12 Years a Slave.

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.   ****

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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. 

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.

My 2011 TIFF Schedule

This is the schedule I want and am confident I will wind up with. I wish I was able to do more probing into the title releases beforehand – and blog about it – but that’s okay.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 9th
1pm – 2:33pm: Le havre (AGO)
4pm – 5:35pm: Restless (Bell Lightbox 2)
7pm – 9:08pm: Wuthering Heights (Bell Lightbox 2)
9:30pm – 11:07pm: Oslo, August 31st (Scotiabank 1)

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 10th
11am – 12:38pm: The Ides of March (Visa Screening Room)
4pm – 5:35pm: Hick (Winter Garden)

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 11th
9:15am – 11:08am: We Need To Talk About Kevin (Bell Lightbox 2)
12:30pm – 2:16pm: Keyhole (AMC 3)
3pm – 4:30pm: Mavericks: Sony Pictures Classics (Bell Lightbox 3)

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13th
10am – 12:14pm: Faust (Bell Lightbox 2)
12:15pm – 1:46pm: Your Sister’s Sister (Bell Lightbox 1)
3:15pm – 4:54pm: Shame (Bell Lightbox 1)
6:15pm – 8:52pm: Once Upon A Time In Anatolia (Bell Lightbox 1)

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14th
9:15am – 11:15am: Damsel in Distress (Scotiabank 4)
12pm – 1:45pm: Like Crazy (Ryerson)
3pm – 4:33pm: ALPS (Bell Lightbox 2)
7:30pm – 9:07pm: Michael (Bell Lightbox 2)

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 15th
11am – 12:25pm: Jeff, Who Lives At Home (Visa Screening Room)
2:45pm – 4:16pm: Breathing (AMC 3)
7:45pm – 9:13pm: The Kid With The Bike (Isabel Bader)

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 16th
9:30am – 11:20pm: Hors Satan (Bell Lightbox 2)
12pm – 2:03pm: Machine Gun Preacher (Scotiabank 1)
2:15pm – 4:15pm: Take Shelter (Scotiabank 3)

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 17th
9:30am – 11:28am: The Skin I Live In (Bell Lightbox 2)
12:00pm – 1:35pm: Peace, Love and Misunderstanding (Ryerson)
2:45pm – 5:01pm: Melancholia (Ryerson)
6:15pm – 7:53pm: The Deep Blue Sea (Bell Lightbox 1)

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 18th
3:00pm – 4:45pm: Rampart (Ryerson)
6:00pm – whenever: Cadillac People’s Choice winner (Ryerson)

The 2010 Forizzscars (The Nominees)

Welcome to the fifth annual Forizzscars — inventive, I know — and if you’re reading this then in a few minutes you’ll have read the definitive nominees of 2010. If you’ve yet to see any of the picks, well, get on that, because you know, it’s the definitive list. For all intensive purposes these lineups are based around US release date/Oscar eligibility.

BEST PICTURE

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, USA)
Bluebeard (Catherine Breillat, France)
Enter The Void (Gaspar Noe, France)
The Illusionist (Sylvain Chomet, France)
The Social Network (David Fincher, USA)

BEST ACTOR

Javier Bardem in Biutiful
Ronald Bronstein in Daddy Longlegs
Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network
Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine
Emir Kusturica in Farewell

BEST ACTRESS

Lubna Azabal in Incendies
Helen Mirren in The Tempest
Carey Mulligan in Never Let Me Go
Natalie Portman in Black Swan
Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Josh Brolin in True Grit
Andrew Garfield in The Social Network
Michael Moshonov in Lebanon
Dominique Thomas in Bluebeard

Bin Won in Mother

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Maricel Alvarez in Biutiful
Cecile de France in Mesrine: A Life In Two Parts
Trine Dyrholm in In A Better World
Bryce Dallas Howard in Hereafter
Marilou Lopes-Benites in Bluebeard

BEST DIRECTOR

Sylvain Chomet – The Illusionist
Anton Corbijn – The American
Gaspar Noe – Enter the Void
David Fincher – The Social Network
Edgar Wright – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Dogtooth
(Efthymis Filippou & Giorgos Lanthimos)
Four Lions
(Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain, Simon Blackwell & Christopher Morris)
Hereafter
(Peter Morgan)
The Illusionist
(Sylvain Chomet & Jacques Tati)
Lebanon
(Samuel Maoz)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Bluebeard
(Catherine Breillat, from the folktale written by Charles Perrault)

Shutter Island
(Laeta Kalogridis, from the novel written by Dennis Lehane)
The Social Network
(Aaron Sorkin, from a novel written by Ben
Mezrich)
True Grit
(Ethan and Joel Coen, from the novel written by Charles Portis)

Winter’s Bone
(Debra Granik and Anne Rosellini, from the novel written by Daniel Woodrell)

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

Animal Kingdom
(Joel Edgarton, Luke Ford, James Frecheville, Ben Mendelsohn, Guy Pearce, Sullivan Stapleton, Jacki Weaver & Laura Wheelwright)
In A Better World
(Trine Dyrholm, Odiege Matthew, Gabriel Muli, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Mikael Persbrandt & Ulrich Thomsen)
Lebanon
(Oshri Cohen, Yoav Donat, Michael Moshonov, Itay Tiran, Zohar Shtrauss & Dudu Tassa)
The Social Network
(Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Arnie Hammer, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello, Max Minghella, Brenda Song & Justin Timberlake)
True Grit
(Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, Domhnall Gleeson, Roy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Paul Rae & Hailee Steinfeld)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Bluebeard
(Vilko Filac)
Enter The Void
(Benoit Debie)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One
(Eduardo Serra)

I Am Love
(Yorick Le Saux)

Incendies
(André Turpin)

BEST FILM EDITING

Black Swan
(Andrew Weisblum)
Enter The Void
(Marc Boucrot & Gaspar Noe)
Inception
(Lee Smith)
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
(Jonathan Amos & Paul Machliss)
The Social Network
(Kirk Baxter & Angus Wall)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One
(Alexandre Desplat)

How To Train Your Dragon
(John Powell)

The Illusionist
(Sylvain Chomet)

The Social Network
(Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross)

Spring Fever
(Peyman Yazdanian)

BEST ART DIRECTION

The King’s Speech
Micmacs
Shutter Island
The Tempest
True Grit

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

I Am Love
I Love You Phillip Morris
Kick-Ass
The Tempest
True Grit

BEST MAKEUP

127 Hours
All Good Things
Barney’s Version
Black Swan
Repo Men

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Enter The Void
Iron Man 2
Inception
The Tempest
Twilight: Eclipse

BEST SOUND MIXING

Animal Kingdom
Black Swan
Enter The Void
The Social Network
The Tempest

BEST SOUND EDITING

Enter The Void
Inception
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
The Tempest
The Town

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

“I Have A Dream”Tangled
“My Sleepy Fall”No One Knows About Persian Cats
“Ring Round My Posey” – Get Him To The Greek
“This Is A Low” – Tamara Drewe
“Where Are You Now?” – Tamara Drewe

BEST FOREIGN FEATURE

Armadillo [Denmark]
Hahaha [South Korea]
Honey / Bal [Turkey]
The Illusionist / L’Illusioniste [France]
Poetry / Shi [South Korea]

BEST DOCUMENTARY

Catfish
Exit Through The Gift Shop
Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno
Inside Job
Marwencol

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

How To Train Your Dragon
Idiots & Angels
The Illusionist

Well I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did not compiling it all. If you’re up for it, post your own lineups in the comments section because I just love these personal award things and am curious as to what those who read this blog love.

The 2010 Forizzscars (Bottom Half)

I see a lot of new movies every year. So many that I become a strong supporter of many performances and advocate for much artistry. Because of this, I like to expand my personal awards to welcome top tens – and even then ten may be too small a number to speak of the great films and performances I see in a year. So here are my 6 through 10s of the year with a few honorable mentions if necessary. I’ll also expand my favorite technical categories (film editing, cinematography & original score) to fit this custom.

Also, for the following post (the top fives) it will have been my fifth year in which I hosted my own personal awards in some way, shape or form. It’s only been since late 2005 that I’ve been invariably immersed in cinema and only since late 2006 that I’ve followed award seasons and shaped my own sad little ceremonies commemorating who I found the best of the year. (I also go by US release to make matters easier when talking about things like these).

For a complete list of the films I’ve seen that were Oscar eligible/had their US release click here.

THE BOTTOM HALF

BEST PICTURE

06. True Grit
07. Dogtooth
08. Four Lions
09. The Tempest
10. Hadewijch

Honorable mentions: Shutter Island & Lebanon.

BEST ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

06. Martin Landau – Lovely, Still
07. Sean Penn – Fair Game
08. Casey Affleck – The Killer Inside Me
09. Riz Ahmed – Four Lions
10. Leonardo DiCaprio – Shutter Island

Honorable Mentions: Matt Damon in Hereafter, Jakob Cedergren in Terribly Happy, Jim Broadbent in Another Year, Brian Cox in The Good Heart, Christian Bale in The Fighter & Paul Giamatti in Barney’s Version.

BEST ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

06. Julie Sokolowski – Hadewijch
07. Hailee Steinfeld – True Grit
08. Anne Hathaway – Love and Other Drugs
09. Katie Jarvis – Fish Tank
10. Giovanna Mezzogiorno – Vincere

Honorable Mentions: Zoe Kazan in The Exploding Girl, Lesley Manville in Another Year, Marisa Tomei in Cyrus & Lola Creton in Bluebeard.

BEST ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

06. Bill Murray – Get Low
07. John Hawkes – Winter’s Bone
08. Matt Damon – True Grit
09. Jonah Hill – Cyrus
10. Joel Edgerton – Animal Kingdom

Honorable Mentions:  Mark Ruffalo in The Kids Are All Right, Yvan Donat in Lebanon & Armie Hammer in The Social Network.

BEST ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

06. Amy Adams – The Fighter
07. Keira Knightley – Never Let Me Go
08. Greta Gerwig – Greenberg
09. Michelle Williams – Shutter Island
10. Jemima Kirk – Tiny Furniture

Honorable Mentions: Aggeliki Papoulia in Dogtooth & Dianne Wiest in Rabbit Hole.

BEST DIRECTOR

06. Julie Taymor – The Tempest
07. Ethan and Joel Coen – True Grit
08. Bruno Dumont – Hadewijch
09. Roman Polanski – The Ghost Writer
10. Darren Aronofsky – Black Swan

Honorable Mentions: Henry Joost & Ariel Schulman – Catfish, Banksy – Exit Through The Gift Shop, Ye Lou – Spring Fever & Catherine Breillat – Bluebeard.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

06. Animal Kingdom (David Michod)
07. Soul Kitchen (Fatih Akin/Adam Bousdoukos)
08. Fish Tank (Andrea Arnold)
09. Enter the Void (Gaspar Noe)
10. Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance)

Honorable Mentions: Go Get Some Rosemary.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

06. The Ghost Writer (Richard Harris)
07. The Tempest (Julie Taymor)
08. How To Train Your Dragon (William Davies, Dean DeBois & Chris Sanders)
09. Spring Fever (Feng Mei)
10. I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa)

No honorable mentions.

BEST ENSEMBLE CAST

06. The Tempest
07. Another Year
08. Bluebeard
09. Shutter Island
10. Soul Kitchen

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

06. The Tempest (Stuart Dryburgh)
07. The American (Martin Ruhe)
08. Wild Grass (Eric Gautier)
09. True Grit (Roger Deakins)
10. All Good Things (Michael Seresin)

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

06. Welcome (Nicola Piovani)
07. Animal Kingdom (Anthony Partos)
08. Wild Grass (Mark Snow)
09. Inception (Hans Zimmer)
10. Ondine (Kjartan Sveinsson)

The top half is soon to come…

Daily Film Thoughts: Whistle Blowing

Whistle blowing means a lot of things.

Occasionally a movie comes out which seems impossible to describe. It reaches us on such an inherent level that we think that a piece of art has touched our very soul; that it is no longer a movie, but rather a part of us. And occasionally the opposite happens where we reject a film with our entire being and more because it’s a condescendingly inept bullshit redoubled with contradictions and exploitation aplenty which should have never have ever been made… ever. This is one of those two – to give you a hint as to which it is a word I’d use to describe it lays in the film’s title: The Whistleblower.

This movie opens on a scene with two Croatian teenagers unengaged in the art of conversation which is as esoterically written as it is inversely ominous in its foreshadowing. “You should do it,” the more zealous teen says “you don’t want to live here forever, do you?” she caps off indolently. Next thing you know the two are getting fake passports put together so that they can “serve” in Bosnia. Alright, first, these people are really stupid. I mean, you’re getting fake passports done by a shady, easy-to-anger guy in a room void of any life apart from the shady guy’s wife who looks at you as if to say DON’T DO IT YOU’LL BE SORRY. Oh, they absorb her intrepid looks, but never realize that, hey, this isn’t a good idea.

Boom, we’re in Nebraska now. Our protagonist, Kathryn Bolkovac (Rachel Weisz) is cutely wording her way to the direct implications of what’s happening in her life – her husband’s leaving with her children, yet she doesn’t want to lose her shit because along with Eilis Kirwan, writer/director Larysa Kondracki would rather be obnoxiously artificial and banal in writing dialogue for her characters than be expository which, to be fair is annoying, but not as annoying as smarmily diverting the matter at hand. For a good percentage of the scene you’re sitting there thinking that the husband and children are leaving for some vacation — the direction is sunny enough and the conversation flippant enough to interpret as this — but no, they’re leaving because Kathryn is too closed off from her family because of her work. Okay, cool, an interesting female dynamic is going to be shown — the career-dedicated nepotist who is misunderstood by man. Girl power.

A few scenes later when she’s stationed in Bosnia because it pays a lot more than being a cop in Nebraska (money = providing for her children better, noble enough) she’s handily seduced by a coworker at a pinball machine. How? I DON’T KNOW. HE MIGHT HAVE TAUGHT HER PINBALL FROM WHAT I SAW.

Boom, next scene they’re having sex in her room which is shot with a grungy filter that does nothing at all. It isn’t foreshadowing something bad – the guy is perhaps the most genuine of all that we see in the movie (we don’t know this, I just assume it from the transparent dumbness of the guy) – it’s just artsy.

Then we cut back to Croatia where the teenage girl’s mother is worried as to the whereabouts of her daughter who, when she last saw, cussed her off for being restrictive (original) and which (doesn’t) give the desire to see her daughter safe and sound again the sentiment it desires. Actually, although this storyline is pretty stupid too, the most sincere thing about it is the performance by Jeanette Hain as the mother, Slava. Her concern is quite real and despite being forced into a character who only worries a lot and finds outrage in one of the film’s many attempts at “plot twists” she presents herself rather well and is one of the only aspects of the film which come out clean after this shitstorm.

So Kathryn is championing feminism in a country without it. We’re shown women with their faces brutally bashed in and policies that we know are wrong. A woman comes into a hospital seven times bludgeoned within an inch of her life and we learn that it’s her fault unless there’s undeniable proof that she wasn’t in the wrong. No one wants to prove that she was in the right, Kathryn does and becomes a hero of the movement. Yep – the woman who treats her body as currency for a few beers and forgettable pinball pointers is the leader of a female rights movement. That could be a really interesting contradiction to discuss if the filmmakers weren’t too busy showing us women getting shot in the head for being insubordinate and raped with pipes for wanting freedom. The only mystery here is “Which hole did it go in?” because before that there’s no sleuthing or curiosity as to who is perpetrating these morally wrong acts against women. We know whose doing it really early into the film — fellow Peace Workers (oooooooh) — and then the plot gets sillier.

Monica Bellucci is unrecognizable as herself at fifty and David Strathairn is the nice guy.

At the end of the film — before the final scene in which we’re shown the opening scene again but more sentimentally scored so that we may be reminded of the emotion that the filmmaker wants us to feel — Kathryn is asked whether she regrets what she did or not on a talk show. What she did cost her the ability to find employment as a police officer again or anything other job with which to protect community, but she unflinchingly replies yes. Boom, feminism; boom, strong morals; boom, a woman to admire. But then, a huge concern in this film is her being with her daughter — at one point she cites this as the reason she cares about woman’s rights which is as stupid as it sounds, maybe even more so — and at the end she doesn’t get that because she just can’t do it anymore apart from trips that she takes to visit her in the Netherlands or whatever small encounters they get to have from there-on-out. Know what would make for a far more fascinating story? That one. The one where a woman has to feel that for all of the good she did for a gender in a country that she loses on a more personal level and can never feel complete ever again because of those decisions. Sort of like Nothing But The Truth except more interesting because greed wasn’t the motive and her martyrdom not false.

This movie is bereft of what it takes to make a great movie and without most of what it takes to make a bad one. And if anyone has a problem with this review, it was a review in the least formal way possible. There is no way to pontificate what is so wrong with a movie that is so wrong, so I’ve resorted to this. This is just one of those movies that never should have been. To exaggerate only slightly, Larysa Kondracki should willingly renounce her gender a la Gainsbourg in Antichrist for this entirely counterproductive attempt at feminist art.

Lenny opens on a woman being interviewed retrospectively about her relationship with Lenny Bruce. Honey(Valerie Perrine) doesn’t speak about him with sentimentality, but rather like if he and her had just been momentarily disconnected during their passages through life. This film was made in 1974 – Lenny Bruce had died eight years earlier.

If you know the briefest history of Lenny Bruce — he was a failed stand-up comedian before he started to unpolitically rant on stage, he married a stripper and developed the life of a rock star (adultery, drug abuse, self-loath, etc.) — then you know the entirety of this feature. All of these understood character traits of the hard rolling entertainer aren’t particularly delved into and what we get is a portrait of the most influential comedian of all time filled in with poke-a-dots rather than an entirely shaded one. We see him fail on stage at the beginning, be entirely enchanted with a stripper based on her appearance — love at first sight is never implied here, so it plays off completely superficially — and being a part of a car crash which resulted in the death of a woman. The problem with this, like most biopics, is that it isn’t a representation of a person but rather a passing on of the major events in their life. There’s no intimate account of the inner being here — Hoffman does his best early on with his gentle eyes and succeeds where the script does not — because there is no intimate account. In fact, Lenny’s story isn’t the most interesting one because we sift through his life transitively and never get Lenny Bruce the person – only Lenny Bruce the guy that things happened to and then died. To speak impersonally for a moment – I really wish writers would learn that an important person does not equal an interesting story.

However, Honey’s story has anything but these faults. Sure, we may not know anything of her outside of her experiences with Lenny, but she is examined with the utmost scrutiny and is given an emotional backbone. She is in constant flux because Lenny is constantly fluctuating (why? I don’t know – read above as for why) and tries to sustain her love with him despite what he wants at the time. Her scope is micro where Lenny’s is macro and while no pleasurable rhythm ever coalesces between the two the face value juxtaposition is pretty nice. The same can be said for the performances of Dustin Hoffman and Valerie Perrine who brilliantly represent many feelings and one line of feeling, respectively. Again, like the difference between how their stories function, Hoffman’s is too bolstered to ever hit you as more than a representation whereas Perrine’s is a more soulful and replete turn.

Though Bob Fosse did do a brilliant thing by leaving his camera far-off and stagnant during Lenny’s last destructive stand up routine there is little by way of iconography for the film because black-and-white cinematography doesn’t naturally intimate atmosphere. On a whole, this is a pretty by-the-numbers story that I’m actually surprised by in that it was as successful as it was upon its release — six Oscar nominations, Best Actress at Cannes and several other industry lauds — simply because Lenny Bruce’s death was still a talking point at the time. Everybody knew of his life — at least the significant events of which this films sews together as its narrative — and really, if anything, this is the kind of film that would peak in appreciation decades after the release when talks about Lenny Bruce had ended and knowledge of the man stilled. For the film viewer ignorant to Lenny Bruce’s life this film would play out tremendously. It’s written and directed with a sense that the protagonist lives through the entirety and offers a glimpse at the original bad boy. For many today this should play out very well as a candid look at the destructive mores of the fast-living, with Charlie Sheen’s recently absurd nascence I think a tale like this might be at its most recognizable, but for some (like me) it might just not hold up as a narrative simply because it isn’t a narrative but the most interesting parts of an man’s lifestory ripped out and stapled together interpolated with an effectively simple look at a woman’s undying love and self-inflicted tragedy. Either way you’ll be taken with the great acting.

If you’ve seen Last Tango In Paris, you’ve seen a better version of this film. Directed by French provocateur Patrice Chereau, Intimacy is the story of a man and a woman who have sex every Wednesday at around 2pm, who know not each others’ names and who don’t speak to one and other. This trend began when they hooked up one afternoon and the woman, later named Claire (Kerry Fox) decided to show up at the same time each week. Because her intentions aren’t particularly known until the final act the film relies on Jay’s contemplation of their relationship. At once he’ll regard it as something throwaway, incendiary to his freedom and crucial to his existence. Therefore Jay is a very contemplative character – if a bit difficult to tolerate given what he does throughout for no particular reason other than he doesn’t know what else to do – and because of this the audience is treated to a mesmerizing physicality of Mark Rylance.

Mainly what this film is about is hedonists awash with self-inflicted problems. There isn’t any particular theme to be offered — sex is wonderful might be the only thing — and if you’re looking for a feature with an ending that will deliver you’ll be peeved by the random ambiguity it offers (a split screen of Claire leaving or staying) and considering all of this it isn’t a bad movie. It isn’t a good movie, but it isn’t nearly as offensive as you might anticipate an NC 17 feature with nothing to really say to be.

As it is essentially an extension of Last Tango In Paris, this 2001 flick is mostly about the man stalking the woman because he becomes progressively needy — or rather, wanty. The first 30 minutes establish Jay’s routine, his gripes and his relationships by way of coldly bouncing from scene to scene – only offering him to be thoughtful in between the bits important to the set up. After this marginally extended first act, Jay begins to stalk Claire. This is an excellent scene depreciated by Chereau’s poor choice in music. Sadly, that isn’t an isolated incident.

When Jay finds out Claire is an aspiring actress and has a husband (Timothy Spall) and child he immediately familiarizes himself with her family which goes unbeknown to her. What results are a few scenes where Jay belligerently toys with Claire’s husband who is too sweet a man to deter Jay’s extemporaneous ravings or indirectly direct cruelty. Watching Timothy Spall squirm indecisively when Jay alludes that he’s possibly been screwing his wife is the real highlight of this otherwise middling feature. The interplay between Rylance and Spall in said scenes – there’s more than one, and though pretty redundant, they are the most enjoyable aspect of the feature so I say the more the better – is fantastic and while the unbelievable dialogue does hamper their emotional inundations it isn’t nearly as vitiating because performers synergy is brilliant. It’s them who create the mood and not Chereau. Unfortunately this is the case for far too much of the film.

Although marked by insincerity and accusatory writing, the actors manage to convey honest emotion with which we may feel real sincerity. Because the cast is mired with cold, invasive dialogue which represents only the screenwriter’s inability to trust that his actors could convey thought tacitly these moments only come at speechless times. Rylance has a peculiar countenance which is perfect for a bemused character; Fox’s is similar but represents a form of hedonism that is more, well, earnest because her character’s husband becomes suddenly becomes a heel in the final few scenes; and Spall, well, Spall just crushes every scene he’s in and gives all those watching a lesson on how to act. It’s a performance piece from head to toe and one of the few contemporary films that would translate better as a silent feature. 

Although it’s unfair to write so little about the best film of the four, I feel there’s little to comment on when it comes to Midnight Cowboy. This review will mostly just be a memory tool for me to recall what I like about the movie, so you can skip this review and read some other blogger’s more insightful one if you’d like.

What makes this film is Dustin Hoffman’s performance as Rico Rizzo. He’s got the Bugs Bunny voice going full tilt, a pimp limp and a life so repulsive that it would make Lee Daniels squirm. The protagonist, Joe Buck (Jon Voight) isn’t a particularly interesting character on the surface, but the script and direction aggressively ply into his background with barely palpable combination flashbacks. Voight’s performance is a tricky thing because he doesn’t have the theatrical license that Hoffman does and the character is pretty much stuck on one gear through the entirety because his past has altered him to be as such – that’s made damn clear and Schlesinger gets my ultimate respect for conveying that flawlessly – so Voight is stuck in a kind of predicament. He does very well for the most part – Hoffman makes him step up his game when they’re together, that’s evident in how Voight composes himself so openly because Hoffman makes us believe that Rico is being so open, too – but I can’t help but feel if there were an actor with more expressive eyes in the lead role that we’d have a slightly better film.

The only gripe I have with the movie is the party sequence which tends to drag and become tedious in juxtaposing Buck’s duality with Rico’s singularity. It’s overly garish and mostly useless in the grand scheme of things.

All in all this is a beautiful film with one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen. For as rigorous and unremittingly bleak as this film is I’m surprised it won Best Picture in 1969. Then again that was the year where the Academy nominated They Shoot Horses Don’t They? and Z. I wish they’d show their bravura more.

On a final note, I saw Jakob der Lugner over a year ago and loved its ending. With time I’d forgotten how I interpreted its ambiguity and last night I spent a good half an hour reconstructing my thoughts on it. Yeah, it’s one of the finest endings ever which poses the most interesting, yet commonly asked questions – “What good is there to lie?” Beautifully ambiguous – I miss Vlastimil Brodsky. If you care about my opinion at all, you should check out 2001’s Autumn Spring. Wonderful performance – the man was a true legend.