Week Two of the 58th New York Film Festival

The haunting In the Mood for Love, which received its 4K restoration for its 20th anniversary

Night of the Kings (La nuit des rois)

Image from the Harvard Crimson

He’s arrived to a prison for a crime we are not privy to, and even before he gets there, his fate is sealed. From inside, a behemoth of a man watches, waits, and plans to turn this boy into his successor whether he wants to or not. Philippe Lacoste’s movie takes place in MACA, an overcrowded prison in the Ivory Coast, where guards have no power and the system is run by the inmates. MACA’s leader, Black Beard (Steve Teintchieu), is sick — dying, actually — and wants to secure that his power continues since there are several inmates at the wait to their claim. When he spots Roman (the aforementioned boy, played by Bakery Koné), Black Beard has made his choice. Roman will extend Black Beard’s rule for a short while longer by telling them story after story in order to cause a distraction from the immediacy.

Philippe Lacote creates two distinct worlds with this film. One is the oppressive MACA facility which, already overrun with inmates, seems to be teetering on the edge of explosive violence. The other one comes from Roman’s stories. At first Roman, unfamiliar with his own role, fumbles and doesn’t quite know how to make his way around oral fiction, but as the night progresses, he becomes more confident, spinning tales of a war between a princess (Laetitia Kye) and her brother which mirrors the conflict at MACA and Roman’s own. online dissertation uom ib lab report levitra talking rock cialis tablete doziranje https://chanelmovingforward.com/stories/business-research-papers-pdf/51/ click here tomo viagra y no me funciona http://jeromechamber.com/event/compare-and-contrast-essay-renting-vs-buying-a-home/23/ plante in loc de viagra trilingualism in kazakhstan essay https://www.texaskidneycare.com/takecare/how-to-get-cialis-on-nhs/120/ click here purchase an essay online benadryl go to site follow essays on paper cialis online pharmacy evaluation essay def source site https://sugarpinedrivein.com/treatment/doxycycline-for-acne-dose/10/ mla style for essay how to write a research paper on childhood obesity task 1 essay ctet model question paper english pdf see follow cialis riverland go here https://chanelmovingforward.com/stories/academic-editing-site-uk/51/ viagra rockville akamaro ka viagra Night of the Kings is a thoroughly intricate story of adventure and politics that doesn’t exactly make any reference to actual events but manages to mirror that of countries under oppression searching for a savior. [B]

The Chess Game of the Wind

Image courtesy from The Guardian

Pity the poor family at the center of Mohammed Resa Aslani’s chamber drama about the class struggle between members of a wealthy family. Even if you didn’t know of the historical events framing The Chess Game of the Wind, you would understand what the power of greed does to corrupt a family from the inside out.

Following the death of the family matriarch (off-screen), the paraplegic daughter Ashdgas (Fakri Korvash) finds herself pitted against her stepfather, his sons, and her own fiancee to see who will stand to inherit the property. The only sympathetic person who Ashgdas has any support from comes under her own maid (a young Shorhesh Ashgladoo) with whom she has an intimate relationship with. Tensions reach an ugly high and Asgdhas is forced to commit an act of violence to preserve her own self and interests… but destiny has something else up its sleeve.

Resa Aslani’s movie seems to film everything under a constant sense of dread. The house, which is huge offers no sense of security for anyone under its roof. The camera films its scenes with tones of gold and brown reminiscent of The Garden of the Finzi-Continis but adding elements of deep shadows and discomfort. The only moments of levity occur every so often when the action moves outside to show washer-women commenting on the family’s corrupt past, but this only augments the tragedy that is to come. [A]

Isabella

Image from Cineuropa

It’s safe to say that Matias Piñeiro is not the most accessible of storytellers. His work, which often (always?) relies on the works of Shakespeare (to be exact, in the Shakespearean comedic heroines), doesn’t seem to really add much to what those female characters were all about unless I am missing something crucial hidden in plain sight in his narratives. I just find that his dramas seem devoid of real conflict and dilute any tension to the point that I wonder if perhaps maybe his version of conflict is something verging on the abstract, to be read on paper, like a transcript, or the art installation that figures prominently in his latest, Isabella. Isabella tells the story of an actress trying to get her life together who uses an audition for a Shakespearean play to get financial help from her brother. At the same time, she meets a friend, who it turns out, is also auditioning for the part. The meeting of these two women would indicate some type of tension but all they do is have conversations that really don’t add up to much more but suggest competitiveness and maybe, subtle hints of professional envy. It just doesn’t feel like a movie I would want to watch and the jumping back and forth in time, an arbitrary choice, reveals nothing spectacular. Perhaps it’s time to throw in the towel and move on to another, more interesting pool of inspiration, or make a movie that has no jumping-off point riddled with abstractions. [D]

Nomadland

If you were to call Fern homeless she’d immediately, with a wry smile, correct you and state she’s not homeless but “houseless”, and you’d believe her, because something in the deeply lived performance that Frances McDormand delivers conveys a message of living the moment, taking every chance, pause in between flight.

Chloe Zhao is truly a revelation and quite simply, the best thing this year’s festival has offered. Take a cue to develop narratives along with the book of the same name, Zhao and McDormand create something truly brilliant and poignant in Nomadland, a movie that delves into the topic of those who have been left behind to fend for themselves due to choice or circumstance and equally, those who have decided that possessions are a hamper to live a fully lived life in which the entire world was a home full of marvels to see, sense, experience, taste, and finally, leave behind to spin on its own.

A victim of the housing crash of 2008, Fern (McDormand) travels the country in her camper van she names Vanguard, working odd jobs here and there if there is a need for a person like her, and she is okay with it. In the interim, she befriends a group of people who for their own reasons also decided to leave it all behind and search. One of these turns out to be a potential romance for Fern (played quietly by David Strathairn), but Fern, whom McDormand inhabits as a woman unyielding to tragedy and to old age itself, is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. Simply perfect. [A+]

Days

If I were to describe Tsai Ming-Liang’s new movie Days, I would have to say that it is essentially an art installation comprised of stills that through its images tells a story of loneliness, alienation, and the need for human contact.

The two men in the movie, frequent collaborator Kang-sheng Lee and newcomer Anong Houngheunagsy are presented back to back as they move about in solitude, separate from each other. It gets revealed that Kang-sheng’s nameless character suffers from chronic back pain for which he goes to an acupuncturist. The scene, in which Kang-sheng sits in stoic silence, enduring what must be an excruciating session as his body tenses against the wires and steam emanating from them, is long and tortuous.

Equally long, and the crux of the movie is the sequence in which Kang-sheng and Anong, who we learn is a sexual masseuse, meet in a sterile hotel. The scene is the sole occasion in which both men wordlessly open up to each other and where Kang-sheng experiences the magic of human touch which in turn releases him from his pain which hints at his loneliness. And then, Days turns into something purely magical. Once the two men resort to a less sensual, more businesslike demeanor, Kang-sheng gifts Anong a music box. In a world in which these kinds of situations would start and end as mechanical as the needs propelling them, Ming-Liang takes this encounter and turns it into one of connection and sharing. Even when the men leave for a night on the town, the camera remains in the now dark room, lingering over the restrained moment of sexual release that continues to float, unacknowledged, in darkness.

For newcomers to Ming-Liang’s cinema Days may take a while to warm up to. This is not a director interested in the more familiar aspects of the narrative. His shots, minimalistic to a fault, express merely what is happening at a bare-bones level. An opening scene in which Kang-sheng sits in silence gazing out into his yard while the rain pours (and reflects onto his body) suggests a lifetime of living like a monk. Another, rather late in the film, where Anong sits by himself listening to this wonderful little gift he has received — such a payment for a moment’s service! — you can almost sense the excitement, the private joy, that he experiences in such a moment. Ming-Liang’s movie Days is like that –a living still life, in which the essence of a scene is delicately played out on screen, delivering its filtered emotion through the wordlessly visual. [B]

The Human Voice

Here we have a miniature by Spain’s Almodovar, a director who has devoted his entire body of work to the female psyche, light or dark, fragile or steely. In his Human Voice, all the elements of his previous work find themselves reduced to their bare essentials: female desire, the horror of abandonment, the abuse they have received, the tragedy of a love that has died, the ultimate need to perform an act of exorcism in order to move on. Who better would embody these characteristics for his English-language debut than Tilda Swinton, an actress severely underused in a starring role, who often gets the smaller part where gives her no other option than to steal the picture by proxy alone.

For Almodovar’s third incursion into Jean Cocteau’s The Human Voice, he focuses solely on the play itself. [Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown begins in almost the same manner but from the moment the call ends, the story becomes a wild farce with a spectacular ending.] From the moment the Bernard Hermanesque score opens and we see a rain of tools over a background of sea-green that then segues into two shots of Tilda, dressed in fire engine red and ashy black, we have entered the unleashed emotions that Almodovar loves to navigate through, Buckle up.

The Woman receives the foreboding call from her narcissistic boyfriend who’s been breadcrumbing her, holding her hostage emotionally and physically for four years. He will not be making an appearance to collect his items and his dog (who also has noticed his absence).

This final act of cowardice sends the Woman right over the edge. During her conversations she will resort to a dramatic attempt at self-destruction, every note of exaggerated emotion not devoid of manipulation, and fire, all in the name of both getting her unattainable man to pay attention to her or else. Tilda’s Woman is a primal scream that she carries along from the moment her character steps onto the stage to when she abandons it with her ex-lover’s masterless dog, a woman dressed in tones of equal parts mourning and healing.

The Human Voice is, for anyone still not yet familiar with Almodovar, a way to get a glimpse of his universe, his women, and their complicated desires. [A-]

In the Mood for Love

“Feelings can creep up like that. I thought I was in control.” This is the line that can basically summarize the subtle events that transpire during a short stay within cramped quarters in a Hong Kong apartment.

The time is 1963, a time when Hong Kong society was much more conservative. A man and a woman (Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung), both married to other people, move in next door to each other, and other than making diurnal polite exchanges, neither of them would have any need to meet. Due to the fact that their spouses are almost always absent on business trips, this leaves them by themselves. A pattern of loneliness starts to emerge within the two, a thing that leads them to venture out to eat alone, sometimes passing each other by without acknowledgment, and on other occasions, a slight, polite but strained hello.

It soon becomes apparent that both of them are victims of infidelity, and the movie is extremely clever in the way it drops clues. Eventually, their paths intersect, and this begins a tentative, restrained approach to a friendship that starts to take shape between both Mrs, Chan and Mr. Chow. From here on, In the Mood for Love starts developing an intoxicating scent that like the Nat King Cole song that continually teases in the background, threatens to push the both of them to the moment we, the audience, are waiting for.

Any director might have taken a less impressive turn, or might have even delved into slight overtones of predictable romance. Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love takes a different road while sticking to the “will they won’t they” formula. It is all about anticipation and voyeurism draped in gorgeous, pregnant sensuality aching for release. His camera moves stealthily, sometimes from a distance, or behind lush curtains, maintaining a sense of the clandestine that could still be uncovered at any time. A sense of fragile privacy is always present, keeping them together within the frame, longing, and yearning. It is a potent approach because we as an audience are already hoping for someone to crack the ice.

When I saw In the Mood for Love 20 years ago I was not ready for this level of eroticism playing out where the actors never once show more skin than what is already visible. Kar-wai lets us into a world of narcotic but safe greens in the first part and then lets red explode over as if dressing both his characters with the feelings they themselves cannot confess. And then there is Maggie Cheung’s doll-like face, luminous like no one ever, her eyes speaking volumes even when her posture remains poised. She is the perfect foil to Tony Leung’s restrained yet smoldering desire that hints at intensity (and will color his stories which he writes in room 2046, a hotel room that will become the basis of the sequel).

In the Mood for Love boasts some of the most pristine restorations I have seen and it shows: a copy of the movie that came out 20 years ago is still sharp, but the 4K restoration must be seen, sensed, experienced. If there ever was a movie that I would call essential for anyone venturing into film, it would be this one.

A 2016 restoration is available on Criterion Channel for subscribers. [A+]

Week One of the 58th New York Film Festival

Image from IONCinema

Malmkrog

It never disappoints: one movie will somehow not make it through translation and will probably be seen as a director’s incursion into creating work only meant for a few instead of a larger audience. Cristi Puiu’s latest movie Malmkrog, which made its debut at the very beginning of the 58th New York Film Festival, is that movie. A 200-minute conversation, Malmkrog takes place mainly indoors and with the confines of an elegant manor house for which the movie is titled. In that manor, five upper crust individuals drag their thoughts and opinions on everything from Christianity’s stance on war to the Antichrist, all in the favor of some intellectual exercise. In this conversation, we see subtle animosities flare up, talkers attempting to one-up the other in order to dominate the table, and the possibility that the tea prepared for them might have been poisoned by an unknown servant. Progressively, as one conversation segues into another, and yet another, we do start to observe a pattern emerging. One of the women (there are three), Olga (Marina Palii), who comes across as the least intellectual of them all, tends to get prodded by her guests. Even her husband Nikolai (Frederic Schulz-Richard) at the movie’s climactic moment actively squares off with Olga, almost as if attempting to silence her simple rationale. What I was able to surmise is that in every party there is always a need to perform, to show one’s position on a topic, and that no matter how refined we may be as individuals, that need to demonstrate cultural superiority becomes unleashed at the face of a modest stance. Olga, in that respect, becomes a form of Saint Sebastian, or for the less religious, the Tess in Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. The verbal stoning she essentially buries her until she is barely in the background, merely accepting her fate and position amongst these pseudointellectuals. Still, Malmkrog will only be for strict admirers of Puiu’s work, or those familiar with the original source material… not anyone else. [C]

Fauna

Nicolas Pereda is a newcomer to me, and like most newcomers, to the art-house scene, his work announces a director who is willing to play with the very concept of narrative and what is real as opposed to what is performed. It’s an extremely short piece (although not by much; Hong Sang-too often makes 60-minute movies) but even in its brief running time, it manages to deliver some interesting scenes. Spit into two, Fauna concerns Luisa and Paco (Luisa Prado and Francisco Barreiro) en route to see her parents.

Not much happens along the way. Once there, Luisa has a conversation with her mother about a part she is rehearsing, leading to both women acting out the part in different, yet poignant ways. Paco gets invited by Luisa’s deadbeat brother Gabinio (Gabino Rodriguez) to Luisa’s father’s bar. Once there they ask Paco to reenact a scene from Narcos, a series where Paco plays out a small part. As it happens with people coming into contact with celebrities, they then ask him to pull out a part from thin air and act around it. It’s that scene that ends the sequence with a slight but plausible punchline.

The second part sees Gabino coming into the forefront the following day. He’s been reading a book, and his narration of that book builds the fantasy section of Fauna in which he, Luisa, and Paco play out the roles assigned to them in the book. Fauna, if it ever gets released in the US, might find its way into a small niche of arthouse movie lovers who upon giving Pereda’s movie a view will want to dissect it down to details. I personally see Fauna as an exercise in performance and role-play that somehow gets connected by a barely-there plot and a slight hint of sadness. [B]

Time

It’s not an ovrerreaching statement that prison has become a modern conceptualization of slavery and does not and will not ever benefit African Americans, Garrett Bradley’s documentary focuses on Sibyl Fox Richardson, a Louisiana native who, back when she started a hih-hop clothing line with her husband Rob, made the unfortunate mistake of staging a robbery in order to support her business. The reason is never revealed, but we get the idea that the Richardsons were struggling and just didn’t know another way out. Keep in mind that this is not a country made for the struggling poor, especially those of color or a “non-White ethnicity.”

While she Sibyl took the plea, Rob did not and was sentenced to a 60-year term. During that time we meet Sibyl, who now goes by Fox Rich (as a form of honoring Rob) we get to meet her as she raises her six children and slowly rebuilds her life back together, always waiting for that day that Rob would be let out. She is allotted two visits a month, which takes a toll on her and her growing sons. Through it all, it is her strength and her faith not in the system but in her own will that keep Fox on her feet, and Bradley’s film, beat by beat, starts to reveal that what’s needed here is social justice.

Time is available on Amazon Prime and is a must-see. [A-]

Smooth Talk

If there ever was an analogy to a snake coming into the garden (and mind you, I don’t read or care for the Bible), Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk, based on the Joyce Carol Oates short story “Where Are you Going, Where Have You Been?” is it. It tells the story of Connie (Laura Dern), a bored, privileged, and maybe mean girl living out her days in Small Town, California. Her interests are as simple as they are pedestrian: boys, and looking pretty. Her home life is a bit more problematic as she has a rather contentious relationship with her mother (Mary Kay Place) who constantly berates Connie. In a nutshell, Connie is anxious to grow up, and her mother would rather she not (and take care of their house).

Connie will get a chance at getting her first glimpse at the real world when a stranger, Arnold Friend (Treat Williams) crosses her path. His entrance in the film comes rather late although he can be seen at the fringes of the story early on, simply observing her. When he finally arrives, he oozes a menacing sexuality that is so pregnant with the personality of a psychopath that Smooth Talk morphs into something more Gothic — closer to David Lynch’s sensibilities as a matter of fact. Arnold’s dance of anti-seduction with Connie is as tense as anything I’ve ever seen and continues for a full half an hour before it fades into the distance with Connie in tow. I can see why both writer and director chose to leave it this way; when you see Williams and Dern, both about thirty feet apart with him at the door in a suggestive pose, you realize what will have to occur so Connie can wake up. It is a devastating reality only hinted at but never shown; however, that scene alone is enough. This is a deceptive little movie that will linger on with its bad aftertaste for days, but it is worth a view for its presentation and both Dern and Williams.

Smooth Talk will come back to virtual cinemas in November, 2020. [B+]

El tango del viudo y su espejo deformante (The Tango of the Widower and its Distorting Mirror)

Valeria Sarmiento’s restoration of her husband Raul Ruiz’s experimental movie The Tango of the Widower and its Distorting Mirror is one of the strangest films I have seen this festival. The backstory of this movie goes back to when it was completed as a short in 1967 but left without a soundtrack. An exhausting procedure of voice restoration that led to the transcription of the actors’ lines then led to the hiring of voice-over actors to play the parts out. Even then, Sarmiento was left with too short a movie. However, due to having been aware that Ruiz had often wanted to make a film in reverse in order to play with the fabric of time, she made the decision to, at the film’s exact center, unspool it shot by shot, adding snippets of voice over to the existing sound, and the result is this: a movie about a haunting that doubles in on itself and reflects its haunting back to the haunted person. Much like Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, we first encounter Clemente Iriarte, the widower in question, tormented by his spectral dead wife who seems to believe she is still alive and very much in his personal space. Her haunting reaches a fever pitch until Clemente commits an act of violence against himself… from which a second Clemente emerges, one who knows the ending, but has now come with the omniscient power of self-erase it. One could easily state that the wife who emerges from the mirror could be embodied by the ghost-Clemente, but the film doesn’t give you any concise answers. The Tango of the Widower, thus, remains an interesting, intriguing incursion into surrealism in which whatever was on the other side of the looking glass was always observing the observer, and that ghost could be death itself. [B-]

MLK/FBI

Prepare to be outraged. Sam Pollard’s blistering documentary MLK/FBI paints a vivid snapshot of where we were as a nation when Martin Luther King was then considered the nation’s prime enemy, one that the FBI, headed by then J. Edgar Hoover needed to be destroyed by any means necessary.

From the Freedom of Information Act we can now get a clearer glimpse at the tactics the FBI as an agency held up to a higher standard got involved in. [Of course, they as a whole practically had a file on anyone and everyone deemed an enemy or a Communist, and Dr. King is not the only victim here but he is one of the most salient.] From Dr. King’s association with Stanley Levinson, a known Communist, Hoover’s focus on King progresses into truly frightening and frankly, disturbing territories.

Perhaps because Hoover, born and raised in the South, had never experienced a Black man who was this verbose and eloquent, and it certainly didn’t matter that King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1963. It speaks glaringly at the attitude of the times in which Blacks had still no rights other than to barely exist, so King as an icon of peace now became an icon of anarchy for the White majority who feared a revolution. This attitude was just the type of environment that Hoover and Wiliam Sullivan needed to exploit in order to disclose anything that could besmirch (assassinate) Dr. King’s character and reputation, and the lows that they stooped to will make anyone’s book boil.

Pollard’s documentary wisely treads some familiar terrain in keeping an objective point of view. It would be problematic to present Dr. King as a saint. Instead Pollard also dives into the ugly rape allegations that Dr. King participated in, but of course also adds that the agents conducting surveillance and listening in to Dr. King living his pwn life came with massive biases against blacks (a bias that still exists even today if you just turn on the news).

Suggestions are made by retired agent Charles Knox, who turns in late in the documentary, that nothing good would come of having access to these files, set to be released in seven years. I disagree: we are owed an explanation of what exactly a prestigious agency was up to. For a nation to heal it must look at its wound. To deny the infliction of such a wound — which incidentally, continued to be inflicted upon Coretta Scott King even after King’s murder in 1967, is to give in to the perpetuation of a culture that continues to glorify a police state that does nothing to protect its own and needlessly diminish those not deemed “white enough” (and by that I also include all other non-Anglo races, LGBTQ people, etc.). [A]

Damnation

Bela Tarr’s Damnation should have been a noir film. The movie’s esthetics, so drenched in noir sensibilities, practically demands it. Picture this: a man lives in the middle of nowhere. His view is of buckets of coal being pulled alongside a cable, the sound they make is purely industrial. This man, hopelessly in love with a woman that does not love him although she says she does. This man is so enamored by this woman that, when offered a smuggling job in which there is money, he would rather give that opportunity to the woman’s husband in order to get him out of the way. The woman, only because there is a promise of money (and a way out of this overwhelming desolation), offers to give the man a little bit of sex. The sex, mind you, is passionless. When the husband returns with cash in hand, things go back to where they were, and the man, now alone, realizes he’s been used in the worst imaginable way. Something has to give.

If Damnation were to get the Hollywood treatment it could possibly be something straight out of Jacques Tourneur or James Cain, with gritty femme fatales betraying the poor schmoes drawn to them. Damnation, however, goes well past the narrative limitations of noir and sends Tarr’s antihero Karrer (Miklós Székely) straight into the bowels of insanity. It is a powerful glimpse into a life wasted by alcohol and despair and the lack of love, magnified by the constant presence of rain and gloom that grabs onto the narrative and never lets anyone breathe. [A]

Opening Night at the 58th New York Film Festival, Lovers Rock

Image courtesy from Guardian

I’m not big on serials in film festivals (and almost avoided this one altogether), but this one warranted a view simply for its concept alone (and I will catch it again once it premieres on Amazon Prime). Steve McQueen’s Lovers Rock is the second in a series of five episodes that form part of a limited series called Small Axe. In his series McQueen tells the Black experience in England — namely, London — during the late 60s to the early 80s, and while that to me is an excellent concept — it isn’t exactly a secret that England (well, Europe in general as well as the rest of the world not including Africa) has harbored a rather hushed version of racism towards African immigrants who have throughout the years come in search of a better life away from the limitations their native countries offered.

The episode is almost entirely silent except for snippets of conversation. The location is a townhome. People go in and out prepping for a house party, the kind that involved loads of turntables, deejays announcing the next hit and dedicating it to the revelers, and lots of cooking. It is, in fact, a wonderful opening, to see so much glow and music floating through the women who try their best to replicate Janet Kay’s Silly Games in unison. In the interim, we meet several unnamed women as they choose what dresses to wear and style each other’s hair. Progressively we get focused on Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) and her friend as they get ready for a night out, make small talk and arrive at the house party.

McQueen brings out all the hits from the late 70s which would still have been largely played in these outings, and while the start of the party is largely disco-oriented, we start to see reggae of the time, particularly the lovers rock sub-genre, creeping in. Couples start forming, signaling the beginnings of romance, and the possibilities of sexual encounters that may take place after. Martha gets the lion share of attention, approached as she is by a smooth talker whom she wards off in favor of the less ostentatious Franklyn (Micheal Ward) with whom she strikes up a connection while the party goers revel to the thrumming beat of slow reggae, culminating in a wonderful choreographed moment in which Janet Kay’s Silly Games officially arrives, throwing the entire party into a state of bliss,

McQueen seems to eschew any traditional narrative — complete with dialog and exposition, entrances, exits, and cuts — to instead become a passive viewer of a gathering in a safe space where only those privy of it were allowed to go to. It is worthy to note that white faces are barely if ever, seen, and always bring with them a sense of latent racism and even danger hardly alluded to. This is in essence the running theme of Small Axe, shot neatly and without active conflict or resolution, but a simple observation. To wit: a trio of Anglo boys early in the episode check out the movers who are prepping for the event, unacknowledged. Later on, the same boys will cat-call Martha as she runs after the female friend she arrived at the party in and one even makes monkey-like sounds.

That in a nutshell is the most Lovers Rock delves into racial tensions, a short slice of life that brings its own set of internal conflicts within its partygoers. I only wish that McQueen had included subtitles in his episode because even though it is English, the accents are very thick, and I had a hard time making out what was being said. Hopefully, they will be included once Small Axe makes its bow on streaming platforms in November.

Claire Denis presents humanity at the edge in her elegant sci-fi movie HIGH LIFE

HIGH LIFE, France. Director: Claire Denis. Starring: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth. Language, English. Runtime, 113 minutes. A NYFF premiere. Released April 5, 2019. Home release date: June 11, 2019Rating A+

The irony of the title — a constant in Claire Denis’ body of work — refers to something luxurious, grandiose, epicurean. Life is grand and expansive. In her most ambitious work to date, which premiered at the 56th New York Film Festival to great acclaim, humanity, and life itself has been reduced to a perversion of itself. It is as artificial as the garden that Andre Benjamin’s thoughtful Tscherny tends to and which an innocent baby, itself a creation of an act of horror and abuse, plays in, as hopeless as the mission that is in store for the crew, and as heartless as the scientist Juliette Binoche plays.

Claire Denis entry into the sci-fi genre makes her one of the few directors whose work defies a style. Her 2016 film — a slight misstep that perhaps demands a second view — Let the Sunshine In was a very warm, French comedy that told the story of an older woman trying to find love but not finding herself. The noir-ish Bastards (2013) portrays a family, and innocence, torn apart by pure decadence.  White Material (2009) tackled the atrocities of European colonialism in Africa and its aftermath of chaos. Beau Travail (1999), the movie that put Denis on the international map, could be called the queerest war drama made. 

It’s the latter that I kept thinking about while viewing Denis’ High Life, at Music Box in Chicago. The references, while indirect, but like pentimento, came through the narrative. Under the guise of sci-fi, Denis paints a picture that is as cold as it is brutal: humans at the end of time and existence, hurtle towards the unknown, and even then still engage in the monstrous, perhaps sensing that they have no escape to their situation. They are convicts who have been promised a clever ruse, or given the ultimate punishment, a fate worse than death by execution: go into space, harvest the energy from a black hole, and bring back to Earth.

From the start it’s clear this is a doomed mission. Something awful has happened. There’s no mystery. Almost echoing Ridley’s Scott Alien, or John Carpenter’s The Thing, we know this cannot bode well for anyone. Monte, a young astronaut (Robert Pattinson, the ships moral center), goes about his business disposing the bodies of dead inmates while a baby wails. It’s a shocking beginning that demands attention, and Pattinson is here to provide a clarification through his voice over as to how we got here, in media res, and see if there is any possile solution even now in the depths of space.  

It seems, under the control of a scientist (Juliette Binoche, in a role that could be her darkest yet), herself an ex convict, the hapless crew gets subjected to tests against their will. Motherless for reasons that she herself will disclose, she now seems determined to play Mother Earth and create new life, an ambition that overrides the original. Like a malevolent ghost, Binoche stalks the halls and rooms of the spaceship like a jail matron, her white clothes betraying her bottomless, sick depravity. It is this depravity that dominates the entire film with iron brutality of a chokehold. Indeed, it leads to one unbelievable scene after another (one involving a special room, and a queasy scene involving two of the ship’s occupants) which I will not disclose here. What she does to herself, and to the entire crew, veers into Croneberg territory, circa Dead Ringers.

This is not your typical sci-fi movie. High Life will demand at least a second view, not because it’s hard to understand, but because it’s that haunting in its sheer willingness to flaunt its sustained repugnance onto the viewer’s eyes. There were times when I wondered if such brutality was even necessary, but in a story about living in an environment that fosters sheer survival over affection and connection, it seems only appropriate. I highly recommend this movie not just because of its sci-fi presentation but because of its talbeau of ourselves and the unspeakale things we do to each other as a whole. This is by far, Denis’ most accomplished work to date.

 

Bi Gan’s LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT is an exercise on style over substance

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, China. Director: Bi Gan. Starring: Jue Huang, Wei Tang, Sylvia Chang. Language, Mandarin Chinese. Runtime, 138 minutes. A NYFF premiere. Released April 12, 2019. With subtitles. Rating C+

To be honest, I’m not sure how I can start to review a film that has been mostly universally acclaimed without chuckling a bit. It seems that cinephiles are so avid to find “a new voice in cinema” and “a new auteur” that the moment a movie such as this jumps into scene, whether it works or not, it will get showered with so much praise one may wonder if this film will be the second coming of Christ and obliterate all other cinematic creations, excellent, good, and even so bad they’re good.

I’m going to be blunt. I really had high hopes for this film and the many people who know me were probably sick and tired of seeing me yammer about “the famous 55 minute take, done in one shot and 3-D” that frames the movie’s second half. It seems wherever you turned, from the Film Society of Lincoln Center to even casual YouTube bloggers, praise was absolutely unanimous, followed by the almost explicit command that “one must go see this film; this is a completely new form of visual storytelling that elevates the movie-going experience into the stratosphere.” So, okay, I got it. Bi Gan’s follow up to his 2013 movie Kaili Blues is a must-see, and to avoid, or dismiss — how could I? Aren’t I a cinephile? — would be tantamount of slicing my own nose to spite my face.

Reader, I’m going to have to admit, while the movie looks and feels like a work of art — truth be told, it does boast some outstanding cinematography and art direction, and the famous second part seems to have been done in a carefully constructed set in order to accomodate that level of choreography in which the action flows from one moment to the next. There are colors upon colors, the dominant tone being blues and reds often filmed side by side and bleeding into the other, forming a tension of cold-hot that would be perfect in this type of noir film. Almost immediately I caught references to Wong Kar-wai’s langorous, doomed romances In the Mood for Love and 2046, and also Tsai Ming Liang’s 2012 film Stray Dogs, a film that also boasted extended shots of actors in complete stillness to almost nerve-wracking effect. 

The crucial difference between In the Mood for Love and Bi Gan’s Long day’s Journey is rather simple: in the former, you truly felt a connection to these doomed lovers who happened to meet at the wrong place and time and who had no future together. Every second they are filmed is pregnant with romantic tension, with a barely contained eroticism just seconds away from bursting out of the shadows and onto the frame. These were also, clearly delineated characters with enough story that we could identify with their actions. I just didn’t feel the same with Bi Gan’s movie. And keep in mind, Bi Gan has spoken about his connection to the films of Billy Wilder, to name one American director, and I can’t but seek for some connection with the title of this film and the American play (there is none).

I’m not attempting to say that when you speak of a certain type of cinema or specific directors that you should emulate what they do. Look at Brian de Palma, a Hitchcock imitator who makes movies that also revolve around elaborate set pieces to induce suspense and tension, but whose stories, penned by him, are little more than terrible. He’s a true anomaly of someone who could produce a solid two hours of pure cinema that held itself upright on uneven ground. Bi Gan, on the other hand, lets his own story follow its own arc, keeps you somewhat in the obscure, and hopes you can feel whatever it is that his two leads are going through. I, for one, could not. His male lead, Luo Hongwu (Jue Huang), may look gritty, weary, and wear the anti-hero sleeve well, but his motives of seeking the elusive woman, played by Wei Tang (completely miscast in a role that S Korean actress Ming-hee Kim would have inhabited effortlessly, and more memorably), remain murky. Memory drives the plot, and memory gets twisted, and that is fine, but in a noir, memory alone is not enough to justify a story that refuses to decide when it wants to start, and when it wants to end. We are shown snippets of information of Luo’s childhood friend Wildcat (a name clipped straight out of a late-50s crime drama), who has been killed, off-screen. This gets followed by the death of Luo’s father and Luo finding an aged picture of a strange woman. So far, it is interesting, because we then see in flashbacks Luo’s relationship with an enigmatic woman in green, Wan Qiwen (Tang). It starts rocky, but progresses into romance, and then her own disappearance later on, which sparks his interest in finding her to an obsessive degree.

So far, that’s convincing for me — many noirs have been based on this simple premise of a man looking for an unattainable/unreliable woman. Sight and Sound’s greatest movie ever, Hitchcock’s Vertigo, is all about the woman, first seen as an ice cold dream, then shown as a an earthy girl-next-door, and the antihero’s eventual discovery of a ruse not of her own making which however did little to absolve her of guilt by participation. Long Day’s Journey into Night also features Wei Tang in a dual role — one, where she’s somewhat distant; the other, a more carnal, street-wise, world-weary version of herself. Again, so far, so good. It’s just that Tang comes off as miscast and is directed to play her part with so much stiffness one wonders what it is that Luo sees in her. She conveys no mystery. Maggie Cheung was all about allure in her character Su Li Zhen. I just couldn’t see it here.

Also, let’s go to to the fact that this is a neo-noir, and it involves the underbelly of society. We do get to see this, but we also see a gun. I’m of the belief that once we see a gun we realize that at one point it must be used, for better or worse. A scene involving a thug torturing Luo goes nowhere, but gives said thug ample time to (badly) perform karaoke. Nowhere does the antihero seem to be sinking into his own obsession, or if he is, it just doesn’t come through.

And then we have the famous second half, which starts in a movie theater that displays the title of the film, where you are advised to put on your 3-D glasses and sit back. I know that somewhere there is a reason for this, but to me, it seems superflous. Reader, it basically yanked me out of the story proper. If I was somehow enjoying the first half — as imperfect and obtuse as it was — the second never bothers to give a proper closure, while looking mesmerizing. True, there are some incredible feats of gravity in which our antihero seems to move deeper and deeper into Hell, but it feels empty.

In essence, can I recommend this film? This will be a film for those who love obscure stories that go into darker regions of narration and throw logic out the window. Patience is absolutely required to watch Bi Gan’s film. If you don’t you will walk out and not bother to look back. If you do sit down, do so with an open mind, and let its imagery take you. In that respect, yes, Long Day’s Journey into Night is a sumptuous, brilliant exercise in trippy visuals. It’s just one that offers no real characters, not much substance, and even less logic.

HOTEL BY THE RIVER, an intimate story of healing, and regret

Hotel by the River

HOTEL BY THR RIVER, South Korea. Director: Sang-soo, Hong. Starring: Ki Joobong, Kim Minhee, Song Seonmi, Kwon Haehyo, Yu Junsang. Language, Korean. Runtime, 98 minutes. A NYFF premiere. Release date: February 15, 2019. Rating: A—

One of the reasons I have a penchant for these talky, moody pictures in which most if not all the action is confined into a limited space — kitchen sink dramas, as they are commonly refered to — is that usually we start at the crux or even at the tail end of some pending matter, and in the fashion of a game of chess, we see cards placed, one by one, on the table, slowly revealing a story, gradually peeling away layers of gauze until we reach the center. We don’t necessarily have to reach a pat conclusion, but always, there is some form of closure at least for one of the characters involved.

Love lost, poetry, cinema, bad choices, and fractured families collide quietly in this intimate movie — the latest of two new releases by prolific S Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo, the most recent being Grass, also currently playing in select arthouse cinemas across the country, both 2018 New York Film Festival favorites. Two stories that on regular circumstances would not intersect (except perhaps, in a contrived romantic comedy, which this one, despite moments of humor, is not) coexist side by side in a distant, unnamed hotel during a chilly, snowy winter. The first, and the one which unifies the entire oeuvre, is that of the poet Ko Younghwan (Ki Joobong) who has taken refuge in this hotel for reasons only hinted throughout (although those remain somewhat obscured and only known to the character as he meanders through the hotel’s grounds). He has summoned his two sons, the younger whom is a well-known but “artsy” director, the older, a man who, while never clearly stating it, somewhat resents his younger brother’s success as he has only marriage to prove his worth.

While the brothers make their way to meet up with their father, Younghwan stumbles upon two women, Sanghee (Sang-soo muse Kim Min-hee, luminous and fragile as ever), whom at the start of the movie he spots standing outside in the snow, and her friend. Sanghee opens the film literally showing us a wound in her hand as she wraps it up in gauze and summons her friend over. Both have shared pain that points at a relationship that ended rather badly between Sanghee and the man she was seeing, and echoes of Sang-soo’s previous features Claire’s Camera and On the Beach at Night Alone creep in to glean just enough information to explain what might be the matter with Sanghee.

Younghwan is clearly taken with the women’s beauty, and before meeting his sons, a sequence which seems to take forever, he exchanges some awkward banter with the women, whom he regards as angels (while failing to acknowledge Sanghee’s wound). In the interim, the brothers arrive, express their irritation towards their father (who they keep missing), and exchange barbs where the older brother points out his younger brother’s perceived weaknesses. When the brothers finally meet with their father, the table literally gets set to unfold the other, more psychologically damaging wound that has been barely mentioned (as much as Sanghee’s was prominently shown at the start). Younghwan seems to want to make some amends with his sons and meditates on his own impending death, an observation that while being somewhat bleak and morbid never get too dark.

Throughout the film, Sang-soo never becomes too intrusive into the narration, often choosing to remain as an invisible spectator who just happens to be on scene when the five characters converge. The use of black and white not only mutes the story’s emotional center down to internalized reflections and barely felt notations, but it also gives the film a chilly feel that gives the story its somewhat somber note somewhat reminiscent of Woody Allen’s films from the late-80s, particularly September and Another Woman. I personally think it’s fascinating that someone as Sang-soo can use so much material from a failed relationship and even poke fun at his own persona through not one but two characters to tell a story about fleeting connections with the idealized and painful reconnections with old wounds. It’s a little mood piece, one of many that Sang-soo has managed to turn out in near-record time, one that doesn’t pull all its characters together in a cohesive whole, but leave matters as they are. However, for Sang-soo, that in itself is enough.

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

BPM (120 BATTEMENTS PAR 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: 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.