Sunday, April 27, 2008
Behind the Sun (Portuguese title: Abril Despedaçado) is a Golden Globe-nominated 2001 Brazilian film directed by Walter Salles, produced by Arthur Cohn, starring Rodrigo Santoro. Its original Portuguese title means Shattered April, and it is based on the novel of that name by Ismail Kadare, about the honor culture in the remote mountains of Albania.
This heartrending film about blood feud and self-sacrifice is set in the badlands of Northeast Brazil during the early 20th century.
The year is 1910; the place the badlands of Northeast Brazil. Twenty-year-old Tonio is the middle son of an impoverished farm family, the Breves. He is next in line to kill and then die in an ongoing blood feud with a neighboring clan, the Ferreiras. For generations, the two families have quarreled over land. Now they are locked into a series of tit-for-tat assassinations of their sons; an eye-for-an-eye, a tooth-for-a-tooth. Embedded in this choreography of death is a particular code of ethics: "Blood has the same volume for everyone. You have no right to take more blood than was taken from you." Life is suffused with a sense of futility and stoic despair.
Under pressure from his father, Tonio kills one of the Ferreira sons to avenge the murder of his older brother. This act marks him as the next victim. Tonio's younger brother is addressed only as "the Kid" by the family. Anticipating future loss, his parents don't give him a name. The Kid is an imaginative and loving child, whose spirit will not break in the face of harsh parenting, brutalizing isolation, and numbing poverty. The Kid's love encourages Tonio to question his fate. When Tonio meets Clara, a charming itinerant circus girl, all of life's possibilities open up for him. Will he be able to escape? Can the cycle of human sacrifice be broken?
The message of this movie is universal. It was inspired by the novel Broken April, by Ismail Kadare, which describes a blood feud in the mountains of Albania.
Sandwiched between the superb Central Station and the even better Motorcycle Diaries, Salles’ period adaptation of an Albanian novel makes memorable cinema out of the simplest of storylines.
Walter Carvalho’s cinematography expresses aridity, drudgery and wilderness in a style reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s westerns, as Tonho (played sensitively by Rodrigo Santoro) struggles to break out of the suffocating existence imposed on his family by a long-running blood feud.
In common with his great films to date, Behind the Sun is another lyrical example of the director’s attempts to breathe humanity into the most inhuman of environments and it succeeds with surprising economy.
Cada cena é uma pintura. Cada diálogo é uma poesia. A luz mágica do diretor de fotografia Walter Carvalho e a direção fluente de Walter Salles (a mesma dupla de Central do Brasil) convidam a platéia a embarcar num tempo e numa geografia perdidos em algum lugar no sertão nordestino.
Horizontes amplos. Diálogos longamente meditados. Abril Despedaçado tem uma estética própria, reflexiva, há anos luz de distância da era dos videoclipes. Entrar numa sala escura de cinema para apreciá-lo é como embarcar num Túnel do Tempo sensorial.
Tudo começa com Pacu (o garoto Ravi Ramos Lacerda, estreante em cinema) tentando narrar a própria saga. Ele diz que tem uma história para contar, mas não consegue se lembrar de tudo. Provavelmente porque tem ainda uma outra história martelando dentro de sua cabeça, que não quer sair.
Inspirado (e não exatamente baseado) no romance homônimo do escritor albanês Ismail Kadaré, Abril Despedaçado narra a luta entre duas famílias, no interior nordestino, nos primeiros anos do século 20. É uma guerra aberta, repleta de normas que soam ridículas aos ouvidos modernos, mas que foram exaustivamente pesquisadas antes de serem colocadas no roteiro. Em nome da terra, eles se digladiam, se assassinam mutua e lentamente, geração após geração. A morte de um vale, por direito, a morte do outro, como num jogo de cartas marcadas onde não haverá vencedores. Há tréguas combinadas e braçadeiras negras que marcam a próxima vítima. Há a estúpida justificativa do assassinato pela honra e a cruel determinação de quem deve morrer, e quando. É o "olho por olho que cega o mundo" ao qual se referia Mahathma Gandhi.
Porém, no novo século (o 20 e não o 21), este mórbido círculo vicioso terá de ser quebrado. A função caberá a Tonho, personagem de Rodrigo Santoro, de Bicho de 7 Cabeças, novamente ótimo. Tonho é um rapaz de 20 anos, marcado para nunca fazer 21, que não conhecia o amor. Travado, resignado à própria sorte centenária, ele passa a conhecer o outro lado da moeda pela figura libertária de Clara (Flávia Marco Antonio, atriz vinda do circo que também faz sua estréia no cinema). Não por acaso, Clara é uma artista de circo. Circo, liberdade, criação, alegria. Elementos que se chocam frontalmente com o rude cotidiano de Tonho, um círculo vicioso de dor e tristeza ritmado pelo som melancólico do moinho de cana puxado por bois. O rapaz forçosamente terá de resolver esta dicotomia, custe o que custar. E custará caro.
Abril Despedaçado é uma preciosidade. É Cinema na maior acepção da palavra: sons e imagens que se interligam com talento incomum para contar uma história preciosa. E ainda um forte sinalizador que Central do Brasil não foi um ato isolado de “sorte”, mas sim o resultado de um trabalho sério e profissional.
Abril Despedaçado pode não ter sido indicado ao Oscar. E daí? É um filme obrigatório do cinema brasileiro.
Walter Salles, director of Behind The Sun, talks about his new film and transforming novels to film.
Interviewer: The intervention of the two lovers, ... is almost sort of fairytale like, do you think that's what it takes to break the routine?
Walter Salles: You know, in the book, in Kadare's book, these two characters that intervene and give us the idea that a foreign element could help us to, you know, to somehow decode ---
Int: ...like you said about living in a fairytale, I thought that was really good, how you talked yesterday (during a Q&A with Anthony Minghella) about him being air, and she was spinning around in the air and she was also a fire-eater and a sort of fire display and there was the water, which was obviously a huge image and then the earth with the oxen going round and round and round.
Walter Salles: You know, when I read the book and when we started to do the location scouting and we did travel for at least twenty thousand miles to find the place where we wanted to shoot it, we realised that the few persons that we found in those regions, of course they were really grounded to the, you know, to the land and had a very scarce understanding of the world that was beyond those the limits of their small properties and this is one of the reasons why the film is played on the opposition between what is earthy and what is not, you know, and what is actually in a circle you cannot escape from and what doesn't have gravity and may allow you to escape from, you know, so for the scene in the robe or the existence of the book, the existence of the sea, whatever can trigger your imagination is, works in opposition to whatever grounds those characters in the same, place and do not allow them to overcome those very limits and there was a fable-like quality to this project that, that was very keen to us since the beginning and it's as if we were in what the French call huis clos, how do you translate that? It was a claustrophobic cloister, but in the open.
Int: Do you see imagination as an opposite to violence?
Walter Salles: Yes, certainly and knowledge as well, you know, this is where the book enters into the story, the possibility together, information and to be able to project, images and concepts that go beyond the limits of the ones you're normally accustomed to, you know, whatever helps you to have a more diverse and polyphonic vision of reality, I think helps to fight from off on the violence and if you, if you also accept the fact that whomever comes, whatever is foreign to you is not a menace, and if you remember in the film, the mother reacts at the fact that there's somebody crossing their lands and when they don't get mixed up with those vagrants and it's, er, um, that's the reflection of something we wanted to say in the film, is that for that family, whomever doesn't belong to that nucleus is a menace, you know, who won't agree to go beyond that.
Int: And has the author seen the film?
Walter Salles: Yes.
Int: Ismail? He has?
Walter Salles: Yes, yes, Ismail Kadare, yes, he has and actually the book was adapted twice before, once in Albania and another time fifteen, twenty years ago in France, I opted not to see the other versions and um, the interesting thing is that when he, when he saw the film, Kadare, he came to me and, and said you know, this is the most faithful adaptation of this book and yet, so many elements are different and at the end of the day, I think that when you adapt a story, when you transform literature into film, what you have to really respect is the essence of the book, more than anything else and you should be able to create a dialogue between those two forms of communication as opposed to just adapting, ipsis literis, you know, a book, you should be able to, to use it as a formidable source of inspiration and, that, that could grant you the possibility to investigate, you know, worlds that you would never be able to plunge in without that source material. I read once an interview by Kubrick where he said that he preferred to adapt books where the characters were very well defined and he didn't care too much about story, and, and then the architecture and the plot was really concerned that he didn't have on the option a book, and I can understand that, but on the other hand, if you are not moved by the story, if there's, if the story doesn't, doesn't create a resonance I think it's very difficult to move on, because the characters per se are not sufficient to justify an adaptation but I, again I can understand, I can understand his perception
Int: Did you find that the, the actors gave anything to their characters that you didn't already have in the script? And I'm mainly thinking, to be honest, of the boy who was a street actor that you found, wasn't there, and then the point where you could really see that in the film was where, it was amazing when he was behind the conical of wood and he was reading out the tales himself and creating the tale and then he had all the actions and then you know, he was amazing at that, so I didn't know whether the other actors kind of brought things that you could develop?
Walter Salles: Yeah, no, absolutely, um, you know, we, we, rehearsed for almost eight weeks, seven, seven to eight weeks, in, because there were many elements to be mastered. Well, first of all, that machine that crushes the sugar cane is a dangerous machine to operate in that in the vicinity of the place we shot there was a, a little city and um, we saw a few people without hands and, or who had lost part of their arms and we soon realised that they had in fact lost them in that very machine, and therefore as it had to be operated by the four, you know, by the whole family we spent a number of weeks making sure that they had a complete understanding and complete control of that. The second thing is that the oxen at the beginning, wouldn't respond to the father's mantra because they were used to another voice so for weeks also you had to create a situation where the animals responded to the voice of the head of the family, that took a lot of work. Little by little, whatever, for instance, the mantra the father invented to make the oxen go round was incorporated and whatever he says is actually completely non-existent in the first versions of the screenplay because that had to be invented as we went along. And then the same thing for the boy, because he had such a capacity to project himself into a completely fairytale world, you know, and we soon started to incorporate that into the screenplay. I had done a similar thing in, in Central Station where as we were on the road and when we saw the religious processions in that part of Brazil, we soon incorporated them into the film and it didn't exist in the original screenplay either and here the boy started to imitate, you know, as we went back and forth to the location and the animals were there, he started to imitate all of them and then suddenly we started to incorporate that as well, er, same thing with the fire-eater, when she started to show us what she could do, we, we immediately started to, you know, to organically incorporate those elements into the screenplay and that is really a fascinating part of our film, it's the collaborative aspect of it, you know, it's when you realise that without every single person's input, the film wouldn't be the same and this is what really makes cinema depart from most medium, is that you have to accept it's democratic quality, you know, essence in order for a film to really be alive and interesting to watch, I guess.
Int: There's one thing that I didn't quite understand the significance of, but it just really stood out in my mind - where the oxen got tired and they collapsed, but then afterwards ---
Walter Salles: They walked by themselves.
Int: Yeah, the boy said, oh, ----
Walter Salles: Yeah, the idea is that the family is just like the oxen, in a situation where they go round and round and round and they don't go anywhere, any more and that thing is just a visualisation of it, but it's heralded by another scene that comes a little bit before that, when the boy says what I mentioned to you, we're just like the oxen, we go round and round and we don't get to see anything from the outside world and in that scene, where the oxen just move by themselves, you realise that you have reached the complete illogical situation where now they're just going round and round and round and for no reason whatsoever, they're not attached any more to the machine, so it's just about the how do you say that, er, the perpetual motion without anything to justify it and this is the breaking point really for Tonio, he just realises that he has to go.
Int: One of the scenes I really liked was the swing where Tonio falls off and then they think that he is dead and also it struck me that I kind of hoped he was dead, because then it would get them out of this entire battle if he were. Then it was lovely when he wasn't, because they rolled around on the ground and that also struck me as quite earthy because the straw was covering all their backs as they rolled and rolled and rolled around and they had no problem with getting that mucky.
Walter Salles: That's also, it's a moment of relief where for the first time the family bonds in laughter and it's somehow breaks for a few moments the gravity of you know, of the piece and so therefore it was of a necessary scene, it was also fun to shoot because interestingly enough, when you shoot people laughing, it starts to be immediately contagious, and you start to laugh in front and behind the camera as well and it went on forever and ever and ever, so at one point we said OK, enough laughs, let's move on.
Int: What influence do the Greek plays have on this film?
Walter Salles: When we went to Ismail Kadare, you know, he said the best way to research, to plunge even more into this universe, is to go to Greek tragedy and if you read Aeschylus, you see that blood feuds were at the very basis of Greek tragedy and this is what I did, what I've done, I started to read them again and as I studied philosophy and I did the Baccalaureate in philosophy, I had navigated in those waters many years ago and, and it was interesting to see them and to read them and in this completely different light and it in Aeschylus, you could already find that blood feuds between families were extremely common in ancient Greece and until the seventh century, after Christ, if there was a murder, the murder was settled between families, the state didn't interfere, as it does today in all modern societies, so if a crime did occur in Greece, let's say in the second century after Christ, the matter was settled between families and either through revenging the blood or through paying a certain sum that was stipulated in talents, the talent was the Greek measure for monetary values.
Int: So did you set this film in any particular time, because I know it's meant to be universal, but was it set in any particular time?
Walter Salles: Well yes, 1910, Brazil, because this is when part of that territory that was, as I told you, the basis for many doctoral studies in Brazil and even in doctoral theses made by American historians they all concentrated on that 1910, 1950, ---
Int: Yeah of course, I remember, there was a time slide at the beginning
Walter Salles: Yeah, but it wasn't until 1950, 1960, you still found, you could still find that and again perpetrated from generation to generation and generation to generation, to a point where you didn't even know any more how it, how it started and it seemed to me interesting to incorporate a character which is the young kid's character, at one point says no, and refuses to perpetrate the cycle and that is the element that is absent, that is, that doesn't exist in the Kadare book
Int: Tonio just did it to do it
Walter Salles: Yes, yes, he had to do it, but also what struck me in the book was the idea of life broken into two, you know, the idea of a young kid who is twenty, twenty one, who's obliged to commit a crime that he doesn't really want to commit and then his life is divided into two - the twenty years that he has already lived and the few days he's got to live. And he doesn't know what the world looks like and there was a tragic poetry to that, that I felt really compelled to, and I couldn't forget it and this is one of the reasons why I opted to adapt this. Just that it was so resonant and it struck me to a point where I could not move forward and do it.
It would be easy to dismiss Behind the Sun, the tale of a Brazilian blood feud as seen through the eyes of a young boy, as yet another elegantly made, but slightly sentimental Miramax foreign-language acquisition. Like Amélie and Life Is Beautiful, Walter Salles' follow-up to his Oscar-nominated Central Station tastes of digestible exoticism, sugared with whimsy and spiced with tragedy. Constructed with a certain literary exactitude, it's reminiscent of the kind of magical-realist novels in translation (bring on the circus acts!) one finds in the world's better class of airport bookshops. Indeed, Behind the Sun was adapted from Albanian author Ismail Kadaré's novel Broken April (the film title in Portuguese is Abril despedaçado) by Salles, Sérgio Machado and Karim Aïnouz. That the story has been so easily transposed from the novel's 30s Balkans setting to the Brazilian sugar-cane badlands of 1910, where similar blood feuds were rife, testifies to its classical simplicity.
What elevates Behind the Sun is the arresting assurance of its direction. Salles and his cinematographer Walter Carvalho (who also worked on Central Station) hew exquisite chiaroscuro compositions from candle-lit interiors, balancing them with pitiless sun-bleached landscapes. (When asked what happened to the stream in his homestead's name, Stream-of-Souls, the young boy Pacu explains it's dried up; decimated by the feud, even the souls are now down to a trickle.) Pacu's brother Tonho's hunt of his prey through the crackling bush, a blur of snapping twigs and panting breath, ought to go down as one of the all-time great cinematic chase sequences. Meanwhile, the symbol of blindness and repetitive motifs suggesting the cycle of violence - swings, yoked oxen walking in circles - are deftly deployed, formalist devices that could seem lumbering or too literary in the hands of another director. Instead, Salles employs them with a frontal transparency that recalls fairy tales and folk drama.
As in Salles' last international hit, the cast here is made up of a mixture of professionals and non-professionals. The resulting quality is more varied, hardly a surprise since Behind the Sun depends more on its ensemble than the two-handed road movie that was Central Station did. For instance, circus-performer Flavia Marco Antonio is as stiff as the love interest as Solveig Dommartin was in a similar part in Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire. Young Ravi Ramos Lacerda, originally a street-theatre performer, ladles the pathos of Pacu's situation on a little more thickly than did total newcomer Vinícius de Oliveira as the urchin of Central Station. But with his slightly cross-eyed beauty and gentle, effete Keanu Reeves-like mein, Rodrigo Santoro, who plays Tonho, could be the next international Latin pin-up in the tradition of Antonio Banderas or Javier Bardem. If he can act in English, I suspect Harvey Weinstein has already given him a contract with Miramax.
Posted by Edward Hugh at 3:34 AM
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Jean-Marc Leblanc (Marc Labreche) is living the ideal North American life. He has a big house, a safe civil service job, a wife who is a go-getter businesswoman, and two kids. But the wife and kids ignore him, and as for the job, it' is a help agency... he meets with people with horrifying (and also very funny, for most of the film is a black comedy) problems and explains why the government can do nothing to help them. Ah, but it's such a sensitive agency! No smoking is allowed within a mile of the government office, the word "black" cannot be applied to people (you must call them "of equatorial origin"), and when a desperate woman arrives seeking help for her sick father, she is told the offices are closed for sensitivity training. You want the people who "help" you to be sensitive, don't you, the guard asks her. It's a lot like the film "Brazil" Punctuating this are delicious fantasy scenes in which gorgeous women swoon at the sight of our hero. But even those fantasy creatures develop minds of their own. Almost by chance, Leblanc meets a woman at a speed-dating event who leads him to a world of medieval pagentry, which Leblanc comes to realize is as phony as the commercial world he detests. The plot doesn't end here. There's struggle, resolution and redemption too.
Arcand grew up in a devoutly religious Roman Catholic home in a village about 25 miles southwest of Quebec City. He attended Jesuit school for nine years. Entering his teen years, the family moved to Montreal and although he dreamed about being a professional tennis player, while studying for a Masters Degree in history at the Université de Montréal he became involved in film making that gave him a new sense of direction. During his university days, he and several friends would drive to New York City every few months to take in European films playing there that were not available in Quebec.
The news on Jean-Marc Leblanc's radio is a stream of awful occurrences. Thousands are killed in western Canada by a bacterium. Polar ice caps are melting. Quebecers are being diagnosed with cancer at an alarming rate.
Even worse from Jean-Marc's perspective is his harsh personal reality. He hasn't had sex for 18 months with his workaholic wife, his Quebec civil service job is demeaning and unfulfilling and, at age 44, he feels his life is at a complete standstill.
Is it any wonder, then, that he frequently retreats inside his head for a fantasy world of sex, adventure and knights in shining armour?
This is the dark comic premise of L'Âge des ténèbres (Days of Darkness), the exceptional new movie by veteran Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand that closed the 60th edition of the Cannes Film Festival last May.
Although it screened out of competition, it was stronger than many of the pictures competing for the Palme d'Or.
The final chapter in a trilogy of modern sex and values that began in 1986 with The Decline of the American Empire and continued with The Barbarian Invasions in 2003, it's perhaps the bleakest vision of the three films.
Yet writer/director Arcand manages to keep the mood upbeat, even while summoning empathy for Jean-Marc's view that the world is disintegrating into a mess of disease, destruction and senseless bureaucracy.
Days of Darkness is set in Montreal about 10 minutes into the future, where Quebec civil servants wearing SARS masks are punished for smoking and forced to work as drones in hockey arenas converted to office rabbit warrens.
It stars popular Quebec actor Marc Labrèche as the Walter Mitty-ish Jean-Marc, a man so dull, even the sex-crazed babes in his fantasies complain that he's a loser. In one fantasy sequence, he imagines himself as the famous author of an autobiography titled A Man of No Interest.
But it's impossible not to feel for the guy. His wife Sylvie (Sylvie Léonard) is too busy being "the third-best suburban realtor in Canada" to pay him any attention, his two daughters don't respect him and his bosses constantly berate him.
Jean-Marc is the proverbial little guy who dreams big and everyone can identify with that, even if his dreams begin to become all too real for him – such as when he's really called upon to prove that shining knight stuff.
There is little connection between this film and the previous two in the trilogy, apart from the mood of barely suppressed emotional breakdown. The characters and actors are different and the story departs from the previous narrative.
(Watch, though, for a cameo from Arcand regular Pierre Curzi, who fills us in on what happened to his character's marriage to the trophy wife played by pop star Mitsou in The Barbarian Invasions.)
Days of Darkness is arguably Arcand's most depressing film. Yet it's also one of his greatest and, in a strange way, his most uplifting.
He truly understands the tangles of the human condition. We can all smile at the brutal honesty of a civil servant who stands up and shouts what we all suspect about governments: "We have no answers for you! Your lives are too complicated!"
Denys Arcand has always seemed to be a hit and miss director, and lately just can’t seem to make two good movies in a row. After the Academy Award winning “Barbarian Invasions”, Arcand has followed up with another intellectual comedy, but without a solid narrative focus, which results in a film as lost as it’s main character.
The film opens on a slightly annoying serenade by singer Rufus Wainwright. He's seducing a woman (Diane Kruger) with a sultry (and very winy) song. This is one of many dream sequences we’ll see coming from Jean-Marc Leblanc – a hapless civil servant living in a Montreal suburb. Jean-Marc is married to Sylvie, a career-minded real estate agent who prefers the company of her blackberry to Jean-Marc and his two daughters have just hit the age where they don’t want anything to do with him. So Jean-Marc retreats into a series of fantasy lives and relationships. He has three fantasy girlfriends – Diane Kruger, who plays, I think, Diane Kruger, or is it Veronica? (i forget), his lesbian co-worker, and a TV journalist.
As Jean-Marc goes about his days at his loathsome Government desk job listening to complaints from distressed citizens his mind wanders playing out his idealized life. Jean-Marc aspires to be a famous writer and a sex God desired by all women. But when he realizes he can’t live in his fantasies, Jean-Marc's only respite is to leave his home and retreat to his family cottage, which recalls the last joyous period in his life.
Arcand is on fire in the first third of the film. He sets up a future world we’ve never seen before. Arcand portrays a near future of Montreal as a world close to apocalyptic crumble, either from the paranoid-inducing viruses which rage in the air, or under the crush of the enlarging bureaucratic government. Canadians, and Montrealers in particular, will catch several inside jokes, specifically that white elephant of a building, the Olympic Stadium, which in the film is used as office space for the expanding Quebec Civil Service. Arcand crafts some wonderfully hilarious banter among Jean-Marc’s co-workers, his family and his fantasy family - politically astute and satirically scathing.
Unfortunately this inspired story relaxes and peters out once we realize Arcand has nothing further to say about saccharine middle class life than we’ve seen in other similar films - ie. "American Beauty" or "Little Children". The second act is a series of lengthy fantasies which lead nowhere and only extend the running time. Specifically the Medieval jousting sequence is drawn out way beyond the other sequences, and at the end we’re left with nothing to push the story forward.
Arcand’s films always provoke conversation and “Days of Darkness” will do exactly that, but for the wrong reasons. You’ll ask yourself what went wrong with this clever near-future fantasy intellectual dissertation and what exactly is his point?
Denys Arcand's Days of Darkness have arrived, and not just as a film title.
The celebrated Montreal filmmaker is a multiple Genie, Jutra and Cannes awards winner and a four-time Oscar nominee, winning one.
But Arcand's latest opus is a disappointment for those of us who lionize him as one of Canada's greats. The new film is no match for The Decline of the American Empire, Jesus of Montreal and The Barbarian Invasions.
Days of Darkness (L'Age des Tenebres) is set entirely in a near-future Quebec and shot primarily in French (with English subtitles).
Arcand's dystopian yet occasionally humourous drama officially closed Cannes in May. It then played the Toronto filmfest in September in a tightened version with some of the messiest scenes shortened.
There are qualities here, vestiges of Arcand's wit and wisdom, plus glimpses of his ability to combine the sacred and the profane of Quebec society.
Days of Darkness is charming at times and provocative in other passages. Picking up vaguely where Barbarian Invasions left off, it is savagely satirical about Quebec .
This is a society that has become dysfunctional, a nightmarish echo of George Orwell's 1984. With Les Expos banished to Washington, the vast expanses of the Olympic Stadium now house government agencies that treat the homeless, the helpless, the weak and the vanquished with cruel indifference and bureaucratic bungling.
Smoking is a heinous crime. Words are banished from the vocabulary. Montreal traffic is horrendous. Crime is spreading. Medical care is chaotic. Plagues run rampant. Orwell's "Big Brother" may be watching, but he is a Big Idiot.
All that is fascinating, although presented without subtlety. But there are also long sections, especially the Renaissance Fair silliness, that are bewildering or ridiculous. The metaphoric return of the "Dark Ages" of medieval European civilization is so clumsy that the second act is a catastrophe.
In the third act, the film becomes a bucolic reverie that reinforces traditional rural values. Like peeling apples or putting up preserves.
This uneven storytelling, abrupt shifts of tone and the naive resolution of the conflict, doom the film.
At its core, the story is about a guileless government functionary (Marc Labreche). He hates his job in his cubicle at the Big "O", where he half-listens to clients begging for help and then dismisses them with barely a whisper of sympathy.
Among the hardship cases is politicized actor Pierre Curzi. Arcand, who wrote as well as directed, is making contemporary statements about his city and province.
Labreche, as our pathetic hero, hates his real estate broker wife (the hilarious Sylvie Leonard). She denies him sex. His kids ignore him. He anguishes over his dying mother.
Labreche escapes boredom through sexualized dreams that we see realized on screen. He fantasizes about a movie star (Diane Kruger) who adores him and provides the glamour and status he lacks.
Other phantom lovers range from a lesbian co-worker willing to cross over for him alone, to his female boss, a frigid bitch at work but a willing S&M slave in fantasyland.
The film lurches from these selfish dreams to harsh reality until the medieval times arrive, via a speed-dating liaison. Labreche hooks up with a Renaissance-obsessed nut case (Macha Grenon) who inspires our sex-starved hero to joust for her hand and body.
The dream-reality balance is thrown out of whack. Arcand loses his grip, never to get it back.
This is not the fault of the actors -- Labreche is excellent as the Everyman and the entire ensemble, which also includes Rufus Wainwright as a golden-voiced, operatic prince of fantasy, is good. So is Guy Dufaux's luminous cinematography.
Yet none of these qualities can overcome Arcand's fractured vision and the haphazard execution.
Days of Darkness, Denys Arcand's follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Barbarian Invasions, isn't as smooth as that film -- but it's as bizarre and inventive a movie as you could ask for. Playing out of competition at Cannes, Days of Darkness is a perverse and busy mix of American Beauty, Brazil, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and many other influence that manages to include blunt drama, razor-sharp social commentary, broad comedy, sexual frankness and sweeping musical numbers. It's like that slightly lumpy knit sweater at the craft fair: it may not be machine-manufactured perfect, but you can tell just by looking at it that it was made by a human being.
Played by popular Quebecois comedian Marc Labrèche, Jean-Marc LeBlanc (I don't think the surname's a coincidence) is a 44-year-old bureaucrat, living a soulless life in a post-modern version of Quebec, struggling with a dead marriage, distracted kids, a mind-numbing job and all the discontents of life. The radio blares news of war and pestilence; when the kids are dropped off at school, they take off their Ipods, get out of the car and put on facemasks. Jean-Marc then goes off to work at a gigantic, inhuman, crumbling structure (it's actually Montreal's infamous Olympic stadium, a nice in-joke for Canadians) to aid -- or, rather, not aid -- Quebecois citizens in negotiating a labyrinthine bureaucracy that hinders more than it helps. Jean-Marc's wife (Sylvie Léonard) is obsessed with her work ("I'm the third-best suburban realtor in Canada!"); his mother dying slowly, falling into Alzheimer's.
We don't open with any of this, though; we open with Jean-Marc's fantasy life -- full of operatic sequences (featuring Rufus Wainright and Diane Kruger) and sexual reveries -- and we soon realize that Jean-Marc's fantasy life is just as unsatisfying as his real one. His sex fantasies are pretty rote, even to him; his dreamgirls can't help but comment ironically on his own lack of imagination, how his libido's been shaped and confined by a thousand movies. (As he fantasizes about being with Kruger in the shower, she looks over her shoulder and comments: "The shower's a classicl you can see my bum, and a little of my breast - perfect for the American censors.") Jean-Marc can't imagine how he could change his life -- leave his wife? Quit his job? He can't make a decision. And soon, other people make decisions for him.
Days of Darkness is a little inside -- full of references to Quebecois culture and politics -- but it'll also work for anyone who's ever waited in line at the DMV, or gone blind from reading the small print on their taxes. Labrèche is a deadpan sad-sack in the film, but he's also got a wicked wit that shines through, like when he's brought before the language board at his work for using a casual-yet-charged phrase in conversation. He's informed that "Negro was made a non-word in 1999, along with Negress and Midget; preferred phrases are of equatorial origin and little person." His reply -- clever and sharp-- leaps out like a fencer's lunge.
When his marriage implodes, Jean-marc tries speed dating -- winding up with a woman (Macha Grenon) whose obsession with all things medieval is a bit disquieting ("Your décor's interesting. ..." "It's all from Lord of the Rings. ...") and leads to Jean-Marc reluctantly trapped at a Medieval Faire-style event. This section of the story is a bit uneven -- the slapstick feel is a jump from the urban-surrealist dry wit of the rest of the film -- but it also helps Jean-Marc come to a decision about his own fantasy life, leading to his convening a braintrust of all his sexualized fantasy figures -- the actress (Kruger), the reporter, his boss at work, his lesbian co-worker -- to come to terms with living instead of dreaming, and even that small victory comes with a reminder that all things fade. Days of Darkness isn't as good as Jesus of Montreal or The Barbarian Invasions, but even as a smaller film its made with a bold, broad, big intelligence that most films never attempt to reach for.
Posted by Edward Hugh at 10:48 PM
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Mr. Shi, a widower from Beijing, goes to visit his only daughter, Yilan, in the USA. She has recently divorced and he intends to help her over the trauma. While Mr. Shi is determined that Yilan will recover her marriage and her life, his daughter starts avoiding him when he insists on knowing the reasons for her divorce. Confused, Mr. Shi explores the town and meets Madam, an older woman who fled the Iranian Revolution. They start a brief friendship ending when the woman’s son sends her to a retirement home. Facing revelations from Madam and the confrontation with Yilan, which Mr. Shi has never been prepared to face, he finally accepts things as they are, and reaches a small understanding with Yilan.
Wayne Wang (pinyin: Wáng Yǐng; born January 12, 1949) is a Chinese American film director.
Born in Hong Kong, he studied film and television at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland. Chan Is Missing (1982) and Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart (1985) established his reputation. He is best known for the independent features Smoke (1995) and Anywhere but Here (1999). At the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival, Wang premiered two feature films, A Thousand Years of Good Prayers and The Princess of Nebraska, as well as appearing in the Arthur Dong documentary film Hollywood Chinese.  He won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival in September 2007 for A Thousand Years of Good Prayers.
He is married to a former Miss Hong Kong, Cora Miao, and lives in San Francisco and New York City.
Wayne Wang is a key figure in the development of independent American filmmaking, alternating major Hollywood studio films such as The Joy Luck Club (1993), Maid in Manhattan (2002) and Last Holiday (2006), with smaller independent works like Smoke (1995), Blue in the Face (1995, co-directed with Paul Auster), The Center of the World (2001) and Because of Winn-Dixie (2005). The Princess of Nebraska (2007) will be screened as part of the San Sebastian Festival’s Zabaltegi-Specials section.
After a run of impersonal commercial projects, Wayne Wang has returned to his indie roots with a pair of contrasting short features, "A Thousand Years of Good Prayers" and "The Princess of Nebraska," which are making the fest rounds together. The more traditional of the two, "Prayers," which focuses on communication difficulties between a Chinese father and his American-resident daughter after 12 years apart, is a quiet work with Ozu-like structure and concerns, but remains more an intellectual exercise than one from the heart. Mainly concerned with generational and cultural issues, very modest entry possesses equally modest commercial potential.
Even from the opening scene, in which coldly attractive, thirtysomething divorcee Yilan (Faye Yu) greets her elderly father, Mr. Shi (Yank character actor Henry O), at the Spokane Airport without so much as a hug, it's rather alarming how unwelcoming she is to her old man. He seems a genial enough chap, but, after an initial dinner, she leaves him alone at her antiseptic suburban condo during the day while she works as a librarian and at night as she pursues her social life.
Left to his own devices in a strange country and with very limited English, Mr. Shi gets along all right. He's the type of guy who can fall into conversation with just about anyone, and he particularly engages with a Farsi-speaking woman in a park; they can barely understand one another, but communicate extremely well.
Which is more than can be said for Mr. Shi and his daughter who, just to add another element to the linguistic mix, is dating a Russian. It seems very odd that she has absolutely nothing planned for her father to do, either with or without her. Their limited conversations are strained, especially when he presses for details of her private life, of which he adamantly disapproves, and it doesn't help when he correctly assesses that she's unhappy.
One pivotal and intriguing exchange has Yilan admitting she can express her feelings much more easily in English than in Chinese, as she was not brought up to state her feelings in her native language. In her acquired language, she insists, she feels free, just as she's at liberty in virtually every other aspect of her life.
However, from the perspective of her father, who's still a red-blooded, if not at all doctrinaire communist ("It's not easy to find a true believer nowadays," he quips), these boundless freedoms seem to carry a heavy price, a suspicion underlined by the airless anonymity of Yilan's home and the lack of social fabric in her life.
When push finally comes to shove, some troublesome aspects of Mr. Shi's past are finally aired, although the way he dealt with them illustrates the pride and discretion he maintained through an admittedly modest life.
The interests of Wang and writer Yiyun Lee lie more with cultural discrepancies than with building narrative momentum or emotional heft, meaning the film barely has enough steam to power it through its brief running time. There's certainly not enough here to motivate many viewers outside the Chinese-American community to make an evening of it.
Much of the film is devoted to Mr. Shin shuffling around in search of something to do or someone to talk to, so, fortunately, Henry O makes him a relatively amusing character to watch. Yu, who had a supporting role in Wang's "The Joy Luck Club" 14 years ago, is unostentatiously foxy, dramatically effective in both Mandarin and English but constrained by the sometimes maddening recessiveness of her role.
Posted by Edward Hugh at 11:26 AM
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Olga é um filme brasileiro realizado em 2004 pelo diretor Jayme Monjardim, inspirado na biografia escrita por Fernando Morais sobre a alemã, judia e comunista Olga Benário.
Este é o primeiro filme do diretor Jayme Monjardim, especialista em telenovelas. O roteiro foi realizado por Rita Buzzar, com quem o diretor já havia trabalhado anteriormente na telenovela A História de Ana Raio e Zé Trovão, de 1990. A produção também é de Rita Buzzar.
Decididos a fazer uma reconstituição correta do contexto histórico, Monjardim e a equipe de produção foram à Alemanha, onde conheceram os lugares freqüentados por Olga e os campos de concentração onde ela esteve prisioneira. Os cenários foram reconstituídos em estúdio no Brasil. As cenas que se passavam no Rio de Janeiro foram realizadas em locações.
A fotografia é Ricardo Della Rosa, também estreante em longa-metragens. A trilha sonora esteve a cargo de Marcus Viana, compositor com quem o diretor também já havia trabalhado em diversas ocasiões na televisão.
O filme conta a história de Olga Benário Prestes. Nascida em Munique, na Alemanha, em 1908, filha de pais judeus, Olga tornou-se uma ativista do comunismo. Após libertar seu namorado Otto Braun da cadeia, eles são forçados a fugir para a União Soviética, onde recebem treinamento de guerrilha. Olga logo se destaca no Partido Comunista, onde conhece Luís Carlos Prestes, que viria a se tornar um dos principais líderes comunistas do Brasil. Em 1934, quando Prestes volta ao Brasil, designado pela Internacional Comunista para liderar uma revolução armada, Olga é designada para escoltá-lo. Passam a viver na clandestinidade enquanto planejam a derrubada do governo de Getúlio Vargas. Durante este período, a relação amorosa entre Prestes e Olga amadurece e ela fica grávida em 1935.
Quando o movimento revolucionário é derrotado pelas forças de Vargas, Olga e Prestes são presos pelo duro chefe de polícia Filinto Müller. Diante de rumores de que seria deportada, Olga divulga sua gravidez e solicita asilo político por ser casada e estar grávida de Prestes. O governo Vargas, que neste momento simpatizava com a ditadura de Adolf Hitler, deporta Olga, mesmo grávida de sete meses. Na prisão alemã, dá à luz uma filha que batiza de Anita Leocádia, em homenagem a D. Leocádia, mãe de Prestes. Após o período de amamentação, a menina foi retirada de Olga e entregue à D. Leocádia. Após anos de prisão em campos de concentração, durante os quais a opinião pública internacional fez inúmeras tentativas de libertá-la, Olga é morta na câmara de gás. Somente anos depois, Prestes e sua filha leriam a última carta de Olga, onde faz uma comovente despedida.
Através do livro, Jayme revela três traços fundamentais na best-seller história de Olga: compre esperança, saudade e jayme monjardim coragem. As imagens livraria mostradas em Olga por Jayme Monjardim Olga por Jayme Monjardim desvendam o lado sentimental, maternal e familiar desse mito.
De origem judia alemã, Olga nasceu entretanto em Munique, em 1908. premiado A jovem, filha jayme monjardim de um sucesso advogado social democrata e de uma Olga por Jayme Monjardim dama da alta sociedade, ingressa na militância comunista aos 15 anos, em 1923. autor Em 1934, o destino leitura de Olga jayme monjardim mudaria. Ela foi compre designada para assegurar a chegada no Olga por Jayme Monjardim Brasil de Luís Carlos Prestes, onde lideraria a Intentona Comunista de 1935. Vindo escritor da antiga União venda Soviética, o casal jayme monjardim deveria passar por premiado marido e mulher até a chegada Olga por Jayme Monjardim no país natal de Prestes. No entanto, nem tudo saiu como esperado, pois livraria os dois se livro apaixonaram e Olga jayme monjardim engravidou. Anita Prestes leitura nasceu na prisão de mulheres da Olga por Jayme Monjardim Gestapo em 1936. Após 14 meses sendo amamentada pela mãe, Anita é entregue sucesso à avó Leocádia, best-seller mãe de Luís jayme monjardim Carlos. Transferida em venda 1939 para Ravensbruck, campo de Olga por Jayme Monjardim concentração exclusivo para mulheres, Olga morre numa câmara de gás em Bernburg em compre 1942.
O lado feminino, jayme monjardim materno e o livro caráter de Olga são mostrados pelas Olga por Jayme Monjardim fotografias de Jayme de forma suave e serena, enquanto a guerreira em defesa premiado de seus ideais autor surge em tintas jayme monjardim forte. Detalhes das best-seller reações humanas reveladas num mito Olga por Jayme Monjardim da história brasileira e mundial. É dessa forma que OLGA POR JAYME MONJARDIM leitura pretende levar ao leitor escritor a "sua" Olga.
Em sua primeira semana em cartaz na Alemanha, longa-metragem de Jayme Monjardim sobre revolucionária alemã colhe críticas negativas na imprensa.
A aguardada versão cinematográfica do best-seller Olga, escrito pelo jornalista Fernando Morais, não convenceu a crítica especializada alemã, que viu na superprodução brasileira o desperdício de uma grande história. Da fotografia, considerada "opulenta", à trilha sonora apelativa, muitos viram na película dirigida por Jayme Monjardim os excessos típicos de uma telenovela.
A expectativa em torno do filme era grande. Primeiro, pelo fato de a personagem principal se tratar de uma alemã tão fascinante quanto desconhecida na Alemanha (Olga Benario é mais famosa na parte Leste do país).
A presença no elenco de Fernanda Montenegro, atriz premiada em 1998 no Festival de Berlim com o Urso de Prata pelo seu desempenho no consagrado Central do Brasil, de Walter Salles Jr., também parecia dar garantias quanto à boa qualidade do filme, mas para a crítica o resultado final deixou a desejar.
Estréia de luxo
Não será por falta de marketing que Olga irá fracassar na bilheteria. O filme teve no dia 21 de agosto requintada première no Cinemaxx, de Berlim, com direito a toda pompa, 400 convidados vips e espaço de destaque em duas edições do jornal mais popular do país, o Bild.
Apresentado como um "filme contra o esquecimento", que trata do inesgotável tema do passado nazista, Olga poderia ter na Alemanha condições de repetir o êxito de público que alcançou no Brasil, onde foi visto por mais de três milhões de espectadores.
O bem-sucedido produtor de cinema suíço Arthur Cohn adquiriu os direitos do filme nos países de língua alemã, o que possibilita à película de Jayme Monjardim bastante exposição na mídia de países como a Áustria, Suíça e na própria Alemanha. Se isso no entanto vai resultar em lucros astronômicos para o filme, só as próximas semanas é que poderão mostrar.
O jornalista Thomas Kunze, do jornal Hamburger Abendblatt, criticou a película brasileira por seus excessos imperdoáveis. "Lamentavelmente o filme fica aquém de sua dimensão trágica. Ele foi produzido de maneira simplista, com episódios ordenados da forma mais previsível, que fazem de Olga um mero filme de costumes."
Sascha Koebner, da revista de cinema Filmdienst, ressaltou o enfoque naiv na construção de cenas como a do embate nas ruas de Berlim, entre a tropa hitlerista e militantes comunistas: "Do lado direito, os manifestantes; do outro, os soldados nazistas. Os comunistas caminhando forçosamente caóticos e a tropa marchando disciplinadamente. Os cortes são frenéticos, até que tudo descamba em pancadaria".
Para Koebner, a iluminação do filme também é equivocada: "O clima cinzento constante no filme confunde o espectador, que fica sem saber onde os protagonistas estão". A história se passa na Alemanha, no Brasil e na Rússia.
O Tageszeitung, de Berlim, bateu na mesma tecla. "Cinema-telenovela, onde nada soa autêntico, tudo é patético, chegando ao ponto da morte da nobre mártir num campo de concentração alemão. Propaganda kitsch."
O filme Olga poderia ter sido uma co-produção Brasil-Alemanha, mas a idéia não foi muito adiante. A produtora brasileira Rita Buzzar estava em contato com a empresa alemã Magnatel, para que fossem sondados possíveis investidores alemães para arcar com parte dos custos do filme.
A inglesa Phoebe Clark, da Magnatel, afirmou que "os alemães não abririam mão de ter uma atriz alemã no papel de Olga. O que é natural, pois ela era alemã, e se os investidores tivessem que entrar mesmo com tanto dinheiro, eles também gostariam de participar de todas as decisões, da escolha do roteiro até a formação do elenco".
Frank Scharf, sócio de Phoebe na Magnatel, acredita que o filme de Jayme Monjardim não é a versão definitiva da história de Olga. Para ele, não tardará muito para que apareça alguém mais arisco e filme a vida de Olga com atores de renome internacional.
Outro ponto que impediu a co-produção foi o fato de os investidores alemães não quererem um diretor que tivesse feito carreira em telenovelas, como é o caso de Jayme Monjardim, que dirigiu nos anos 80 a inovadora Pantanal, da Rede Manchete, além de Ana Raio e Zé Trovão, entre outras. Além do mais, os alemães consultados pela Magnatel também não teriam gostado do roteiro.
O que também deve ter contribuído para que a crítica cinematográfica alemã não apreciasse o filme de Monjardim foi o fato de já ter sido produzido em 2004 na Alemanha um documentário sobre Olga Benario, dirigido pelo cineasta turco Galip Iyitanir. O filme arrancou elogios dos jornalistas e da parcela principal, o público espectador.
A professora Renate Hess descreve o filme de Iyitanir como simplesmente "impressionante". Tanto que, depois de ter lido o consagrado livro de Fernando Morais e de ter assistido ao documentário, ela não pretende ver a versão de Monjardim. "O que eu acho mais interessante nisso tudo é que Olga ainda continua desconhecida pela grande maioria dos alemães, enquanto no Brasil ela já é mito".
Finda a primeira semana de exibição de Olga nos cinemas da Alemanha, o filme ainda não entrou na lista dos de maior bilheteria.
Based on the true story of Olga Benario, a German communist militant who fell in love with the head of Brazil's communist party while escorting him home from Moscow, "Olga" has historical sweep but little grace. Though selected as Brazil's Oscar nom, its corny characters and scripting keep auds from becoming involved in the romance until well into the second hour, when the heroine begins to unthaw. Emphasis on her tragic end in a German concentration camp probably won't be enough to take this TV-flavored melodrama far with foreign viewers, while its uncritical view of the USSR feels dated.
Director Jayme Monjardim, whose small screen background is evident, opens on Olga (Camila Morgado) as a shaven-headed wretch about to die in Ravensbruck in 1942. The film is told as a flashback as she writes to her young daughter.
In 1928 Berlin, Olga marches with the proletariat for social justice and a brighter future. When her political activities alarm her liberal father and viperish mother, she breaks off relations with her well-to-do Jewish family.
In Moscow, her words inspire a sea of rapt listeners to burst into a chorus of the Internationale. While a glamorous whirlwind montage shows the beautiful Olga flying fighter planes and heroically firing her rifle, dialogue like "I fight alongside the revolution, not a man!" reinforce her unpleasant fanaticism.
Now a top-ranking Soviet agent, she is assigned to protect Luis Carlos Prestes as he makes his way to Brazil, where he is to lead the communist revolution in 1935. Rather unbelievably for a decorated army general, Prestes (Caco Ciocler) turns out to be a good-looking and tenderhearted young man.
After taking leave of his mother (Fernanda Montenegro) and sister, he starts on the long journey with Olga, where they masquerade as wealthy newlyweds. Pic finally turns in a more interesting direction when they let their mutual attraction climax romantically.
Torn between her feelings for the smitten Prestes (who wants to marry her) and her duty to change the world, Olga decides to return to Moscow. But when his bid to launch the revolution fails miserably, she stays by her man.
The heroic lovers are separated and Olga discovers she's pregnant. Brazilian president Vargas makes a present of Olga to Hitler, deporting her to Germany and certain death.
Film's most original and genuinely moving scenes unfold in a Berlin hospital room, where Nazi authorities placate world opinion by allowing her to keep her baby daughter as long as she can breastfeed. Olga's transformation from ideologue into human being and suffering mama is complete, if somewhat spoiled by the melodramatic final scenes in the camp.
With iron will and cornflower blue eyes, Morgado makes a splashy film bow, embodying Monjardim's larger than life view of his heroine. As Prestes, Ciocler plays a romantic hero badly lacking a military dimension. Film's only subtlety comes from the dignified Montenegro.
Tech choices, while professional throughout, never get away from an over-baked TV look, featuring an excess of close-ups, indulgent editing and a musical score ripe with sentiment.
Posted by Edward Hugh at 11:37 AM
Cœurs ("Hearts") is the original title of a 2006 French film directed by Alain Resnais and written by Jean-Michel Ribes, from the play Private Fears in Public Places by Alan Ayckbourn. It was marketed in North America as Private Fears in Public Places. The film won several awards, including a Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival.
For the second time in his career Alain Resnais turned to an Alan Ayckbourn play for his source material (having previously adapted another play for Smoking/No Smoking), and remained close to the original structure while transferring the setting and milieu from provincial England to the 13th arrondissement of Paris (contrary to his usual preference).
The film consists of over 50 short scenes, usually featuring two characters - occasionally three or just one. Scenes are linked by dissolves featuring falling snow, a device which Resnais previously used in L'Amour à mort (1984).
Several of Resnais's regular actors appear in the film (Arditi, Azéma, Dussollier, Wilson), and he was joined by his longstanding technical collaborators in design and editing, but he worked for the first time with cinematographer Éric Gautier.
The fictional TV programmes called "Ces chansons qui ont changé ma vie" which feature in the film were directed by Bruno Podalydès.
In this cold-hearted comedy, loneliness sets its winter camp in the city of love. Master auteur Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year At Marienbad) directs
Paris - the city of light, the city of love, the city of life. Set a film there, and it is obligatory to include an establishing shot of the Eiffel Tower, looming benignly over all the sophisticated romance below. And sure enough, it is with just such an image that Private Fears In Public Places (Coeurs) opens - except that most of the familiar monument, and all of the city, is shrouded in mist and snow.
There is snow everywhere in Alain Resnais' feature. Beautiful images of falling flakes periodically appear as interstices between one scene and the next. You can see it fluttering down through windows in the background. You even, in one hauntingly surreal sequence, see it falling inside an apartment - but most of all, it blankets the hearts of the film's characters, as they settle in for a long, cold winter of loneliness and despair. Forget the Paris we are used to seeing in cinema - for here that most passionate of cities has been stripped entirely of its usual warmth.
Estate agent Thierry (Dussollier) is helping Nicole (Morante) find the right apartment, but it is not easy. Her feckless fiancé Dan (Wilson), who has just been dishonourably discharged from the military, wants an additional room to serve as his private study, while Nicole herself would prefer the extra room for a baby.
Back at the office, Thierry's secretary Charlotte (Azéma) lends him a videotape of her favourite Sunday religious programme. Thierry is not at all interested in God, but as he is most certainly interested in Charlotte, he grudgingly watches the show at home - only to discover, at its end, a rather unexpected piece of footage.
Meanwhile, Charlotte is moonlighting as saintly carer for the terminally ill, interminably rude Arthur (Rich), while his once-estranged son Lionel (Arditi) tends bar at a hotel - where Thierry's younger sister Gaëlle (Carré) will end up on the date of her life with Dan, who has just separated from Nicole. Happiness has a way of eluding even those who are willing to make a break from the past.
After the two-handed double-feature Smoking/No Smoking (1993), Private Fears In Public Places is Resnais' second film based on the drama of British playwright Alan Ayckbourn - but where the former painstakingly adhered to its original English setting and characters, this new film has been transposed (by its adaptor, French playwright Jean-Michel Ribes) to Paris and to an all-French ensemble.
It works - for while Ayckbourn's play may have been a black comedy about the peculiar anxieties haunting the English middle classes, in Resnais' hands it turns out that solitude, mortality, yearning and loss are afflictions of a more universal nature, readily transcending national boundaries without losing any of their dramatic impact.
Private Fears In Public Places is indeed a comedy, full of inopportune entrances, foolish misunderstandings and surprise revelations. It can be riotously funny - but it is also the kind of comedy that will leave you shivering, as everyone is confronted by "the Darkness with a capital D". What starts as a slight farce ends in the far weightier terrains of tragedy, as Resnais transforms his flawed but painfully recognisable characters into existential anti-heroes facing the iciest of human conditions.
The film's 50 or so scenes might all be intimately connected as the lives of these characters echo and even intersect each other, but Resnais is far more interested in the divisions that set us apart - whether it is the ill-constructed inner wall that bisects the first apartment visited by Nicole, the curtain that splits Lionel's bar in two, the partition that separates Thierry's office from Charlotte's, or the thematic oppositions of heaven and hell, men and women, piety and temptation.
In keeping with its dramatic origins, most of the film's action is confined to indoor locations, but Eric Gautier's sweeping camerawork gives everything a cinematic quality, not to mention an exquisitely stylised aesthetic. It is a pure joy to watch, with performances all the more generous for being so unflattering - and it will make you smile, even if, by the end, that smile will be frozen on your face.
One can argue that the French master Alain Resnais (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Last Year at Marienbad, Stavisky, many others) is simultaneously the least and the most realistic of filmmakers. The least realistic because all of his films insist on the primacy of their construction as films, and the most realistic because he shows a total commitment to the human reality — emotional, psychological, behavioral — within those constructions. Resnais's films are always demanding in different ways, but if you can meet their demands — which I and some of my confreres will insist are not really as difficult as some would make them seem — they always convince.
Hence, Private Fears in Public Places, which is the original title of the Alan Ayckbourn play from which Resnais and writer Jean Michel Ribes have adapted this film's scenario and dialogue. (As my colleague Dave Kehr has already pointed out, the French title, Couers, is actually more apt.) This entirely remarkable contraption has a structure that could be pinned on Arthur Schnitzler, but in fact has more in common with what GQ critic Tom Carson calls "the sodoku film" — a plot in which the intertwined interactions of X number of characters result in X number of epiphanaic conclusions. Except, not really.
In an almost completely studio-created Paris (the only "real" "landscapes" are merged into the least-convincing snow since the silent era — entirely on purpose, mind you), a grasping real-estate agent (Andre Dussollier) is trying to sell an increasingly heartbroken wife (Laura Morante) on a series of inappropriate apartments. Back at his office, the real-estate agent's seemingly saintly co-worker (Sabine Azema) gives him videotapes of an inspirational TV program she's keen for him to watch. The tail ends of said tapes contain somewhat more salacious and personal content than what she's peddling. The not-quite saint takes a job looking after the highly curmudgeonly elderly dad of a suave bartender (Arditi), one of whose most regular customers is the frustrated loser husband of the heartbroken wife (Lambert Wilson), whose new love interest is the personal-ad placing younger (much younger!) sister (Carre) of the grasping real-estate agent...
This sounds more confusing than it is, which is not at all. That's thanks to Ayckbourn's sure sense of construction and Resnais' absolute grasp of the construction. What makes Private Fears so extraordinary is not just how it completely upends the expectations that have come to seem inherent in such a structure, but how Resnais constantly pushes the boundaries of his, well, let's call it visual depiction (so as to spare those who are mortally offended by the term mise en scene). He employs all the tools of studio-bound moviemaking, silent-era to post-modern, in a way that is not only is consistently dazzling in a purely visual sense, but contains an empathy that lifts the picture to tragic heights even at those points at which it seems practically weightless.
In contemporary Paris, six characters individually confront their emotional solitude as their lives intertwine. Dan (Lambert Wilson) is unemployed after being sacked from the army and spends his time drinking in a bar and telling his troubles to the longsuffering barman Lionel (Pierre Arditi). Dan's relationship with Nicole (Laura Morante) is disintegrating and through a newspaper advertisement he meets Gaëlle (Isabelle Carré), an attractive but insecure young woman who lives with her older brother Thierry (André Dussollier). Thierry is an estate agent who has been trying to find a new appartment for Nicole and Dan. He works with Charlotte (Sabine Azéma), a middle-aged spinster and an ardent Christian, who lends him a video of an evangelical TV programme to give him inspiration.
At the end of the video, Thierry discovers some unerased footage of erotic dancing by a woman he suspects to be Charlotte, and, taking this as a subtle invitation, one day he tries to kiss her in their office, but is humiliatingly rebuffed. Charlotte in her spare time works as a carer, and is assigned to look after the bed-ridden and foul-mouthed Arthur (the voice of Claude Rich) in the evenings so that his dutiful son, who is Lionel the barman, can go to work. After enduring repeated vicious tantrums from Arthur, Charlotte one evening dons a leather porno outfit and silences him with a striptease performance, before resuming her usual pious demeanour. Arthur is hospitalised next day. Gaëlle witnesses a farewell meeting between Dan and Nicole, and interpreting it as a betrayal by Dan, she flees back home to her brother. Lionel and Nicole both pack up to begin new lives. Dan resumes his place at the bar.
Posted by Edward Hugh at 1:30 AM
Saturday, April 5, 2008
The Savages is a 2007 2-time Academy Award-nominated American film (Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Original Screenplay), written and directed by Tamara Jenkins. The film stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It had a limited release on November 28, 2007. After drifting apart emotionally and geographically over the years, two single siblings Wendy (Laura Linney) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman) must band together to care for an elderly parent (Philip Bosco). Visiting their father in his nursing home and their father's eventual death helps each sibling to better deal with their love relationships with others.
Nine years was far too long to wait for Tamara Jenkins's sophomore feature, The Savages, her astonishingly mature follow-up to the quirky coming-of-age comedy The Slums of Beverly Hills. The time must have been well-spent, because The Savages feels like the work of a far more seasoned director, and manages to land a KO punch squarely in the jaw of the prototypical "indie" character drama that's become the hallmark of the Sundance Film Festival. The Savages has depth, resonance, and meaning. It delves into the scary heart of our deepest fears about aging, and it does so from a point of view that is honest and human.
Laura Linney stars as Wendy, an anxiety-prone wannabe playwright with a married boyfriend and a pointless cubicle temp job. Her estranged father (Philip Bosco) has begun to slip into dementia. When Dad's girlfriend dies leaving him homeless, Wendy and older brother John (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), a PhD specializing in Bertolt Brecht, fly to Arizona tasked with the burden of making the kind of hard decisions that mark the final passage into adulthood. In the parking lot of a swank retirement community that won't take Dad because he's too far gone, John reminds Wendy that people are dying inside. And there's nothing that any amount of landscaping or bingo or carefully chosen room decorations can do about it.
Adult brother-sister siblings are rare onscreen; in fact, the only other recent movie that's captured this relationship with any accuracy is You Can Count On Me, which starred Linney as a tightly-wound older sister. Here, she's the younger sibling, but Wendy thinks she should be the responsible one--and that dynamic rings so true for sisters. Brothers run around with their shirts untucked and live on ramen noodles well into their 30s and have disorganized relationships. They're not the ones who are expected to take capable charge of end-of-life decisions. That's supposed to be women's work--but Wendy's lost from square one.
Wendy is unmoored by the growing realization of her brother's competence and tender compassion. As the story progresses, her eyes grow wider and blanker, silently screaming "I don't want to be here" even as her sense of guilt turns her into stone. John's stoic acceptance of the situation and confident decision-making infuriates her, and she ends up telling a stupid, childish lie in an attempt to wrestle some control over her part in the family psychodrama. She's in real danger of not making it, of checking out forever and condemning herself to an empty life, but the pull of family--however screwed up--might just be what saves her.
The film's portrayal of the devastation and heartbreak that dementia wreaks on the children of the afflicted is spot on, thanks to a superb performance by Bosco, an underrated actor who shows admirable restraint in some very difficult situations. In Slums, Jenkins showed an acute insight into the way a teenage girl's body betrays her, and here she turns that same perception onto the gross indignities suffered by the aging. As John puts it, "Death is gassy."
There's a standout scene early in the film when Wendy's flying Dad back to Buffalo, where John has found him a bed in a nursing home. After loudly demanding that Wendy take him to the bathroom NOW, Dad shuffles painfully down the narrow aisle, Wendy carefully holding his arms, looking him in the eye but unable to hide the fact that she wishes this wasn't happening. He looks down at his feet, in the classic "someone is about to pee their pants" shot, and as he keeps walking, the suspense is excruciating. He stops; his eyes widen, then Wendy looks down. He hasn't lost control, it's just that his pants have fallen down because Wendy didn't like the suspenders he was wearing. And then Jenkins cuts away for a shot aching with poignant horror: Dad in the middle of the aisle, wearing adult diapers. He's incontinent and unloved , and Jenkins and Bosco are brave enough to give it to us straight and unvarnished.
As sad and serious as it is, The Savages has some wonderfully funny moments, including some physical humor from Hoffman in a weighted neck brace that adds some welcome leaven. Hoffman and Linney exceed expectation with nuanced performances that are never showy, even in the most dramatic moments. Jenkins knows how to get out of the way of the story, and rarely missteps. A scene between Wendy and one of Dad's caregivers falls a little flat, as does an odd bit with John's Polish ex-girlfriend and some eggs that inexplicably make him cry, but these are minor quibbles. The Savages sets a high bar for Sundance '07 and marks a standout return by a director who's the real deal.
The hands that rock the cradle sometimes tip it over. Watching “The Savages,” Tamara Jenkins’s beautifully nuanced tragicomedy about two floundering souls, you have to wonder if those hands didn’t also knock that cradle clear across the nursery, sending both Savage children into perpetual free-fall.
Certainly Jon Savage, the angry lump played by a brilliant — oh, let’s just cut to it — the brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, looks like a man who’s taken as much abuse as he likes to deliver. One night, Jon, a college professor who lives and teaches in Buffalo, is awakened from a deep sleep (Ms. Jenkins has a nice way with metaphor) to discover that his father, Lenny (a fine Philip Bosco), has gone around the bend and has begun finger-painting with his feces. The bearer of these unfortunate tidings is Jon’s younger sister, Wendy (Laura Linney, sharp and vanity free), a self-professed playwright whose greatest, perhaps only creation is the closely nurtured story of wounded narcissism and family wrongs unwinding in her head.
They mess you up, your mum and dad, Philip Larkin more or less wrote, which, though it provides steadfast inspiration for poets of all disciplines, has emerged as one of the banes of American independent cinema. At first glance “The Savages,” which had its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, looks like another one of those dreaded indie encounter sessions in which everyone cracks wise and weary on the bumpy road to self-actualization. Ms. Jenkins, whose gifted first feature, “Slums of Beverly Hills,” fired up movie screens and critics nearly a decade ago, seems incapable of such falsity. I bet she knows the rest of Larkin’s poem, namely, “They fill you with the faults they had/And add some extra, just for you.”
Ms. Jenkins never explains how or why or even if Lenny filled Jon and Wendy with his faults, and what caused his wife, their mother, to run away. She omits the talk-show psychology and instead lets the clues seep through the realistic-sounding snippets and strings of dialogue, through sentences (not speeches), questions (not confessions) and silences as lived in as the story’s recognizably real and revelatory spaces. In Wendy and Jon’s separate if similarly cluttered homes, you can almost see the layers of aspiration and disappointment that have accumulated alongside the dust and the books; in Lenny’s sterile house in Sun City, Ariz., you see a man who has not only wiped away his past, but has also erased part of his own self.
In their dyspeptic, quarrelsome fashion, the Savages are blissfully neurotic, often very funny variations on J. M. Barrie’s fictional offspring, John and Wendy Darling, those charmed, magical storybook children. (In their moments of terrifying mutual dependency they can also recall the brother and sister in Jean Cocteau and Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Enfants Terribles.”) If Ms. Jenkins’s middle-age characters have never grown up, in spirit and mind if not in body, it isn’t because they flew off to Neverland in a cloud of fairy dust, but because they did not and could not leave. Yet if Jon and Wendy have stayed locked inside, Ms. Jenkins also suggests — through an image of flight of surprising force and beauty — that some children find other means of escape, including their imaginations.
Ms. Jenkins doesn’t imply that all that pain is a worthwhile price to pay for imagination, but she acknowledges the paradoxical truth that suffering can also be a source of inspiration, a way out of the childhood room we sometimes call the past. For Jon, who is writing a book on Brecht, and his playwright sister, life has become something of a performance. Both were probably given a role to play a long time ago — superior brother, resentful sister — and now act out their parts to perfection. (Jon, who clings to Brecht as if to a baby blanket, is something of a walking alienation effect. ) Jean Renoir once asked, Where does theater end and life begin? Ms. Jenkins seems to answer that question reasonably by saying there is no separation.
It would give away too much to reveal what happens to these distinctly nondarling siblings, whose outbursts and moments of hilarious, often voluble cruelty border on the shrill and the unspeakable. Ms. Jenkins has a gift for family brutality, but she herself isn’t a savage talent. There isn’t a single moment of emotional guff or sentimentality in “The Savages,” a film that caused me to periodically wince, but also left me with a sense of acute pleasure, even joy. It’s the pleasure of a true-to-life tale told by a director and actors who’ve sunk so deep into their movie together you wonder how they ever surfaced. You live with Jon and Wendy Savage gratefully, even when they can’t always do the same.
Posted by Edward Hugh at 9:57 AM