Monday, March 30, 2009


With a title like Transylvania and the presence of dark princess Asia Argento, you could have expected gothic vampires and a lot of blood getting sucked, but Gypsy Director Tony Gatlif prefers to take us on a harsh road trip.

Music, as a symbol of life, is the real theme of Transylvania, which follows Zingana (Asia Argento), a disturbed and pregnant girl who travels to Transylvania to find the father of her child, a musician, and whom, after being abandoned, wanders like a homeless until she meets another lost soul who takes her under his protection

Asia Argento (Scarlet Diva, Marie-Antoinette, XXX) is incandescent here, as she often is, and she carries this film on her shoulders, exhibiting madness, strength and fragility at the same time. There isn't much happening, the filmmaker mostly focusing on the emotional journey of his characters. While the setting is pretty basic, the film is however pretty intense, taking your guts with its roughness.

Music is omnipresent, officiating as a thread that leads the characters to their destiny. The folkloric songs symbolize hope and happiness and should only been used as positive energy, a stated by a group of musicians toward the end. Obviously the association of music and gypsies isn't far from the universe of Emir Kusturia (Life is a Miracle), and one can regret that the film, which is also in the continuity of Gatlif's Exiles, lacks originality. But if you're into these kinds of tough emotional and psychological foreign fares, Transylvania is certainly for you, and it was one of my favorite films at AFI Festival where I saw it.

Still Life

Jia Zhangke (simplified Chinese: 贾樟柯; traditional Chinese: 賈樟柯; pinyin: Jiǎ Zhāngkē) (born 1970 in Fenyang, China) is a Chinese film director. He is generally regarded as a leading figure of the "Sixth Generation" movement of Chinese cinema, a group that also includes such figures as Wang Xiaoshuai and Zhang Yuan.[1]

Jia's early films, a loose trilogy based in his home province of Shanxi, were made underground and outside of China's state-run film bureaucracy. Beginning in 2004, Jia's status in his own country was raised when he was allowed to direct his fourth feature film, The World with state approval.

Jia's films treat themes of alienated youth, contemporary Chinese history and globalization, as well as his signature usage of the long-take, colorful digital video and his minimalist/realist style. The World, in particular, with its portrayal of gaudy theme park filled with recreations of foreign landmarks is often noted for its critique of globalization of China.[21][22]

Jia's work speaks to a vision of "authentic" Chinese life, and his consistent return to the themes of alienation and disorientation fly in the face of the work of older filmmakers who present more idealized understandings of Chinese society.

Critics have noted that whereas "Fifth Generation" filmmakers such as Zhang Yimou churn out export-friendly and lushly-colored wuxia dramas, Jia, as a "Sixth Generation" filmmaker, rejects the idealization of these narratives in favor of a more nuanced style. His films, from Xiao Wu and Unknown Pleasures to Platform and The World, eschew the son et lumière that characterizes so many contemporary Chinese exports. But the films' recurrent and reflexive use of "pop" motifs ensure that they are more self-aware than the similarly documentarian Chinese films of Jia's Sixth Generation peers.

Still Life (Chinese: 三峡好人; pinyin: Sānxiá hǎorén; literally "Good people of the Three Gorges") is a 2006 Chinese film directed by Jia Zhangke. Shot in the old village of Fengjie, a small town on the Yangtze River which is slowly being destroyed by the building of the Three Gorges Dam, Still Life tells the story of two people in search of their spouses. Still Life is a co-production between the Shanghai Film Studio and Hong Kong-based Xstream Pictures.[1]

The film premiered at the 2006 Venice Film Festival and was a surprise winner of the Golden Lion Award for Best Film.[2] The film would premiere at a handful of other film festivals, and would receive a limited commercial release in the United States on January 18, 2008 in New York City.


Sometimes film festival juries actually get it right. Jia Zhangke has been making films for ten years, but, until now, a major festival prize (from the “big three” of Cannes, Venice, and Berlin) has eluded him. Finally, though, the Golden Lion bestowed in Venice on his newest feature Still Life acknowledges what students of international cinema already knew: Jia is one of the leading filmmakers of our time. His works advance the art of cinema in ways that are dazzlingly innovative, while also being precisely attuned to the radical new demands of 21st century society. Each of Jia’s films articulates an abstract structure of time and space, and a more sensual structure of feeling, through which we can see and feel our way to coming to grips with a new, changing world.

Prizes have little intrinsic values: the sales agents, distributors, critics, and the worldwide festival system together create an economy of cinema as marketable international luxury commodities, whose circulation and valorization are ratified and sustained by festival awards. I would rather set “prize-ability” against what Jia has accomplished with Still Life. This new film signifies an implicit refusal to participate in that particular economy, one that his most recent films, culminating in the international success The World (2004), have seemed more and more willing to integrate themselves into. The spectacle, the flash, the internationalized film language of The World (Jia’s first “official” film) made it as internationally distributable as a serious product of the Chinese independent film world could be, but at the cost of shifting the balance away from independence and toward easy consumption.

Still Life doesn’t play to the audience: it’s more tough, complex, dense, allusive, and mysterious, than any feature Jia has made to date. Like most of his feature films, Still Life presents characters on some sort of quest. Both main characters Sanming (Han Sanming, who played the same character in 2000’s Platform and The World) and Shen Hong (Zhao Tao) are searching for absent spouses. Coal miner Sanming’s wife left him 16 years ago, and he’s only just now travelled from his native Shanxi province to find her at her former home, the town of Fengjie, located on the Yangtze River in Sichuan province, just upstream from the giant Three Gorges Dam project. When Sanming discovers that the address his wife left him has now been flooded by the rising reservoir project—as has much of Fengjie—he decides to stay and wait for her, and gets a job with a demolition crew hammering the city to bits in advance of its imminent flooding.

Shen Hong is looking for her husband, who disappeared only two years ago to work in a factory in the Fengjie area. She seems to want her husband back, and finds an old colleague of his, Dongming (Jia regular Wang Hongwei), to help. When she eventually finds her husband, she tells him that she has a lover and that she wants a divorce. Sanming, on the other hand, does want his wife to return, and especially wants to see his daughter whom he has never met. We eventually find that he purchased his wife, who was abducted, probably by marriage brokers, and forcibly sent to live with him in Shanxi. Though he doesn’t find his daughter, in the end he meets his wife, and the possibility is raised that she might return to him in the future if he can raise enough money to pay her family’s debts.

Laying out a plot description this way is a bit misleading. Though there seems to be the outline of a well-behaved narrative—actually, two narratives, in which characters try to solve problems, proceeding chronologically towards a late climax and resolution—storytelling seems beside the point as you watch it. Narrative expectations are constantly thwarted: information is presented piecemeal, out of order, or elided completely; the climaxes are downbeat, purified of affect, and seemingly empty sections of time acquire the most weight.

Jia’s camera has two key preoccupations: physical bodies and landscapes. The bodies are male, copiously presented, and frequently half nude. This is something completely new in Jia’s work. His camera slowly, repeatedly, pans over groups of ruddy skinned workers as they rest, eat, play, or hammer away at the infrastructure of Fengjie that they are slowly pounding into rubble. These tableaux of bare-chested men are not movie-beautiful: they are natural, tough, work-honed bodies, with a tangible sense of weight, of taking up space, containing a wiry potential for endless physical labour. One might even detect something like an eroticized gaze in the film’s obsessive, close, lingering pans.

Landscapes are treated in a remarkably similar way: long, slow, 180-degree pans that turn vast fields of rubble, waste, and half-decayed, soon-to-be-demolished buildings into epic tableaux. In style, these images seem partially derived from traditional Chinese scroll painting, but have nothing to do with them in content. It is precisely the spectacular ugliness of the physical devastation of the urban environment around the Three Gorges that captures the camera’s gaze: an anti-still life that monumentalizes destruction, giving it an awful, sublime grandeur normally reserved for scenes of natural beauty.

It is precisely in the intersection of these two obsessive imageries that the film generates its own particular beauty: namely that of bodies walking through wastelands. Both main characters pick their way, without comment, through this post-disaster landscape, two individual lives persisting within an absolutely inhospitable environment. One of the things the film celebrates is this miracle of human persistence: how the necessary—survival—trumps the impossible.

Miracles are on offer, too, in a wry, understated mode. Jia offers visions of flight and some strange magic. An impossibly shaped building takes off like a rocket before the men with the hammers can get to it. A flying object streaks before Sanming’s and Shen Hong’s eyes: Is it some embodiment of their need to move through impossible barriers, their ability to imagine how to change their worlds? They never meet, but an angel ties them together: a young singing boy who smokes and strolls in and out of their worlds, singing at the top of his voice. In the end, another symbolic linkage: a high-wire artist appears, in the distance, suspended between two buildings that are destined no doubt to topple over some time soon.

Still Life incorporates a complex symbolic system that suggests possible meanings without fixing them definitively. Most prominently displayed are the set of four ambiguous symbols of consumption and enjoyment that the film underlines with titles onscreen: cigarettes, wine, tea, and candy. They stand in as replacements for the standard four household items (fuel, rice, cooking oil, and salt) that represent the daily necessities of life in a set Chinese expression. Jia’s update replaces survival with pleasures, even addictions. Those looking to find support for an ambivalent interior critique of the concomitant pleasures and dangers of turning cinema itself into a series of tantalizingly consumable items could do worse than start here.

That high-wire act is another symbol, one of a series of spectacular linking images that includes the new suspension bridge over the Yangtze lit spectacularly by order of an official for his assembled VIPs. The Three Gorges Dam itself appears at the end of Shen Hong’s story, both linking and separating the two sections of the river: the massive upstream reservoir with its disappearing strata of devastation and the downstream section leading to Shanghai. This ambivalent signifier of construction/destruction serves as an ironic backdrop to Shen’s announcement that she herself is leaving her husband. The physical landscape seems just as much in need of sustaining connections as the characters we see wandering through it.

The image of the Dam raises a whole set of political issues contained within the film, a social critique that works much more powerfully on an abstract level than as a direct commentary on the long-lived debated over the Three Gorges project. That the film was approved by the Film Bureau for exhibition in China is quite an achievement for Jia and his co-producers the Shanghai Film Studio. The film implies that the Fengjie Relocation Office is a gathering place for local thugs, who, organized by goon contractor Mark (a charismatic Chow Yun-fat worshipper with a gangster’s swagger), and at the behest of local demolition officials, beat up poorly compensated residents of local apartments who are not moving out quickly enough. This nexus of official corruption, massive property theft, and gangster muscle is well known throughout China, but displaying it even glancingly onscreen, in a film going into Chinese movie theatres in December, is rather unexpected. It’s also notable that censors allowed the scene at the Dam to pass (I don’t think marriage breakups are the sort of activity party officials imagined threir monumental structure serving as a cinematic backdrop for). Chinese press reaction to the Venice win was predictable, universally lionizing Jia as the latest exponent of national pride and then deftly subsuming him into the pantheon of contemporary cultural heroes.

On the screen, Still Life offers an unusual kind of beauty, both astringent and monumental. This beauty is mediated through images that are distinctly video in origin (HD, but video all the same). It’s there in the crispness of line, in the almost brutal sense of contrast between hot whites and dim blacks. We are far from the lush HD images of The World, the degraded medium definition video of Unknown Pleasures (2002), the classical 35mm palette of Platform, or the 16mm indie grunge of Xiao Wu (1997). There are trade-offs, obviously, in a filmmaker’s choice of medium today. What Still Life gains is precisely the shock of truth. Its “video-ness” suggests an immediate, direct transcription of reality that challenges the viewer in what can only be described as an ontological way. Look at what reality is; look deeply into the way things actually exist, the film seems to be demanding. At the same time, it denies the processed, aestheticized pleasure of much of today’s mainstream art cinema.

Jia shot Still Life in some of the same locations and at the same time as the documentary Dong and the relationship between the two is provocative. Dong records the painter Liu Xiaodong as he prepares two large-scale works, one of half-naked male workers in Fengjie lounging with the river as a backdrop, the second of female entertainment workers in Bangkok lounging en deshabille amidst fruits and furniture. In Dong, we are supposed to be seeing documentary truth, as the artist Liu paints real people in a real place. But Sanming is in Dong, as are some of the other characters from the movie. Yet he is not really a worker in Fengjie, he only plays one in Still Life. So what is he doing in Dong? Similarly, shots are shared between the two films: the creepy disinfectant team in their moon suits, the bare-chested men hammering in syncopated rhythms at the city ruins, the collapsing wall of one wrecked building.

As Jia maps it, cinema does not divide neatly into fiction and documentary. Dong creates a subjective world, as much inside the mind of the artist Liu as outside in objective space. Still Life digs deep to reveal an underlying reality, mobilizing sophisticated formal strategies to create images of truth. These same strategies demand—or, rather, construct, during the process of watching—viewers who are ready to watch, absorb, and feel this vision. It is a vision of a man-made hell, of the monumental and limitless destruction left behind by a society rushing to tear up its foundations and gut its history. And it is a vision of embodied resistance—an individual, physical resilience that can spark an impossible, miraculous, but tangible hope in a world that seems to offer none.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Visitor

The Visitor is a 2008 American drama film written and directed by Thomas McCarthy. The screenplay focuses on a lonely man in late middle age whose life changes when he is forced to face issues relating to identity, immigration, and cross-cultural communication in post-9/11 New York City.

Walter Vale is a widowed Connecticut College economics professor who lives a fairly solitary existence. He fills his hours by taking piano lessons with Karen in an effort to emulate his late wife, a classical concert pianist, and works on a new book, although his efforts at both are not producing encouraging results. When he is asked to present a paper at an academic conference at New York University, he hesitates to comply, given he is only the nominal co-author and never even read it. Charles, his department head, persists, and Walter is forced to attend.

When he arrives at the apartment he maintains in Manhattan, he is startled to discover a young unmarried couple living there, having rented it from a swindler who claimed it was his. They are Tarek, a Syrian djembe player, and Zainab, a Senegalese designer of ethnic jewelry, and both are illegal immigrants. Although they have no place to go, they hastily pack and leave, but Walter follows them and persuades them to return. Over the next few days, a friendship slowly develops. Tarek teaches Walter to play the drum, and the two men join a group of others at an impromptu drum circle in Central Park.

En route home, Tarek is mistakenly charged with subway turnstile jumping, arrested for failing to pay his fare, and taken to a detention center for illegal immigrants in Queens. In order to prevent Tarek's deportation from the United States, Walter hires an immigration lawyer. Feeling uncomfortable about remaining in the apartment with Walter, Zainab moves out to live with relatives in The Bronx.

Tarek's mother Mouna unexpectedly arrives from her home in Michigan when she is unable to contact her son. Also in the States illegally, she accepts Walter's offer to stay in the apartment, and the two develop a friendship. Walter confesses his life is unfullfilling; he dislikes the single course he has taught for twenty years, and the book he allegedly is writing is nowhere near completion. She reveals her journalist husband died following a lengthy politically-motivated imprisonment in Syria, and she is concerned about her son's future prospects if he is deported. The two begin to share a simple domestic existence, with Mouna preparing meals and Walter treating her to The Phantom of the Opera when she mentions her love for the original cast recording Tarek sent her as a gift.

Without warning, Tarek is summarily deported to Syria, and Mouna decides to follow him. Alone once again, Walter plays his drum on a subway platform, as Tarek once told him he himself would like to do some time.

I just love it when a well-admired character actor gets a shot at a big-time starring role. OK, so maybe the lead role in a low-key character study like McCarthy's The Visitor is not exactly "big time" (as far as Hollywood goes, anyway) -- but if you're familiar with the name and the works of Mr. Richard Jenkins, then you'll be thrilled with what the veteran actor has to offer here. (You might not know the name, but you should definitely remember Richard Jenkins from movies like Flirting with Disaster, The Kingdom, The Witches of Eastwick, and a bunch of Coen and Farrelly brothers films.)

Here Jenkins plays economics professor Walter Vale, a man who is also A) a widower, B) kinda bored / boring, and C) sort of just floating through life without much in the way or happiness or misery. That all changes when the prof is required to hit New York City for a week-long economics conference. (Sounds pretty dry so far, eh?) But when Professor Vale unlocks the door to his seldom-used NYC apartment -- he gets one big surprise.

Turns out that a young couple -- a Syrian guy and a Senegalese woman -- have been living in the apartment, completely unaware that they've been duped by someone called "Ivan." After a few tense moments, the young lovers apologize to Vale, pack up their stuff, and head out into the streets. But while Walter is a slightly morose and somewhat gruff man -- he's also clearly a decent man with a good heart. Rather than have the kids on the street, he invites them back to the apartment.

Thus begins a mellow, laid-back, and entirely satisfying little "people" movie, one that finds the beauty in the small gestures of genorisity: McCarthy finds a lot of beauty in the strangest friendships, and as The Visitor moves into more political areas (Tarek gets tossed into jail for no good reason), the director is careful to let the characters take precedence over the "issues." Obviously the film has a lot to say about the Arab experience in America today, but The Visitor is much more interested in its interpersonal relationships than it is in climbing a soapbox and preaching to the choir. (Icing on the cake: In addition to Jenkins' fantastic performance, newcomer Haaz Sleiman (as Tarek) is really quite excellent.)

The result is a movie with a message, sure, but it works even better as a touching look at a lonely man who finds some warmth, friendship and affection in the most unexpected of places: His own forgotten apartment.


Blindness is a 2008 dramatic thriller film that is an adaptation of the 1995 novel of the same name by José Saramago about a society suffering an epidemic of blindness. The film is written by Don McKellar and directed by Fernando Meirelles with Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo as the main characters. The novel's author originally refused to sell the rights for a film adaptation. The producers were able to acquire it with the condition that the film would be set in an unrecognizable city. Blindness premiered as the opening film at the Cannes Film Festival on May 14, 2008, and the film was released in the United States on October 3, 2008.

Blindness is the story of an unexplained mass epidemic of blindness - known only as the "White Sickness" - afflicting nearly everyone in an unnamed city, and the social breakdown that swiftly follows. The film follows the misfortunes of a handful of characters who are among the first to be stricken and centers on an ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo) and his wife (Julianne Moore), several of the doctor’s patients, and assorted others, thrown together by chance. This group bands together in a family-like unit to survive by their wits and by the unexplained good fortune that the doctor’s wife has escaped the blindness. The sudden onset and unexplained origin and nature of the blindness cause widespread panic, and the social order rapidly unravels as the government attempts to contain the apparent contagion and keep order via increasingly repressive and inept measures.

The first part of the film follows the experiences of the central characters in the filthy, overcrowded asylum where they and other blind people have been quarantined. Hygiene, living conditions, and morale degrade horrifically in a very short period, mirroring the society outside.

Anxiety over the availability of food, caused by delivery irregularities, act to undermine solidarity; and lack of organization prevents the internees from fairly distributing food or chores. Soldiers assigned to guard the asylum and look after the well-being of the internees become increasingly antipathetic as one soldier after another becomes infected. The military refuse to allow in basic medicines, so that a simple infection becomes deadly. Fearing a break out, soldiers shoot down a crowd of internees waiting upon food delivery.

Conditions degenerate further, as an armed clique gains control over food deliveries, subjugating their fellow internees and exposing them to rape and deprivation. Faced with starvation, internees do battle and burn down the asylum, only to find that the army has abandoned the asylum, after which the protagonists join the throngs of nearly helpless blind people outside who wander the devastated city and fight one another to survive.

The story then follows the doctor and his wife and their impromptu “family” as they attempt to survive outside, cared for largely by the doctor’s wife, who still sees (though she hides this fact at first). The breakdown of society is near total. Law and order, social services, government, schools, etc., no longer function. Families have been separated and cannot find each other. People squat in abandoned buildings and scrounge for food; violence, disease, and despair threaten to overwhelm human coping. The doctor and his wife and their new “family” eventually make a permanent home and are establishing a new order to their lives when one of the men in their group suddenly recovers from his blindness, giving the others hope that the blindness may suddenly lift as quickly and inexplicably as it came.

Cannes 2008 diary: 'Blindness'

Dave Calhoun sees the good and the bad in Fernando Meirelles' 'Blindness', the opening film at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival
Opening the 61st Cannes Film Festival tonight is the world premiere of ‘Blindness’, a slick and murky adaptation of Portuguese writer José Saramago’s allegorical novel about a city which is devastated by a plague of blindness: one by one the citizens of an anonymous metropolis lose their sight and so the government sees fit to quarantine a frightened group of victims in a disused mental hospital.

It’s a contained, theatrical set-up that allows for the interior intensity of a ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ coupled with a ‘Lord of the Flies’ approach to exploring the values and behaviour of a community in crisis.

The film’s ensemble cast features Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Gael García Bernal and Danny Glover and is the fourth feature from Fernando Meirelles, the director of ‘City of God’ and ‘The Constant Gardener’. As you’d expect from Meirelles, ‘Blindness’ is smartly and often impressively directed: he handles intimate and claustrophobic group dynamics with the same dexterity as spooky, empty urban exteriors.

But it’s the script that’s lacking: as a parable for a society – both its working and its failings – ‘Blindness’ works only in fits and starts and relies too much on events and too little on ideas. Ultimately, it’s a film that falls prey to its narrative speed and complexity; as a viewer, one is rarely able to focus on a moment, a scene or a thought and to investigate it for its meaning. There’s no room for meditation, which is a bit of a disaster for a film whose story hinges on the need for society to sit back, take a breath and ‘see’ what it’s doing to itself.

The film with which ‘Blindess’ will suffer most in comparison – if only for its timely proximity in the world of film releases and critical discussion – is Julian Schnabel’s ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’. Both faced a similar challenge: how to translate to the big screen a sudden physical affliction initially described with all the interior tools of a novel. We know what Schnabel has achieved. The central failing of ‘Blindness’, which on the surface is similarly inventive in its telling and especially its camerawork, is that Meirelles never fully captures the horror of losing ones sight.

Not that Meirelles doesn’t try valiantly to translate the experience to the visual. His characters, first a Japanese man (Yusuke Iseya), then a car thief (Don McKellar, also the film’s writer), then an ophthalmologist (Mark Ruffalo) all experience a bright white light, which we too see, and this same over-exposure isolates characters from their environment in our eyes.

The problem is that no sooner do we begin to share the difficulty of adapting to this new, blind state, than we meet another character and then another and then another… The build-up is to an impending group drama rather than to individual tragedy. Our main focus is Ruffalo’s character and his wife, played by Julianne Moore (who doesn’t lose her sight and ends up being the only sighted person in the asylum), but even their new relationship – him blind, her increasingly a nurse to an extended, suffering family – isn’t given enough time to settle and develop.

There are other, specific issues. There’s a key plot movement that hinges on us believing that one of the ‘patients’, played by Gael García Bernal, is able to inflict a sort of autocracy over the others. This never feels much more than a theoretical contrast with ideas of democracy; put simply, we don’t believe it. Also, early in the film, the selfish tics of those soon to be blinded feel a little obvious. Finally, throughout the film Meirelles puts too much emphasis on emotionally hackneyed scenarios: for example, a scene that indulges in an extended stand-off between Ruffalo and armed guards from the outside.

The idea that the blind can see more deeply than the sighted has been a regular staple of literature all the way back to the Greek tales of the prophet Tiresias. But anyone who has seen Peter Bogdanovich’s soppy ‘Mask’, a tale of a beautiful (blind) young girl at summer camp who falls in love with a boy with a hideously deformed face will know that cinema has a tendency to attribute ridiculous levels of wisdom and purity to the blind.

Make no mistake: Meirelles’ ‘Blindness’ is more sophisticated than that – here, as in Saramago’s novel, the ‘blindness’ of the seeing is more societal than personal – but it’s still not sophisticated enough and finally adds little to the debate. It’s Danny Glover’s permanently blind character to whom Meirelles gives that most all-seeing of roles: the wise and perceptive voiceover (which, I assume, is quoting the novel directly). And, again, it’s Danny Glover, a blind old man, whom we linger on at the end when this long struggle comes to some sort of conclusion.

It seems a little ironic, too, that in the final chapter of the film Meirelles should rely so heavily on the spectacle of empty streets as his blind characters wander the deserted city. We, too, are forced here to see rather than to think.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Gran Torino

Gran Torino is a 2008 American drama film directed by, produced by, and starring Clint Eastwood. The film marks Eastwood's return to a lead acting role after four years – his last leading role being Million Dollar Baby. The film features a predominantly Hmong cast, as well as Eastwood's younger son, Scott Eastwood. Eastwood's older son, Kyle Eastwood, provided the score. The film opened to theaters in a limited release in North America on December 12, 2008, and later to a wide release on January 9, 2009.

Walt Kowalski (Clint Eastwood), a retired Polish American Ford automobile assembly line worker and a Korean War veteran, lives with his dog Daisy in a changing Highland Park, Michigan neighborhood which is dominated by immigrants. At his wife's funeral, Walt bristles at the shallow eulogy of young Father Janovich (Christopher Carley). He looks on with disgust at his two sons, Mitch (Brian Haley) and Steve (Brian Howe), and their families, who show little regard for the memory of Walt's wife. Walt views his relations as rude, spoiled, and self-absorbed, always avoiding him unless it is in their own interest.

Walt's teenage Hmong neighbors, a shy Thao (Bee Vang) and his feisty sister Sue Vang Lor (Ahney Her), live with their widowed mother and grandmother. A Hmong gang, led by Thao's older cousin Spider (Doua Moua), tries to persuade Thao to join them. Thao's initiation is to steal Walt's prized car, a 1972 Gran Torino Sport. Walt interrupts the robbery, forcing Thao to flee. After a few days, Spider's gang visits Thao and attempt to assault him. Although his family tries to fend off the gang, the conflict ends when Walt, who fought in the United States Army's 1st Cavalry Division, threatens the gang members with his M1 Garand rifle and orders them to get off his lawn. They leave the neighborhood, telling Walt to watch his back. The Vang Lors thank a grumpy and impatient Walt, who insists he only wanted the "gooks" off his property. When the neighborhood hears what Walt did, they leave him gifts on his porch.

Parlez-moi de la pluie

Un film écrit et réalisé par le couple Agnès Jaoui / Jean-Pierre Bacri constitue toujours un événement. Parlez-moi de la pluie ne déroge pas à la règle. Comme à leur habitude, ils tiennent le haut de l'affiche avec brio, accompagnés ici d'un étonnant Jamel Debbouze, mais aussi de Pascale Arbillot ou bien encore Florence Loiret Caille, dans un film chorale où différents personnages se réunissent au fin fond du Sud de la France.

Jaoui prête donc ses traits à Agathe Villanova, politicienne féministe, venue rejoindre sa soeur dans la maison de son enfance, afin d'y ranger un certain nombre d'affaires suite au décès de leur mère. Karim, le fils de leur femme de ménage, Mimouna, décide de réaliser, avec son ami Michel Ronsard (Bacri), un documentaire sur la personnalité d'Agathe, et ce, dans le cadre d'une collection sur les femmes qui ont réussi. Chacun va alors se révéler à l'autre, au fur et à mesure des jours qui passent, lors d'un mois d'août plutôt grisâtre voire pluvieux...

Le titre du film fait référence à une chanson d'amour signée Georges Brassens, L'Orage, dont les paroles auront marqué de nombreux esprits ( « Parlez-moi de la pluie et non pas du beau temps, le beau temps me dégoûte et m'fait grincer les dents... »).

A l'image du poète, Parlez-moi de la pluie est donc une oeuvre touchante mais aussi particulièrement drôle. Le sujet du film tourne autour d'un thème ô combien universel et toujours d'actualité, celui de l'injustice, ou de « l'humiliation ordinaire » comme le dit si bien le personnage de Karim. On y retrouve alors le style « Jacri », tant technique qu'artistique. Les longs plans séquence mettent en valeur l'ensemble des comédiens, bien loin des montages américains de plus en plus éprouvants, et servis par des dialogues à la limite de la perfection. Après Indigènes, réalisé par Rachid Bouchareb en 2006, Jamel Debbouze trouve ici un nouveau rôle « adulte », qui montre véritablement l'étendue de tout son talent, dans un registre beaucoup plus sérieux qu'à l'accoutumée.