Anomalisa is the pet name Michael Stone, a traveling lecturer (voiced by David Thewlis) gives a woman named Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) after a brief sexual encounter that he initiates. He calls her this after she calls herself an anomaly, as well as many misanthropic, belittling things. She is uncomfortable in calling herself an anomaly, but only sometimes. She reads the dictionary when she reads books with large vocabularies, thinks her friends are prettier than her, and doesn’t ever believe anyone will love her. Michael, on the other hand, has spent the night trying to find any woman he can to satisfy his sexual sadness.

This is past the halfway point of Charlie Kaufman’s latest film about a solipsistic male with literary success passing through life without appreciation. It is also the first time I’ve realized what a paltry writer this most critically lauded man is. In the form of an animated film, however, the purpose of his work becomes more scant and it is clear that he most successfully communicates in quirks. When you hear two characters speaking candidly, you’ll see that it’s always one who is more vulnerable and the other who is incapable of empathy. It is as if he is always writing in front of a mirror.

Much of the wry humor from this film comes in the form of dejected people moving through life in the same patterns they always have. A cab driver will recommend the city’s zoo time and time again; the bag boy at the hotel will be as mechanic as they all are, but because he is a stop motion figure, it’s refreshingly funny. These are little moments that work, but only because of the implemented gimmick. If this were a film starring David Thewlis, it would nonetheless be acclaimed, but I personally take less from an animated film expressing existential ideas, unless the atmosphere or scope is equally mature (When The Wind Blows), but here, the animation is precisely monotonous to a fault – it would have worked better in the hands of Spike Jonze.

I could write more about this movie, but I honestly hated it. This is from a fan of all of Charlie Kaufman’s past work, but now, I’m starting to wonder if any representation of women in his movies make any sense. Upon reflection, they are loose caricatures meant for their male counterpart to deal with – and most of the time, they lack the depth of intelligence. Even in Adaptation., Susan, the author Meryl Streep plays, is an aloof mind hopped up on drugs compared to even the more asinine Kaufman persona. Just take these things into consideration when characters are speaking and you think the writing is so honest and true because honestly, I believe that this writer only knows how to examine himself and depreciate others in his own self-depreciation.

The conversation when Jennifer Jason Leigh’s voice turns into a Tom Noonan is most telling. You don’t like people? You don’t like yourself? Fine. But explain that more than having the words she’s saying “Oh we can go to the zoo” seem like the worst piece of shit he’s ever heard. It isn’t. If he really wanted any joy in life, he might have thought that was okay, but if he can’t appreciate anything, then why did this movie exist? Why did Lisa feel any happiness despite knowing the worthlessness of their encounter? That makes no fucking sense, Charlie. From me to you.

12 Years a Slave.


“You’re a slave!” is yelled at Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) in the early stages of the film while he has his back intermittently beaten on with force by some unknown Southern captive in the nation’s capital. He is chained to the floor.

The film opens in Saratoga, New York, 1841, where Solomon was and has always been a free man. He has a wife and family, though he does not seem absolutely close with his children it is clear he is just like all of us. In fact, he might have married into the family.
As with Shame, Steve McQueen opens on a dizzying montage that, at once, feels like an introduction to the film, but later is realized as a middle part of the story, the narrative later told. Sleeping on the floor in a room of a dozen or two, he is next to a woman he doesn’t know. This stranger presses up against him, grabs his hand and longs for some true loving feeling; perhaps she will never see any person she has loved again. Solomon allows her to use him to fulfill her desire, but when it is done she turns away and sobs while he turns over and looks evermore astonished. He is silent. Before she touched him, his face was full of unhappy thought and unrest. 

The conditions of slavery are equivocal to being a horse brought up on a barn. It is hell. These men and women work are considered someone else’s property and are beaten for not performing up to whatever standard their owner wants them to and sometimes just to break them into being who they want them to be – their perfect labor. Some slavers simply want extra hands around to maintain what they have – some of them are just lost souls looking for a way to make it work in the South, perhaps to compete with other men who do have such “free” labor. In any case, it is wrong and while Solomon knows that in his heart, there is nothing he can do about it. The same applies for the first man who buys him, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), who is a preaching kind of man who views the black people he procures less as property and more as a fellow working being. That is what makes it absolutely heartbreaking when Solomon does good by him — in a way that will generate more productivity on his land — and his reward is a violin, followed by Ford’s happy supposition, “I hope this will bring both of us much happiness in years to come”.

The expressions Chiwetel Ejiofor brings to the forefront of the film are palpable beyond comprehension. It may be easy to assume you know what a character is feeling at any given moment, especially if they are trapped into slavery, but his eyes always carry with them an observation of the time that reaches far beyond any indignation or suffering. When he arrives with Mitsy (Adepero Oduye) after she has her children taken away from her and sold, William Ford’s wife says “My poor child… have some food and rest, soon your children will be forgotten”. He is wearing a sunhat as he passes by this dialogue and his face speaks a thousand words more than “You have no idea what kind of pain this is” or “Wow, you ignorant woman.” In this moment, I believe he also fears for his own future and why the ending, where he apologetically embraces his family, is more appropriate and dramatic than I first realized.
Though it isn’t heavily touched on verbally, though it is sometimes implied through emotion, it is clear that Solomon Northrup was at odds with his mind and thinking about his family. On one hand, perhaps he feared his family would forget about him — they didn’t know where he went off to and it’s impossible for anyone to have heard a word about him. Selling a free man into slavery requires much conspiracy and discretion. He’s lost his name now and is known only as Platt. At some point in the film, perhaps he doesn’t even know himself anymore, it has been that long from the city and people of whom he has developed a home, but one thing is for sure – his family is bereft of him, his presence and his income and he of their love. Before he was sold into slavery, his wife was preparing to work for the season. Black civilians don’t really have many people around them supporting them in 1841, or if they do then there are an equal amount of dismissive and outspoken dissidents, so maybe his wife has taken to another man, simply for the love and support of her family. None of this is explicitly stated in the movie — if I have only one qualm with the film it is that, even at 134 minutes, it is too short to fully chronicle the twelve years of Solomon’s pensiveness and its sense of time, where and when, is nonexistent — but perhaps that is because, though the narrative is particular for the time (a free black man sold into slavery) and compelling, like all film’s about slavery it is about slavery, that most dark time in American history three generations ago, and all of the encompassed slaves, their conditions and lives more than having an inexorbitant focus on one man and his journey. Slavery is bleak and timeless in its cruelty and here, it separated one man from everything he had known and loved, including his family.

For as much lamenting and apologizing Solomon does to his family at the end of the film for what has happened – being gone from home, forcing himself to forget about them, thinking they forgot about him (when he finds out his daughter named her son after him he is at his most sentimental yet, it is a heartbreaking and tear inducing moment for me) for his becoming hopeless and returning to them in this way – I would’ve liked to have seen him feel more devastated in forgetting his family from introspection. As it is, his fleeting hope for ever being reunited with his family slowly burns out as he watches his fellow people lose everything, their families too, and vanish. None of these are hopeful examples and there is no precedent. That is not to say these scenes do not do enough to help understand the deterioration occurring within Solomon, but it could have been reinforced by showing him alone more with his own conspicuousness and better see the concessions he makes; we could have had a better understanding as to what depths. You can see him repressing beautiful memories in the day time and in the night, but only seldom throughout and there, it is never explicitly stated; only felt. He is a thinking man and abates himself, but the only degrees of that we see are when his expectations fail him – which happens on a few occasions throughout – and ultimately cultivates in an emblematic moment when he destroys his violin; the one that William Ford presented him, the one that he carved the names of his family into, the one he was working toward to someday see them again. He does so after he snaps a string while haphazardly tuning them in the woods. He also poos in the woods but this is faintly touched upon. So faintly you may not even know he does it in the film, but he does. That is his life now. These are all of his concessions.

With them, we see men, gagged, bound and hung, women raped and widowed, children being brought up to be slave lovers and families torn apart. These are theirs. People without voices. People that have spoken with metal guards over their mouths. People, one of whom is named Patsy (Lupita Nyong’o), have been brought up on plantations and who only know how to work for massa, sing for their souls and speak. These black people are people, but if they don’t relent and concede to being work-animals, then they will be beaten within an inch of their life or altogether disposed. What makes this story so extraordinary is that Solomon was an educated man in New York and before being brought to any ranch, a former slave gave him some inside understanding on how to survive on a plantation — “Do not speak, do not let them know you can read or write unless you want to be a dead nigger”. Clearly, there is self-deprecation and much sadness in his words – he is as helpless as Solomon and on a boat to be someone else’s property, too. Ironically, he is freed, his master saves him — he runs, like a lost and frantic pet right off the boat and into his arms. As a man born into freedom, he has never had to sell himself to another for shelter and work, he has never needed any master. Now he is alone left only with his thoughts. If he speaks he may die, but in order to be set free, he must speak (or magically break free from his chains).

From Paul Giamatti, William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) buys both Solomon and Eliza. He wants to buy her two children as well, but the auctioneer will not allow that. In fact, he sells her son to another man in front of her eyes. Her daughter will be brought up to be a “beauty queen”. The expression on Mr. Ford’s face is of utter disbelief. He buys the two that he can and leaves. Cumberbatch’s performance in the role is perfect – not quite as limited as the few scenes he has, but far from limitless as I’d like it to be. He plays a man who owns slaves, has them work on fields, heartfully preaches gospel on Sunday’s and does right by Solomon, in that he treats him as an equal, if not for that he owns him.

Once William Ford passes “Platt” onto another slaver, a man to whom he owes a debt by the name of Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), who quotes scripture, but is by no means as eloquent or forgiving as Mr. Ford.

I could write a three-page paper on what Michael Fassbender brings to the role of Edwin Epps alone, if I so desired, but I will be brief because there is so much he does that is so good. Apart from being the main antagonist in the movie, the slave-owner Solomon does his best to subserviently appease and they are together along time. Edwin Epps is not an easy man to please if you’re another person, however, if you are alcohol or considered his property, perhaps you can make him happy the way a game of chess could. Some nights he’ll excitedly roust the slaves he owns and bring them into his house for a dance he despotically overseas. The crazy feeling Epps sometimes experiences when inebriated and restless is madly captured by Michael Fassbender, who I would venture to say actually got liquored up before said scenes. He turns a man from a story into someone wild and the evidence of his psychosis is overwhelming. In the role, Fassbender is that wild, unpredictable force.

There is a disturbing way to introduce a character into a movie and John Ridley has found one. Upon looking down at his slaves, he quotes scripture to justify lashings. Many lashings. When they have collectively worked very hard and done much for Epps and maggots and caterpillars destroying his cotton fields. “It’s that Godless lot… they are heathens and have brought me God’s scorn”. He looks, at once, on the verge of tears and seething with spite for his slaves. He decides to lend them to an associate of his for the summer one years and has some funny lines like, “Don’t give him any Biblical plagues, you hear?” When he is challenged and asked to ponder on a world where black men owned white men, his response is “…the hell?”

He’s very self-entitled and arrogant. Edwin Epps is clearly crazy. There is something wrong with his head. He might even have some mental disorder considering how twisted up he seems, lost in the Bible and surely feeling sinful as he gives in to the lustful desires for Patsy time and time again. Between quoting scripture and raping her, crying about her lifelessness and confusion as to why he wants this for himself, choking her to vent his frustration and to keep her aware (to the point of popping her blood vessel), you don’t need to see him threaten Solomon with a gun or chase him with a knife to see his unraveling. But he keeps it together with alcohol, or rather, it could be what’s causing his craziness. That is what fuels and motivates him daily and it might be the reason for all of his confusion.

Michael Fassbender intricately interprets Edwin Epps and the all of his decisions in developing his character strongly registered with me. The emotion in him is most human and to his character, he is empathetic by the way that he grants him understanding despite his vocation. It makes him very relatable and the performance shows you how people who could afford slaves probably felt in the ways that they lived. In that one scene, he almost illiterately preaches scripture to justify his means. He might be the most ignorant person in the world. I mean in an intellectually as well. For all this and more, he leaves an unforgettable impression as a raging and hatefully racist slave-owner in the South.

As Patsy, Lupita Nyong’o gives quite an incredible performance, too. She is so very subtle with her mumble/speech impediment – I think developed from years of not being allowed to cultivate the language – and gently devastating in that way. We see her go through a lot and at one point, she wants Solomon to end her life. He turns away from her, ignoring her plea so he might go to sleep, but these are the kinds of stakes we’re dealing with. In an early scene, she had an incandescent spirit, singing in the sun and living in bliss where everyone else around her – including Epps’ wife (Sarah Paulson) – look like they’re living in hell. She is beautiful, but has her beauty taken away from her and spirit put out – time and time again. Though her resilience is profoundly beautiful, it is absolutely devastating when she faints.

A seemingly perfect amount of significance put on every scene and shot. Thanks to this, there are moments where Solomon gets momentary revenge on one ‘master’ in particular and it feels really justified and good. There is bluntness within the dexterity. Then, there are some soft, timely beats impressed upon interactions – some of which are between Mrs. Epps and Solomon after Edwin says he prefers Patsy to her in just about as many words. Therein lies some sexual tension that most tacitly layers the film in ways you would not anticipate, between Mrs. Epps and Solomon at a point or two, although the woman has no idea what to do with it and it leads nowhere, (but that is frequently true in life anyway. This movie is universal.) If she were to sleep with him would it be fair retribution, would her intimate feelings for him be legitimate, or would it ruin her current way of life? Solomon evidently has no interest in her and has no concern for her situation, so she rescinds her independence to the abuse of her husband and is along for the “luxurious” ride.

Those men and women are all lost and looking for comfort, where, adjacently the slaves have all been gathered to one place and have none. The Epps’ and all slave-owners have a need for control and feel astonished when they don’t have a firm grasp of events. Edwin Epps quickly unravels when Patsy disappears one day, so when she returns with a bar of soap (that she claims she had to go next door to get because her mastress, Mrs. Epps, won’t allow her to clean herself with any) It is as pleasurable as anything for Patsy when Solomon has to lash her; he pops her with the whip and that feels like relief until Epps is forced to slice her because Solomon isn’t punishing her enough. Epps overwhelms Solomon, he hates his nonplussed way of being dissenting, especially in this moment now he has to take the whip to the object of his affection, though there is no love between them, only obsession and whips her so relentlessly that his sadness afterward confounds him. With his own inner torment, Solomon adds that there will be karmic retribution for the flesh he has inflicted off of her body, but it seems Edwin forgets about all that because we never see Solomon punished by him again. In this scene, there are so many different waves of emotions that rapidly change as time goes on, and it’s masterfully done in one take. For all I know, for as fraught has he felt Edwin Epps enjoyed whipping Patsy. This is why Michael Fassbender is the actor I would most like to work with. He is a fragmented soul; very dangerous and very confused.

Justice lies in karma and universal truths and the guilty convince themselves with any kind of justification until they are unaffected. That is said by some of the film’s characters late on in the film and is the basis for everything that happens in 12 Years a Slave. For all the pain and suffering we see, the filmmaker is trying to communicate that, on some level, this is okay. It is not okay in the sense that “this is the way the world works,” because no, it is fundamentally corrupt and inhumane; no, rather, they are saying it is okay in the sense that whoever passes on graciously from this life will be rewarded in the next, or if not some form of reincarnation then these slaves are beautiful souls and eventually, the walls surrounding these men who think they’re kings will fall onto them. We know what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is deceitful. We know Solomon is right in looking for a way home and his masters are wrong for holding him and anyone else captive. That is a universal truth. This is not pressed upon too much – through visuals or the text – but this theme is stated and tips its hat toward poetic justice in a world that may sometimes not feel so just.
I know seeing Patsy torn up the way she was broke Solomon’s spirit. The bloody reality of this flower was simply too much. I think in this moment he forgets about his family and loses himself to the reality in front of him. Too many unreal things are happening, things he never thought he would see are causing him to capitulate hope; he’s been dreaming about his family for so long and this world has broken him. It was perfectly captured on the face of Chiwetel Ejiofor and how he holds himself.

For some actors and the films themselves, the scene where Solomon becomes part of the group singing for Uncle Abe, who died in the field, might be played as a crowning moment as the actor has a loud moment and his character is submitting to being a slave; he’s finally participating in group song. Instead of being in a state of contagion with melancholy, they sing and raise their spirits and with it, their blinkered hope. But here, he does not want your attention. Not Solomon Northup, nor Steve McQueen. They play it straight; in this scene, Solomon is a man in pain bellowing out his catharsis. He’s played a violin for a living, but he has never opened up this throat in this way. He probably doesn’t want anyone looking at him either, but he’s singing like nobody’s looking and it is a powerful for that reason. Competently handled in one shot, but powerfully acted.

And then he quietly waits in the wind as the clouds overhead change his light to dark. He is vulnerable and looks over at the camera. What an amazing movie.

That reminds me of the scene where Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is hanging by his neck waiting for someone to save him. Kudos to Chiwetel Ejiofor for that scene. It is the most vulnerable position I have ever seen anybody be in in a film. It was amazing, even breathtaking to watch, to see as my stomach sank. There is a reason why I have loved him for years and will always be grateful to watch him perform. He gives himself to the role with his heart, soul, undivided focus and all and demonstrates here that he can do anything, all the while maintaining a solid front to bide the time he needs in order to make it out alive.

Drenched with emotion and pensive ideas, the script does not entirely focus on the endurance of Solomon Northup and in almost every sequence he is reacting to an event or the words of other McQueen protagonists (Bobby in Hunger, Brandon in Shame), where the film, the protagonist and its emotion is slowly built in meticulous silence. For the lead character of not just this movie, but of any film, he spends a lot of time in the background; sometimes not even drawing any attention to himself in shots with five or six people in the frame. This film is highly emotional and artistically inclined; it is very text-heavy and verbose, yet concurrently stoic. In this sense, the film almost entirely captures Solomon’s journey in a symbolic and cinematic way, but on the same token I feel the writing leaves a little to be desired. There is more to be explored and felt with Solomon on his lonesome, I am sure. In one part of the film, on the boat with the other captives, it reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master. Perhaps if this film had as many silent sequences alone with Solomon the way that and There Will Be Blood do this would be the masterpiece it is crying out to be. It is far more elegant and soundly paced than what you might expect from a 135 minute film steeped in slavery to be, but that is part of the reason I find Steve McQueen’s direction to be flawless. It is beautiful without being sentimental. The last shot is picturesque and sets up Solomon’s retribution. Now, he can rebuild himself and take his life a new, happy direction. With the love of his family once again surrounding him, he has risen above it all.   ****

Blue Is The Warmest Color (La vie d’Adele)

Blue Is The Warmest Colour
 is a great film about love and confusion and is sometimes good in communicating themes about taking that next, important step in your life. 

It begins on Adele in her junior year of high school, age 16 or 17. In walking to her bus stop, she has to use her hand to pull up her pants because they’re too big for her – she hasn’t grown into them yet – and at home, her parents are always drinking and uptight, but provide her with warmth in the form of a shelter and plentiful homemade food. If you’ve seen The Secret Of The Grain (also titled Couscous) you know how sumptuous Abdellatif Kechiche can make food look. Don’t see this movie on an empty stomach. (Especially if you love spaghetti which I do.) 

This sumptuousness visually translates into and all but becomes Abdellatif Kechiche’s misc-en-scene. The sex scenes, which is what a lot of the film is getting attention for, which is inevitable for any NC-17 rated film, are also compelling in that same way. 

One can call the images beautiful or pornographic – like everything, it is subjective and up to the viewer to decide – but I personally felt the acting in those scenes was perfect – both Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux were evoking a higher level of openness in their love – so what is performed is truly compelling on an emotional level. It is also adds interest to the character development as the actresses add layers to their characters when they are together and uninhibited. It’s comparable to, but not quite like Don’t Look Now. However, on another hand I felt there was a superficiality to the sex scenes in how they were composed visually, which is not at all present in the Nicolas Roeg’s film or those sex scenes. 

For this film, Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, I noticed how different the lighting between this scene and any other in the film – especially the preceding one. Before Adele and Emma explore each other’s naked bodies they are together outside smoking under a tree on a sunny Parisian day. They kiss and they’re happy. They’re breathing in fresh air and it is so natural. One is a little dulcet-minded and the other a little pragmatic – we’re seeing how they play off each other as they’re only now becoming more and more acquainted. They haven’t really spent too much time together or even kissed much, that we’ve seen. Then, they’re naked and candles light them from behind — which would softly and romantically illuminate them — but what primarily lights the scene is a bright, additional light source that comes from behind the camera and (softly) shines onto them. Both sex scenes have this exact same lighting scheme. Not only that, they have the same establishing shot and utilize a very plain, almost complacent camera angle — which wouldn’t be bad but they revert to it a few times and one time again — that observes both women, their naked bodies and all their splendor. It even feels like it was shot in one day is how similar those sequences look. That strikes me as artificial, perhaps even a little devoid of artistry, which can be said for much of the film if these key sequences are not fully developed or explored a little more creatively within that time. Not in how it is edited or anything – on the contrary, it is cut together as marvelously as any sex scene(s) could be and without exploitation – but its look is a distraction. The passion is adamantly shown on Exarchopolous and Seydoux’s strewn faces, the acting of its open and intuitive stars. That is its greatest strength. However, I do feel the director provided them with great artistry and it not very compassionate, so it lacks a cinematic element — it’s like the book equivalent of a film — so for as dedicated as I’m sure they all were, it can feel like an emulsion of individual efforts and not a graceful mix of them. 

On top of this, there is no foreplay. Okay, I get it if you think it’s typically soft and artistic to show two young women situated beneath a tree playfully growing on each other in their own maturing ways, but then to have them stark naked in one of their empty apartments without the grace of showing them undress each other or maybe do something else is kind of ignorant. They don’t even show them light the candles. I mean that within the context for as much sex as is shown there is not much but two people really projecting their hormones onto each other. There is definite passion, sure, and some softness later on, but nothing that reaches the magnitude of these sex scenes. 

In my opinion, the acting is actually more thoughtful than how their characters were written. For the most part – the character-heavy writing is certainly good enough to invent and create enough interesting situations and circumstances for three hours to feel like two and a few minutes, so the writing is not without purpose and structure (unlike something like Shame which could have gone different ways depending on who directed it; implying incest for one, implying absolute hopelessness for another), so this isn’t so much a director’s piece as it is a vitally vivid realization of a good, solid script with some superb and bare performances. 

For the first forty-five minutes or so, maybe an hour, Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) has an emotional arc that I felt a lot of empathy for and some sympathy. The film is also called Adele: Chapters I and II and opens on Adele beginning a day and walking toward a bus for school. figuring herself out with some growing to do (pedantically symbolized in her having to pull up her jeans time and time again), but not knowing exactly who she is. At school, the clique of girls around her project her interest in a boy named Thomas and outspokenly support his in her. At some point, she has a realization about herself sexually–and when she does, she wonders it is worth embracing. Where it loses me is when it first explores the dynamic of Thomas being with Adele. In the story, it is understandable that she goes with it because of peer pressure and her own inner feelings of sort of friendly sympathy toward the nice boy in her school, but she has sex with him and it could have been her first time. The film isn’t explicit enough to explain that side of her, at least I don’t remember it so, but if so, the subtitles didn’t allude to her being a virgin. They are young and it hasn’t been implied that Adele has had sex, so if it was, it kind of ignorantly passes over the entire emotional arc going on inside of her during that first experience – one that she rolled with despite her true feelings, which are observed and compelling, sure, but there could be a lot more going on there. If she had lost her virginity in the past, I wonder what she feels about that, especially now. She knows she likes this Emma women, even if she only knows her by her blue hair on the street corner. Is the director making a commentary on how easily sexual young adults/teenagers are (in Paris/France)? That seems somewhat disparaging to say the least, but there is heavy rumination within Adele Exarchopolous’ face during every moment and subsequent moment in those sex and post-sex scenes that are laden with feeling and give off honest energy. 

I could really feel sad for her and want to help her, listen to her and counsel her, if I could, but there’s no way I could. I just had to watch her suffer and then, struggle with her isolation in grappling with her sexual confusion and frustration (having sexual thoughts about someone she may never see again, plus it’s a woman), so I did feel sad – but when hope came (in the form of Lea Seydoux) I felt happy – she would be relieved. I could relate to loving Kubrick and Scorsese, loving it all but “hard rock” and eating my scabs too when I was an adolescent. I can still relate to the former. 

Adele Exarchopolous is so good in this film that the movie’s simply a meditation on Adele. It’s almost entirely her story and she makes you feel for this docile creature – if Lea Seydoux didn’t do so well at capturing the determined artist that is the blue-haired twenty-year old Emma it would have. To Emma, Adele is ambrosial and the essence of her flowering sexuality; the feelings are mutual for her love. 

But in that formulaic kind of way. There’s seldom any tension or tumultuous between the two characters; it was a very agreeable and soft relationship, nice and simple, like two peas in a pod or two tacos in a combo box. No, the three hours warrants it in a way because why does it not? A film is a film – whether it be 70 minutes or 640 minutes, you take it for what it is. But for three hours, I’ve seen many more complicated scenarios depicted and this one takes its time to resolve it in a very “every day” sort of way, sort of like the Dardenne brothers do, but less powerfully. The writing/scripting of this film leaves a lot to be desired and in a way, it feels like an hour was missing. 

This might be because not much happens to her after she and Emma first become intimate. Adele is a solitary character – we never see how she deals with high school and society after being “outed” (or does it all just disappear? or does she stay those girls’ friends?) nor do we see her relationship with her parents evolve or dissipate. There might be a lot more of this character to know within the time frame of this movie that is completely ignored, so for three hours they didn’t do much more than cover the basics of adolescent Adele, her hormones and ambiguous confusion as to what to do with herself in life after making a regrettable “mistake”. 

You see, in the film Emma leaves Adele – forces her out of the house she lives in with her. It is more than that she is an ingenue or likes sex, she is crazy about Emma; her emotions and sex drive are absolutely integrated into that woman and she knows it. To Adele, it feels she is as her as she can be in Emma’s midst’s – naked or not – but when she loses her, it’s like she doesn’t know where to go. This is where a lot of heartbroken individuals will be able to relate to the story, but it doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It doesn’t, for example, hit you so deeply the way Blue Valentine does – or at least not to me, anyway – but the acting is a whirlwind and forcefully leaves an impression on you. 

I wondered why Emma castigated Adele and pushed her away from her as I didn’t find that side of Emma or their relationship thoughtfully explored one bit. Okay, I get it, she is an artist and passionately communicates her anger and distrust to the woman that cheated on her, she is outspoken and bursts at the seams when betrayed, but Emma might have done the same thing; she might have slept with another woman while they were together and there is never any clarity on that. Although it was never spoken of as a possibility that was a big part of the reason Adele went out and actually spent time with the male co-worker she sleeps with  (Benjamin Siksou) . She felt lonely and abandoned. Adele is left to resent herself with no sameness, compassion or lightness present – no one to say “It’s okay” and only one love who degrades her and maybe forgives her. Though her nature is changing to function within society the way her parents do – work to be stable – it feels like Kechiche left her to twist in the wind with the open-ended doubt Adele harbors and absconds with at the end of the film. That is, as she walks away from us. 

There is also this flaw in the direction. Time lapses are a problem – there is a lack of sentimentality in how the film communicates the time spans between from one moment to the next, so sometimes Adele’s state of emotion has little or no sense of context; we simply see her as a woman in some distress and there is sometimes a vague idea behind it, but mostly these are ten second shots of her tear-strewn face and it’s well-acted, but repetitive and yields her emotional arc for awhile, while generating lackluster drama for most of the second/third hour. A lot of drama not plundered leaves the film ultimately light and similar throughout for the two hours after the first and to little poetic reward. Now that isn’t Kechiche’s fault, but there is no elegance. There is no music or cross-fades. No love shown in the face of great sorrow — Adele has to escape the biting judgment of her classmates after being outed, she has to run away from Emma when she wants her out and she has to run away from the party when she is a success. This is beauty. This is love, is it not? But you do not show her love. Why? Director, you could have extended a tissue to her from behind the camera it would have meant something, but you chose to ignore her. It’s pretty sad, man. 

For example the film skates over Adele’s rendez-vous with her co-worker from the school where they teach. Apparently they slept together on three occasions, but we never see one of them. We see them passionately dance once and kiss twice, once before Adele is dropped off at Emma’s so it looks like it’s just a kiss goodbye from a night out or something, but in a film with some rather long and graphic sex scenes – not to mention being three hours long – this part of the plot is completely dismissed. It makes for a somewhat disenchanting scene when Emma confronts her about it. When she accuses Adele of sleeping with him, I was thinking “No? Why are you being so mad about this, don’t you love her?”

Adele, her guilt, desperation and the inception of her romantic confusion, or at least how she deals with loneliness and the feeling of abandonment are all avoided, so when that confrontation arises it lacks the thoughtfulness, pathos and the overall acknowledgment needed to help realize where she is in life – at that juncture – as the first part does so well in amalgamating. It seems the more the story progressed the less inclined the director seemed to create a whole, flowing picture; it is as if he was focused on Adele the helpless ingenue and didn’t allow her to grow with time; it’s as if he knows what he wants to passionately explore, does so and leaves the details — the small, human incongruities — for the audience to think about, neglecting to think deeply himself. 

Latter parts feel anticlimactic whereas the opening act has a flow; the film is so long, though, that the lack of climax in any particular spots and jarring, popping bits work as a kind of kinetic energy for the film. This may be because she is earnestly an ingenue in that time of her life, but does not grow later on in the film, so when things happen to her, when she is sad and all of a sudden she is no longer 16 but 20, you think, wow. That is the same technique imposed on the other feature of his I have seen, The Secret Of The Grain, although without the time lapses. This style works in a documentary kind of way in that it is inoffensive to the eyes and ears, it appears as if we are watching life as it is, so we can happily follow it as long as it is professionally observed. It is. 

If it’s any testament to the two actresses who forefront the film, it is that I have something to say about the romance and romantic love they displayed. They, Adele and Emma, both had their problems – Adele was still precocious and innocent, growing into a big change and learning to be herself in the world around her and Emma was fixed in her self-deprecating and hedonistic ways. Though I would have liked to have known why she ended things with her previous partner of two years before meeting Emma – I thought that perhaps the flame between she and Adele burnt so strong that her undeniable attraction separated them, but a little more elaboration on others matters like those would’ve added texture to the whole picture. 

This is a film about young people discovering and accepting themselves while growing up in the city – or if not, it mostly works when it focuses on the world around it – so for it to encompass more subplots and supporting stories would’ve been a good thing. Some of the best scenes are when Adele is in high school with her somewhat openly gay friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek), who she can be open with and who takes her out to the “gay social scene” district where she first meets Emma. These are all very good sequences, and so are the dinner scenes with Emma’s parents and then, Adele’s. They’re not the most emotional of scenes, but each piece adds a different and helps invest us in the worlds of these characters. That’s why I felt most cheated that the movie spans a year or two here or an uncertain amount of time (but probably another two years) there without any indication – I felt cheated of a lot of this journey because for as much as the two women clearly mean to each other, there is no real understanding between them. Whatever the reason, it feels spurious to span that much time and not have some, or at least some closure and hope for Adele. What are her days like? What are they now – is there any focus? If so, why? If not, okay… because of Emma? Wow. This doesn’t feel like Adele: Chapter 1 and 2. It feels like Adele: Chapter 1 – a very long chapter, but one nonetheless.

There is clearly a lot more story than what is depicted in La vie d’Adele’s three hours. For me, it is a base-level observation of a relationship that probably intertwined much more deeply and dwelt on a lot more feeling, the pain and the profound love, than shown in the movie. This film is mostly about passion and confusion. Adele’s curious passion for Emma, her identifiable passion for life (she loves kids, she loves food), Emma’s passion for art and her work, and her passion for Adele’s youthful openness and body. It works as a simple prose on those feelings – passion, romance and confusion – especially as they often play into each other, but they are different rewards that are taken from the story other than the profoundly beautiful sides it has to offer – like the dynamic shift in personalities the main characters undergo from before their relationship begins to well after. They have changed each other and it is for the better, but there is no way Adele sees that. That’s why I think Adele was more than some unforgettable person with whom Emma sexually bonded, if anyone thinks otherwise. They facilitate each other’s growths in a personal way – I think for Emma it was a big way, it made her feel more safe and want to have a family, whereas in high school that’s something Adele would’ve wanted, but now she only wants love. That right there is universal, but so is the pain of rejection and having to find yourself. There is great reward in finding yourself and for how much destitution Adele feels – from the beginning of “chapter one” to the ending of “chapter two” – she ultimately feels bad about herself and uncomfortable. 

It’s a great relationship movie. However, very little of it is elaborated on within the film’s text. The writing is very conversational, but there will be stretches of no dialogue, so there is an honest flow, but a lot more could have been explored. It’s pretty stripped down and stretched out. 

Django Unchained


I haven’t fully written my opinion on a film in awhile because I’ve
grown to feel that film criticism — or criticism in general — can be
like starting a fight; sometimes critics take their criticisms too
seriously (like me, previously unbeknownst to me) and deflate the films
they discuss or themselves feel deflated if their view and articulation
does not resonate with the world. These days I feel like writing about
anything related to cinema can only be viewed as an extension of my own
creative mind, so before you read this, know that this will be, maybe,
some unusual type of write-up on Quentin Tarantino’s latest film – of
which I’m sure you are anticipating or have seen and have probably
liked because it’s a likable film.

Prior to the 1PM advanced screening showing that my wife and I snuck
into this afternoon, I had seen the seven films by Quentin Tarantino,
most of them more than once (Death Proof being the only exclusion). If
you are unfamiliar with his work, the man’s style hearkens back to and
is a hodgepodge of cinema past and present. This means spaghetti
Westerns (Sergio Leone, Franco Nero and Sam Peckinpah), the Nouveau
Vague (until now, mostly Jean-Luc Godard, but this film reminisces
Francois Truffaut more), the Samurai films of Tomu Uchida and Hiroshi
Inagaki, and others – even Blaxploitation. That’s why when you enter a
film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, you should try to
remind yourself not to feel offended during the movie you’re about to
watch. Because his mind, his heart, his vision is all deeply founded in
cinema. He is rooted in it. So when you hear his overt use of the word
n-gger it isn’t that he is too cavalier about it – it’s because
filmmakers before him have decided that it was okay – because he
relates back to them for clarity – because he grew up watching and
loving those movies. That’s what I believe is the case, anyway, and if
so, it allows his films to be as sprawling and carefree as he is.

In Django Unchained’s case, it gets in the way of the film having a
real moral or emotional catharsis, but as was Inglourious Basterds this
is a sort-of wonky look at a rough patch in history with the intention
to send the audience home feeling like they’ve won, like mankind has
won. Here, I feel as if Jamie Foxx’s carnation of Django wasn’t raw
enough, wasn’t a slave enough, to get the hairs on the back of my neck
to stand up the moment he succeeds. He succeeds often – he is the
stallion, the hero climbing the mountain to slay the dragon and free
the princess, he is Quentin Tarantino’s chosen character for Quentin
Tarantino’s film, and that means you’ll have to like him, and that
he’ll do all the things Tarantino wants his good guy to do. He’ll do
everything you expect him to do, and in that, Jamie Foxx’s beautiful,
reflective eyes and nice charisma gets the film by with the tone I
think Quentin Tarantino intended this film to have, and that’s a kind
of tongue-in-cheek, but violently harsh tone with, of course,
victorious undertones.

However, there are moments where you’ll wonder where he’ll go with it.
An hour* into the film, Dr. King Schultz and Django enter Calvin
Candie’s house — on a cotton plantation, with a plan to get Django’s
wife Broomhilda from him — to see, before them, two Mandingos (they
are called) fighting each other to the death. For game. And it is
violent. And it is brutal. To see and feel – and what isn’t seen is
heard, and what isn’t heard is still thought and felt. This is how
we’re introduced to Leonardo DiCaprio’s villain.

The writing/justification for his character’s wild behaviour isn’t
quite understood. I mean, it is written to be understood – his
character hasn’t left the plantation all his life, it’s a time before
any sort of society or real civilization, at least to him. He is very
insecure, very insecure, and that is an issue too. Is this because the
times made him that way — that his situation was simply as ruinous for
his mind as the time was for his slaves’? If so, Quentin Tarantino
spares no expense allowing us to feel sorry for his antagonist – or
anyone like him. It’s very black and white and right here Tarantino is
going black, baby – even Dr. King Schultz’s charisma is almost
identical to that of Col. Hans Landa’s, but because the character sides
(even if incidentally) with the slaves (ie. Django) his actions, the
same ones he would take to the Jews in Inglourious Basterds, are
considered triumphant. It’s moralistically slippery because its only
stance is a superficial one, a judgmental one, and therein lies the
film’s only major problem – its lack of humanity.

Storytelling and dialogue have always been Tarantino’s strong suit.
While his tale of vengeance is fully realized, narratively, I feel the
cleverness in Tarantino’s verbosity wavering – at least in these
historical pieces. I feel he’s trapping himself in the times, using
language that might be relevant, might be clever, might even be funny,
but it’s mostly flowery and possesses not an idea, but a point – a
point his character wants to make, and none of them really have
anything to say except to each other, and that just leads to more plot.
That’s okay – that makes a movie pass by really fast if it has panache,
and this does, Tarantino’s films always will – but it does lack that
soul quality. (Maybe if someone more deeply rooted themselves in the
lead role the film would have possessed more humanity – well it would
have – but it would have just skated over the underlying scriptural
issue.)The best actors in the film do bring a lot of themselves into
their roles and that helps bring to life the dark, yet colorful cast of
characters: Christoph Waltz is wonderfully composed and precise as the
sharp-shooting Dr. King Schultz, Leonardo DiCaprio (whose performance
is ever growing on me) is wild and triumphant, but also edgier than
I’ve ever seen as Calvin Candie, and Samuel L. Jackson is perhaps the
most interesting as Stephen, who appears to be – or at least I
interpreted him as – the sadistic male version of Hattie McDaniel’s
mammie from Gone With The Wind; when he cries at the end, you will
laugh and be mind-blown. These are three great performances.

As I said before, I think Quentin Tarantino is absolved from any
vilification, morally or otherwise. I think his intentions are as pure
as cinema, but this is a daunting film, and while you can play with any
subject matter to entertaining effect, it’s clear to me that with
stories like this one, ones where all of its characters are living some
sort of hell, you have to have humanity; you have to try and understand
people. Sometimes he’s rather play a Rick Ross song to convey his
protagonist’s charged blood-lust instead of his face – and that’s okay.
(Actually, the song that plays was produced by Jamie Foxx, so in a way
that is him. By some extension, it’s all him.) For the most part, the
violence of the film is gruesome – a hot topic for a lot of people to
talk about because it has effected them all. Unfortunately, very few
people seem to be raving how satisfying the film was. People can take
pain but not unless you give them the right pleasure, and sadly that
ending felt too much like artifice. He built up something real – the
violence, too, was real – but ended it so foolishly, like a cartoon.

So, it is my opinion that Django Unchained is entertaining and has a
lot of things to be enjoyed. There’s beauty (Robert Richardson’s
cinematography is picturesque), there’s excitement (the story unfolds
interestingly enough, it moves along) and is an undeniably finely tuned
and well put together motion picture. Ultimately though, there’s
nothing more to think about when those credits close, save a few of the
scenes and the acting throughout. Oh, and of course the technical
production – for the beautiful homage of a world they all created
through collaboration. All of them.

* The first hour is one in which Django and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) get to know each other after the former is bought by the latter in the film’s opening scene. You will notice that the slave walking montage that plays with the opening credits features a lot of panoramic shots, far-zooms, cinematic playfulness and beauty. This will be featured a lot in the film to fine effect. Not quite how Robert Altman handled the lens, but still not bad.

Spring Breakers.

SPRING BREAKERS (2013), by Harmony Korine

I just came out of this one and I think I’m in love. Before I write about the film, let me say that I went into this film with no expectations. I didn’t know if it’d be funny or weird or mainstream or uncomfortable. As a fan of Harmony Korine, I know what he is and is capable of, I know he’s a joker, but I know he’s also a unique person who follows his vision to its end, whatever it may be, but you can never tell if you’re going to get something you’ll like. He gives you images and leaves you with thoughts. You don’t have to think too much during his movies — he doesn’t much either, so I doubt it having much subtext — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something worth talking about when they’re over. You may feel it’s a little, or it may feel like a little, but if you can appreciate what he’s trying to depict, there will always be life to talk about once a film of his concludes.

When I said you don’t have to think much during the films of Harmony Korine, that is not to say you should not think about them afterward. If you’ve shown given him your time and patience and watch the film to its ultimate conclusion, I doubt anyone can say they didn’t like or take something away from it. James Franco’s performance seems pretty revered – I would call it amazing. Some sequences will stick with you — Korine himself says he doesn’t really remember the plots of all the movies he’s loved, instead sequences or scenes — like Britney Spears’ “Everytime”. Okay, I was in a theater of five — three of them left, one of them during that segment. But if you sit through it all you’re certainly not going to forget it! And if you leave, well, you’re certainly not going to forget it, but you will resent it for the time and money it took, but that’s silly, don’t resent that stuff. Just enjoy the movie you see.

The film could be divided into halves – the first being the prelude to Spring Break and Spring Break and the second with James Franco. During the film, and it’s awful to think like this during movies because it only distracts you from the movie, I thought to myself “The direction is kind of shapeless, the juxtapositions could be sharper, but it does have edge and the repetition is effective, it’s vivid and it’s making me sick,” in a good way. That could be how I could summarize the film for someone, if they wanted, but the direction finds itself in the end. Otherwise those words can be my basis of thought for this movie, which is an otherwise unique movie-going experience.

As I write and think more about the film (I just got back) its nonstop audio/visual indulgence is so effective. Spring Breakers is a film that is very telling for this generation, if a little insane with its concept. “Just do it like a video game :: This is paradise :: Spring break forever ya’ll” things people today feel like. And of course, the repetition is done to unforgettable effect, but especially the line “You’re scared, aren’t ya? Scaredy cat” toward the end. Mmm… this is good cinema.

There’s a lot going on, a lot of ideologies passing and being shook up. The film doesn’t harp too much on these subjects, but they’re well realized. The writing and understanding of the characters are top notch – Alien and Faith in particular had touching storylines. Really towards the end of the film, as Alien talks more and we see more of him and Franco’s incarnation alone, it – his storyline – takes on an almost epic look at the contemporary gangland attitude. Why people do it, how hurt they are, what they seek, how lost they are – it’s touching. Unfortunately it’s hard to sell that way because it’s also very ugly in places and depressing and sickening.

The film begins with Skrillex’s Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites to a montage of people having fun on a beach, but mostly overselling the bodies of women, which later become naked. Harmony Korine understands the flow of life, it’s probably because he’s lived so much, but there’s something to how he structures films that is special. The opening alone juxtaposes that — the music starts off jumpy and nice, the people are more clothed and wholesome looking, but then the song gets distorted and people are naked, people are drinking too much and it’s nuts. The next scene is of four friends passed out together in the same room – they’re all lying around, uninspired and one of them gets high while one of them is asleep. It’s a sad sight and intended to show you how these naked, happy people are also unfulfilled, at the end of the day. Even though we later learn — through details, it’s very incidentally understood — that those four girls have yet to go to spring break and that they want to go there (the opening scene could even be interpreted as a collective fantasy of theirs), our brain has a different impression at first. And that’s why Harmony Korine’s movies have to be watched and not thought about too much until the end because he’s trying to do something during and for after. Most filmmakers are so ideally all movies would be watched without too much thinking.

But those characters, they want to escape.. Eventually they get to spring break — everything is even funny and fun, they’re dancing all openly (even trying too hard and being slutty) on the bus. We get a lot of shots of that – the last film Benoit Debie shot was Gaspar Noe’s Enter The Void. There is a lot of camera movement and a lot of attention to detail within the frame, but a lot of editing that keeps it delirious. A lot of bouncing and a lot of things to see, so the cinematography itself isn’t easy to note, however it effectively stimulates and desensitizes you and for that you know it’s done its job. You know it’s done its job because it has captured so many exciting images to such an excessive degree that it hardly registers after, I don’t know, the third scene of zealous promiscuity. It becomes no longer eye catching. An hour into the film when Harmony Korine has Alien use the term “double penetration” I felt sick. Then he shows us the primal looking twins that would do it. The second half really pushes you – it is his vision.

Most important, thematically, the film is about our ideals and the journeys we must take to find our own. For Grace, the quietest one of the group, without any blonde hair and a firm belief in God, she finds solace in spring break and escaping the regiment of school and family. Staying in touch with everyone, staying in the same city — all of the girls are sick of the city, but she’s struggling with her faith. On the Florida beaches, she has so much fun as there is so much openness – she believes it’s the most spiritual place she’s been. I might too, after years of sameness and cyclical piousness. Someone behind me laughed at the idea of a spring break beach being spiritual. I myself thought it was beautiful, but it is funny. The movie is many things.

Then in a pool, Faith says she wants to live there forever. “Buy a house and all of us live in it” Her friends laugh at her — it’s completely unrealistic — but then they wind up in a situation where they can remain ocean side, indefinitely, and she fears it the most. It would be the only way all four of them could live there, like she believes in, but it scares her. It’s as if he dream came true only to become a nightmare. At the same time, the friends of her that were skeptical of her idealism wind up on a path towards her vision; ultimately climaxing with an unforgettable ending.

The end sequence — with Alien and the girls and the same speech when Faith was talking to her grandma — possesses many ideas and will likely leave everyone with a distinct impression. It’s idealistic, lost and hopeful all at once, but the juxtaposition is funny and disturbing. If this film is meant to be “the wildest spring break you can imagine” put to film, Korine’s vision is unremittingly wild and captures it all.

A lot can be said about Alien, too. Alien is an interesting character with a past surrounded by people struggling in the ghettos. Apparently he was the only white boy growing up – and now his best friend is his enemy on the block. Suddenly, there are two women he feels compelled to call soulmates (and it feels real, Franco makes you feel its authenticity for this character) and later on, during one of the scenes before the finale, it feels like a sad romance – at least to Alien. All for that money, all for that fame — everything to do with him is fascinating. His bashful smile when he says people recognize him on the street for one of his songs’ hooks. If James Franco were a less concerned actor, he would have portrayed this character as a more extreme Saul (from Pineapple Express) but he goes way beyond that in terms of thought, consideration and approach. There’s so much humor, but it’s also quite disturbing and sad – and in the end, there is poetic justice and for that, for me, the film is poignant in its approach to humanity.

Alternating between humor and despair – Harmony Korine captures the rawness of life with young characters with respect to their struggles and ideals and desires, but also showing the folly in them, as well as the righteousness. The good and the bad. Find yourself and find your path.

If you think about it, if the film were to have a sequel, how would their paths look like, once the credits have rolled? I think it’s beautifully in alignment with the nature of the world and the film’s characters. All of their paths, everything we see them go through all makes sense, doesn’t it? Cotty’s path, Brit’s path, Candy’s path, Faith’s path, Alien’s path, Archie’s path – it was more than satisfyingly realistic; it’s also cinematically satisfying. It doesn’t have a form and it is shapeless, but it does end and when it does, that gives its shape – both artistically, in its poetry, and literally as final bits of film, ending the reel. It happens that way because that’s how it is – I imagine it’s partly because Harmony Korine doesn’t believe in the end of films. “It never made sense to me. There is always more to life,” so I believe, then, that he sees life as it is – the past, the present and the future, whatever it holds, which is natural, rather than within of within the context of cinema, or artifice. The thing is, people are probably going into this movie expecting The Hangover rather than Trash Humpers – it’s super realistic and weirdly cinematic, not the other way around. It’s something else. Like Mister Lonely and his films before that, it is something else. Hypnotic or poetic. A slice of life you’ve never seen or understood before. At least I hadn’t – not with compassion, which Spring Breakers is steeped in; mostly for Harmony Korine’s observational approach, which could be voyeuristic, but there is a warmth in what he wants to communicate and does so effectively with tone. If the film has greater ambitions than being solely about spring break, it certainly feels it.

Good, measured acting from Selena Gomez, a wild, unhinged approach from Vanessa Hudgens and a solemn undercurrent of a score by Cliff Martinez and Skrillex complete the film. Rachel Korine’s chameleonic work should not go ignored – she really disappears into that most lost role – nor should Ashley Benson who was finely unsettling. Ya’ll did good.

Review: Kinyarwanda

Directed by Alrick Brown and performed by a blend of amateur actors and witnesses to the Rwandian genocide, Kinyarwanda can be called wildly eclectic. Written by Ishmael Ntihabose, the script possesses a dignity that the film doesn’t always realize. Where he is surefooted in what he wants to say in each vigniette, Alrick Brown is sometimes confused by how and sometimes (and most worryingly of all) what exactly should be emphasized to get the point across. While Alrick Brown as director show promise as he observes lost souls reaching out for repentance, there are times where his technique can be criticized for being too cinematic; his use of slow-motion to capture relief or suffering accentuate his lack of concern for cadence, for the misc en scene. It is a melange of faith and strength, but also of unwarranted suffering and confusion. It is welcomed that Brown never goes for the throat and his direction certainly more optimistic than you would expect given the film’s setting, but at times it is fair to feel that the film would have been more effective had he insulated his entire film with the uneasiness that permeates the aforementioned scene of penitence. At times, the film doesn’t feel like the film we’ve been watching – the attitude toward the material changes drastically from vignette to vignette. The patient cinematography utilized to make the segment Re-Edukation Camp 2004 as affecting as it was vanishes when it comes to scenes with larger production value; more people and something cinematic like a death or a revelation. The idiosyncratic script that brings together all these storylines is quite ingenious, at times feeling like the writer was granted Shakespeare’s perfect sense of irony and tragedy, all while speaking articulately about Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and many of the circumstances that caused it and resolved it, going so far as to show a scene depicting the high acting Muslims of Rwanda discussing what led to the inevitable harmony of Rwanda, or at least momentarily dispelling the conflict and reviving a lot of the faith that was lost during.

This film is all about heart and the heart of all film’s come from the actors. A person can write and a person can direct, but if there isn’t an honest soul in the character on-screen, we are not going to feel a connection. We can feel a true emotion – if they’re vacant we can feel disdain, if they’re calculated we can feel reverence for their skill – but we’re not, or at least I’m not, going to feel love – and that’s the most important thing. For this reason, I must first talk about Edouard Bamporiki’s performance as the reticent Emmanuel, a character we first see in a Re-Education Camp* ten years after the genocide. From the first moment he appears on-screen, we know his performance is going to be special; that he is going to evoke an honesty we see more in these amateur settings than in more professional productions. He does not identify himself with anyone or anything; his energy is off, he looks trapped inside his body; he composes himself like onyx. We are drawn to him. With every expression tacit – with reservation identical to our own reserved reflections and quietly palpable inner turmoil – his acting is not acting but self-examination caught on film. Then, it is also true that his acting lacks tact and when he speak his cathartic piece at the end, more dialogue composure can be desired and his potential seen, but yet fully realized. Still, from the moment he emerges in the film and we feel his bitter, self-contained suffering, we want it to end. Immediately. And that isn’t for lack of backstory – when it comes, we still feel badly for him, for his pain. Acting like this revitalizes my appreciation of watching the performer perform because it reminds me that sometimes there is no discretion in the action – that the person performing has opened themselves up to the world and that honesty, that strength is what fills my heart with love.

Other performers range from honest to misjudged and that’s where the film’s greatest weakness is. If Bamporiki’s style of acting is true, so then is Cleophas Kabasita’s and Kena Onyenjekwe’s in their limited roles, and Cassandra Freeman honest in her strong, nobel way despite how she is shot in slow-motion to a detrimental degree. However, the focus of the film is a young Tutsi woman named Jean (Hadidja Zaninka) who is in a burgeoning relationship with a sweet, caring Hutu man named Ishmael (Hassan Kabera), has a tragic trouble freshly seated in her heart and a big moment at the end where her storyline and Bamporiki’s come together in a disheartening way, yet it all seems to have escaped her. Her effort is clear – her intention is good, so she can not be blamed for anything but being miscast. She is not an actress and was clearly uncomfortable succumbing and fluctuating between states of complete emotional devastation and losing herself in fleeting illusions of love for the screen. Most of the film’s players are not actors by trade so to say she is not an actress is not a slight, but those actors, for the most part, did expose their pains and open up on screen. If Zaninka has suffered, she is sadly in a state of circumvention. So to is Mazimpaka Kennedy (in the role of a priest at odds with his faith and seeing the goodness in himself), but he has more skill. He is probably the most skilled performer of the bunch as it’s easy to notice how he nails comic and dramatic cues where no other actors in the film do. Their cadences are natural and his are not – his emotional scenes don’t exactly render true and are actually jarring as you notice how much more comfortable he is being superficial. Though his emotional moments do lack what he offers to the film is a mainstream style that is welcomed in film drenched in too honest suffering. His segment is the only inconsistent one – the others are either good or bad and to varying degrees.

It’s an well-meaning, but inconsistent film with an ambitious scope to respect and a beautiful message. Without spoiling the film – think to yourself how many deaths are seen or implied? For a film that resolutely illustrates the fear and tension in Rwanda during its three month genocide in 1994, it is something, in the end, that almost completely avoids brutality to spread its hopeful message. If Kinyarwanda is not completely satisfying, it is ultimately beautiful.

* A Re-Education Camp is designed to relieve the minds of those Hutu’s who committed violent and mostly murderous acts during the 1994 genocide. They are told to forgive themselves for what they have done and ask for forgiveness to those they have hurt. None of them wield hatred or commit acts of violence – their minds do not need adjusting, they know what they have done is wrong.

2011 SAG Predictions

I don’t write on my blog much very more, but these are announced tomorrow (9am ET / 6am PT).

Best Ensemble Cast:

The Artist
The Descendants
Midnight In Paris
The Help

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role:

George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Michael Fassbender, Shame
Brad Pitt, Moneyball
Michael Shannon, Take Shelter

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role:

Viola Davis, The Help
Elizabeth Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Tilda Swinton, We Need To Talk About Kevin
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role:

Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Albert Brooks, Drive
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Patton Oswalt, Young Adult
Christopher Plummer, Beginners

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role:

Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Carey Mulligan, Shame
Octavia Spencer, The Help
Shailene Woodley, The Descendants