Alyonka (Boris Barnet, 1961)
Looking back at my film diary for 2012: I managed to watch 384 films, that is more than an average of one film per day, not bad, could have been more. Beside films, read many books, watched every single football game of FC Barcelona, they are nothing short of watching a piece of Art in motion, but that is another story.
Here are my picks for the best films of 2012, from what I have seen so far:
Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012)
Tabu (Miguel Gomes, 2012) Put Tabu beside Carax’ Holy Motors as two self-conscious film in meditation on the art of cinema, equally beautiful and poetic F.W Murnau’s Tabu, Gomes’ Tabu is the story of two films; one sound, one silent. The first part of the film is the sound one, titled, Lost Paradise, almost a Pedro Costa take on the modern day Lisbon, or even better; Pedro Costa’s imagery and de Olivera’s subtle acting, in which Portuguese Colonialism is a past memory that no one talk about, but the legacy is still present in the old grumpy Aurora, she still prefer to refer to her black maid as a “Witch”, and still talk about witchcraft. But to make up for old grumpy Aurora, you got the silent Miss.Pilar; you don’t find characters like her in many films nowadays, she is so gentle, so simple, caring for others is her top priority, even if those others are thousands of miles away, she cry for no reason but for feeling for others, she pray every night before she goes to sleep, always for others and not herself. The second part of the films is the silent one, the most poetic, and the most beautiful, simply titled, Paradise; The times is the days of Portuguese Colonialism in Africa, the style of the film is that of silent cinema; no dialogue, the music of the soundtracks is a perfect silent film accommodation, those long dissolve from one shot into another, silent acting, no title cards, the only sound are the narrative of Gian Luca, minimalist experimental use of sound, beautiful, lyrical black and white imagery, long tracking shots. Miguel Gomes is a poet of filmmaker, every word of Gian Luca describing his youth is in prose; the story of young and beautiful Aurora, in a tragic love affair, from strangers, to lovers, to the story of two lovers on the run, then distance tragic lovers, in which two lover’s only communication now is lover letters; “If I curse the day I met you, it’s because it was followed by the one when we separated”, pure imagination is at work here, it is not circumstances, but the desire for a tragic ending that make the two lover separate forever, “And despite this love, never buried or defeated, I decided not to look for her”, Gian Luca Ventura is a coward of a characters, he neither can get what he desire, nor get away from it, he live in a times of indecision, as for young Aurora, she live, but with regrets, ” I have to exist, because the life I carry demands so”. Beautiful film.
Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012)
Amour (Michael Haneke, 2012) In his book, Civilization and Its Discontents, Sigmund Freud write about the three thing that mankind never could escape from; The interaction with the society we live in, the interaction with other people, and our bodies, that is; sickness, old age and death. Amour is the story of sickness, old age and death, the inescapable facts of life, and the interaction with each other, we rarely see the outside world, the only time we do, is when the husband and wife interact with other people from that outside world, we are stuck in a little apartment, with two people, two old people, the only thing they have is to reflect upon the past and the outside world via books, newspaper and radio (they don’t even have TV), but let us put aside Freud and the story of Amour, rather, let us talk about the style that make this film a meditating watch. If you look at the early silent films of the great Yasujiro Ozu, you will find it very stylish, many scenes in which the camera move, high angle, low angles shot, formal style of filmmaking that we rarely associate with Ozu, and if you look at early and middle Haneke, you find them also very stylish, especially 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance, but with Amour, he is becoming almost perfect in taking his style to the simplest, back into a formal style of filmmaking, almost to the silent era. Such style is needed for a film that take place inside a closed space of an apartment. Shooting in interior is always a challenge, for giving the limited space, the director does not have enough choice to maneuver the actor around or the camera, that is why the limit use of space is always a challenge for a good Mise en scène; Hanaek solve is brilliantly, going back to the style of Ozu, by using the furniture, doorways, the walls and the characters to block and change the size of the shot within one camera setup; the two old coupe walk into the house, the camera is setup to a two cowboy medium shot, as they go to hang their cloth, away from the camera, the shot become a two long full shot, even when the characters leave the space, he does not cut, but hold the shot. As for camera movement, the camera follow the behind characters in the corridor when in search of something, or to build up suspense, a little pans, a tilt, to adjust the character’s position and framing, or to change the shot size, the same camera movement is repeated multiple times, giving an overall unity to the style in the film. At times, as the character leave the space, the camera stay, it is the off-screen sound that tell the viewer the present of the character within the frame. Most of the time, we observe the wife through the subject POV of the husband, almost a Hitchockaian use of the shots; we see the husband, he looks, shot of what he see, back to his reaction, at times, his POV shot become an objective of an establishing shot, as he walk into the frame. Perhaps simpler in style, is the coverage shot; when the dialogue is not interesting, Hanake hold the establishing shot for a long time; when it is interesting; after the establishing shot, he cut to two over-the-shoulder shots, back and forth, when it is emotional, it is back and forth medium close up shot of each, couldn’t get simpler, but formal in style than that. You even have the pillow shots of Ozu, not as glamors, nor as poetic; still life shots of the interior of the apartment as transition from one sequence into another. As for the wide shots, there are very few, but when there is one, the space is used like a theatrical stage, characters spread out in one layer, the only time there is depth within the frame is when a character move toward or away from the camera, almost back to the early day of silent filmmaking, with one different; you got dialogue, sound effect and music in Amour, masterful.
Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012)
Holy Motors (Leos Carax, 2012) After more than a decade since his last feature film, Carax is back stronger than ever. Take a limousine ride around Paris with Monsieur Oscar on the back seat and Ciline driving, Carax’s a modern day Alphaville take on memory and reflection of cinema, watch it on the big screen, it is not made for TV or Computer screens, and if one has a strong memory of cinema, one will appreciate the genius of the film more. Carax’s most personal film to date is his love poem to cinema, to the past and the future of cinema, the beautiful past, and the future in which cinema become a CGI factory, but he does not reject the future, he only reflect upon it beauty; it is more glamorize to show the the technique of CGI than hiding it, but the emotion can’t be registered truthfully, the actor muse use stylized gestures and movement of the body, Denis Lavant’s dance in the room bring back memory of the ending of another film on the memory of cinema, Clair Denis’ Beau travail. Holy Motors is a combination of short films, each a tribute to a different cinema, it has one thing that many today’s film lack, less dialogue and more visual, cinema that once were cinema. Carax’s memory of cinema reflect upon copying of imagery and characters; the old man from the end of 2001, the factories from Ozu, roads of future from Solaris, Godzilla, the hair from Psycho, sound from Alphaville, Resnai’s Last Years at Marianbad, Rivett’es Umerbela of Chernburg, Hollywood’s musical, perhaps no other is as clear as Edith Scob at the end of the film becoming Christiane again, she is at home once again as if in Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, putting the mask on, “I’m coming home”. The one other film that I could think of with its structure being the memory of cinema is Pedro Costa’s O Sangue. Even the acting in each sequence is in line with cinema’s progress; the Monsieur Merde sequence is pure expressionism, re-carnation of Jekyll and Hyde, Nosferatu, a mix of King Kong and Hunchback of Noter Dame, Lon Chaney alive again, heavy orchestra of silent music on top of it, you even got the iris closing in on the details, Monsieur Merde’s behavior lack logic, like a silent character, he knocks down a blind man out of dozen who sees. What is more classical than a woman lightening a cigarette for a man and vise-verse, the old cliché of Hollywood, the beauty light it for the beast, Monsieur Merde break down cultural perception of what is normal, to him it is normal of a having Hijab fashion show. The file in the car that tell Monsieur Oscar his next assignment is a movie script, the car is like a transition from one sequence into another, moving in time, to the past, to the future, in which even the graves, even when one is dead, one express, “Visit my Website”, the address on the stones. The film open with an audience being hypnotized, they are watching a film, cinema as a hypnotizer, the man is born out of a projector room. You even have an intermission in the middle of the film, Even music is present within its historical content, masterful build up of instrumental music from the basic. Characters are re-creation of a creation, they take over each other’s personality, the murder scene; the murder take over the identity of the victim and vise versa. When the director ask Monsieur Oscar if he still enjoy his job, that of acting, “I’m asking, because some of us think you have looked a bit tired recently. Some don’t believe what they are watching recently” Oscar answers, “I miss the cameras. They used to be heavier than us, then they became smaller than our heads, no you can’t see them at all. So sometimes I too find it hard to believe in it all”, as cinema used to be visual, nowadays they only need microphones than cameras. The director ask again, “Isn’t this nostalgia a bit sentimental?”, It is indeed, if one truly love what cinema once where, one can’t help feeling nostalgic in reflecting upon it. Denis Lavant is a great actor, he act with his body, his eyes, with gestures only, a twisting in the eyes, a move of the shoulder, a perfect classic actor, very few of them around nowadays. He is perfect as Monsieur Oscar, an actor stuck on the screen, each day is a new one but its actions is one that is rehearsed, each night a different house become his home, different characters his wife, lovers, children, friends and enemies, be it real, surreal, abstract, or even plain pure fantasy, he is a man with 11 lives and counting, he is cinema’s creation and nothing more, the most beautiful and deceptive of a manipulative in emotions of all arts. A Masterpiece.
The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012)
The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2012) Ah, the good old love melodrama of the 50s is back with a touch of Davies; the overexposed lightbulb, the rainy pavement, the flashbacks, the good oldies pop music playing on the background and those characters with those lines that are only possible in the realm of the fictions, that can become laughable if it were not at the hand of masters like Sirk, Fassbinder and in the case of The Deep Blue Sea, Terence Davies. Marvelous, in class with the classic melodramas.
In Another Country (Sang-soo Hong, 2012)
In Another Country (Sang-soo Hong, 2012) There is an honesty in examining relationships in Sang-soo Hong’s film, that very few filmmakers manages to achieve, like Eric Rohmer, he is a distance observer, never forcing himself as a director in manipulating character’s behavior, same is true with the dialogues, it flows out of the character’s mouth and not a written script, improvisation is the trick, like his use of zoom in and out, he examine these relationship, be it a husband to a wife, or total strangers to each with little details, combined with a improvisation in the dialogue, and the acting, that is almost as gestural as in a Tati film, it create comic scenes in which the adults behave like children, even their cruel behaviors are funny, they live in a world of behaving, one person can have multiple identity from once scene into another, that is why Anne (Isabelle Huppert) play different role with each character and within each scene, at times cruel, at time gentle, it is no surprise that she play different role in the film, repeating of the same scenes and characters, but each time differently; she is an actor first, playing a role in “please be my friend” game, as she is chased by two men, she is running away from both, but respectfully, then she is a rich wife, having an affair, playing “follow the leader”, that is, in her imagination, the third one, is a combination of the two, the quite one and the imaginative one, that is where the best scene occurs; Anne having a rhetorical and dialectical conversation with a monk that define what the film is all about. Priceless.
Caesar Must Die aka Cesare deve morire (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, 2012)
Caesar Must Die aka Cesare deve morire (Paolo Taviani, Vittorio Taviani, 2012) Shakespeare and Cinema are very fond of each other, but it takes great courage for a a filmmaker to renew and adopt Shakespeare to fit the time, so it is with Caesar Must Die, one of the best adaptation of any Shakespearian play that I have seen in a long time, with its simplicity in use of sets, non-professional actors and realism that put to shame the over-the-top and glamorous Hollywood and Kenneth Branagh’s recent adaptation of Shakespeare. The intertwining of documentary, fiction and a play within a play in not something new, but to have it done in a real prison with real inmate, that is something special. The black and white cinematography, the interior of the prison, the raw faces, the amateur performance, it all give a realism in brutality to the film that fit best Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar, it give it a truth that one rarely find in a play, as the performance on the stage became as real as the one on the screen.
The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, 2012)
The Angels’ Share (Ken Loach, 2012) Loach’s cinema can be cruel, but comically cruel, his masterpiece, Kes, is a tragedy in comedy with not a so happy ending, The Angels’ Share is also a tragedy in comedy but with a happy ending, something that Loach rarely does in his films. When in 2011, during the UK youth riot, the debate raged on, on both side, some condemning the young “thugs”, others defending the “dissatisfied youth”, but none wanted to understand these youth, but Loach understand them, and The Angels’ Share is an examination of the inner-city youths, be it a group of young Glaswegian, the story could have been in London or any other town in any other place, they live in a world in which they struggle to find a decent place to sleep, but a world, in which the price of a bottle of whiskey can go as high a £100,000, in a world in which social appearance and character’s one’s past mistake can hunt one forever.
Great ones from 2011, that I watched in 2012:
Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011)
Faust (Alexander Sokurov, 2011) There are many film adaptation of Goethe’s Faust, the best that I had seen had always been F.W Murnau’s Faust, for it is a fantasy adaptation with no desire to be realistic or true to the book. Sokurov’s Faust is equal in power to that of Murnau, it is a film that only a philosopher of a poet could make it, as complex in nature as Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible, Sokurov create a world that on the surface seems like a realistic portrayal of the world of Faust, but underneath, it is a metaphor for Faust’s inner dilemmas, so what you end up seeing on the screen, is a world of two, always in conflict with each other, that of the reality and that of the poetic, the outer illusion of what you see, and the inner conflict within it, the battle instead of good and evil become that of the inner and the outer realization of a metaphorical world within Faust, it is a majestic and hypnotizing watch.
Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011)
Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011) Zvyagintsev tell a story like a novelist, if he had been born centuries earlier, before the age of cinema, he could have a masterful novelist, perhaps equal in psychology to Doestvosky and in detail to Turgenev. As much as the critics in the West tried their best to make a political film out of Elena, or to describe the world of the film as existing only in the streets of Moscow, it is not so, the streets, the characters and the houses could have been in any modern city of any country in today’s world, Zvyagintsev never been a political filmmaker, rather, his films are an examination of characters in relationship with each others, on the outside pretending to be something, but deep down, they are in turmoil; in The Return, is an examination of a Father’s inner turmoil relationship with his two sons, in The Banishment, a husband to a wife. In Elena, the inner turmoil of the wife is not only psychologically driven by her world being inferior to that of her husband, for she comes from a proletariat class compared to her rich husband, but there is also a mysterious motive of love in her, the love for her children and also the hatred for her husband’s daughter that drive her to commit murder. It is a murder that arises from inner motive hidden inside her, she is not Raskolnikov, she has never imagined, nor planned to murder, it arises from a moment of passion, a split second decision that she think is an act of righteousness. We never truly understand the protagonist in Elena, she remain a mystery, psychologically, we only understand her through her little actions; cleaning the room, cooking, watching TV, shopping, walking, taking a train, it is these little action that show her characters, same is true for the Father in The Return, and the husband in The Banishment, they are mysterious characters that we get a short glimpse of in the cinema cinema of Zvyagintsev, a world with its look dominated by the colors of blue, yellow and white, beautiful cinema. Masterpiece.
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011)
Le Havre (Aki Kaurismaki, 2011) I have to make a confession; I cried at the end of Le Havre, the miracles of a wife being resurrected, a cheery tree blooming in mid winter is Kaurismaki’s optimistic vision of the cinematic possibility of a miracle, if Chaplin has made a film today, it would had been Le Havre, for the heart and the deep rooted sentimentality of the film is pure Chaplin, one good deed from one person can have a profound impact on others, and that is why, the ending of Le Havre is as powerful as that of City Light, we as the viewer are faced with truth that is hard to accept, but we know it is possible, the most optimistic work of Kaurismaki do date.
The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011)
The Turin Horse (Bela Tarr, 2011) Two years ago, Belcourt Theatre in Nashville showed 35mm print of Tarr’s Satantango, more than six hours in length, it was shown in two part with a break for lunch between, it was a great experience in watching one of the best film of the 90s. As for The Turin Horse, I had if for more than a year, a Digital copy of the film, but I did not watch it , for I waited for a the blue-ray version of the film to appear, because it is a sin to watch Tarr film in a low quality version, or on a computer screen, you miss the beauty of it. The Turin Horse is supposedly Tarr’s last film, and no, it is not a story about Nietzsche, and neither it is it of a horse, like the big whale in Werckmeister Harmonies, the horse is only a character that our main characters evolve around it, almost like a pivot, it is the story of a Father and the Daughter, but more than anything, The Turin Horse is an examination of little details that made life once life, little action define the Father and the Daughter; cutting of the wood, building the fire, cooking the potato, washing the cloth, removing the skin of the hot potato, eating the potato, drying up the cloth, getting water from the well, getting dressed, getting undressed, loading a cart, and unloading it, feeding the horse, etc. There is also the action of doing nothing, just sitting and staring, it is a beautiful artificial world that only cinema can produce, and Tarr is bold about it; it is windy, everything in the frame move by the wind, but the trees on the background are not moving, artificial, those long tracking shot that seem to be pushing the character away from us, yet, always following them, beautiful black and white cinematography, the wide room that is a cinematic stage, every prop in it place to utmost detail, like Dryer’s composition, very clean. There is purity in the look of the film, either black, or white, with a light shade of gray. Everything has weight of equal significant in a Tarr film; a character walking, talking, doing something, doing nothing, his face to us, his back to us, a room full of characters or an empty room, a leaf flying amid the wind, it is all equally giving the same time and space on the screen, he is not as a perfectionist as Hitchcock when telling a story, he is rather imperfect of storyteller, but such a lack of perfection in the narrative make his films ever more a meditative watch that leave you with lasting impression, just as Hitchcock always let the viewer knows as much as the characters in the film or even more, when characters look, we see what they are looking at, or a times, we see things that the character never see, we are ahead of them, Tarr does the opposite, we never know what the characters know, let alone know more than them, when they look, they stare, but we never know what they are staring at, we have to guess it, but they are both master filmmakers, because they use the tool of the trade to the extreme edge, in doing so, they reach perfection. What emotion the characters lack in the film is made up for it by the music of Vig Mihaly, almost a silent film orchestral music accommodating the film. As for the dialogue, there are few, for the Father and Daughter in the film live by action and not dialogue, when a visitor talk about the philosophical edge of doom, after a long talk, the Father simply tells him, “Come on, that is rubbish”, words mean nothing to them, only action. Tarr should have been making film in the 50s and 60s, in the days when the giants of cinema made their best, he belong with them, with; Bresson, Bunuel, Ozu, Bergman, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ford, Hawks, Welles, Ray, Dreyer, Antonioni, etc. Tarr’s last film, his farewell to cinema is a beautiful one, and he shall be missed.
Drive (Nicholas Winding, 2011)
Drive (Nicholas Winding, 2011) What makes Drive such a thrilling watch comes down to its smart combination of genres and styles, characters right out of American cinema of 70s, story of a loner out of European cinema of 60s, a musical soundtrack of 80, mix it with the stylish influence of Wong Kar Wai, combine all that with a tragic Greek play rather than a story, and in Drive you get a thrilling watch, despite the few flows in the film in which the violent is stretched to the limit, it is one to watch.
Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011)
Another Earth (Mike Cahill, 2011) Well, now you know what it is like to mash together Stanley Kubrick and Krzysztof Kieslowski, you get Another Earth, with its psychological power to grab the viewer into a tale of guilt and redemption mashed into a science-fiction genre with masterfully staged scenes that are equal in power to 2001: A Space odyssey, it has been a while that a film could move a viewer into the edge of wonder watching a scene so powerful and other worldly as the first contact scene between this Earth with Earth 2 in Another Earth, equally powerful to that of Hal 9000 in 2001. For a small budget film, produced, directed, acted, edited and shot with only a handful staff, it is a truly a wonder film to watch, emotionally powerful as it is intellectually manipulative that put to shame a million time a big-budget film like Melancholia. Another Earth is not to be missed.
Meeks Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011)
Meeks Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2011) It has been more than a decade that I had seen a Western so fresh, new and revisionist as Meeks Cutoff. One has to go back to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), as the last great western. A genre never die, but a great film in a genre should always reinvent itself, and it takes Reichardt to do so. With a story-line that mix between Wellman’s Yellow Sky and Ford’s Wagon Masters, Reichardt add a new dimension to the story, that of knowing, asking questions at every turn, just like the history of the West, with its dark tragic past, its brutal treatment of the Native, the guilt of that history that is that nothing short of genocidal, always hidden, rarely questioned with it’s muddy historical accuracy, the film almost become a mediation into that history, a road taken with no end in sight, and the only vision is that of a Native Indian, in which we are unable to communicate, yet it lead us into that unknown territory.
Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011)
Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, 2011) Margaret is a film about guilt, the inability to face one’s guilt, one of the basic emotion of human, and the opening credit of the film set the tone for it; Tarrega’s lyrical music, Recuerdos de la Alhambra set to the slow motion of a crowd walking the street of NY, the camera is in search of a protagonist, one among the crowd, we find our protagonist, not on the street, but in a classroom, Lisa, a teenager becoming an adult, like all other teenager in the film, she is emotionally in turmoil, unstable, a snub, always arguing for the opposite view just for the sake of arguing, she love debating, love letting other people down, she have a prejudice and limited view of others, even racist when it comes to her view of Arabs and Muslims, she doesn’t like Californian, telling her father, “I don’t go for the Californian type”, as if all the Californian were the same, she even hate Opera, because she “don’t like that kind of singing”, she generalize everything, but she know nothing, she call people “strident” without knowing what the word itself means, if someone is kind to her, she think they want something from her, but if someone ignore her, she is attracted to them, she exchange the boy who is in love with her for a guy for a one night stand, she calculate all her moves, yet always end up in the wrong, a simple search for a cowboy hat bring ever lasting grief not upon herself only, but countless others, she become a different person. The bus incident is the heart of the film, everything in the film evolve around it, that is why it is shot so realistically compare to the the artificiality of other scenes, poor woman, she has been hit by a bus, at first she think she is dead, she is in shock, but when she realize she is dying, she does not want to go, it is hard to portray death, or the moment of dying, that is why the dialogue is so important between the woman dying and Lisa, it get the viewer’s empathy for the two of them, the only time that the viewer sympathize with Lisa, for seeing one dying in front of you is more shocking than hearing about it, when it is a stranger, it is less emotional, as one hear daily of many victims of war, famines, car crashes, murder, etc, they are a mere number, but when face to face, they are human being, and not just a number, that is why others have a hard time relating to the incident as Lisa does, for grief is personal and comes from one experiencing it, she has a hard time herself dealing with it, because she has never cared for anybody or anything truthfully, and those few caring emotional moment with the woman become a paradox for her, her action to erase that guilt for the rest of the film make it even hard for the viewer to sympathize with her, she becomes more of a despicable of a character, because she can’t face the reality in herself, she always pretending, full of fakery, but others see through her, and when they do, all she has to show, is anger, because she is incapable of loving, her mother is no better than her, she is an exact copy, she care more about the first day opening of her play than her daughter’s emotional turmoil, both selfish, caring only for oneself, and her father is another snob, every time he call her, he ask her about “the boyfriend situation”, dysfunctional family at its best, they are cold and heartless, and New York is also cold in the film, distance, and emotionless. The guilt of Lisa is what drive the film, because she was the cause of a death, that guilt make her to lie, not in order to save the driver from punishment, but as a small token of redemption for herself, but its no redemption as she find out, and being a snob, she want to find something to pass the guilt to, for she can’t face the reality within herself, of being guilty, of the inner punishment, she goes as far as to ask the driver to share her guilt equally if not more to lessen her burden, when she fails, she wash one guilt with another one, by wanting to punish the driver, to make him suffer her guilt, to take her responsibility, that is her inner struggle that clashes with outer world, of being guilty and wanting to escape from it, she is annoying not only to everyone in the film, but also to the viewer. Lisa, she is evil, just as nobody in the film want to understand her, so it is with the viewer, she is one character that the viewer love to hate, one of the most despicable character of recent films, and when she lose, her breakdown of confessing to the guilt become a triumph for the viewer; watching the guilty pleasure of her downfall, as more guilt is added to what she suffers from already, at the end, it is the music of Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman that closes the film, again the camera searches, this time on the stage, its camera searches among the crowd again, but it easily find Lisa, she is sitting there, she has become one of the crowd.
Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)
Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011) You may call Young Adult a modern day take on Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; Quixote is a middle aged woman, Mavis Gary, Panza being a former high school friend of her, now on crutches, and Dulcinea del Toboso is her former high school boyfriend whom she now chasing. Mavis pretend to be a successful writer, when not busy writing stories for teenagers, she is watching TV, and the television is always on some reality show on teenagers, she still live in a world of of her high school days, but her friends, and her former town passed that stage many years ago, she take a journey back to her town, to get her former boyfriend back. One of the best scene in the film is when she driving around the town, looking for a decent place to eat dinner, as she looks, it gets worse, all she sees is KenTacoHut; KCF, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, and her face drops more into a dreary mood, shaking her head in disbelief. She was once popular in her little town, in her high school, now living far away, in Minneapolis, she seem to belief that she is leading a fast life in a big city, think of others who are leading a normal life in her former small town as boring, she is a snob, or pretend to be one, she is all appearance, leading an empty life, even if she is a failure, she pretend otherwise, she is always faking it, never could face reality, even when in a bar, she pretend to be busy with her cellphone, typing gibberish, but deep inside, she wishes to be in their shoes. To her love is like in the movies, like The Graduate, she still listen to oldies music, she write for teenagers, she is still a teenager lost in the body and mind of a middle aged woman, so it is no wonder that she can’t expect the fact that the guy she was once in love with in high school is married now and has a child, worse, she can’t imagine he would love his child and his wife, for she think, everyone is selfish like herself, she still think he is meant to be for her, as she shout, “Love conquers all”. She get ready for her date with the guy, put on her best dress, does her hair, manicure, massage, like a first date, but the guy live in a different world, after so many years, meeting again, he invite her to meet in a sport bar, he walk into the bar wearing his home dress, unshaven, sleepy, yet, she still want him, she talk to him romantically, repeat the same sentences she hear from teenager in the street. She star spying on him and his family life, with his old body from high school, both perfect as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza; she is a Quixote who is always fantasizing, but Panza alway bring her back to reality, but despite being such a snob and liar, toward the end, like Quixote, you can’t help feeling sorry for her, as her fantasy world become the cruel reality she has been running away from all her life, but as it turn out, her fantasy world might just as well be equal if not better than the reality of the people that live in at her small town pretending to be happy.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011)
We Need to Talk About Kevin (Lynne Ramsay, 2011) Watching We Need to Talk About Kevin feels like watching an experimental music video; from orchestral, to bluegrass, country, folks, pop, chorus, classic, rock, classic rock, to the great Lonnie Donegan and Buddy Holly,to Zen, back to bluegrass, with the most memorable of all the tracks being; Washington Phillip’ Mother’s Last Word To Her Son. Coming from Lynne Ramsay, a former photographer, the images in films are still photographs in motion, making the film a combination a dozen or so bits and pieces of experimental filmmaking; with tomatoes and red color being the pivot between the shots, be it tomatoes, catchup, Campbell tomato soup, or egg and tomato omelet, no kidding. It is a bizarre film on a dysfunctional family seemingly leading a normal life. The story of a woman that hate being a mother so much, that she prefer the sound of a drilling machine to that of her baby son crying, Kevin and her Mother seem to be competing as to which one of them is the most despised person in the film, like mother, like son. An arty version of The Omen in the examination of a hate relationship between a Mother and a Son, even the society, the people surrounding the two seem more abnormal than the two, but Kevin, spoiled brat, stand up above the rest, he has to be one of the most despicable character of recent films, yet, after committing the atrocities, he comes out into the spotlight, like a rock star, a decent portrayal of a society in love with violent.
The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011)
The Descendants (Alexander Payne, 2011) Alexander Payne set out in The Descendants to make a film about a character who is in a coma, suffering, yet, she is the one that causes the most pain upon the others, making her the most unattractive character in the film. Unlike the many heavy handed sentimental films about the same subject, common to the genre, at the end of The Descendants, Payne arrives at creating one of the most sentimental film of the last few years, for the characters are real three dimensional figures, they all have their faults, cruelty and inner most darkest desires, shown in the most cruelest and humors ways, that reminds one of the cinema of Fellini, but at the end, when the sentimentality arrives, they do care, and we do care, and it is those sincere moments of showing of caring produce an emotional ending to a dark film of a comedy, and we, as viewer, feel it, even if its a short glimpse.
Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011)
Bernie (Richard Linklater, 2011) There is a short story by Anton Chekhov titled The Duel; in which the the main character in the story is in a relationship with a woman whom he care deeply about, but despise her even more, while eating lunch, he suddenly notice the way she is eating the food, he is displeased by her “white open neck and the little curls at the back of her head”, and a sudden hatred in despise arise him, at that second he recall Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, “And he remembered that when Anna Karenina got tired of her husband, what she disliked most of all was his ears, and thought: ‘How true it is, how true!’”, and a feeling of contempt in him lead him to sympathize with those who kill their mistress, but he does not go that far, but Bernie does, poor Bernie; a man who everyone love, everyone want to be with, one that seem to be only capable of loving others before oneself, but end up with the one person (Shirley MacLaine is brilliant in the role of the cold, old, rich widow) who is incapable of love, and a split second is enough for Bernie to act violently; that split second is seeing her chewing the food more that is take to be chewed at lunch table, that is the officially story of the film that everyone in the town love to tell; but can a man like that really exist?, or was he really a monster of an actor that managed to fool a small town and also fool the viewer, as the prosecutor puts it , “There is no doubt in my mind Bernie Tiede is a calculating evil actor”. The genius of the film is the script, the mashing of the holy and the absurd, when a character talk seriously, suddenly a punch line underline the seriousness in the dialogue, when Bernie is been integrated, he confess to the crime “I shot poor Mrs. Nugent four times. With the armadillo gun”, the Sheriff asks, “Then what?”, “Well, then the Lord called her Home”, or when one of her old lady friend try to disclaim the rumors that Bernie might have been a “queer”, because he wore sandals all the time, and he was not married; “Our Lord and Savior always wore sandals and he never married. And he had 12 disciples, and I don`t think any of them ever married. And you never heard anybody in the New Testament say that they was a bunch of queers”, but the genius of Linklater is to take the documentary genre and twist it to a degree that is still manipulative, not to to a degree of a mockumentary, but a fictional take on a narrative story of a film that uses all the manipulative tool of a documentary; the direct interview, the juxtaposition in imagery, newsreel tradition, take on mondo films, mixing of the experiential strand and the interview strand, to create a masterful film of a black comedy, with genuine realistic characters of a fictional creation. I lived in the South and I could pinpoint many of the character in the film as some that I have one encountered, and I couldn’t help but murmur to myself, “How true it is, how true!”
Cinematic ocean is so deep that as you dive to it, you come upon gem after gem, here the precious gems that I discovered (re-discovered) the past year:
The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925)
The Big Parade (King Vidor, 1925) I vividly recall the first time I watched The Big Parade; I checked the film out of the library, it was an old VHS tape, and from the first frame of the film to the last, I was glowed to the screen, for two hours, I did not move from my place, and when the scene came along of John Gilbert in the trenches captures the German soldier, he has already wounded him, for the first time he sees the face of his enemy, he want to kill him to revenge his friends, but he realize he is just a man like himself, and this realization only lead him to more contempt; he light a cigarette to the dying German solider, all the time, pushing his head back forth as if telling him, “You are just like me, why is that? Why should I kill you?”, as I watched that long take of the two of them in the trench, one dying at the hand of other, neither knowing why, nor on how to behave. I could not help repeating to myself loudly, “What a scene, what a genius Vidor is, what genius filmmaking”, and when the end scene came along; the son return, with one leg missing, the poor mother, old and gray, as they embrace each other, flashback over the scene of the son as little child taking his first step, I could not help being moved to the edge of tears, such beauty, honesty and truth in a film is hard to find in today’s cinema, and those battles scenes, even today, more than 80 years later, they are still among the most beautifully choreographed battles scenes ever to have been captured on the screen, they are like symphonies, beat by beat, they build up into a harmonic climax. Genius film.
By the Law aka Po zakonu (Lev Kuleshov, 1926)
By the Law aka Po zakonu (Lev Kuleshov, 1926) As a kid, I was madly in love with the world of Jack London, in cold winter nights, I used to read his works under a lamp or a candle light, what a great feeling it was, I must have read White Fang at least three times. The world of Jack London is exotic, but it is cold, not just the snowy landscape, but also the inner soul of his characters, he was not a writer who could write about the inner demons of his characters in such prose as Doestovsky or Turgenev, instead, he wrote naturalistically, using the landscape and the natural forces as a reflection of that souls, human struggle for survival against not only extreme natural forces, but also one another, even if escaping the law of society, man cannot escape the law of other men in condemnation, as it is in his short story, The Unexpected, in which By the Law is based upon. Even in the remote landscape of Yukon, human condemn others in the name of law and religion, in the hand of Kuleshov, Jack London’s story became a psychological struggle within the soul of three characters, the extreme natural forces in the background only awaken the demon in them more, into a point of becoming unbearable to tolerate one another, even there, Queen Victoria condemn men to death, the law of the jungle seem more tolerant than that of humanity, just under an hour in length, By the Law is among the best of silent Kuleshov.
The Holy Mountain (Leni Riefenstahl, 1926)
The Holy Mountain (Leni Riefenstahl, 1926) All praise to Leni Riefenstahl as a film director, but what a lousy actor and a dancer she is in The Holy Mountain. What she lack in acting and dancing in the film is taken care of by the beautiful and lyrical cinematography in the film, what a beautiful film. The story of the sea, the mountain, the snow, add to them a triangular love affair and man’s conflict and harmony with nature. Cinema by nature is a medium that once took its inspiration at birth from theater, the horizontal space is what most directors like to photograph and stage their mes-en scene, but in The Holy Mountain, Riefenstahl does the opposite, everything seem to be photographed and composed vertically, even the depth staging is vertically stages, Riefenstahl goes to the extreme as to mask the frame into vertical lines, that is what give the unique beauty to the film. Not to be missed.