Tag Archives: art

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.

MAUDIE

MAUDIE
Ireland / Canada
Director: Aislinn Walsh
Runtime: 114 minutes
Language: English

If there was an award for the most subtle show of inner strength and passive aggressive behavior put to a positive use it would have to be Sally Hawkins’ portrayal of Maud Lewis, the Canadian folk artist who came to some level of prominence during her lifetime and now is regarded as a national treasure. Hawkins benefits from a peripheral physical resemblance to the artist, but it’s the way she carries out the character where she shines. If you don’t know of Lewis’ history it won’t matter — Hawkins makes it come alive for you to see and does so with a delicacy of flower revealing itself slowly but surely. At the start of the movie proper, the prospects aren’t good and the cards seem stacked against Maud (who was born arthritic and has limited mobility) — her brother has sold her childhood home, leaving her behind with her aunt Ida (Gabrielle Rose), a woman who seems to want even less to do with her than her brother.

By chance, Maud encounters an ad placed in a hardware store by Everett Lewis (Ethan Hawke), a fish peddler needing a full-time housekeeper to tend his house while he is away. More needing a place to stay than qualifications, Maud answers the ad, but Everett expresses an instant hostility towards her. However, her subtlety and meekness win Everett over who allows her to remain in the place as long as she keeps it minimally in order and has food at the ready. Maud complies, and also brings an added touch . . . her innate sense of art, which she begins to display in small, timid spots around the small house, but then in more visible areas. A neighbor who also buys fish from Everett notices her work, buys a painting for five dollars, and spreads the word. Soon, Maud has become a curiosity for passers-by, and her work grows in stature, while just as she’s getting a certain sense of comfort as Everett’s wife, she past comes calling to reveal some secrets.

Maudie is an  ode to anyone who’s been treated badly either by illness or life itself. Here you have a woman who by definition would have been a forgotten failure living off the scraps left behind by society, and who through sheer guts and willpower wove her fabric into the world and left her own brand of beauty. Hawkins and Hawke fully complement each other — her surrender is really the strength that tames the beast-like character that Hawke plays — and her growth kick starts his own transformation into a loving man (not with some moments where wills clash and one awful scene of violence to make anyone cringe). I couldn’t find a single element that was wrong or missing in Aislinn Walsh’s film, and I felt that even as it ended, I would have wanted to see just a bit more of this immensely creative woman. [A]

Maudie has been playing since June 5th in NYC and can be seen at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

CEZANNE AND I

CEZANNE ET MOI (CEZANNE AND I)
France
Director: Daniele Thompson
Runtime: 116 minutes
Language: French

Movie:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

It was only appropriate that the French do their own adaptation of the life of Emile Zola and instead of making Paul Cezanne, Zola’s life-long friend and brother from another mother, a supporting player, elevate him as well into the stature he rightfully deserves. Cezanne and I is a by the numbers biopic that focuses on the intense, often turbulent relationship between the two men.

Zola, borne in poverty, gets befriended by a young (and wealthy) Cezanne in the 1850s and the two become practically inseparable, soon hobnobbing with Impressionists in cafes, many who were doing much better than Cezanne, who continually would get rebuffed. Zola has no artistic aspirations — he can practically paint with words in a decidedly modern prose. As Cezanne languishes as a struggling artist barely able to make ends meet, Zola rises to become the great French writer that he is today acknowledged as.

One book, however, brought that solid friendship to a screeching halt,and it’s not hard to see why. When Zola published The Masterpiece, it depicted Cezanne in an unflattering light as a failed artist who eventually commits suicide. Cezanne took this none too lightly and severed all ties with Zola, later retreating into his own world where he produced some of the greatest masterpieces of early Modern Art.

As a movie, Cezanne and I is appropriately impressionistic and surface-level but somewhat austere at the same time. Because it has to cover so many periods in under two hours, we only get slivers of scenes, and while some do involve other artists and intellectuals of their time — Pissarro, Renoir, Guy de Maupassant, and Manet have small parts — and while both men fall for the same woman, Alexandrine (whom Zola would eventually marry), this is basically a two-character movie with both Guillaume Canet and Guillaume Galienne de la Comedie Francaise dominating every screen their in as Zola and Cezanne, respectively. This is a gorgeous production with an exacting attention to detail, mood, and lighting, and often itself looks like a lovely painting in motion. It’s will be a visual treat for art-buffs and Francophiles in general; others might not be as enthusiastic to go see.

Cezanne and I is currently playing at both the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

FRANCOFONIA

Francofonia:

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

 

Marianne, and Napoleon Bonaparte as ghosts wandering the Louvre in Sokurov's new film Francofonia.
Marianne, and Napoleon Bonaparte as ghosts wandering the Louvre in Sokurov’s new film Francofonia.

Walking into the Film Forum to see Aleksandr Sokurov’s newest docudrama, Francofonia, I was hoping to see something in the style or at least similar to his 2002 classic Russian Ark, a movie that in one incredible shot narrated the evolution of Russian culture through the ages while inside the Hermitage, itself a spaceship trapped in its own time out of time. Perhaps I needed to be aware that art directors tend to produce oeuvres of wildly different nature. Had that been the case I perhaps would have been more persuaded to enjoy Francofonia more.

With its introduction of Tolstoy and Chekov, Sokurov narrates Francofonia as a guide and an omniscient character. He is the cameraman slowly zooming in and out of Parisian streets, over the Louvre, inside the Louvre, showing us the Great Masterpieces of art, describing some of their history and how they and the Louvre are inexorably tied together into a massive artistic heritage. Flittering in and out of the frames are two figures, the symbolic Marianne from the liberation of France, her only line being “Liberte! Egalite! Fraternite!” while on the other hand, someone a little less selfless wanders the museum and points out only the works that feature him. That figure is none other than Napoleon, a ghost of his former self, still believing his greatness as something present, proclaiming, “C’est moi!” as a mantra.

Francofonia_5_-_Louis_Do_De_Lencquesaing__Benjamin_Utzerath-620x371

Two other narratives also come into play and tie into the greater picture that Francofonia attempts to present here — that of the preservation of art as a document of a culture (and there will be a subtle tie to the recent events in Syria, where its own works of art were destroyed by ISIS militants. The first narrative presents two men from two sides of World War II — Jean Jaujard and Fritz Mettenreich — who attempted to secure France’s artistic heritage before they could be forever pilfered by the Nazi’s as they threatened to advance into France. Lastly, there is Sokurov again, chatting with someone on Skype who seems to be with some cargo at sea in the middle of a storm. I’m going to make an educated guess that this is Sokurov’s symbolic way of narrating what would be the act of artistic theft and its consequences, but the sequence somehow feels as though it belongs in another picture and not this one. And of course, I would kill to see one made of both Jaujard and Mettenreich as they went through hoops to protect these timeless works of art.

In short, Francofonia is a strange documentary of sorts — not quite drama, not quite a recreation, not quite a history lesson, but rich with imagery if it still tends to feel somewhat flat around the edges. As a lesson on preserving culture from forces that would very much destroy it to finance their means, this is an important film to watch.