a rather grey area where kitchen sink dramas and low budget stories get lumped together with tales of existentialism, horror, and romance.

Baker’s cinema, and I also include his breakthrough 2015 movie Tangerine which followed a pair of trans-women working the streets of an LA no one gets to see, fall under the former, Italian style. Subtract the colors in The Florida Project and you get something similar to The Children are Watching Us, or even Sciusia (Shoe-Shine), the latter filled with irreverent boys creating mayhem. The one thing separating these movies is this larger-than-life joie-de-vivre that carries these kids through their day to day. Their Italian counterparts emerge with their spirits crushed; here, Baker’s children are defiant to the very end.

The plot of The Florida Project is rather minimal in appearance only. In fact, it’s so minimal that it seems to be just a study of people in a forgotten little corner of the world as they go through their day-to-day activities. Set in the fringes of Orlando in what were at one time the equivalent of Choice Hotels or Best Westerns and have now devolved into weekly motels for people below the poverty line, We get introduced into its pastel universe via the three kids at the center of the story: Moonee (the superb Brooklynn Prince, who has arrived fully formed as an actress with a capital A), Scooty (Christopher Rivera), and Jancy (Valeria Scotto). Unschooled, they spend their days at play moving throughout the motels like a coven of mini-thugs looking for a thrill, causing all sorts of problems while their mothers scrape away just to bring food to the table. Moonees mother Haley (Bria Vinaite, also a force of nature, girlish, but a feral survivor), a waifish horror with shoulder-length blue hair and tattoos, is the least responsible, moving from hotel to hotel selling perfumes and scamming the unsuspecting. She has no sense of direction and could care less; she just wants a fix and will even use Moonee to get what she wants.

At the other end of this scenario, standing like an observer, is Bobby (Willem Dafoe) who might just be the only and closest thing Moonee will ever know as a father. Early scenes don’t seem to give him a lot to do; as a matter of fact all he can do is to nicely ask Haley for the rent money, or repair the AC that the kids blew out while keeping the place bright and colorful. However, if you look closely into Bobby’s face there is a worn-out sadness living there, magnified because we don’t know who the man is other than his part in the movie. We don’t know how he got here, what his private life is like. We just know and see him hovering protectively around the trio, chiding their mostly useless mothers, and acting like any father would do: stern, but clearly loving and warm.

So as I said, the story is minimal, but if you look closer, you will see an arc developing. The actions at the start look like a preview. The kids get into mischief, cause a problem, clean the mess, and move on. The next event is a little more brazen, as is the next. When they unwittingly (and innocently) cross the line into crime, the film takes a subtle turn: dynamics are broken, Haley finds out Scooty’s mother doesn’t want her son hanging out with Moonee anymore and denies them leftover food from the eatery where she works, which puts Haley in a bind and hell-bent on getting even, acting out even against Bobby who for a chunk of the movie has let her go scot-free. You can sense a pressure cooker building in the film’s final quarter, here, a noose tightening around the characters. Nothing — not even this delusion of endless summer and arrested development — and actions bring consequences. The way Baker handles this is again, a writer-director in full control of his story who isn’t unafraid of delving into a moment of fantasy even when it’s clear that the gig is up, and everyone has to get out of the pool.

The Florida Project opens in limited theaters October 6.

55TH NYFF: THE SQUARE

THE SQUARE

Sweden / Denmark / France / Germany
Director: Ruben Ostlund
Runtime: 142 minutes
Language: Swedish / English / Danish

Mostlyindies.com grading: A

Every year the New York Film Festival outdoes itself in its selection. At first perusal, their Main Slate looked good but nothing to write home about; however, as I go deeper and deeper into their selected films I discover new, automatic classics and lightning bolts of cinematic wonder that strikes at the deepest places that we wouldn’t as quasi normal, functional beings who walk the Earth. even dare to acknowledge. Case in point is Ruben Ostlund’s follow up to his 2014 movie Force Majeure, The Square, which made its debut September 30 at the Lincoln Center, is a blow to the face, a time bomb waiting to explode, and a wicked portrayal of human foibles that only exacerbate the vast chasm between the classes. It is, as a matter of fact, a sharp social observation about the concept of compassion and empathy towards others in a critical tile masquerading as an absurd art concept.

How long will it take for people to respond to help when someone is in need? The Square gives you no clear answers, but presents you several studies in the form of loosely connected vignettes that are tied together by the object that forms the title of the movie. You see, The Square as a concept by Argentinean artist Lola Arias is a safe space, a place that unites, that has no boundaries or agendas. That sounds great in theory, but then, when you see that the art curator at the center of the story, Christian (Claes Bang) witnesses a woman crying for help, he and another man don’t quite do anything other than wait until she’s in the frame literally shrieking her head off that her boyfriend will kill her. Even then there’s clearly some reticence in Christian to do anything, and once the boyfriend appears — a musclebound lunk who could easily take both men out — the scene is over, the boyfriend, surprisingly, walks away, leaving the woman to also go on her own way, relieved but terrified.

And then Christian realizes, once he’s smugly convinced himself that He Did Something . . . that he in fact has been punked. He’s got no phone and no wallet. Not even, it seems, his shirt cuff-links. When it’s his turn to ask for help, as handsome and dashing as he is, he gets to taste a little of that helplessness. But instead of canceling his phone and his plastic he decides to play some kind of dirty prank to the people who stole his personal identifiers: he types a nasty letter, has a colleague drive him to the projects where the phone is located, and drop in each slot the typed note with the hopes of scaring the person shitless and getting his phone and wallet delivered to a Seven-Eleven. Surprisingly, he does get his items back, and in the interim, plays a very giving man and lands several bills, intact, on a homeless woman’s lap.

In the middle of all this two colleagues are planning to use the Lola Arias installation to create a video that will garner cheap views and go viral. The video is quite the controversial piece, and let’s just say that it does create the desired effect of going viral but for all the wrong reasons. While all this is happening, we see another artist (Dominic West) being interrupted by a man suffering from Tourette’s who’s catcalls all but stop the show cold. We also see a young reporter, Anna (Elizabeth Moss), who after conducting what has to be the clumsiest interview ever at the very opening of the film later appears at a disco, seducing Christian and bringing him to her place where they enact one of the funniest sex scenes I’ve seen, and that later turns into something else when she practically stonewalls him for the sole purpose of finding out if he was into her as she was into him. My only explanation of her character was to perhaps enhance the eventual unlike-ability of Christian who from the word go is the privileged white male with an easy life and looks he uses to bed women left and right. That unlike-ability eventually comes out full force in a later scene when the prank letter he’d sent to the project comes back to haunt him, badly, under the person of a young immigrant Middle Eastern boy.

If Ruben Ostlund wanted to really stick it to the upper class he could have trimmed The Square just a tiny little bit and focus more on the peripheral character of Oleg (Terry Notary), a performer who mimes gorillas (Notary has played gorillas before in Kong: Skull Island and  War for the Planet of the Apes) who himself is a piece of art early on in the movie, but later comes out at the middle of a dinner scene where the elite sit, and in his ape-persona, starts acting more and more belligerent until we go from laughing, to laughing while squirming a little, to all but looking in rising horror at just how far the act goes, again blurring the lines of art and reality. You may as well say, that perhaps there are no safe places, and anyone might be a victim who might not get the help he or she needs.

The Square will release in US theaters October 27.

55TH NYFF: MADAME HYDE

MADAME HYDE

France
Director: Serge Bozon
Runtime: 91 minutes
Language: French

Mostlyindies’ grading: A–

I doubt that Isabelle Huppert will ever repeat the same kind of powerhouse performance like the one she turned in a year ago in Paul Verhoeven’s rape-comedy-mystery Elle (a movie that was one of my top five of last year). That picture gave Huppert a role actresses unafraid to push the boundaries of their own selves would die for: a woman who, despite having gone through a horrific assault, still managed to come out on top and assert her dominance in the most unusual way possible. She returns to the 55th New York Film Festival with a completely different performance altogether.

In Serge Bozon’s newest film, a novel approach to the Robert Louis Stevenson horror novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Huppert plays Mme. Gequil, a woman that is basically living in abject fear (of what, we don’t know). Her home life is a quiet shambles as her husband (Jose Garcia) treats her with a certain condescension while he focuses on his composing. Her school life fares no better as students openly dismiss and mock her while she teaches and a colleague (Romain Duris), decked in outfits that resemble rejects from Miami Vice) basically finds any way to diminish her. One night, while working in her lab to prepare materials for her next class she gets struck by an enormous power surge caused by a lightning storm. Soon after, she’s showing signs of not being all there . . . displaying a ravenous appetite (until then she would secretly deliver half her food to neighboring dogs), a sudden desire for sex with her husband . . . and walks at night, where, glowing, she sets things on fire.

She also takes an approach to a disabled student, Malik, and by nurture alone she cracks the shell that Malik up until then had kept intact, turning him into her most prized student. Problems arise when the other part of her, the one that acts out at night, starts to manifest its own presence. It’s only time before things will get slightly out of hand. Will Mme. Gequil be able to control the Mme. Hyde she is slowly morphing into?

Huppert, as usual, delivers strong acting in a part that requires her to be basically two different personalities. For the most part Madame Hyde is fairly comedic — a class project based on the Faraday Cage serves as a perfect tool to enact a certain revenge filled with a restrained “fuck you” approach. It’s in the final act when Mme Gequi’s alter ego takes over, that Huppert sinks into what she does best, which is finding the pathos and tragedy within.

For lovers of Huppert, seek her out in Joachim Trier’s Louder than Bombs, Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love, Bozon’s previous Tip-Top, Francois Ozon’s 8 Femmes, Mia Hansen-Love’s Things to Come, Michael Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, and Claude Chabrol’s Violette.

Madame Hyde has no known US Premiere date, but will premiere in France March 28, 2018.

OPENING NIGHT, 55TH NEW YORK FILM FESTIVAL: LAST FLAG FLYING

LAST FLAG FLYING

USA
Director: Richard Linklater
Runtime: 120 minutes
Language: English

Mostlyindies’ grading: A+

Opening night at the 55th New York Film Festival is such a wonderful, fun-filled event. I’ve been going now five years now, and I love how every time it seems as though it was the first — you’re surrounded by men and women of all walks of life, some are in the arts, some are patrons, some just movie buffs like you or me who just want to experience the screening of a future release before hand and sit there, amazed, at the artistry and performances involved.

I was a little surprised when Richard Linklater’s Last Flag Flying was announced as the film that would open the festival; I knew nothing about it, but I thought, “I’m not too sure this is the type of movie that should be shown on opening night; it seems like it would belong elsewhere.” How wrong I was; from the moment that the film proper begins and focuses on the quiet figure of Steve Carell as he stands in front of a mostly empty bar somewhere in Norfolk, Virginia, I knew I was in for something truly remarkable.

Carell is Larry ‘Doc’ Shepherd, a mild mannered former Marine living in New Hampshire who’s come to Virginia at the end of 2003 to visit his ex-Marine buddy Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston), who runs a drinking hole that’s gone to pot. Of course, a man like Shepherd wouldn’t just walk into a place like this for the hell of it, and soon the men are talking of times gone past. Shepherd asks Nealon to come with him to see another friend from their Marine days, Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) who’s long left his military days behind and has become a pastor. Mueller is less than thrilled to see these two men show up on his church, but it’s a last minute revelation at dinner that Shepherd reveals his true motives for contacting his two former friends.

Shepherd’s son was killed in combat in Iraq (he’s also lost his wife to cancer), and needs their support in his time of need. Nealon is more than happy to escape his momentary boredom, but it takes a little convincing from Mueller’s wife for him to go on and ensure Shepherd’s son gets proper burial. So, a road trip ensues, landing them first in Arlington where the body has not yet arrived, then in Maryland where they get informed that Shepherd’s son did not die in heroic circumstances but the government and military still feel to bury him as a military war hero. It’s here where Shepherd, up to this moment as quiet as a mouse, takes his own stance to bury his son not in Arlington, VA, but in his own New Hampshire town, and not in his military uniform, but his graduation suit.

The story from here on takes a couple of turns before it arrives to its final destination, first involving an Nealon’s and Shepherd’s attempt to DHL the casket back up North that a hilarious left turn, the official trip on an Amtrak train in which the men, accompanied by Private Washington (J Quinton Johnson, holding his own with the older men), a former friend of Shepherd’s son who’s been tasked with escorting their safe arrival, and a pit-stop in New York City in which the men, previously unaware of the advances of technology, buy themselves cellphones, a sequence that again demonstrates how in command Linklater is with the handling of comedic dialogue as a pause before the final dramatic act that starts with a short visit to the mother of another soldier (played by Cicely Tyson in an affectionate short 5 – 10 minutes of screen time) to the end of their journey.

Now, the performances by the three leads here are by far some of the best I’ve seen in their careers. Cranston, the actor who gradually turned his mild mannered, bespectacled chemistry teacher in Breaking Bad into a demonic force of nature, gets the lion’s share of scenes and dialog as Nealon, a man who’s still got an unquenchable fire inside and doesn’t give a shit what you think of him. Fishburne is right on point as the Rev. Richard Mueller, once known as a total motherfucker who now would rather live in peace and provides the movie with much grounding.

However, it’s Carell, the quiet, almost childlike character at the center of the story, that I want to talk about. Walking into this movie, erase everything you’ve seen him in — the loud comedies, the creepy guy in Foxcatcher. He’s gone. Carell, playing a man who was dealt with a lousy deck of cards, who’s lost everything, is so, so still and dignified in the face of suffering, that even a gesture as a smile lights his entire face up. I’m even going to go out on a limb to compare him to Chaplin in the final scene of City Lights,, but imagine him doing this during the entire film, his ego completely removed, letting the other two men be the perfect counterpoints. That, my friends, is acting.

Last Flag Flying opens in theatres November 3.